How To Negotiate Your Salary When the Range Is Posted—And Why You Definitely Still Should

Photo: Stocksy/Caleb Gaskins
Salaries have historically been hidden from job postings, which has long put job hunters in a tricky position. Without knowing the salary of a role (beyond a researched estimate), they’ve either had to wait to receive an offer (and then guess how much room for negotiation there might be), or ask the hiring manager and risk being met with the dreaded, "Well, how much are you looking for?" response. But the recent rise of pay transparency—laws in cities and states that require employers to share salary ranges on job listings—seems to remove the need for this negotiation dance and ensure fairer compensation.

In theory, an applicant now knows the upper and lower limits from the get-go, and they’re arriving at the offer with the same information as HR. In practice, though, things are a bit more complex. Pay transparency does remove some of the stress of negotiating from a prospective hire because, after all, the top amount is set—assuming the range published is the truth, which isn’t always the case (more on that below). It’s also likely that an employer will “bargain more aggressively with prospective employees because being more generous with one person at any level would require them to be more generous with everyone at that level,” says economist Zoe Cullen, PhD, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School who studies the design of labor markets. “As a result, salary transparency can help equalize wages.”

But salary ranges are just that: ranges (and often, wide ones). Some people will wind up near the top of that range, and others will end up near the bottom—and learning how to negotiate your salary when the range is posted can make the difference in where you might fall.

“A woman might say, 'I think, based on my experience, I should come in at the 50 percent mark,' whereas a man is more likely to ask for the top of the range.” —Julia Pollak, chief economist, ZipRecruiter

Due to the “gender ask gap,” which refers to the tendency of men to ask for more money for a role in salary negotiations than equally qualified women, it’s likely that the gender pay gap will still exist for roles with transparent salary ranges—just to a lesser magnitude, says Julia Pollak, chief economist at employment marketplace ZipRecruiter. “You can still see that ‘ask gap’ where a woman might say, 'I think, based on my skills and experience, I should come in around the 50 percent mark of this public salary range,' whereas a man is more likely to ask for the top of the range, and again, to get what he asks for.”

The potential for remaining salary inequity—even amid transparency—is certainly reason alone to consider how to negotiate your salary when the range is posted. As is the fact that a transparent salary doesn’t mean a fully transparent compensation package, which typically also includes things like paid time off, parental leave, workplace flexibility, bonuses, and stock options.

In fact, there’s evidence that as the salary playing field evens out, personal requests for non-salary benefits go up—and hiring managers are inclined to grant those requests. “Putting salary under the spotlight just motivates those who are in charge of compensation to shift their allocations to an area that’s not under the spotlight,” says Peter Bamberger, PhD, professor at Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management and editor-in-chief of the Academy of Management Discoveries. “So, just reporting salaries is pretty limited in terms of actually ensuring equity.” Again, all the more reason to consider how you might still negotiate your salary to ensure you're getting what you're worth, even when the range is publicly posted.

Why you should still negotiate your salary when the range is posted, no matter where the offer falls

If your offer isn’t at the top of the salary band, you can use your knowledge of wiggle room to your advantage

Salary transparency removes the “information asymmetry” that’s long kept job candidates in the dark about what they could even ask for or expect, says Pollak. “Because of occupational segregation by gender and race, women and people of color have historically been even less informed than white men about the going rate for certain high-paying jobs,” she adds, leading them to ask for too little without even realizing it.

Though a public salary range limits the scope of a potential negotiation, it also gives you valuable ammunition if your offer comes in below the upper limit. You know, for a fact, that the company was willing to offer more than they’re offering you—so, why not ask for it? “What many employers are telling us is that recruiters who really want to fill roles in a tight labor market have an incentive to offer the candidate the top of a posted range if they ask for it,” says Pollak.

If you’re accepting a salary at the lower end or middle of the range without negotiating, you’re almost definitely leaving money on the table. After all, a company wouldn’t publicize a top number that they weren’t willing to honor, or that was higher than what they’re paying current employees in the role, “as this would force them to reconsider what they’re paying those workers,” says Dr. Cullen. And that's a can of worms they're unlikely to open.

If your offer is at the top of the band, you may still be able to negotiate less-transparent perks

Just like any job listing, jobs with transparent salary ranges typically still do not list all the potential opportunities for non-salary rewards.

As noted above, the secrecy of these extras, often called “non-observable compensation”—things like sign-on bonus, retention bonus, extra paid time off, 401(k) match, executive compensation—certainly poses an equity issue. “The burden shouldn’t be on the employee, who is already at a deficit, to know to ask about these unsaid or unwritten pieces,” says career expert Errol L. Pierre, author of The Way Up: Climbing the Corporate Mountain as a Professional of Color. But so long as that’s the reality, “pulling these additional levers” is an important part of negotiating an offer when the salary is at the cap of the public range, says Pierre.

It's even more important to consider and negotiate these elements of compensation when salary is transparent because employers often have more flexibility to adjust these levers than to go beyond the limit of a publicized salary range.

“If candidates applying for a role start asking for more money than the range stipulates, what the employer should do is re-scope the role, go through the process internally of weighing the budget implications of that, and then post the new role with a new, higher pay band,” says Pollak. “But what happens in practice is they just offer non-observable compensation, like stock options or bonuses, to a preferable candidate who asks for a higher salary than they can provide.”

How to negotiate the best possible offer when the salary range is posted

1. Do some research to figure out if the published range is, well, really the range

The tricky thing about salary transparency is that, in plenty of places, companies are voluntarily sharing information with no real obligation to stick to it. Even in states and localities that have passed salary-transparency laws, it isn’t always clear whether companies can be easily penalized for giving offers outside of posted ranges.

For example, consider the language in New York City’s law, which asks companies to provide a “good faith” pay range, says Pierre. “It isn’t exactly clear how you’d define that.” For companies that operate in multiple localities or states, it’s also not clear whether they’d be required to publicize different ranges relevant for candidates in each place, Pierre adds. “Often, the ranges are directional, and you shouldn’t think that you’re capped out at the top.”

Dr. Bamberger suggests that anyone looking to negotiate an offer—especially women and people of color—should not rely solely on publicized ranges for these reasons. Instead, he says to check out websites like Glassdoor and Payscale to get a fuller picture of what the range for a given role looks like.

“Depending on your individual uniqueness, you may have the ability to position yourself differently than others coming into that same role.” —Peter Bamberger, PhD, professor of management, Tel Aviv University

“Some organizations may be more flexible when it comes to certain roles, and depending on your individual uniqueness and bargaining power, you may have the ability to position yourself differently than others coming into that same role,” says Dr. Bamberger. “In other words, you might be able to argue that the role you’re being hired for is not necessarily the role specified in the posting, and that it’s something between that position and another one with a higher range.” Depending on your creative framing, it may be possible to push your offer above the stated cap.

2. Ask for the top of the range, and justify with your experience

A published range is an informational gift: The company is telling you straight-up what they’re willing to offer, so there’s no reason not to take them at their word and ask for a salary at the upper limit, according to Pollak. Chances are, that top number is still a conservative—and very feasible—number for them to hit.

“You can directly call out your strengths and experience to bolster the ask, so that it’s clear why you think you deserve that highest number,” says Pollak. If, for any reason, the employer can’t match their own top number, you then leave it to them to say, “Hey, for budgetary reasons or for pay-equity reasons, we’re willing to bring you in at this amount, but we can compensate you additionally by giving you this signing bonus or this relocation bonus,” or whatever extra item they might be able to offer, she adds.

3. Don’t forget about those non-transparent perks

Speaking of extras, it’s important to consider how else your prospective future employer could make your life easier when you’re in the negotiating position of being a candidate they’re eager to hire (in a tight labor market, no less). Asking about other compensation demonstrates both that you know your worth and that you respect the company's stated salary offer.

The important thing is to pad the ask with positivity and make it clear how ready you are to join the company if your request is granted, says Pollak. “You might say, ‘I really love this role, but there’s just one problem: I’ll have to move from this city to that city, which will increase my cost of living. I’ll accept your offer if you can add in this relocation bonus.’ Or, ‘I am really excited about working at this company, but I have a child and will have to pay for childcare during these hours unless I can come into the office at 10 a.m., instead of 9 a.m., after dropping them off at school. If we can agree on that, I’ll gladly accept right away.’”

Clarifying exactly what extra perk or accommodation would make you happy offers the employer a sure route to an accepted offer and a role filled—which is ultimately what you both want.

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