“SALARY: Competitive”, What?!

Another exposed metal object on the software job searching minefield.

LinkedIn, It’s a Banger

I’d like to say I have an on-off love affair with LinkedIn, but it’s more like owning an old banger of a car you can’t realistically get rid of. Let’s go with the analogy that it gets you to the shops for food, mostly, but you have to put up with the continuous clanking, oil patch on your driveway, and endless expensive repair bills.

And, as a result, you get a headache just by looking at it.

These days its likely, especially if you’re in the software game like me, that you’ll have a profile there as there’s no real alternative around the moment¹. Its use depresses the soul like the black mould between the tiles on a bathroom wall — you know you could get rid of it with a bit of effort but you just put up with it looking back at you in the mirror when you’re washing your face in the morning. You just leave the bathroom as quickly as possible closing the door behind you, out of sight out of mind.

Anyway, enough of the comparisons, I could really go to town on this.

Today’s fun revolves around the hideously inaccurate job listings I continually receive as a result of two fatal mistakes:

  • I did some coding tests for vanity purposes².
    (C, Swift, C++, bash scripting, I think. If you’re sufficiently interested then look me up. At your own risk, naturally.)
  • I saved a job search about 7 years ago.
    (I don’t have the motivation to delete it, a bit like a bad smell that you keep having to sniff on your fingers. Know what I mean? There I go again.)

As a result I receive job suggestions from their statistics³ based system regularly which are comically bad (they could be and may indeed be a future article in their own right) but to their credit they do have several specific things in common.

“Love, friendship and respect do not unite people as much as a common hatred for something.”
- Anton Checkhov

Salary isn’t a Salad Vegetable

Whether I’m browsing (and in the background it’s watching me with its statistics³) or it’s notifying me of new vacancies my eye is always drawn to the salary line — it’s the first place I go to see if the job is at my level.

It’s much quicker to do this than to plough through the actual technical requirements for, as we all know by now, agents and companies love posting as many abbreviations and acronyms as possible in that section.

A bit of a ‘let’s cover all the basis’ kind of modus operandi, I feel.

Let’s not just go for an expert in protocol based Swift programming with experience in AR, let’s make sure they also have 10 years in Javascript⁴, a knowledge of TCP/IP networking and some Maven too!

Let’s not even get into the ’10 years of Swift experience required’ when it’s only been out in the open for 6 and bit years (it’s 2021 everyone!) — that also may indeed be a future article.

LinkedIn is a goldmine of recruitment fun and frolics isn’t it?
It’s like having all of your eggs put in their wonderful big basket of recruitment!

Anyhow, back to the plot. I’m looking at the salary line and, if it has one it likely says:

SALARY: Competitive

Alright, I’m thinking. What’s competitive?

If it’s a niche role (the protocol based Swift thing I mentioned above, with experience in AR) then that’s going to be hard to quantify. I’d like to compare apples to Apples (pun intended) not Apples to oranges. Help.

How about a general role? Well, how can the poster know anything about me? If they’re assuming that a certain kind of person will be applying for the role based on the description then I’d have to assume it’d be competitive amongst people with the stated requirements (qualifications, experience, technologies, etc.). In that case, I’m totally reliant on the accuracy of the description and the authenticity of the applicants themselves. I’m starting to get a knot in my stomach even thinking about this.

But, most importantly, they miss a vital point. What’s competitive for me? We’re all different — qualifications, experience, technologies, personality, motivations, et al.

Competitive to me means that it may be a good enough fit to tempt me away from my current role. But, they don’t know about that — only what I’ve written in my profile, perhaps, and who reads that, right⁵?

It’s a minefield.

The worst part is that to actually put a figure on a salary you’d have to start talking to someone about it or actually jump through some interview filtering hoops. The process would have to start.

Salty isn’t just overdoing your Condiments

I guess they’re not posting salary for a reason. Causality and all that.

There may be more than one agent chasing a role and they don’t want to put their cards on the table as they’re trying to maximise their bonus and keep down the costs to the hiring company perhaps. The conclusion I draw here is that they’re working primarily monetarily, which doesn’t help me — the guy who’s generating the money in this case. I need insight.

Maybe they just don’t know and put competitive so that they can straw poll the candidates and take the lower end. Actual machine learning in the wild eh? Sorry, statistics, almost slipped there. Not good.

Maybe I’ll pick up the phone, tap a message, and ask and they’ll say “well, I’ll see if I can get” or “that’s at the higher range I have but I’ll talk to the hiring manager” but that just leaves me with the sinking feeling again. The response to this usually includes an invitation to submit a C.V. to enter the process in order to find out. Hic sunt dracones!

I do have a chip on my shoulder, and it’s a big one, about the whole software hiring process. Did you spot it? In particular, if I’m going to go to the trouble of submitting myself to the commonly flawed hiring process then I’m going to need to know the salary up front to see if it’s actually worth my time applying.

I’ve made the mistake in the past of going through the process with incomplete information, passing though the interviews and into the offer stage, and been frankly insulted at the meagre compensation package offered to me.

Other times I’m gone in with a ‘range’ and been lowballed⁶ at the end and having the distinct feeling that either the agency or the employer is playing off their potentials so that they pay as little as possible⁷.

Of course, not all agents or employers do this, but at least my experience has been that it’s can be fairly common — especially if the market is tight.

A Ball Park Figure

What I want to see, up front, is at the very least a salary range on an advert so that I can judge there and then whether it’s worth my time applying. Even better would be a few figures, perhaps based on acceptable levels of experience or how many of the criteria I might fulfil on the ‘nice to have’ list too. It could be so much better.

My time’s valuable and yours is too, more than likely more so, and it’s definitely not well spent jumping through hoops (there they are again, the hoops) just to get an insight into what the payoff might eventually be.

I’m not expecting a definite figure, just something that’s realistically thought out showing that the hiring people know their stuff, that they’ve done some research, or at least that they’ve employed a competent agency to do their searching for them. This would all be Plus Points for me on reading through the posting and weighing up whether it’s worth my time applying.


I’d like to mention ‘total compensation packages’ briefly as many companies suppress basic pay in favour of trinkets and shiny things.

“All that glisters is not gold
Often have you heard that told.”
- William Shakespeare, Merchant of Venice, Act II Scene 7

Sometimes it’s golden handcuffs (signing bonuses that you have to give back if you leave within a certain time), delayed share options (deferred money, but wobblier⁸ as it depends on the company’s performance over the time you have to wait), other times it’s ball pits with coloured balls and fussball tables.

Don’t be fooled by bells and whistles, know what to look for. There’s nothing as useful as a good basic salary, you can’t pay your rent with protein shakes and company socks.

[1]: Please, someone, make one that’s isn’t a Microsoft owned Facebook for jobs. The memes, oh the memes!
[2]: Yes, I know I despise coding tests for jobs. This was entirely for vanity purposes and (secretly) to see how badly they could mess up this as well.
[3]: They call it an algorithm. Agents and salespeople called it AI. Spoiler: It’s statistics.
[4]: Imagine, 10 years in Javascript, masochism and type hatred all in one!
[5]: I did a quick recap of the last few (4) agents who called / messaged me about a job and none of them had reviewed my profile. I’m assuming they relied on the usual automation. I wrote a little article touching on that too and how to spot it a while back, if you’re interested.
[6]: Apologies for the blatant americanism, it was the most appropriate and concise phrasing I could think of. Unlike this reference.
[7]:I usually pass on cases like this to my own circle of contacts so that the agency / employer can be avoided in future.
[8]: I’m surprised this is actually a word. It looks good too.

Worries about the future. Way too involved with software. Likes coffee, maths, and . Would prefer to be in academia. SpaceX, Twitter, and Overwatch fan.

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