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Red flags that suggest a job posting doesn't offer a ‘competitive salary' as it claims, recruiters say

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Job postings that claim to offer a "competitive salary" are on the rise, putting more onus on job seekers to suss out how much money they can expect from a new role.

While you can figure out the salary range after a conversation or two, you might not want to get too far without having an idea, in case what's on offer isn't anything near what you're willing to accept.

If you're at the start of a hiring process without pay clarity, there may be early indications that the promise of a "competitive salary" is an empty one. Here are some red flags to watch out for in your conversations with recruiters and hiring managers.

They avoid talking about salary when you bring it up

One red flag is when a recruiter is unwilling to discuss compensation, says Bonnie Dilber, a recruiting leader at software company Zapier.

Other actions that set off alarm bells: When a hiring manager says they don't talk about salary because they don't want that to influence a candidate's interest, and an employer asking for your salary expectations while refusing to disclose their range.

"I wouldn't eliminate a potential employer based solely on a lack of salary transparency, but I would expect them to talk openly about this in the interview process," Dilber says.

They keep postponing the salary conversation

There can be a few good reasons why a company doesn't provide a ballpark salary figure early in the hiring process, says Jeff Hyman, an executive recruiter of 28 years.

The employer might not have seen enough candidates to land on a salary range, or the person speaking to you may not be the decision-maker and might need their boss's approval before throwing out a number, he says.

But if the company continues to evade the pay conversation after multiple interviews, that's a clear red flag, according to Hyman. 

It may mean the employer still has no idea what they want to pay for the role, in which case you're wasting your time until they've done their homework and figured that out, he says. The other possibility: The company is trying to keep you interested until the last minute, when it can leverage desperation or limit negotiation options.

"By the end of the third conversation, you should have a pretty clear understanding of compensation," he says. "That's a red flag if they want to push it past that."

Should a company keep stalling, you can push back tactfully.

Hyman suggests the following script: "'We've had a couple of great conversations. I am genuinely interested. And I'm confident I can add immense value such as X, Y, Z. At the same time, we're both really busy and I'm sure we don't want to invest time on a conversation that ultimately might be fruitless just because our numbers are not on the same page. Why don't you take some time to digest it and circle back once you have established [the compensation] level?'"

Maintain a humble tone, Hyman notes, but "playing a little hard to get" can prompt a quicker response time.

They overemphasize non-monetary perks

Office atmosphere, free snacks and generous time-off policies are usually welcome offerings, but an excessive emphasis on these perks can be a sign that a company isn't offering a competitive salary, Hyman says.

That's not to say those add-ons are without value or red flags on their own. 

"They may be worth a lot to the right person," he says. "But if you keep hearing things other than money, it's at least a yellow flag, if not a red flag."

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