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Competitive recruitment starts with disclosing salaries

In August, job site published the results of their analysis of salaries on 500,000 job ads, and it turns out that only half of all employers disclose salaries on job adverts. The rest say things like ‘competitive’, ‘very attractive’, ‘dependent on experience’ or ‘available on application’ – alluring phrases which really just mean that there is a salary, but it’s a secret.

As a quick sidenote I’ll say that the report is a fascinating read and worth looking at as the results aren’t always what you would expect. For example, Google is at the top of the list of secretive employers with a clean 100% of jobs being advertised without salary details. Also, salary-less advertising depends on the industry and on the level of the job – real estate employers are very open about salaries (92%), but only 20% of graduate or part-time jobs disclose pay rates.

I wanted to know where publishing falls on this scale, although, honestly, I had a hunch. I’ve applied to many a publishing job and have never known the salary beforehand. I’ve even been to an interview where money was not mentioned, and once I requested a salary for one of those ‘available on request’ ads and got none the wiser (they wanted me to send my CV first, which actually means that the salary is available on application, not request).

by PhotoGraham on Flickr
She Who Must Not Be Named in Job Ads

To confirm what I think I already know, I’ve conducted a little research project. I went to the Bookseller‘s job section, which is arguably the largest database of publishing jobs in the UK, and did a count. At the time of writing, 151 jobs are listed on the board. Out of these, 5 include salary details. That’s a rather anaemic 3.3% against the 50% UK average.

A few possible explanations leap to mind. Book publishing is a notoriously badly compensated industry, and employers may want to try and make candidates fall in love with a job first before dropping the pay bomb. Perhaps employers believe that publishing people don’t care about the money, or that they can discourage those pesky ones who do from applying by not posting the salary. They may be worried about giving their competitors an advantage by showing their cards. And lastly, it’s easier to do what the rest of 96.7% of employers are doing – and end up with employees just like everyone else’s, too.

Yes, when you state the salary on a job advert, you may get too few candidates if the pay is low; too many if it’s high; the wrong kind (I’ve heard of a fear of getting greedy people if you advertise a good salary!) and have to worry about other publishers seeing what the going rate is in your company and using it to their advantage. And that might mean having to reconsider what you are willing to pay, figure out intelligent ways to separate the right candidates from the wrong and work on becoming a company where people will want to be despite better pay packets from your competitors.

These are all things employers should be doing already – although if they were you would expect to see more than 3.3% straight-talking job advertisements.

Incidentally, have devised something called Jobsworth, which uses their gigantic database to calculate a salary estimate (based on averages for that field and level) for any job advertised without salary details. They reckon the average salary for publishing in London is £31,239.

What do you think – do publishers have more to gain than to lose by being less secretive about the going rates for jobs?


  1. Thomas Ogilvie Thomas Ogilvie 7 October 2013

    That’s why surveys like this are very useful, giving you the ammunition you need to at least be able to have realistic expectations. I think it’s a simple case of supply and demand – demand for any job in publishing, especially ‘editorial assistant’ roles, will be sky-high, and salaries don’t need to be competitive with comparable roles in other professions.

    I saw a job advert on Linkedin a few days ago for a marketing assistant role at a big publisher which asked applicants to give their current salary in their application, but didn’t give an indicative salary in their advert – it should at least be a two way street; if they aren’t telling us the potential salary, we shouldn’t have to tell them our current one.

  2. Meri Meri 12 October 2013

    Hi Thomas – so sorry to have inadvertently censored your comment! WordPress had categorised it as spam and never notified me. :(

    I too filled in that survey and pored over the results of the previous one with great interest. It’s the best resource publishing people have for forming salary expectations and I can’t wait to see the results of this ongoing one in the spring.

    I completely agree about the two-way street. That’s happened to me and I find it quite cheeky and unfair. What other reason can you have for doing that than adjusting the salary according to the applicants’ current pay?

  3. Katy Katy 12 October 2013

    Maybe it’s me who has massively incorrect assumptions or something, but I can’t believe that £31,000 is the average UK publishing salary. It sounds too high from where I’m sitting, admittedly at the bottom of the pile.

    I was talking to one of my friends who has had several publishing jobs now (she’s a few years older than me) and is a commissioning editor – she’s at something like £28,000 and doesn’t expect to ever earn much more. Even in London. Is this the mean average, so the people with very high salaries are really pulling up everyone else? Are we just in the wrong part? Would I earn more in sales?

    Or – are Adzuna making that figure up, based on the very few publishing jobs that disclose their salaries? Probably the higher paid ones…

  4. Meri Meri 12 October 2013

    Well, if you look at the jobs classified under publishing in London on that site, it’s not just book publishing, which skews the results. The again I heard recently that the CEO of a mid-sized publishing house made over £150K, so if even one of those top jobs was in the mix…

    Have you filled in the Bookcareers salary survey yet (the link’s in Thomas’s comment)? Their average salary from 2008 is £24,871, which sounds closer to the truth. Although I wonder whether people in top jobs take part in that survey.

  5. John Paterson John Paterson 13 October 2013

    After 40 years in HR and some consideable time in industries with scarce resources, e.g. IT, HGV drivers. I did an experiment where we ran ads with and without salaries. In the scarce IT sector we had over 200 responses to the ‘with Salary’ ad and fewaer than 30 to the ‘without’
    We surveyed the 200 before the shortlist, so they were keen to respond some 86%. They identified salary as a clear attracter in the advert.
    Adverts with salaries seem to be in the minority, however linkedin and other media often have salary indicators and are increasingly replacing paper adverts due to shorter lead times and faster responses.

    • Meri Meri 14 October 2013

      Thanks for commenting, John! Interesting statistics. I imagine that as publishing does not have scarce resources they have no need to use salary as an attractor, but it still boggles the mind. It should be obvious that the benefits of being open about it are greater than the disadvantages (which I think are exaggerated anyway).

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