Research Shows That Job Seekers Prefer a Pay Range Over "Competitive Salary"

Published April 1, 2023

For a long time now, hiring teams have tried to boost their job ads by stating they offer a competitive salary. But according to the recruiting experts at Datapeople, the term "competitive salary" actually works against the job ad.

"It's a step up from ignoring pay altogether," says Datapeople spokesperson Charlie Smith. "But while including 'competitive salary' in job posts is long-standing practice, today's job seekers want something new. They want pay transparency, as do many local and state governments."

According to the Datapeople R&D team, using "competitive salary," "pay commensurate with experience," or a similar phrase can deter qualified job seekers. It can reduce the size and quality of applicant pools, and it can put employers out of compliance with pay transparency laws too. These days, it's better to replace "competitive salary" with a pay range (a realistic one).

The term "competitive salary" is problematic for a number of reasons, says Datapeople. First, it can signal below-market pay.

"Behind the scenes, companies can do their best to meet or exceed the industry average for compensation," says Smith. "But all that work gets undermined when they put it under the 'competitive salary' umbrella."

Second, it doesn't follow the current trends around pay transparency, according to Datapeople. More companies are publishing pay ranges all the time. (Including ranges that are too broad to have any meaning, Smith says.) And more jurisdictions are enacting laws requiring pay ranges in job posts.

Third and most important, according to Datapeople, "competitive salary" isn't what today's job seekers want. Today's job seekers want to see specifics in job posts. A pay range is top of the list so they don't waste time with unnecessary applications.

In an April 2022 survey by Indeed, 75% of respondents said a pay range makes them more likely to apply (according to the Seattle Times). In a 2023 survey by ResumeLab, 87% of respondents said job ads should "always" include a pay range.

And it's not just about pay, says Datapeople. Job seekers want to know what it's actually like to work at a company. Specifics on healthcare, paid time off, retirement plans, stock options, and more are also important to them. They even want to see a stance on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. In a survey of 1,200 participants, Datapeople's R&D team found that having a diversity statement greatly improved a company's perceived inclusiveness among all demographics surveyed.

"It's in employers' best interest to offer a pay range to job seekers, even before local or state laws require it," says Smith. "Doing so, they can respond to candidates, comply with current or future regulations, and attract applicant pools that are both larger and more qualified."


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