Showing your hand

Most employers don’t post salary in job ads but in a tight labour market they could be missing out on valuable candidates
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 07/31/2009

You won’t find salary information in the job postings of Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. Instead, the luxury chain devotes a lot of attention to listing the scope and requirements of each position.

“We don’t like the salary to dissuade or persuade someone from applying and we’ve been lucky so far,” says Amrita Bhalla, director of recruitment and development at the Toronto-based company. “It’s not boldly advertised but not something we need to hide.”

In thousands of job ads on online job boards, the Four Seasons approach is more than common. It echoes the results of a Workopolis survey that found 80 per cent to 90 per cent of employers do not specify salary in job postings. And yet, both employees (81 per cent) and employers (71 per cent) say this detail is the number-one draw for job candidates, according to the January poll.

So why the disconnect? Is posting the salary a help or a hindrance?

“You can get bitten either way. If you don’t put it in, you get a lower response. If you do, it brings its own set of problems,” says David Aplin, CEO of Edmonton-based David Aplin Recruiting.

Putting in something about salary, even if that means “commensurate with experience,” is appreciated by candidates but it’s also important to focus on important drivers such as advancement opportunities, training and benefits, he says. It’s also a good idea to talk to candidates early on about compensation because applicants only interested in monetary gains can be quick to accept a counter-offer and are sometimes going through the motions to make more money at their current employer.

If employers are prepared to post salaries externally, they clearly need to be more open internally with compensation philosophies, says Andrea Garson, vice-president of HR at Workopolis in Toronto. But competitive reasons discourage employers from advertising salaries — they don’t want to show their hand.

Salary details are proprietary for many companies, says Bhalla, and compensation often depends on the candidate, meaning her level of experience, academic background or requirements for the role.

“For us, that’s where the flexibility comes in — look at the value of the job, get the range and then determine the value of the skill set you’re purchasing.”

Also, for employers with strong brand presence, global reach and a respected corporate culture, candidates may choose to bypass the compensation details to secure the right career opportunity, she says.

“By locking in specific salary details, it can dissuade candidates from applying instead of encouraging them to focus on the job scope and potential career development,” she says.

Furthermore, many companies supplement compensation with competitive benefits that add to the total value proposition and these may be too exhaustive to list and more suitable for discussions closer to the offer stage, says Bhalla. And, ultimately, an employer hopes potential employees will focus on the job, and making a good fit, instead of just the salary.

“I’d rather take the time with each candidate and walk them through specific details versus ‘Here you go’ because it’s a lot richer than that,” she says. “I like to explain it to people so they really understand what they’re accepting with the company.”

Hard to tell whole comp story in ad

Compensation packages are much broader now, and more complicated, with options such as health-care benefits, pension plans, flex hours, bonuses, profit shares, environmentally friendly workplaces, training and advancement opportunities — it’s not easy to bundle all that up into a few lines.

“In a job posting, it becomes very difficult to tell the whole story in a paragraph,” says Garson. “Salary is only one component and there are so many other things, so you’re not providing the total picture for that role. That’s one reason why we’re not seeing salaries posted.”

Keen to keep a position open to as many different people as possible, Vancity never advertises the pay, says Joanna Imoo, recruitment specialist at the Vancouver-based credit union.

“If people see a range, they may make a decision to apply based on the range. We don’t want to deter people based on the salary because often when they start talking to us, they find there are so many other benefits we offer and they might be more flexible on salary than they thought.”

However, the company does bring up compensation at the beginning of the hiring process to ensure the two parties are in the same ballpark, she says, and employees usually have a good sense of the range already.

A lack of disclosure gives employers greater protection and greater leeway in negotiations. In addition, job candidates are much more upfront than in the past, asking about compensation earlier in the hiring process, says Robert Waghorn, communications manager at Monster.ca in Montreal, so both sides avoid wasting each other’s time.

“Candidates have done their research, they’re quite selective, they know what they want,” he says.

Benefits to divulging pay

But are employers missing out on valuable employees by refusing to post a salary range? An Australian survey by job board LinkMe found recruiters get substantially fewer applicants when the salary range is omitted — three-quarters of people are more likely to apply for a job when the salary is advertised.

When there is no disclosure, candidates assume the salary will depend on the candidate (53 per cent), the company will negotiate (39 per cent), the salary is low (30 per cent), the candidate is expected to make an offer first (24 per cent), the company will want to offer the lowest possible salary (19 per cent) or the company does not have a good idea of the industry rate (14 per cent).

It makes sense to give some sense of salary, though advertising a range has its challenges, says Aplin. With the tight labour market, employers are more willing to hire somebody with two, four or six years’ experience, so the salary ranges can be much wider, he says. But a broad range might turn off sophisticated applicants and suggest the company doesn’t know the market, while also attracting many inappropriate candidates. And younger people expect to be paid based on the job they do, not years of experience, he says, so a range of $60,000 to $80,000 may see jobseekers hoping for the upper level, even though their market value is closer to the lower range.

But advertising salary can give potential employees a better perspective on the level of the job and save time wasted.

“Sometimes titles are misleading, so (candidates) can screen themselves out if they’re too junior or senior,” says Garson. “As career progression and development become more important for candidates, employers have to be creative around job opportunities within their organization, so we’re seeing more levels of management to keep people.”

Ideally, employers should post the entire compensation package to attract qualified candidates and a broader pool of people, says Garson. It might not be happening now but if employers are not getting the candidates they need, they should consider a more open approach, she says.

Sarah Dobson is editor of Canadian Compensation & Benefits Reporter, a sister publication to Canadian HR Reporter. For more information, visit www.hrreporter.com/ccbr .

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