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Would posting a high salary on a programmer job advertisement encourage strong candidates and weed out lesser candidates? The salary would be relative to the position.

Edit: Maybe it wouldn't alter your application, but would you have any concerns or does this raise any red flags? It wouldn't make them seem desperate?

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And you would be an employer / employee / recruiter / other? What is your angle here? –  Job Jan 8 '11 at 3:02
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@Job - didn't recall at the time of writing this question, but in a previous career, the salary indicated at the interview was not what I was offered. They made a bunch of excuses about HR, budgeting, blah, blah, blah. When something looks too good to be true, it usually is and people get suspicious. –  JeffO Jan 8 '11 at 23:53
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Hm ... if I saw an over-promise in any way, I would not take the offer. I would feel that they are either chronic liars, or that they do not value ME enough to offer what they could have. Either way I would not accept it. HR and budgeting issues are a sign of a large, mismanaged company. I personally have worked for a small company which was able to offer me more than a large company could simply due to efficiency of a small shop, plus a unique position of it in a market place. A small hedge fund might need a computer guy and easily offer 50% more than others. If IBM does it, then maybe they –  Job Jan 9 '11 at 0:08
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If you want to weed out unskilled people, start off with one decent, deeply tech question in this specific domain - asked even over the phone, before inviting for the interview. Something an expert in the field will get right away, non-expert will fumble with. Never assume people who don't understand half of the words in the ad's requirements section will weed out themselves. –  SF. Jul 14 '11 at 7:19

12 Answers 12

up vote 13 down vote accepted

So, you want to hire a great programmer.

Every good programmer hopes to work at a great company which treats their employees well. High salary can be explained as "they have a revolutionary product and hence they can afford to share". They know it is the right thing to do so that I do not leave prematurely. (I personally have been spoiled before and took it for granted.)

How to keep idiots away is another question. Just about everyone overestimates their experience by a factor of ... say 1.5. Employers overestimate their requirements by a factor of same. Both sides sort of have to - game theory at work. Do not overdo it and do not under-do it.

Write a fair, tough, informative description. Such one below. When I saw it, I liked it. I am sure that many fakes would not respond.

How to screen resumes and candidates effectively is a third question. Many, including Jeff Atwood have written about it at length. I will not give you a full guide for ... what do I know, plus there are better advices out there on the internet. I would just reiterate - do not piss off good candidates. Also, do you have something to hide, or are you heaven on earth? Hiring would be way easier if you were. Good luck.

Software engineer - Java - REAL PROGRAMMERS ONLY (Bedford)

Date: 2011-01-05, 2:17PM EST Reply to: job-rentq-2145221605@craigslist.org [Errors when replying to ads?]

Do you have experience developing with Java, Spring and Hibernate?

Java Experience Required

We are looking for select individuals with Java, Spring and Hibernate experience who are interested in developing scalable backend systems that process large amounts of data.

Raybeam Solutions is a growing niche consulting company focused on internet search and marketing, business intelligence, and data warehousing for the past 10 years. We have offices near Boston and in Silicon Valley and support a strong list of clients including Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, eBay, Expedia and AOL. We're looking for a flexible, well-rounded technologist with maturity and business savvy to join us in Boston or Silicon Valley. We design and develop systems using a variety of tools and platforms. We work in small teams, own the projects that we work on and have direct input into the business decision of our clients.

You have: Real Tested Programming Skills: If you have a technology listed on your resume you will be expected to talk at length on how you used it, pros & cons. An actual passion for development: ... if you got into this line of work because you thought it would make a dependable career, chances are this is not a good fit. Confidence in your skills ... if the idea of doing technical screenings in your interview, peer code reviews and team design reviews makes you nervous, chances are this is not a good fit. We are very good at what we do and only want to work with people like us.

Breadth of knowledge: We move fast on small teams. You'll need to be able to set up the server where you're writing code that's using a database you've configured. Excellent communication skills: Not just good. Explaining exactly what we're doing and why we're doing it is an important part of the job. Many people you'll talk to do not have the same technical experience that you do, but they still will need to feel comfortable with what your ideas and actions. Ability to listen and understand: We work with smart people in a variety of fields. You'll need to understand what they're asking of you. Quickness: Can you work intelligently with speed? Much of what we do is prototyping systems that have never built before. Our clients are interested in results and we need to deliver them quickly. Experience at scale: We start at terabytes. Everything gets larger from there.

We have: Depth: It's a small company but we bring decades of combined experience in internet marketing and business intelligence at scales that few people have the opportunity to work at consistently Intellectual diversity: We're engineers, political scientists, statisticians and even music theorists. We can all write code, but that's not the only thing we do. Connections: We mentioned a few of our business partners above. This network rubs off. Raybeam employees go on to work at places like Google, Microsoft, Expedia and CBSSportsline. Challenges: Every engagement is different and we get the opportunity to be creative every time. Fun: We're hilarious ... trust us.

Specifics: You’ll be working with Java, Spring and Hibernate and you’ll have experience with OOD Multi-threaded programming Database design SQL

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We need more opportunity (not "job") descriptions like this one. Great example. I want to apply :) Hey -- just noticed that your handle is "Job". Coincidental? –  Mark Freedman Jan 8 '11 at 4:13
    
Sorry, coincidental and short for something else. That job post was not mine; I copied it verbatim. –  Job Jan 8 '11 at 4:18
    
Interesting that this job description is more of a narrative and not just a listing of requirements. I'd like to see more of that. –  JeffO Oct 23 '12 at 13:39

I think very specific

  • requirements,
  • expectations,
  • and responsibilities

do more to weed out lesser candidates. If the above items don't reflect why a salary is high, then the overall skill set within the candidate pool will not meet desired levels.

Personally, a high salary never deterred me from applying for a position. Seeing requirements (experience and/or education) has always been the determining factor in whether I would apply.

Edit in response to comment
Requirements need to be specific and describe exactly what you are looking for. I don't know java well enough to give specifics; however, for C#, I might suggest:

  • 5+ years C#, including asynchronous implementation, TCP/IP, some related technology or library
  • 5+ years .Net development and organization in a team environment

I would use lingo and terms that only someone who is familiar with them would know. A quick question can easily give you a clue as to whether the candidate knows what they are talking about: Include one project in detail in which you have implemented one or more of the technologies listed above.

Regardless, if the candidate knows that there will be a test, that could easily sway unqualified candidates from applying. Some candidates will think they can smooth-talk their way into a 2nd interview or a job offer. Your interview process, will be the only way to ensure you get qualified candidates for a 2nd interview. I really don't think there will be any magic job posting that will be fool proof.

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Two jobs with equal requirements that meet you needs; no difference? –  JeffO Jan 8 '11 at 0:23
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@Jeff: I'm not sure I understand. If I see 2 jobs with equal requirements that I feel I fulfill, and both offer compensation that meets my needs, I will apply to both. –  IAbstract Jan 8 '11 at 0:31
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I'm not convinced requirements are enough, but I'd like to hear how you would go about being specific. Too many postings just have something like 3-5 yrs of Java experience. –  JeffO Jan 8 '11 at 0:58

How do you figure? Wouldn't you attract more candidates (both good and bad) who are drawn by the high salary figure?

Most job posts I've seen list a salary range or (more often) just note that salary will be commensurate with the candidate's skills and experience.

As I think about it, I don't think you can do much to weed out lesser candidates at the job posting level. Often people who aren't quite qualified don't know it anyway. I would just focus on writing out the requirements as dboarman suggested to increase the odds of attracting qualified candidates.

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So a company that advertised disproportionately high salaries wouldn't raise any red flags? Financially strong, but horrible to work for or they have no idea what they are doing? –  JeffO Jan 8 '11 at 0:29
    
@Jeff O: That's not a decision I'd make based on a job posting. If I felt I could fill the requirements and the job sounded interesting, I'd treat a high salary as a perk (some companies do pay a disproportionately high salary - i.e. Google) and apply. I would make final judgement during the interview process, if any, not before. –  Anna Lear Jan 8 '11 at 0:31
    
So if Google posts a programmer's job for twice their normal salary, nothing? I'm just trying to remove the other factors. Hate to be a skeptic, but I'm tempted to do this as an experiment. –  JeffO Jan 8 '11 at 0:42
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@Jeff O: Seriously, I wouldn't treat salary as that much of an indicator. I'd probably eliminate lower salaries, but because they'd not support my expenses, not because I think the company is sketchy. But then, I'm a sample size of 1, so a better experiment may be in order. :) –  Anna Lear Jan 8 '11 at 0:43

Personally I've never been intimidated by seeing a high salary figure. I only get intimidated and put off from applying for something if I see things in the job description which are far beyond my skills and experience.

In other words, I HAVE applied for highly paid roles in the past which turned out to be out of my league in the interview, but didn't seem so from the (inadequate) description in the ad. I guess this is what you're trying to work out?

So no, I don't think a high salary alone does all that much to weed out people who are inadequate for a role. Personally I'd simply be as detailed as possible in the ad. Nobody wants to waste their time when they can clearly see that much more is expected than they can bring to the table.

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I've heard so many stories about under-qualified candidates who still apply for jobs that clearly posted their requirements, that I think there have to be other factors. Maybe listing 80hr work weeks? –  JeffO Jan 8 '11 at 0:55
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Jeff O, good programmers would typically hate to work 80 hrs, but they would not mind thinking hard and being very productive. In fact, you do not want someone who is willing to work that much. You want a lazy prodigy rather than a hard-working idiot (I think). Someone famous (a general) said something about the 4 combinations of people. The ones with enough experience likely have kids, so even 50 hrs would turn them away. Also remember: your goal is not to weed people out; it is to hire good professionals. Weeding week coders quickly is a necessity, that is all. Do not weed out good ones! –  Job Jan 8 '11 at 2:15
    
@Jeff O: Listing 80 hours weeks will just make your company sound like a sweatshop. Or like a disorganized hackshop which is always in a crunch because projects are not managed properly. –  Bobby Tables Jan 8 '11 at 5:48
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@Jeff O, 60hrs - maybe, but the things is that there are many other productivity blockers, at least at a large place. Being blocked by something while trying to pull crazy work hours would be super stressful. However, if you want a capable contractor for 2 months, then what you ask and give would make sense. –  Job Apr 24 '11 at 1:01
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@Jeff O, there is no circumstance where I would apply for a job that told me up front they expected 80-hour work weeks because that tells me that they are too ignorant to work for. Tired people make mistakes and working more than 40_hours regularly means you will have more serios buigs and many more mistakes and it will probaly take you longer to get teh job done tahn if you had sane work hours. Why would anyone want to work in that environment for any amount of money? You are far better off hiring 2 programmers for a good salary than one guy at a huge salary to work ridiculous hours. –  HLGEM Jul 13 '11 at 22:27

No. A high salary listed will get you huge amounts of resumes to sift through - far more than if you listed no salary at all.

That being said, one bank I worked for had such a bad reputation for discarding employees that they had to offer a significant premium just to get people in the door. Among the silly things they did: if you were overheard (all phone lines were monitored) talking about looking for another job then that was your last day; another was that contractors could only work for 90 days and then they'd be dismissed as that was a "security" feature.

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Based on your experience, you may have to think twice? –  JeffO Jan 8 '11 at 1:02

I would look at it more from statistical point of view. Keep in mind this is all hypothetical. I am assume that you want to hire someone in the top 95% maybe more. I think posting a high salary would encourage more people to apply, but for every one great candidate you would get 19 candidates that don't meet your expectations. I don't personally think that a high salary would deter qualified candidates from applying, but I have no experience in the regard. I am really not sure that there is good way to limit the number of "bad" candidates". I am not even sure the that "bad" candidates would know that they are unqualified or care for that matter.

Also, I think part of the reason that it is hard to find good candidates is that they already have jobs. Unless they are unhappy where they work, they are probably not looking.

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In my experience, bad candidates are often certain they are qualified. –  Mike Sherrill 'Cat Recall' Jul 14 '11 at 1:28

I can recall one place I worked ran a job add offering $30K per year (which was a very high salary in 79). Someone passed all the requirements, but was rejected because he was greedy and wanted the advertised salary! What were they thinking?

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Maybe the company was pulling the 'bait and switch' ? –  JeffO Jan 8 '11 at 23:44

The salary would be relative to the position.

This one line makes me wonder if it is really a "high salary" or if it's reasonable compensation for the skills required and the level of the position.

If the salary is average for the position you are trying to fill, I might think it could have the opposite effect. As someone has already mentioned, it might be hard to find good candidates b/c they are already employed. If they see your salary and its average, why would they leave their stable position for something that's not a sure thing for the money they are probably already making?

For me, seeing a salary makes me think the company isn't going to negotiate at all. If the job requirements don't match the salary posted it makes me think something is being hidden.

But, if I didn't have a job and I really REALLY needed one (bad economy you know) I would apply even if I had only a subset of the skills required. Never know, you might get lucky right? Any job is better than no job.

So, the TL;DR version is no I don't think posting a higher salary on your job ad will help to minimize unqualified people, but it might hinder you in maximizing the qualified people.

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Yes it is really a high salary. What might be considered high for a Jr. level may not be for a Sr. –  JeffO Jan 8 '11 at 23:43

I kind of like the ads that do post a salary range. It's the ones that don't that get me worried (Are they hiding something? Are they going to play the ridiculous negotiation game where I have to mention a number first so they can screw me?). If they post a salary range, I know whether it meets my needs in that department, and don't waste my time with it if it doesn't. If the salary posted is truly in the budget for that position then fine.

That said, the other answers posted here are legit too.

In the end though, I think it would have about the same chance of attracting bogus candidates as it would filtering out people that weren't serious.

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The best people usually are paid above average already. If you advertise an "average" salary it'll be a pay cut for the best people. So yes advertise a high salary, or leave it blank and hint at high rates.

You'll have the problem of being swamped by resumes but I'm sure you can handle that.

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Salary posted in a job listing is irrelevent. Most people are only going to move from N% more than they're currently making. Most employers are only going to pay N% higher than you made at your last job. If they post 200K and find out you were making 100K at the last place, you're probably going to get offered somewhere between 101-120K (you'll get told that the 200K was for a very well qualified candidate with your experience +10 years and and your degree plus a PHD, etc). If they're offering 120K and you were making 140K, they'll probably offer you 150K if they really want you. So just be the company doing cool things that has a fun environment and nice perks. They pay will be whatever it is.

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Irrelevant and salary should never be put in the same sentence. I've been a victim of the bait-and-switch salary and it was a strong indicator of how bad of a company it was to work for. Never had it happen again. I've usually had honest salary offerings at the first or second interview. –  JeffO Oct 14 '11 at 0:27
    
It's irrelevent because if you already have a job you won't accept any offer less than your current pay. Hiring managers know this and if they call you it means they're prepared to pony up. I'm sure bait and switch card sometimes gets played but your hands aren't tied; you can just walk away. –  Kevin Oct 14 '11 at 6:10

As long as you're willing to pay what you advertise, I don't see a problem with it. (I was silly enough to accept a job once where the figure I was offered was quite a bit lower than what was advertised; I was told it would be very negotiable when I started but it most definitely wasn't.)

It annoys me more when job ads don't list any salary range at all.

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Not including a salary range puts me off as well. There's something to be said about transparency. Who knows what other 'games' they play with compensation. –  JeffO Oct 14 '11 at 0:24

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