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No salary range? No software engineer.

marcelcutts profile image Marcel Cutts ・4 min read

I have spent an inordinate amount of my career campaigning for more transparent salary structures within software engineering. There is one widespread habit that aggravates me whenever I see it: positions advertised without a salary range.

If you don’t present a salary range, I will assume you are a crook.

Salary Ranges are lit fam

For an applicant, it can save them an incredible amount of time. Phone screens, take home tests, whiteboard interviews and their like require an horrendously asymmetric amount of effort on part of the applicant versus the hiring firm.

For the hiring firm, you save time with everyone passing through your pipeline unlikely to drop out at the last moment when your monetary offer is insufficient. It’s a mark of honesty and transparency that highlights a more cooperative approach to hiring, which may appeal to some candidates.

An above average salary range also broadcasts that you’re willing to hire top talent, and although most people aren’t entirely driven by money, the world’s best are also unlikely to work for cheap. Netflix is a brilliant example; they pay incredible amounts to keep their talent density consistent as they grow.

Why no salary ranges?

All these benefits! So, why wouldn’t firms post salary ranges on their job postings? Since I drink a lot in London’s tech yuppie heaven, I have a combination of honest alcohol elicited answers and rampant speculation.

Suppressing current wages

The cost of engineers in London keeps going up. The demand outstrips supply, and we’re slowly edging towards something a US engineer might not laugh at. Of course, this means that if you want to hire someone new, you might have to pony up more than you did six months ago.

Are you going to put a salary range on your posting where the base is higher than the salary of your current employees who have the same role? Of course not. They’d be livid. They’d ask for raises! Realise their worth! Leave!

They will do this regardless of course, just with greater anger and resentment when they find out their friends earn more than them while six drinks deep at the pub.

Negotiating power

Let’s face it, the person hiring you probably has more experience than you do at being hired. They know all the tricks, have all the confidence. This is why negotiating with a car salesperson is such a minefield, she has likely practiced her spiel tens of times per day for possibly years. You’ll probably buy a car a handful of times in your life.They have time to size you up and predict what you might take.

If at the end of all your effort, all the interviews, all the take home challenges that make you doubt yourself, the firm even offering you a job can feel like a blessing. They suggest a number that’s a bit low — but you’ve put in all this time and they made all these promises, and they’re even pretending like this number is good! Maybe you over-estimated?

Maybe you’ll take the job anyway?

Your salary is low

It seems rather unlikely that if you were paying top dollar, you would forget to slap that big old number on the post with pride to attract the best of the best.

A combination of all of the above

If you get lucky and underpay a few people who don’t realise their worth by leveraging negotiating power and push back salary increases for current staff, over time there will be a massive diversity of pay throughout the firm unrelated to merit. You’re on a ticking time bomb, and if people get the idea you’re willing to pay significantly more for someone joining them in a similar role, there’ll be justified anger.

A colleague once accidentally discovered a document containing the firm’s complete salary data. They left shortly after.

Isn’t this a bit cynical?

I’d like that to be the case, but when pushing people on the topic there are a number of common responses. They don’t inspire hope, for example:

“Oh, just email and ask”

If you want a candidate to email you to ask about the salary range, and you’re happy to give it to them but not happy to put it on the job spec itself, it really feels like you’re desperately trying to suppress wages.

“We’re willing to pay a lot for the right person”

This is a vague statement that in no way means anything without defining what qualities makes a person “right” and how much “a lot” is.

“We’re not quite sure yet”

If you’re telling me your budget for an engineer in this fiscal year stretches from zero to infinity, I either don’t believe you, or have grave concerns about the accounting practices at your firm.

So what’s the conclusion?

Be good to yourself, take a job with a visible salary range.

N.B. This was originally a medium post. I am slowly transferring content from there to this much friendlier platform.

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Discussion

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This! I have realized a lot of places have been asking what my range is and I feel like that's backward.

Also the bit about surprising current wages is so true. Over the summer I found out our intern was making basically the same as me and when I asked for a raise I was told I "wasn't doing specialized tasks." He was doing my overflow work. Part of the reason I quit.

 

I mean they are interested in you undercutting yourself by asking a salary that is too low.

Like if they have a salary range of 80k to 90k dollars and you ask 75k, they will happily give you 80k. You will feel great because that's more than what you asked, they will feel great because they are not allowed to give less than 80k anyway, but they managed to give you the minimum of their range while still making you believe that you made a good deal - actually you didn't.

That happened to me more than one time.

Interestingly that happens more to women than men - that's a big reason for the salary gap, women think that they have to earn their credentials before asking what they are worth.

 

I agree with all the points above. However the industry is far from such transparency. My approach before any interaction with the company is to honestly tell them 'I want X sum' whether they ask or not. And I do this for the benefit of both so we don t waste eachother s time.

 

Some weeks ago, I was contacted by a hiring firm and I asked the same question to not waste time. The recruiter said that they can cover my expectations but then, after I wasted more than a morning filling the application form, updating my cv, making a video introducing myself and resolving their psychological tests, they told me that they can pay me only half of what I asked.

 

Agree with it. It's not to see if they offer an above average salary but just to see what we can expect and how we can evolve in the company. A big problem in the tech culture is that for a great salary evolution, you always have to change job. Finally, it's great to have the range of salary when you are moving to a different country / city, your life quality can vary a lot and it will help to make the decision !

 

Fair enough, you're absolutely right.

One more reason why employers don't indicate salary range is because... "We don't need people who are motivated by money only". They just expect you to work the sake of work. Sad but true :(

 

you are totally right.

I would add one thing:

never* answer the dreaded salary question : what salary do you expect

never until you meet the woman with hiring power

hint: that's not the HR guy, he can only reject you but never hire you

(*) unless you want to work for less money that they would have given you and don't mind undercutting your own interests

 

Thank you!

I also keep telling this. Give me the numbers. I have a feeling that in the UK though, it's more common to give the range than in Hungary or in France. I'm not sure why.

I don't plan to switch nowadays, and usually, I reply this, yet asking for the range, just to keep myself up-to-date. There are a couple of recruiters who reply!

 

I debated commenting on what is certainly a hot-bed issue, but... fine, I'll play devil's advocate. In my decade+ as hiring (engineering) manager at multiple companies there's a few things at play.

Less-than-perfect transfer of information from team/department/org to HR. I've sat down with HR/recruitment staff and explained things to the best of my ability on multiple occasions. But, at the end of the day, they are not engineers and rarely adept or sufficiently trained in the hiring of said individuals.

For mid to large sized organizations there's multiple positions open for a range of experience levels. To reduce the insanity and noise, a single JD (Job Description) will get posted and the recruiter or hiring manager will sort it out.

The hiring manager often doesn't have the authority to set salary ranges for positions they request. Sometimes it's dictated higher up based on the title, corporate policy, etc. For an outstanding hire you can pretty much always escalate it and get a competitive salary.

If you're willing to take applications from overseas, few applicants understand the concrete subtleties of regional cost of living, tax provisos, and so on. $Xk in Saigon is vastly different from $Xk in Silicon Valley.

Few applicants truly understand the market value of software engineers. Experience, title, technology du jour, urgency, budgets, location, etc.

Quite often I hire based on my real or perceived workload. I'll take a less expensive junior hire if I genuinely believe I will have the time to assist them. This is a good thing. When things get busy or urgent, I'll lean towards the experienced hire.

For these reasons and more it's just not that simple to provide a useful or meaningful salary range. In truth, it's often so wide as to be pointless. If you don't apply because there's no visible salary range you're doing yourself a real disservice, or you just don't want a job that bad.