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Salary Transparency: Why Not?

Why WordPress employers do and don't advertise salary ranges — and why they all should.

On the Post Status job board, like many others, most of the WordPress employers who use it don’t include salary ranges on their job listings. Should they? Piccia Neri asked them all why they do or don't practice salary transparency. She also put the question to agencies, freelancers, the WordPress community, developers, and designers on Twitter. Find out what Piccia learned and why she thinks salary transparency should be a universal practice where it hasn't yet become a legal obligation.

Estimated reading time: 36 minutes

Your digital agency gets invited to pitch for a project. You get all the information, the requirements, the objective, and the deliverables. You know you have the right experience, background, and skill sets for it. It’s a potentially life-changing project for a company with a great global reputation, and as an agency, you’d love to have this client on your roster. 

But! 

There’s a big spanner in the works. When it comes to talking proper business, the prospective client refuses to disclose the budget. 

Your agency explains patiently that without a budget you won’t be able to work out the best solution: you’d be effectively fumbling in the dark, trying to work out how long a piece of invisible string could possibly be. But the client doesn’t care. (I was going to write “won’t budge,” but it’s a bad pun.)

They’re adamant it should be you to come up with the budget in your quote. 

Out of 11 positions listed on the Post Status job listings page on 27 July 2022, only the one posted by Codeable publishes a range for the rates their freelancers get paid. 

The only way around this is to get the client to pay you to scope their budget. But usually, this kind of client doesn’t understand that this is a valid investment. 

As a consequence, your digital agency has to give up on the pitch because you can’t risk spending time to spec a project without knowing what the budget is. The danger is providing a solution that’s not fit for purpose, getting knocked back for being too expensive, or risking bankruptcy for staying too low. 

You always ask for a budget – don’t you?

The most important lesson that I’ve learned from all business coaches I’ve ever listened to, from Chris Do to Michael Killen, is that the first thing that you need to know about a potential client is their budget.

If they are not willing to give you a budget, or they tell you they don’t have one, either get the truth out of them somehow or leave the room.

Every single time that I have not complied with this rule, it has come back to bite me in the arse. 

Every. Single. Time. 

Why do so few of you post a salary range when you publish a job advertisement? 

That’s why every good bit of agency and freelancer advice about bidding, sales, and discovery says not to let yourself be treated this way. One brilliant example is Mike Monteiro's famous “Fuck you, pay me” presentation.

Clients usually do indeed know what their budget is, and you typically find out when they finally let you know that your price is, in fact, too high. After they’ve received the quote that you spent a lot of precious time very carefully preparing, usually based on a best-case scenario.

“Thanks for your proposal, but – your quote is out of our budget.” 

Oh, so you do have a budget then! 

I am sure that most of you who are business owners agree with this, and you’ve found yourselves in a similar situation, probably more than once, regardless of the size of your business.

In fact, the smaller the business, the worse the consequences. It’s exactly the same for freelance operators.

So, you, as an agency owner or a freelance operator, quite rightly do not let your time and resources be disrespected by potential clients – and you demand a budget. Always. 

Don't you?

But – do you give one yourself?

Let’s also see what happens when your agency – the agency that just had to give up on a possibly transformative project for lack of financial transparency on the part of the client – decides to post a job listing for a new hire.

We've all heard about imposter syndrome. Many people have it or are extremely uncomfortable when talking about money because they come from disadvantaged, even abusive backgrounds. They were led to feel shame about their financial situation from an early age. They sometimes can’t believe they now have skills people are willing to shell out good money for, and they’d rather someone else told them what they’re worth. 

You know how important a good team is, and how difficult it is to attract the right fit of talent.

So your job listing contains a detailed job description, the skills and prior experience required, other qualifications you’d like them to have, and some company history describing your wonderful culture rooted in admirable values with great employee benefits. 

But no salary range. 

The same company that dumped a potential new client for lack of budget disclosure is now refusing to disclose its own budget to job candidates.

This is not a real case scenario, but it could well be. 

Out of 11 positions listed on the Post Status job listings page on 27 July 2022, only the one posted by Codeable publishes a range for the rates their freelancers get paid. 

The 10 other adverts for full-time positions with companies in the WordPress microcosm do not mention any figure – although some do mention that it might be “generous.” A vague term like that could mean anything at all. 

Do your adverts post a salary range?

Statistically, your answer is very likely to be “NO.”

Why do so few of you post a salary range when you publish a job advertisement? 

Real-life example

I’m a designer. Design opportunities are mysteriously far and few between in the WordPress microcosm, even though ostensibly everything we do requires a design process, as well as interfaces. As a result, when I want a new collaboration I usually leverage existing relationships, or approach companies that I know could be aligned.

Despite this, in the spring a fantastic design job listing sprang out of nowhere into my field of attention. It was a full-time position, so not what I was looking for. But it also was one of those unicorn jobs that feel like a perfect fit – as if someone had taken the time to write down the ideal job for you. 

It was a job so dreamy, that I would even have considered losing my beloved freedom and casting aside my other projects for it. I had only ever come across a job description as coated in fairy dust as this one once before in my life. (And I’m fairly long-toothed by now.)

Eagerly scanning the job listing page, I skimmed down to the benefits list. They seemed good and generous, and the company is well-known enough for me to trust them. Still, I couldn’t see any numbers.

I scrutinized the page further: nope. 

No salary range.

This seemed like a high-up position as it contained the word “director,” but – in some companies, a “director” is not necessarily a senior position. I’ve known directors who had just left university and were only directing themselves. 

And then I looked at the application form: it required a CV. 

I don’t have an up-to-date CV.

I have been extremely lucky in the past few years: I haven’t had to provide a CV. My contracts all came from people who’d seen me in action on stage or online, or had seen my work out in the wild, and wanted to work with me. 

The mere idea of updating my CV filled me with dread. I simply don’t have the time or mental strength – especially when I have no idea what the compensation would be.

I found out who the person I should contact was, and I was glad to read the reply “we’d love you to apply!” They also told me that the salary range was very wide based on experience, and they’d be happy to discuss it in the first interview.

But that discussion required the essential prior step of my application – which, even with an up-to-date CV, would still be a time-consuming, emotionally and mentally demanding process. Knowing myself, it usually takes weeks of work (sadly, I am not exaggerating), including research on the company itself.

I pointed out that “without some sense of salary range for someone with my experience, I have no reasonable way to gauge whether the position is the right fit for my level of seniority or not.”

I never got a reply, ever again.

I followed up a few weeks later saying that I know they’re a reputable company, and enquiring whether the position was still open, as it would take me a few days longer to update my CV and portfolio.

Nope. No reply.

I was really intrigued by this reaction. 

I know for a fact that I was polite and respectful. All I did was explain why I was asking for a salary range, and why I needed it before the first interview. 

So I went to the Post Status Slack and asked agency owners in there: 

Why do so few of you post a salary range when you publish a job advertisement? 

That led to a very interesting conversation: especially because every single participant condemned the practice outright. Nobody supported it.

And yet, when I checked the listings on the Post Status job board that day, hardly any of them mentioned a salary range.

It’s no good living in an echo chamber. I needed to hear from the people who don’t list salaries. 

Reasons why agencies and companies won’t post a salary range

So I went and asked this question —

“Why do you not post a salary range when you publish a job advertisement?”

— directly to every single one of the companies with a job advert on the Post Status page on 27 July 2022. (Except for Codeable because they do include salary ranges in their listings.)

I genuinely wanted to know why this practice has been so widely adopted in our community in particular, and in tech in general. When I was hunting for design jobs in London in the Noughties, salaries were always mentioned as part of the title of the job listing. It was a given.

Why has this changed so dramatically?

A couple of the companies with a listing on the Post Status jobs page at that time answered with genuinely incomprehensible justifications, so I ignored those. 

Others took the time to give me longer answers where they enumerated all the reasons why they won’t post a salary range. And for that, I am thankful. It appears to show that there are no ill intentions. Everyone means well. 

However, to be honest, even in the case of clearer answers, it cost me some effort to actually distill meaningful reasons from the replies I got. My aim here is to present you with an easy-to-read bullet points summary, but it’s taken me a while to parse the meaning, and I’m not sure I managed it in a few cases. 

This list is the unsatisfactory outcome of my efforts. In no particular order, here are the reasons why those companies chose not to post a salary range:

  1. It’s hard to put a figure on a job. Too high or too low may filter out the right candidate.
  2. We do disclose when people who apply ask for the range.
  3. We won’t list when the spread is potentially very large.
  4. We won’t list when we don’t advertise that position often, thus being open to discussions based on the promise of the candidate.
  5. When we are willing to consider a wide range of candidates’ skill levels, expectations can be either too low or too high if we publish a salary range.
  6. Not posting a range can lead to better candidates applying, so we like that flexibility which can lead to good surprises.
  7. Conversely, posting a range makes it difficult for us to be flexible when someone has no experience but we can see the potential.
  8. We used to post a range, but as the vast majority of candidates instantly requested the highest range we stopped. We would always offer less whenever they asked for the maximum amount anyway.
  9. Salary is a “personalized requirement.” Someone who is 40 years old and single and lives in Porto, has different requirements from those of someone who is 40 years old and has a family and lives in New York.
  10. We ask people to give us their preferred salary range. If we cannot afford the request, we’ll respond with our maximum salary.
    [see Oh you do have a budget then! above]
  11. We think it’s fairer for people to negotiate their preferred salary than for us to disclose our budget.
  12. Our salaries vary depending on the location of the employee.
  13. Market prices have gone up and we don’t want current employees to know that we’re paying new recruits more than them.*

*Reason #13 was given to me privately, by a company that told me in confidence. It is not one of those I consulted for this article. They never posted a job on Post Status as far as I know. 

Reasons why candidates hate it when you don’t post a salary range

At this point, I felt I had a comprehensive range of reasons why companies prefer not to post salary figures – whether or not I could fully grasp their meaning.

So I turned to Twitter to ask candidates what they think and how they feel about job listings that don’t mention compensation in clear, honest figures. I made sure I never expressed my opinion on the thread. (Spoiler alert: I think it’s wrong, in the unlikely case this wasn’t clear yet.)

A whopping 86.7% out of 135 people said that it’s wrong. I asked those who answered “Wrong but understandable” to explain themselves in the comments, but nobody did. As for the 4th option, it was just silly to include it but I had no characters left in the tweet and as you know, you can’t edit a tweet… 

The comments in that thread confirmed my thoughts, but my reach on Twitter is limited as I’m a lurker who hardly ever posts. So I know that there’s much more to the issue than what the thread highlighted. 

Why candidates really hate this practice

Let’s be honest and cut to the chase here. The main reason why anyone looks for a job is that we need money in order to survive. 

Personally, if I didn’t need money I would probably decide to do other useful and meaningful things with my time, but I doubt I’d be giving a third of my life to an employer. 

Some companies love it when you gush and wax lyrical about how the only and overwhelming reason you’re seeking the honor of being part of their team is your admiration for the company which is so high, that you could not possibly put a monetary value on working there. 

However, borrowing Post Status Editor Dan Knauss’ words: “I consider job application questions soliciting praise for the employer to be forms of another question: ‘How much will you abase yourself for us?'”

The truth is there's only one thing we want to know so we can answer questions like these:

  • How much you are going to pay me in exchange for my time, experience, and skills?
  • Are you worth me giving up my freedom? 
  • Are you worth me connecting my name with your brand?

I want fair compensation for my level of experience. I also want to make sure that you appreciate the depth and range of my skills. 

And the first thing that tells me whether a position does the above for me is the salary range. 

When no salary range is mentioned, a red flag immediately starts waving furiously on my mental horizon. 

Why are you not telling me what your budget is for this position? 

Because let’s face it: you definitely do have a budget. Everybody does.

I know that I just wrote a whole list of answers to the above question in this very article.

Well, I’m sorry employers, I know that you mean well and this is not personal.

Even so, not one single one of the reasons you gave me for your lack of pay transparency begins to persuade me. I don’t feel like any of them is a good enough reason – or better said, it may be good, but only for you. In fact, some of the reasons you provide are actually causing harm to the workforce at large. 

I am sure that most of you are in good faith. I accept that. 

But in actual fact, the lack of pay transparency has ramifications that extend way further than simply not naming a salary range. Those ramifications are just as damaging and end up hurting – as usual – those minorities that some of your ads proclaim you support. 

Here are the three practices that stem from and go alongside a lack of pay transparency. They are solely to the (apparent) advantage of the recruiter, and to the detriment of the candidate:

  1. The cruel mother of them all: Lack of pay transparency.
  2. With the first wicked child: Pay range varying based on geographical location.
  3. And the most evil of offsprings: Requesting candidates to name their desired salary.

I believe that all three of these practices are ethically wrong and that they benefit no one – not even the recruiter employing them. 

By adopting these hiring practices, you create a company culture that probably limits the pool of talent you can draw from, that likely excludes historically marginalized minorities, and that might even create captive workers – instead of happy ones. 

You might think I’m exaggerating, but I do think I have a point. 

Let me also clarify that I don’t want a confrontation here. It is not my aim to shame or accuse anyone. 

Rather, my aim is to prove that it would be first and foremost in an employer’s best interest to let candidates know how much you’re willing to pay them for their skills, their talents, their personality, for giving you over a third of their lives and for representing your company. 

If you are one of the many employers in the WordPress microcosm that chooses to not post a salary range, I would love to persuade you that it’s better for you if you are honest and transparent, and if you don’t discriminate on the basis of geography. 

Please let me first show you the damaging consequences that your adverts trigger when they don’t list a range, and/or ask candidates to name their price, and/or base the compensation on geographical location.

#1 Immediate irritation.

You can easily take for granted that when you do not post a salary range, you will at least irritate roughly 86.7% of your potential candidates. This percentage is based on the extremely small sample of my Twitter poll (135 people) but I actually think it’s a conservative figure. I can’t fathom anyone who wouldn’t be irritated by a job listing that refuses to disclose compensation. Trust me: nobody likes it. Even when they do end up applying because they need to pay the bills (see #3 below).

#2 Loss of potential talent.

A few of these potentially perfect candidates that you just managed to irritate will not apply, because they have been burnt before. They don’t trust a company that doesn’t post a salary range, and they have good reasons for that. They have been strung along before over the course of many interviews only to find out in the end that the salary on offer was way below the market rate for their valuable skills. 

As for those of you that say you do disclose the salary range to those who ask directly: in that case, why don’t you post it in the advert? 

I can only think of two reasons for this: 

  1. You don’t wish current employees to know how much you’re valuing new recruits.
  2. You offer different compensation depending on a candidate’s location.

Is there another reason? Genuine question. I’m open to my mind being changed, but I can’t think of another reason besides the two above. 

#3 The desperate will still apply.

Many people, as you well know, will still apply, because they desperately need a job. It doesn’t mean that they like or approve of your lack of transparency. They just don’t have a choice. 

#4 People will think you’re a cheapskate.

Whatever your reasons, when you don’t post a salary range candidates usually assume that you’re tight-fisted and want to shortchange them. 

If that’s not true and you feel unjustly accused, here’s a simple solution: 

Publish your salary range! 

#5 They will also think that there is no pay transparency culture in the company at large.

There are much darker consequences when a company is not transparent about salaries. It’s a practice that traditionally excludes and undermines minorities, perpetuating the gender pay gap and unfair compensation practices. 

Like it or not, the gender pay gap is a reality worldwide, and not disclosing salaries is a way to make sure we’ll never fill that gap. 

Let alone when those people who identify as women are also of color, and living in “developing countries.” (On that, more later.)

So if you claim you value diversity and champion minorities, but you don’t post a salary range, you are actively undermining those minorities you claim to support. 

I know that you probably don’t mean to do that, but it’s a well-known side-effect of lack of pay transparency. If you need more convincing, please have a look at this fact sheet on pay transparency from the European Commission, which has a legislation process in progress that will enforce pay transparency, specifically targeting it as the main culprit in pay discrimination issues

After all, there must be a reason why at least 10 US states have made it a legal obligation to disclose pay ranges. Fresh off the press is the news that California has joined the ranks of those states at the end of August 2022 with a law requiring pay transparency in job listings. There.

#6 They will assume that you do not want your workforce to unite.

Transparency of wages also means a united workforce. 

Lack of pay transparency is a very powerful tactic that allows companies to avoid pay equity and makes it difficult for workers to unionize and demand fair treatment.

Do you want to run Starbucks? Or do you want to run Chobani? Fair companies are also profitable. And you may end up invited on the Ellen Degeneres show.

#7 “You can’t be bothered to give me a pay range, yet you expect me to sing for my supper.”

Applying to a job, as I said above, is mentally and emotionally demanding – especially when your CV is not up to date. In my case, it usually leads to excruciating self-analysis, debilitating bouts of imposter syndrome, endless revisions in a vain attempt to silence my perfectionism and a vague but pervasive feeling that I’ll never be good enough.

I can bear to submit myself to this soul-destroying torture if the pay is right. When I know that all that suffering might mean that I will enjoy transformative financial security within a company that values me, appreciates me, respects and nurtures me.

Again, Dan said it well in Post Status Slack:

If you make anxiety, fear, suspicion, and a game of masks the center of employee onboarding from the minute they apply to when they get shown the real job and the real compensation…what kind of culture can you expect?

#8 Asking people to disclose information when you are not disclosing any creates a power imbalance.

When you’re playing your cards very close to your chest, is it fair to ask others to show their game? No. No, it isn’t. I’ll show you my cards if you show me yours. 

The information that applicants are required to share with you is extremely personal (even more so when you’re asking them to name their price). They shouldn’t have to tell you unless they’re sure they’re fully aligned with the role. 

#9 Candidates will think you haven’t actually defined the role clearly yet.

When you don’t post a range because it’s “hard to put a figure on a job” or you hope better candidates will apply, candidates who have been around the block a few times will probably think that you haven’t actually defined the job description properly yet. They’ll fear that you are not sure what level of seniority you need for the position, and you expect the candidates to figure that out for you. It’s an internal problem, not a pay range problem. 

I speak from personal experience: it has happened to me at least twice. 

Does this seem fair to you?

Does it seem efficient?

Take the time to deeply understand who your company needs – it’s UX work, by the way – and you will be able to better gauge the salary range for the position – with some flexibility, of course, everybody expects that and we’re fine with it. 

In fact, when it comes to range, we are perfectly happy to see a range as wide as 75k to 275k. (I heard this in an actual, real-life call by someone who is advertising for a top role in their company.) And no, we don’t all shoot for the top. 

If you were to mention a range like this, it would be an intriguing topic to discuss during that first interview, and I would definitely apply for the job. It beats not posting any numbers by a long mile.

#10 A certain type of candidates will always lowball themselves if you ask them to name their salaries.

Let’s talk some more about the practice of asking the candidate to name their own salary. Out of all the reasons given for not listing a salary range, this is possibly the least fair – unsurprisingly, it usually goes hand in hand with geographical discrimination. 

I am a designer. I am not an expert at negotiating. I hate negotiating. I even hate haggling at the market in countries where it’s the norm. Shock horror, I like paying the sticker price.  

Despite this — or perhaps because of it — I have listened to and read Chris Voss’s Never Split the Difference at least 5 times, because I do think that negotiation is a life skill we should all have. I am told that as a result, I have become a better negotiator — much to my surprise. 

However, I am in my 50s, and I have had time to do this in my long life. Younger people may not. We've all heard about imposter syndrome. Many people have it or are extremely uncomfortable when talking about money because they come from disadvantaged, even abusive backgrounds and/or have an “invisible disability” like depression. They were led to feel shame about their financial situation from an early age. They sometimes can’t believe they now have skills people are willing to shell out good money for, and they’d rather someone else told them what they’re worth. 

In a nutshell: please don’t expect candidates to be confident talking about money and to have serious negotiation skills, let alone when their livelihood depends on it. You may be making them feel really uncomfortable when they are already in a vulnerable position — which is where we are when we look for a job: we feel vulnerable and exposed. 

We, the candidates, are also not HR experts and we don’t always know how much the position you’re advertising is worth in the current market. Plus, the value of a job varies hugely depending on your type and level of clients, the tasks required, whether you’re fully remote or not, whether you’ll require me to travel, any possible extra time to be expected, and the company culture.

But that’s for you to know: not the candidate.

Because my job is to be a designer and an accessible design advocate. I’m not pitching to be your HR department or your finance director, and I’m most certainly not applying to be an FBI negotiator. 

So you cannot ask me to name my price. I know I would give you the wrong answer. 

Same as with the client’s hidden budget, it’s a surefire recipe to shoot myself in the foot – whether I go too far up, or too far down.

Moreover, I will also  tell you  who are the categories who will inevitably go way too far down when asked to name their own value – because of a myriad of factors starting from inborn low self-esteem, passing through desperately needing to support their family, and ending with the desire to please:

  • People who identify as women
  • People who identify as women of color
  • People of color of any gender
  • People who are nationals of “developing countries”
  • People with disabilities or who identify as disabled
  • LGBTQ+ people

This list can be expanded easily: all you need is empathy and open eyes.

If your advert claims that your company champions diversity, but you don’t list a salary range, you may not realize that you are probably undermining, excluding, and discriminating against those already marginalized people who would bring their crucial perspective to your workforce and your projects. 

Editor's note: Cory and Michelle have discussed imposter syndrome in the context of diversity and inclusion of underrepresented groups in tech. I recently wrote a somewhat personal account of the impact of disability, abuse, and neglect early in life or really at any point. Ruchika Tulshyan and Jodi-Ann Burey have helpfully pointed out that “The answer to overcoming imposter syndrome is not to fix individuals, but to create an environment that fosters a number of different leadership styles and where diversity of racial, ethnic, and gender identities is viewed as just as professional as the current model.”

#11 Pay range based on geographical location is not fair.  

I know that everyone does it. Automattic does it, Google does it, Slack does it, Meta does it.

It still doesn’t make it fair.

Interestingly, pay based on geographical location is one of the reasons listed for not publishing a salary range. 

But it’s not a good reason, because you could still publish the different ranges you apply to the different areas. Why don’t you do that? Does it mean that you are ashamed of the difference in compensation? 

Salary is most definitely not a “personalized requirement.” There is no way for you to know whether someone who is 40 years old and single in Porto needs less money than someone of the same age who is in New York and has a family. 

By the same token, you should be asking candidates about their personal circumstances and tailoring their compensation according to their answers. 

Are you going to lower their salary if they disclose that they have private money? 

Conversely, will you make it higher should they confess that they are crippled by debt? Would these even be legal questions to ask?

The person in Porto could be:

  • Helping out with family debt
  • Supporting ailing parents
  • Supporting an out-of-work sibling
  • Living with an illness that requires extra expenses
  • Dealing with personal issues of any kind
  • None of our business!

You are paying for skills, talent, and experience. You are paying for the value the employee will bring to your company. 

That’s the same everywhere. Regardless of geographical location.

This raises another genuine question. 

What about digital nomads?

The person who is in New York may decide to move to Porto for a few months. Are you going to adjust their salary accordingly for the duration of their stay?

Next, they may want to work from Mexico for a while, because why not. 

Are you going to apply the “Mexico rate” to their monthly cheque? 

Then they’ll go to Thailand, probably even cheaper than Mexico. Will their monthly salary keep going down?

I think a pattern is emerging, and it’s one that shows that compensation on the basis of location gets dangerously close to being in fact on the basis of ethnicity. 

I accept that there may not be any evil intention and this may be an unconscious bias, but it might well be what you’re ending up doing – without meaning to. 

Moreover, for legal reasons you might not be able to give your employee in a “cheaper” country the same benefits that the ones in your own country enjoy. Usually, they have to be external contractors, even when they’re on a “permanent” contract, so they’re already losing out. 

Another important point to make is that those “adjusted” salaries hardly ever reflect the lived situation on the ground. No matter how painstakingly they adhere to official numbers and stats such as the cost of living index, and so on. The compensation adjusted according to geography usually does not have the same buying power as the “real” salary, the one based on more expensive locations. 

At the time of writing, IBM is offering a DevOps engineer role in Slovakia for a gross salary of €2,300 a month. No range, that’s the only figure they mention. That’s around $27,000 (USD) a year considering that the euro and dollar are nearly equal in value right now. A similar role for the same company in Colorado, with exactly the same job title, offers a pay range between $75,000 and $145,000 a year. 

Life in Colorado is not 3 to 6 times more expensive than in Slovakia. You don’t go very far on €27k a year gross in Slovakia, considering that rental prices for a 2-bed apartment in the capital, Bratislava, vary between 600 and 1000 euros. And that’s without utilities. 

In general, life is way more expensive than you think in Slovakia/Thailand/India/Mexico/insert “cheaper” country here. Please consider that you might be doing your highly skilled workforce an injustice when you shortchange them and stunt their lifestyle and development, for the benefit of their peers living in the “first” world. 

I can personally comment on the issues raised by pay based on geographical location because I am a living demonstration of the fallacy of the system. I lived in London for a couple of decades, and then I moved to Valencia in 2016. For a variety of reasons, from the tax burden on sole traders to the lack of suitable office space, I am finding Valencia quite expensive as a solopreneur. Believe it or not, running my freelance business was WAY cheaper in London. Seriously. I can provide details to those interested.

So, unless your company offers truly amazing other perks (I know that Automattic probably falls into this category and most of their employees never want to leave), you’re running the risk of seeing them leave.

There is, however, at least one argument in favor of a higher salary for staff living in ridiculously expensive locations such as New York, London, LA, Singapore, Hong Kong, and so on. 

And that’s a “location boost,” in case the employer actually needs the employee to live in that location, in order to take meetings, see clients, attend conferences, network, and so on. In that case, it is absolutely fair, and I would add necessary, to compensate the employee for the extra cost that living in an expensive metropolis entails.

What if there was a better way – that still lets you be a VIP WordPress agency?

Over the course of this research, I also came across a number of companies that make a point of always listing salary ranges.

Some of them have built their company ethos around their hiring practices. 

They are highly successful companies, so it seems to me that listing a salary range can’t be that damaging after all.

But they do even more. They believe that the way they treat their prospective employees at the beginning is how they will treat them later. They know that their own brand will be shaped by the way candidates feel about them. And they already realize that not telling candidates how much they’re willing to compensate them creates a power imbalance that hurts historically disadvantaged groups the most.

This is what they do:

  • They always post a salary range.
  • They offer the same compensation everywhere. It’s about the value you bring to the company, which has nothing to do with your location.
  • They don’t demand that you provide a CV to apply.
  • They don’t require you to have an up-to-date portfolio.
  • They don’t want you to write a cover letter.
  • They don’t need you to have a college degree.
  • They pay you when you’re asked to do a trial.

Lance Robbins from XWP told me: 

“XWP always gives a range and I always advocate for this. Providing ongoing feedback throughout the evaluation process helps everyone have realistic expectations of where on that scale a candidate will land. There are some opportunities for negotiation, even within a defined range, so it's not completely eliminated, but the likelihood of someone being undervalued and “low-balled” is inherently reduced. 

It saves everyone a lot of time and stress going into an emotionally charged experience.”

XWP, as you might already know, is an extremely successful VIP agency that has experienced extraordinary growth during the past couple of years, which led to staff numbers growing by about 400% over a short period of time.

XWP managed to successfully hire literally hundreds of people, with a balanced process that did not require the candidate to spend weeks preparing themselves. 

Because there’s another thing that happens when you go the traditional way and you require a CV, a cover letter, and an up-to-date portfolio: many people will be automatically excluded from applying, from the very start.

If you’re a single mother in charge of young children and you already have a job, you may not have time to update your CV and portfolio, let alone write a cover letter. 

If you suffer from anxiety, imposter syndrome, and depression, having to revisit your entire working history and put it down on screen again may feel like an insurmountable task.

If you come from an underprivileged background and did not go to university, you may not have been taught how to write an effective CV.

None of the impediments above mean that you would not be a perfect fit for the role. 

In fact, Brett Snyder, founder, and CEO of the WordPress agency Knucklepuck says:

“We have no roles at Knucklepuck that require a college degree.

We are privileged to work in an industry that requires no formal education and we feel compelled to use our position as a growing company to provide opportunities for under-represented groups.”

If you are truly committed to a diverse workforce, this is the type of attitude that you should embrace.

And at Knucklepuck they go even further – with their “no resumes allowed” rule.

Yep, that’s right. Not only are you not required to provide a resume when applying for a job at Knucklepuck: you’re actually not allowed to. 

Brett pointed out to me that the art of writing an effective resume is one that’s usually taught at institutions of higher education that might be very expensive to attend. As a result, those who already had an easier start to their working life are handed out another unfair advantage. 

He also remarked that reading resumes is a time-consuming process even for the employers themselves: it might take the candidate weeks of toil to perfect a resume which is then only skimmed through by the employer. 

It’s an inefficient, outdated, and unfair process that ends up benefitting no one. 

I completely agree, also because even when your CV is up to date, you have to tailor it again for different positions, to highlight the part of your experience that’s more relevant to the role.

The same thing applies to portfolios, and it’s easily circumvented by asking candidates to present 2 or 3 projects that they believe are significant relative to the role. This is what XWP do, too, and I highly commend them for it. 

Why not skip that step then?

As someone who has done a fair bit of hiring in her life – let me wear my design department director hat right now, instead of the candidate’s one – I can assure you that most people lie on their CVs, or at least they embellish the truth in order to impress the recruiter. We’ve all done it. 

I am absolutely sure that you can hire the right fit of talent without a CV or a portfolio – and without having to hand in a silly, out-of-context task project that proves zero about their ability to perform in their role at best, exposing them to their ideas being stolen at worst (yes, that definitely happens). 

I know, because I’ve had to fire people that had been hired before my time. They had presented a great CV as well as the required task. They were completely wrong for the role anyway. Firing someone is not pleasant, I can assure you, and it’s a huge waste of time and resources for everyone. 

Their successors in the role, in case you’re wondering, brought their best projects instead of a portfolio, didn’t need to do a task, and lasted in their positions respectively 8 and 12 years, in both cases leaving of their own volition, after having provided huge value to the institution they designed for. 

Are you ready for big changes?

How do you feel right now? If you are one of those who avoid posting ranges for whatever reason – have I upset you?

Nobody likes being told that what they’re doing is wrong, so you might well take to Twitter now and @ me with all your indignation (my handle is @Piccia 😎).

As said above – I come in peace. And I am open to my mind being changed. After all, I am asking you to change yours! 

But if even just one of you decides that you will at least consider the following practices, I will consider my job to be done.

  1. Be transparent about pay ranges.
    Make them wide if you have to. The right candidate will be honest about where they should sit on that range
  2. Reward skills, talent, and experience regardless of location.
    A prosperous workforce is a happy one, and your company will benefit from it.
  3. Never ever ask people to name their price!
    It’s your responsibility to define the role and give it a value.

Piccia Neri is a UX and accessible design lead, consultant, and speaker helping businesses and agencies win on the web by putting users at the center. She loves educating designers and developers in the best UX, UI, and accessibility practices via workshops, courses, and talks, in three languages. Piccia is currently UX and UI lead for an Italian museum, the Galleria Nazionale dell’Umbria, and she has an ongoing collaboration with Balsamiq, a wireframing app, contributing to their design academy.

From 2019 to 2022 Piccia was a Maverick at Cloudways, a cloud hosting platform. Over the course of her design career, Piccia has worked with major cultural institutions as well as top London agencies on global brands. She led the creative direction of the design department at the British Film Institute, London, and was vice-president of the Chartered Society of Designers (UK) 2013-16.

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7 Comments

  1. With California and New York considering mandatory salary ranges on job postings, this will likely soon be a thing of the past as other states follow suit. We’ve got ranges on our postings.

    1. I hope so! Optimism seems possible.

      Reaktiv job listings have always been exemplary! I’ve been looking at them here now and then over the past 7 years, and it has had an influence. Guaranteed. That matters to individuals working in this space and the health of the ecosystem overall. Thank you for your part in “tending the commons.” 🙂

    2. Josh, I believe that both those states have gone for it in the meantime. And as for the companies making exceptions for those states that already have mandatory salary ranges, as Andrew Wilder says below, they’ll soon run out of good people to hire and/ or states to hire them in. Very pleased that this post is making me aware of the companies that do post ranges, I was getting a bit dejected about it, happy to hear that Reaktiv sees the point, too.

  2. During our last round of hiring, we started putting salary ranges on our listings (including the one we had on Post Status, thankyouverymuch!) and I have to say, it was liberating!

    We no longer had to worry if a great candidate would be out of our budget, since we already knew anyone who applied would be okay with that range. That saved everyone a lot of time and stress. (I don’t like making a job offer only to wonder if someone is going to counter, and then waiting in dread knowing I might have to negotiate, and that I might miss a great candidate if I don’t get it right.)

    Next time we’re hiring, I plan to post a specific starting salary, not a range. Everyone wants to be at the top of the range anyway (whether they ask for it or not), and then if they don’t get that, they’ll likely feel undervalued. I’m now convinced that sharing salary numbers in advance makes makes the hiring process significantly easier, and is far more equitable.

    1. Wow Andrew, you’ve totally validated my points from the point of view of the business owner, offering a perspective I hadn’t actually thought about. Love the point about the starting salary as opposed to a range: it makes perfect sense. Thank you so much, I hugely appreciate you taking the time to comment, it brings a lot to the conversation.

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