Dan Benjamin’s Quit! podcast has been on a roll recently, with very few callers and a lot of Dan yelling at everyone. In this episode, he talks about the frustration of being an employer and sorting through hundreds of bad resumés to find good candidates.
One thing irritated me, though: it sounds like his assumption is that job postings need not list the position’s salary or a salary range, which should instead be negotiated in the interview. When I was job-hunting, this always drove me nuts.
If you bring someone in for an interview, or even have a phone interview before they know the salary range for the position you’re hiring for, there’s a good chance you’re wasting both your time and theirs. A candidate should not learn the position’s salary range for the first time in the interview.
A job’s salary is one of the biggest factors in whether an applicant can or should consider it at all. It’s just as important as the physical location. Dan said he was hiring for a local-only position, so location is an essential eligibility requirement for him as the employer; similarly, salary determines whether the applicant can afford to take the job, so it’s an essential eligibility requirement for the applicant.
Just as Dan shouldn’t waste time interviewing a candidate who lives in Alaska and won’t move to Austin for the job, applicants shouldn’t waste time interviewing for a position that can only offer a salary far too low for them to accept. Therefore, it’s in both parties’ best interests for the employer to specify the salary range in the job posting.
If you see a job listing that doesn’t specify a salary range, assume it’s so low that they’re embarrassed to include it, they don’t respect you enough to tell you, or their heads are so far up their asses that they think you should just be dying to work there at any salary, none of which bode well for employment there.
If a salary range is specified and you’re young or it’s an entry-level position,1 consider whether you’d accept the job if they offer you 10% less than the low end, because that happens all the time. “Oh, that range was for more experienced applicants.”
And if a specified range is meaninglessly wide, such as $25,000–$85,000 per year, the job requirement is so poorly defined that good candidates probably shouldn’t bother applying — it’s a huge red flag indicating that the company is poorly run.
It’s also very common for small tech companies and startups to offer embarrassingly low salaries, padding them with stock options instead of real, immediate money.
Stock options should be considered a potential future bonus, not guaranteed padding to make a low salary more competitive. Consider whether you’d still want the job if the stock options ended up being worth $0, because that’s probably what they’ll be worth.
From talking to people in the industry, even when they’re worth more than $0, it’s usually on the level of a small bonus equivalent to about another $5,000–15,000 per year of salary. Anecdotally, I was very lucky with Tumblr, but I’ve had stock options in three other companies: one is still private and therefore of undetermined value, one was worth about $20,000 per year that I worked there (for a relatively low salary), and one was worth $0. ↩