For some employers, longstanding conventional wisdom has been to avoid talking about salary specifics — or to keep pay off the table as a topic entirely — throughout the preliminary stages of hiring. Some businesses even establish policies that outright forbid a compensation package being proposed until the interview process has reached a certain point, or a job offer is being formally made. This seems commonplace in today’s job market. Online postings for open jobs are increasingly found without any salary or compensation information whatsoever. Many others include only frustratingly vague ranges, empty buzzwords like “competitive,” or wordplay like “up to” and “starting at.”

This was not always the case. If you’re old enough to work today, help wanted ads without a clear rate of pay listed were probably considered suspicious when your mom or dad went out looking for their first job. Now experts and jobseekers alike are wondering if this paradigm shift towards salary silence has really been in anyone’s best interests.

Why We Stopped Talking Pay

There are a few reasons employers have trended away from talking about wages upfront in recent decades. These may include:

  • Streamlining processes. Some larger employers prefer to rely on a structured system where all new employees start with the same pay rate, or where compensation is based on a formula factoring in years of experience, type of position, and other factors that can be measured objectively. This eliminates the need for compensation negotiations with candidates. These systems can save time and ensure everyone at your organization feels fairly compensated, but if you’re using one, there’s no good reason not to be upfront about how pay works during your initial interactions with candidates. A lack of transparency in structured pay rates could signal that you’re insecure about what you’re offering employees.
  • A desire to discuss pay as little as possible in general. It is illegal to tell your employees not to discuss their pay with one another, yet some employers still go to great lengths to avoid any discussion of wages and salaries. The rationale is usually that this limits workplace conflicts (and demands for raises from employees who feel slighted by a co-worker’s higher pay). This may include limiting discussions of pay with new hires and candidates for open positions so that such discussions can’t be overheard by current employees. In general, it is not advisable to make “wage silence” any sort of priority at your company due to the aforementioned fact that enforcing such silence could constitute a serious violation of labor laws.
  • Control. Old-school bosses have all sorts of “interview tricks” they use to conduct unofficial tests on candidates. In reality, most of these come down to ineffectual power trips that provide a little superficial insight into someone’s personality at best and alienate good candidates at worst. Waiting to see when someone will ask you about pay is one such trick best left in some smoke-filled 1970s back office.


Why It’s Better to Be Upfront About Wages and Benefits

As you can see, many of the most cited reasons to avoid speaking openly about pay to potential hires are based on bad assumptions. The reasons to do the opposite, however, are largely rooted in common sense, logic, and the desire to run an ethical, healthy workplace:

  • Avoid wasting time. It’s true that you can hook a great candidate by making a job posting sound more lucrative than it actually is. You might even get them deep into the hiring process before you have to start having concrete conversations about pay and benefits. If, at that point, they walk out of the room because you’re not offering anything close to what they’re looking for, you have accomplished nothing besides wasting your own valuable time, as well as your HR staff’s and the candidate’s.
  • Jobseekers appreciate it. A recent survey indicates that 78% of people are less likely to apply for a job posting that doesn’t clearly list salary. Trying to hide salary information doesn’t trick good candidates into applying — it actively keeps them away.
  • Build trust. When you’re upfront and respectful with candidates before they even become employees, you give yourself a head start building the sort of trust and organizational buy-in that lets companies thrive.

Transparency with salaries and wages can benefit your potential candidates, as well as your company in many ways. Contrary to the old-fashioned opinions, it’s simply better to be more open with salary discussions.