How to negotiate higher pay using new salary transparency laws

A growing number of US states are requiring companies to include pay ranges on all job postings. Here's how to use them to get your full worth.
Inquire inside.
Inquire inside.
Photo: Spencer Platt / Staff (Getty Images)
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

“So how much does it pay?” is one question that may be going the way of the dinosaurs.

This year, California, Washington, and New York join a growing number of US states with pay transparency laws, requiring companies to include pay ranges on all job postings. New York City put its own salary transparency law in place a few weeks ago. The EU is debating legal frameworks on pay transparency, too. And all of these policies encourage wider adoption of transparent salary ranges regardless of geography.

Sure enough, an increasing number of companies have started posting ranges for all of their roles, not just the ones covered under law. But others have chosen to subvert the system by listing wide ranges that don’t offer useful info for applicants. A range like $15/hour to $125,000 doesn’t say much about what you can expect to see in your offer letter.

So what should job seekers understand as they navigate a transparent pay process—and how can you use it to negotiate better pay for yourself? We turned to career experts to find out what you need to know for your next interview.

Use salary ranges as just one tool for job-seeking

Career coach Phoebe Gavin, who worked at Quartz before she became head of talent and development at the media company Vox, says to think of listed ranges as an additional source, not the only source, of information about your next salary.

“You should still leverage all the other sources of information that you have access to,” she says. “You should still be talking to friends and family and colleagues in your industry about what pay seems to look like in your industry. You should still be looking into what trade associations or industry associations are reporting about what pay patterns are for the work that you do.”

Databases like Glassdoor and, or the free data available from the US Department of Labor, are other wells of information on pay ranges.

All of that intel, Gavin says, can help you put together a more collective and informed idea of what your pay should look like.

Can you ask for more money than the salary range on a job posting?

Yes, says Peter Bamberger, a management professor at Tel Aviv University and scholar at the Academy of Management.

“Job seekers might consider making the case why the employer should consider breaking or expanding the salary ban for them, or bringing evidence that the band is inconsistent with market rates,” Bamberger says.

If the range seems below-rate, that’s where your additional salary research will come in handy. But you can also present your unique mix of skills and experience as a reason to exceed the original range. Just know the bar will likely be high, requiring qualifications that go above and beyond the job posting to get companies to rethink their budgets for a specific role.

If your salary negotiations are headed toward the middle of a role’s listed range, you don’t necessarily have to fret. “That means that there is room for you to get increases in the same role without having to get promoted into a new role,” Gavin says.

What to do when you encounter unhelpful pay ranges on job postings

“Job seekers should recognize that the ranges being posted are typically much wider than they are in reality,” says Bamberger. If you’re applying for a job with an unhelpfully wide salary range listed, it’s time to ask for more info.

“Candidates should inquire as to whether these are actual minimums and maximums,” Bamberger says. In some (though likely few) cases, it reflects that a company is flexible about the level of experience they’re willing to hire.

So be prepared to ask in your interview what the boundaries really are. Are candidates for the role actually earning this broad a range of rates? Are the ranges just theoretical, or are they tied to specific budgets?

How to use salary ranges to close your own pay gap

Research shows the ways in which pay transparency helps close the gender pay gap (though there are some nuances).

“It’s really important for people from underrepresented backgrounds to use this new data set to understand what kind of compensation patterns are happening around the work that they do,” Gavin says. The most important thing, she says, is to use salary information to actively negotiate.

“You can’t do anything about whether bias is going to come into the picture when you are negotiating compensation for a role,” Gavin says. “But you do have control over how you show up.” If you come into a conversation knowing what your skills and experience offer, and knowing what you can negotiate for, she says, you’ll be better-positioned to ask for your full worth. “Pay transparency information is going to empower you to make sure that you are being paid on par with your peers,” she says.

Bamberger also suggests shifting the burden to the company to explain how it identifies and closes gaps itself. “While employers are not yet required in most states to disclose pay equity data, many are conducting pay equity audits on their volition,” Bamberger says. You should always ask if there’s been an audit—and if so, how the company is working to close any gaps they’ve identified.

Why companies should care about salary transparency, too

Though giving up information to a counterparty at the negotiating table may seem like a bad move, salary transparency can actually help employers in multiple ways. For starters, “[p]roviding more information is likely to win points with candidates,” Bamberger says. Providing less, he adds, may just do the opposite.

Pay transparency also cuts recruiting costs, boosts employee performance, and strengthens retention.

“There’s a huge cost benefit,” says Thanh Nguyen, CEO of OpenComp, which provides companies with compensation benchmarks to help identify internal gaps. “You see the rewards of [salary transparency] through those operational actions.”

A transparency law essentially “forces enterprises to better talk to employees in a meaningful way,” Nguyen adds.

Those talks can start with just two words: Now hiring.