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  • Writer's pictureAris Federman

What Does Pay Transparency Have to Do with Job Descriptions?

By Jennifer Blake, originally published in HR Daily Advisor.




Legislation such as banning inquiries about candidates’ salary histories and requiring pay ranges in job advertising is forcing employers to become more intentional about their compensation plans. These new laws are designed to shrink the existing pay gap between male and female employees and to prevent disparate impact on candidates who belong to protected classes.


Six U.S. states have already passed legislation mandating that employers provide jobseekers with salary information. Although the specifics vary among the state laws, all require employers to include a salary amount or reasonable range of pay for each job posted.

Why wouldn’t we want job candidates to know what we pay?


An example many people can relate to might help us think about pay transparency a bit differently.


Suppose you’re house shopping, and your realtor shows you the “perfect” house. It’s in a great location, has good square footage, and has a two-car garage—everything you said you wanted. One detail you haven’t inquired about until now is the asking price.


Unfortunately, the house is 30% over your maximum budget! If you’d known that to begin with, you wouldn’t have let yourself fall in love with the house!


As consumers, we tell ourselves we wouldn’t make that mistake. But that’s what we’re asking job candidates to do when we keep pay a secret throughout the recruitment process. What candidate wants to fill out a tedious application, sit through a screening interview, and come back for a second interview only to find out the pay expectations weren’t even in the ballpark? It’s a waste of everyone’s time.


Benefits of Pay Transparency

  • Job prospects know whether an open position is “in their ballpark” before they take the time to apply (which also works in the employer’s favor).

  • No more secrets! We don’t need to worry about employees getting upset once they find out what “that job in procurement” pays.

  • It forces companies to be more intentional about their pay practices and, hopefully, do some compensation planning.

  • It informs your own employees as they make decisions about potential career moves.

  • You’ll reach a wider talent pool. Younger employees expect pay transparency and will often overlook a job posting if pay isn’t included.

The concern I hear most often from employers is if they post their pay ranges for candidates to see, they will all expect to be paid at the top of the pay range. If you have a solid compensation policy that defines how hiring rates are determined and you consistently apply the policy, this shouldn’t be an issue. Job candidates often feel they’re worth more than the market says they’re worth, so this isn’t a new worry.


Are Your Job Descriptions Up to Date?

“Are your job descriptions up to date?” No one anywhere, anytime has ever said “yes!” Why is that? In my experience, managers aren’t trained in writing job descriptions. Moreover, they really don’t get why job descriptions are so important.


Unfortunately, the job descriptions at many companies aren’t well written, and they’re not updated regularly, which makes them fairly useless. No wonder managers don’t know what to do with them.


Job descriptions are the most fundamental component of creating a compensation plan. How can you determine competitive pay if you can’t explain what you’re paying for?


When you have well-written, up-to-date job descriptions, you’re able to compare your jobs with each other internally, creating a job-worth hierarchy, as well as compare your jobs with the competitive salary market so you can build a pay structure. The pay structure is the means by which your company will define the salary range for each job.


Job descriptions are written, and your pay structure is in place. Now you’re ready to advertise your open positions and associated pay ranges to the outside world. You’re well prepared for being transparent with your pay!


Job Descriptions 101

No one likes writing job descriptions because they’re often too complicated. It’s true that job descriptions meet many organizational needs, but their main purpose is to describe the work to be done.


Without going into detail about position control, organizational demographics, or Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance, let’s look at the most essential parts of the job description.


Purpose of Job

Describe the purpose of the job in one or two sentences. Keep it short. For example, the purpose of a mail clerk is “to receive all incoming mail and distribute it throughout the company and ensure outgoing mail is picked up daily.” That one sentence tells me why the job exists.


Key or Essential Responsibilities

Every job has a handful of essential functions that describe the job’s key responsibilities. These key responsibilities should describe what needs to be done versus how it’s to be done. Each key responsibility may have multiple steps or tasks to be completed describing how the work gets done and should be reviewed with new hires during orientation, not at the recruitment phase.


A well-written job description should have no more than 8 to 10 key responsibilities. When you go beyond 10, you start to describe tasks rather than major job responsibilities. The job description should have plenty of white space, which is to say it should be readable and digestible. Too many words, especially unnecessary words, and people stop reading.


Here are two examples of a key responsibility. You decide which is most effective.

  • Stock restrooms with toiletry items.

  • Check restrooms to see if they have adequate toilet paper, paper towels, hand soap, and facial tissue. If any toiletry items are in low supply, retrieve such items from supply closet, and take them to the restroom to be replaced or refilled.

I vote for the first one. It simply states what needs to be done. Most readers can infer the steps that might be involved, such as checking the restrooms, fetching refills, etc.

Adopting the discipline of “starting with the job description” provides a solid starting point to becoming more transparent with pay. HR should be able to provide support, and you’ll find plenty of products on the market to assist with developing job descriptions. With the proper infrastructure in place, you’ll find pay transparency isn’t as daunting as you may have thought. Remember, you have nothing to hide.

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