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Navigating Pay Transparency

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The movement for salary transparency has picked up a lot of momentum recently and quickly – most significantly with California’s new law, signed by the governor and set to take effect on January 1st, 2023.

With this change, advocates have scored a win at least a decade in the making. Over that time, thoughtful recruiters, HR folks, and hiring managers have had many opportunities to practice pay transparency conversations in interviews. For my part, I’ve had mixed results over the last ten years, and I continue to iterate on how best to lead those conversations with candidates.

For many job seekers, however, this has come out of the blue. The suddenness of the new practices – now required by law – may put older workers, and especially women, at a disadvantage.

To help those adapting to this change, employers and recruiters should keep in mind the following:

  • Talking about money has been a cultural taboo in this country until very recently – meaning, for older generations, it still is.
  • Job seekers often do not have a lot of practice interviewing. If the last time they interviewed was before the new hiring practices and the cultural taboo shift, they won’t be ready for the salary question at the outset.
  • Although I strongly agree with Vu Le’s post that job seekers shouldn’t “NOPE” employers, I also encourage recruiters, HR, and hiring managers not to draw a hard line when candidates don’t instantly agree to a salary range. Instead, take a few extra moments to explore the topic with empathy and curiosity to discover where the overlaps and disconnects may be.

For job seekers: I want to start by affirming your experience. Interviewing for a new role is hard enough under any circumstances. I’m convinced that the underlying problem is a lack of “interview transparency” – that is, you often do not know what will happen when you get on that phone or video call.

But as of now, candidates need to be prepared to talk about salary in the initial interview (whether it comes up at the beginning or the end of the call). So, how do you prepare?

Step 1: Know Your Number

I can’t emphasize enough how much I disagree with our culture’s pervasive advice to “know your value” or “know your worth.” Monthly deposits into your bank account shouldn’t define you as a person or as a professional.

When I say, “know your number,” I really mean, “do your budgeting.” How much cash money do you need to meet your financial obligations and your lifestyle expectations? Having this conversation in your household may lead to reconsidering some of your choices. It’s okay to determine that you need more money; it’s also okay to determine that you could get by with less.

Your next great job has other factors that make it attractive. Some of those are material (e.g., medical benefits, paid time off), whereas others are non-material (e.g., social impact, inclusive culture). Balance those factors with the hard reality of needing to pay the bills.

Step 2: Do Your Homework

Regardless of pay transparency in job postings, you don’t need to go far to find information about the other aspects of an employer’s total compensation package. Employers have long posted language on their “job opportunities” page to attract candidates with paid time off, health insurance, retirement, etc. Additional online resources aggregate salary and benefit information – another easy Internet search.

If your interest in a role or an organization is extremely high, get connected to someone who works there and find out what they’re willing to share. You don’t even need to ask them how much they make. See what they know about the employee benefits package and how their co-workers feel about it. Ask them if employees there feel like the compensation is fair.

Unless you get conflicting information from an insider, do assume that the posted salary and standard benefits package is what the employer expects to offer. Increasingly, organizations are doing a lot of work to tighten up their reasoning behind the compensation they offer. Special deals for “the right candidate” will become increasingly rare.

Step 3: Practice

If you are uncomfortable talking about money or salary, get a friend to practice with you.

The interviewer may phrase the salary question in a variety of ways. Here are a few to try on:

  • What are your salary requirements?
  • What is your salary expectation?
  • How does the range in the job posting align with your expectation?
  • The organization has budgeted for this position with a hard maximum of $X. How does that fit with your needs?
  • [Hang up the phone if anyone asks this one because it’s becoming increasingly illegal:] What is your current/most recent salary?

Prepare your answer to each version of the question, so you’ll be ready when it happens in real time.

These “three easy steps” will help you avoid interviews that will waste your time and that of the hiring organization.