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When do you reveal compensation to jobseekers?

Winnipeg employer blasted for bailing on candidate who inquired about salary and benefits before second interview
A screen grab from the tweet sent out by Taylor Byrnes. Source: Twitter

By Todd Humber

At what point in the interview process do you reveal the details of the compensation and benefits to candidates?

That question has recently bubbled up in the wake of a story out of Manitoba that saw an HR professional shoot down a candidate who brought up money during an email exchange about arranging a second interview.

Taylor Byrnes applied for a job in Winnipeg with SkipTheDishes, an online food delivery firm billed as “a better way to get your food.”

“If I do end up filling this position, how much do you think I’ll be getting paid an hour?” she asked via email. “Benefits will be included, right? Sorry, I just thought I should ask now. Thanks for your time and have a lovely day.”

This is the response she received from Victoria Karras, talent acquisition co-ordinator at SkipTheDishes.

“Your questions reveal that your priorities are not in sync with those of SkipTheDishes,” she wrote. “At this time, we will not be following through with our meeting this Thursday.”

Karras went on to explain:

“Your questions are valid ones and we would like to clarify where we may have not communicated our position clearly. As a startup company, we seek out those who go out of their way to seek out new challenges and new opportunities. We believe in hard work and perseverance in pursuit of company goals as opposed to focusing on compensation. Our corporate culture may be unique this way, but it is paramount that staff display intrinsic motivation and are proven self-starters. For these reasons, questions about compensation and benefits at such an early stage is a concern related to organizational fit.”

Byrnes, incensed by the response, screen captured the emails and posted them on Twitter, where it has been shared more than 4,000 times and generated 5,000 plus likes and counting. She also tagged CBC News and CTV Winnipeg in the tweet, a tactic that worked and got her news coverage.

The backpedalling begins

We all can guess what happened next — the company was forced to backpedal. Company co-founder Joshua Simair said the email from Karras was wrong, according to a Canadian Press article.

“We are very disappointed in how it was handled,” he said in an email statement. “We do share a compensation package prior to hiring. As soon as we became aware of it on Monday, we reached out to Taylor to apologize for the email and reschedule her interview.”

He also said the company would be providing additional training internally.

On my drive this morning, talk radio in Toronto was all over the story. Callers generally sided with the jobseeker, and accused this employer – and pretty much all employers – of being underhanded when it comes to hiring and not disclosing compensation in an attempt to pay workers as little as possible. "String them along, and then lowball a desperate applicant," is how the thinking went.

But we can’t tar all employers with the same brush. Compensation is a tricky and delicate matter. There are cases where it makes complete sense to disclose salaries upfront to ensure neither side is wasting it’s time. If I have a job opening that pays $40,000, and you’re not willing to come for less than $80,000, then why bother coming in for three rounds of interviews?

In other cases, firms will want to hold salary figures closer to their chest until they know the candidate is the right fit. There are a variety of motivations that make this strategy palatable.

Hiring not an easy task

It can be easy for frustrated job seekers to forget, but the job of a hiring manager isn’t an easy one – they have to sort through piles of resumés to find the best person available. If they make the right decision, they can set the firm up for success for years to come. The costs of a bad hire are substantial and often immeasurable.

Remember, the hiring process is always a two-way street. Yes, candidates need to sell themselves to employers. But it’s equally important, and perhaps arguably more important, for companies to do a good job making the case that it’s a great place to work – especially for in-demand talent.

The culture, the satisfaction the job provides and the importance of the mission are all critical pieces.

But they’re also meaningless if the compensation isn’t attractive. Employees don’t show up to work out of the goodness of their hearts.

So let’s not throw Karras, the embattled talent acquisition professional at SkipTheDishes, under the bus quite yet. She may have been following misguided orders. She may have been influenced by the culture, or had that line of thinking fed to her. She may have firmly believed it’s such a great place to work that the compensation shouldn’t be an important part of the conversation.

For my part, I often share compensation details up front with candidates who look like they’re a good fit. Even if I didn’t, the question wouldn’t be offside. If I didn’t want to reveal the details at that point, I would just confirm that it’s a competitive package that includes benefits, and that the specific details will be discussed at a later date if they’re a successful applicant.

What do you do?

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Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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