3rd April 2023
Carly Lewis-Oduntan asks how can we be expected to apply for a job if we’re not even sure it can cover our bills?
Right now it feels like the cost of just about everything is rising, and if price tags and bill statements aren’t enough to remind us, society at large certainly won’t let us forget about it. A few months ago the media focus was on energy bills before shifting to the spike in inflation — which according to the Office for National Statistics currently stands at 10.1%. Nowadays we can’t turn on the TV, tune into the radio or scroll our social media timelines for more than a few minutes without somebody reminding us of the dreaded cost of living crisis.
For those of us looking for jobs this can undoubtedly present a dilemma, making what is already often an unpopular process — job hunting — even more unpleasant. This is especially the case when it seems that salary transparency is seriously lacking in job adverts. To give you an idea of the extent of the problem, an investigation by HR publication People Managing People carried out in 2022 found that 35% of UK job ads don’t include salaries.
There are a number of reasons why this is problematic. For a start it’s off-putting to have to consider devoting precious time and effort towards an application for a job which could be offering far less money than you’re seeking. This is probably why a study by job search site Talent.com found that 86% of people think employers should be required to disclose salary ranges in job descriptions.
And let’s not forget that if we don’t know what jobs are offering new candidates, how on earth are we supposed to gauge what salary we should be aiming for based on our experience? “Ultimately it’s really difficult to know what your skills are worth, if you’re being paid fairly or if you can expect to be paid more, unless you have that level of transparency,” says Ellie Austin-Williams, financial coach and founder of This Girl Talks Money.
She continues: “It’s particularly important for women as well, in a sense that women typically don’t tend to negotiate as hard and ask for as much as men. So if you don’t have salary transparency there’s a very high chance that women will end up being paid less than men for exactly the same jobs.”
For Mary Wells* it was inexperience which landed her in a position where she had to turn down a job offer because of the salary. “Earlier on in my career I’d apply for a job that was in line with my experience and interests but there’d be no salary advertised,” she tells The Frugality. “Back then I didn’t have the confidence to ask what the salary was throughout the recruitment process, I just went to the interview and waited to hear back from the company.
“One time I ended up getting offered a job, at which point the HR officer let me know what the salary was. It was really disappointing and much lower than I was hoping for so I had to turn down the offer. Luckily for me I’d had a lot of interviews around that time and I ended up getting a much better paid offer not long after. I’ve definitely learned from that experience and now I always make sure I ask what the salary is before I apply for anything.”
If you’ve ever looked for jobs online it’s likely you’ll have come across ads that conveniently forget to mention what you can expect to be compensated. You might find that instead of a salary they’ve written something vague like ‘Dependent on experience’ or ‘£ Competitive’. This makes things more difficult for prospective applicants and can also begin to breed mistrust, so it’s useful to know why companies and recruiters do this and what it might mean.
“A lot of the job ads that don’t contain salaries are fake recruiter ads and this is the biggest insider secret from a recruitment point of view,” explains career coach and former recruiter Pamela Langan. “[They do this because] recruiters need to keep their pipelines of candidates fresh as they’re constantly on the phone to employers trying to find jobs. And then when they find the job they need a candidate to send over for an interview.”
But what about cases where the job ads are genuine? “If they include a salary range they know they’re only going to get people within that range or maybe one or two that might try to push the boundaries a little bit,” Pamela tells The Frugality. “So they’ll see what they can get for the money. When a candidate comes through they’ll ask them ‘what salary are you on right now?’. What I tell my clients to do is, rather than telling them their salary — because actually they’ve got no right to know and there’s no legal requirement to tell them — instead say what their salary expectations for that role are. So even if that means a massive pay rise for my client, the job they’re applying for is what they should be getting paid for, not an amount based on their previous role.”
If you do ever find yourself in an awkward exchange with a hiring manager about a salary, it’s important to remember to remain firm instead of buckling and accepting an offer that you’re unhappy with. As a result, you may even find that the company you’re applying to has a change of heart. “One of the brands that I said no to actually came back and said they’d like to raise their offer, but I had already decided by that point that I was no longer interested,” says Tom Bourlet who’s now head of marketing at Fizzbox.
“Another actually seemed disappointed that I wasn’t interested in taking a pay cut to join them, as if that was ever an option. The role was a higher position, managing a team of six, yet the wage was significantly lower than my pay grade at the time and about half of what that role would be offering if you looked in the local area,” he says. “So I was blunt and explained this to them, but also that their job description was ridiculous in what it expected [for the money].”
If you take anything away from reading this, it should be that you should always, without exception, try to confirm a salary before applying for a job. While there’s no guarantee that recruiters will be forthcoming with the information it’s certainly worth enquiring. “There’s absolutely no reason not to ask. Ask the recruiter or ask the company before you go through the effort,” says Ellie. “Applying for a job is not easy and it takes a lot out of you going through that process. So if you’re doing that only to get to the end of it and realise that actually it’s not paying what you would like to be paid then you’ve put in a whole lot of time and energy into something which ultimately you could have saved yourself from.”