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Why companies conceal salaries for job openings

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: After I go to the trouble to select a job to apply for, submit my resume, fill out the requested (and usually very detailed) application forms, and then sit through a lengthy interview, I usually find out the salary range for the job is way lower than I would consider. Job postings rarely list the salary, and companies won’t tell you if you ask. Why is that? How can I avoid wasting my time?

Nick Corcodilos: Companies could save everyone a lot of trouble — including themselves — if they were candid and clear about the salary range they are willing to pay. Yet few job postings include salary ranges, and you’re right, few companies will tell you what the pay is even when they interview you.

Based on years of experience dealing with employers and my education in psychology, I think I know the reason. Withholding the salary range is an old sales trick rooted in behavioral psychology. If you dangle a reward in front of someone (whether a carrot to a horse or a job to a job seeker), they will do what you ask.

That carrot might turn out to be rubber and the salary may turn out to be unappetizing, but in both cases you’ll control the horse’s and the job seeker’s behavior for quite a long time.

Research in behavioral psychology proves it. Pigeons will peck thousands of times at a button that might deliver a food pellet even if the food never comes. That’s why you will slog through hours of interviews, often for nothing.

I say it’s an old sales trick because psychology also suggests that, if an employer can lure you into spending hours of time applying and interviewing for a job, you will be more likely to accept an offer even if it’s lower than you want. (It’s similar to something else I’ve noticed based on personal experience: You’re more likely to pay more for a new car if you’re required to go to the showroom to negotiate rather than do it on the phone.)

Humans have a fundamental need to justify their actions. The employer knows you are likely to rationalize taking less money to justify why you spent so much time in discussions. So the employer avoids discussing money until you have committed lots of time and emotion, and waits until you are most vulnerable — which is at the moment it actually makes you the low offer. You are simply less likely to reject an offer once you have it in your hands, even if it’s too low.

I’m telling you this as a way of emphasizing that it’s your behavior you must control, not the employer’s. HR mangers will tell you all day long that they don’t disclose salary ranges. You cannot control that. But you can say no to completing job applications and attending interviews if you’re not given the information about pay in advance.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from my PDF book, “Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7, Win The Salary Games,” from the section titled, “The Pool-Man Strategy: How to ask for more money,” pp. 13-15:

“You should have asked about money first. Some might consider that presumptuous, but I don’t. It’s business. Setting expectations early is usually the best way to accomplish your goals. The psychology of this situation can be more complex than you might realize. If you embark on this meeting… without setting an expectation about money up front, you will wind up like a puppy waiting for a treat after you’ve jumped the stick 20 times.”

Refusing to state a salary range for a job reflects poorly on any company. That should be enough to change your behavior. Make it a rule to apply for a job only if the salary is disclosed in advance. It might not be in the job posting, but the employer should disclose it if you ask.

It’s just astonishing the lengths to which employers will go to avoid disclosing the salary range on an open job while demanding to know your salary. (See “Revealing my salary earned me a lower job offer!”) But that’s another trick — a negotiating trick. The party with the most information about the other’s negotiating position wins.

There are lots of good companies that will be candid about what a job pays. Focus on them. Walk away from the others.

Dear Readers: Do you go on interviews for jobs when you don’t know the salary range? How do you find it out?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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