Looking for a new job is a bit like looking for a new house - pages of promising ads and not a hint of monetary value. "Salary commensurate with experience" has the same hollow ring as "price by negotiation".
If a job ad has been placed by a private advertiser it can be difficult for a candidate to know when to broach the subject of salary, and if it turns out to be well below expectations when it's finally divulged in the second interview, that's a lot of time and effort wasted.
A candidate applying via a recruitment agency, however, will be able to find out about the money early in the process because the employer will have briefed the recruiter as to a salary figure or at least a salary range. Jane Kennelly, director of Frog Recruitment, says one of the first questions candidates ask when they phone about an advertised job is, "Can you tell me how much this position is paying?"
She says the aim is to provide a realistic salary range that gives the jobseeker a clear idea of where the position sits in relation to their expertise and experience.
"It's a two-way conversation because it's important for both parties to be able to gauge where the role fits from a salary perspective. It does feel a little like a 'dance' sometimes but it provides a starting place to make sure the ball park is realistic."
Dale Gray, partner at Inside Recruitment, agrees.
"On balance, most recruiters would disclose salary up front, and we do it either in an initial phone conversation or face-to-face." He says it's particularly relevant where there is "a bit of volume" for a role as it's a way of reducing a large pool of potential candidates.
Where once it was commonplace to quote the salary in a job ad, Kennelly says times have changed and although jobseekers can find it frustrating, employers have valid reasons for not stating the salary - the first being confidentiality.
"With experience, skills, and location impacting salary, organisations like to maintain confidentiality around the salaries they're offering so that any potential internal resentment can be minimised," she says.
The second reason is competition. "Not advertising salary can be a competitive hiring advantage for employers, to ensure the competition is unaware of what's on offer."
She adds that employers strive to achieve a fine balance - not too much and not too little, and keeping salaries on the down-low helps them navigate this area.
Kennelly says it's rare in the current job market for employers to wait until interviewing the candidate before disclosing salary. "Although the client may not give us exact numbers, typically some range indication is provided to us to ensure there is alignment between parties. Positions of a very senior level might fall into this [non-disclosure] category given the complex nature of some packages, but it's not common."
Gray says that whereas some Inside Recruitment clients will decide the exact salary (within a pre-disclosed range) only when having met and evaluated the quality of the candidate, typically the role determines the salary. "Most organisations have a mechanism for sizing positions. They benchmark it against similar roles, industries and vocations."
Likewise, mechanisms exist to assist the jobseeker in "sense-checking" the salary package on offer, including on-line salary surveys that aid the gathering of market data. Kennelly says job boards endeavour to assist candidates by grouping roles in salary ranges, and she adds that the content of the advertisement often gives clues as to the level of position, which in turn can be matched to a salary range.
If an advertiser is able to offer an attractive salary, then it can be an advantage to list it in the job ad as a way of attracting more talent, including "passive applicants" - those who weren't necessarily looking for work but want a more highly-paid position, as well as top talent who know their value and are looking for someone who will pay it.
Gray notes that in contrast with permanent jobs, rates for contract or temporary roles generally are listed because "quite often it's a key determinant as to whether someone would do it or not. If the role is paying $40 an hour and the candidate needs $45, many would say, 'unless you can give me $45 an hour I'm not interested'."
Gray has noticed an emerging trend for flexibility in the structuring of remuneration. "What we're seeing a bit more is people saying, 'I've got a budget, what resource can I buy for that budget and what are my options?' He gives the example of a client who had a salary cap for a particular position and had a very good candidate who wanted more money. So, with the salary he had available, the client offered the candidate three days' work a week instead of five. This gave the candidate the opportunity to do other work for the remaining two days to bring his overall salary up to what he needed.
"An employer might offer this type of flexibility if he thinks the quality of the applicant means the role can be fulfilled in three or four days instead of five. The candidate might bring more experience, more capability, or skills that are more advanced."
Gray says the advantage of a flexible structure is that it opens up quite a different portfolio of potential candidates.
"They might take time off for family or personal commitments or they might have a side venture. They could be incubating a little business that might or might not be related to their career."
Gray believes the traditional employer/employee relationship will modernise over time. "An emerging trend is people starting to develop portfolios of employment, and this is probably a preamble to what the future may look like."