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🎙 How to talk with candidates about salary ranges and market rate
An interview with Lance Robbins, Director of Talent Acquisition at XWP.
List the damn salary range has had a little growth spurt since the last time I shared an interview. For those of y’all who are new, a quick overview.
I toggle between two types of content:
Interviews: ~25-minute convo with a leader at a company that lists the damn salary range in their job descriptions. Check out the last one with Melanie Naranjo. She drops some gems!
How to / trends: Instructional content like how to create a compensation philosophy and where pay transparency is headed.
Today, I am excited to share my interview with Lance Robbins, Director of Talent Acquisition at XWP. XWP has included salary ranges in their job descriptions for about 3 years now.
Lance and I dive into how XWP adjusts to candidate feedback about market rate salary ranges, keeping the gap between the bottom of the range and the top of the range low while adjusting for cost of living, and what he sees on the horizon for pay transparency.
Below, there are three ways you can learn more about XWP’s approach to pay transparency:
🎥 Watch Lance and I chat side by side.
👂 Listen to just the audio.
📖 Read our conversation. I’ve edited the format slightly to take out small talk and make it easier to quickly scan and find the pieces of our conversation you might be most interested in.
If you are watching/listening/reading this, I know you care and think a lot about pay transparency. Thank you for being here with me. Now, scroll on down to the good stuff! 👇
Mary: Why has XWP included salary range in job descriptions for the last three years?
Lance: I see the hiring process as a product that I really want people to enjoy and have a good experience with and tell their friends about. Adding a salary range to that just felt like the right thing to do even before other folks were doing it.
The amount of stress that it removes from the conversation, the driver for applications, and the amount of qualitative feedback that I get about how helpful it is has made it really clear that this is definitely the way to go.
On the one hand everyone should do this, but on the other hand, so long as not anyone else is doing this it's in our favor. It's been a lever and an advantage for a long time.
In all seriousness though, I see great things about the playing field leveling
Mary: What type of feedback have you heard from candidates? You mentioned anecdotally that they really appreciate it, but I'm curious what you’ve specifically heard from candidates about the salary ranges?
Lance: Yeah, there's a few different things to say about that. In a screening interview, whether it's myself or another team member that's leading that we confirm that the candidate actually saw the range and that it's a match for them. The vast majority of eyes light up when we get to that question and they thank us for including it.
We often hear ‘Yeah, that’s one of the reasons I applied for this job. It’s helpful market validation for if we’re in the right place
As we're talking to candidates that have the right experience and at the right place in their career to match what we're doing, you know, we’re checking if the range matches their expectations. There's a lot of third-party data that you can collect as a benchmark but the reality is what's really happening in the market.
Mary: One thing I noticed in your job descriptions is that you all include both contractor rates and a base salary for being hired as an employee. I think that pay transparency is going to lead to more conversations about employment type and flexibility. Do you ever have people who legally could be hired as employees ask about being hired as contractors?
Lance: To your last question there, yes, that does happen. We have folks who prefer to be freelancers. Maybe they're nomads, maybe they have a portfolio of clients that they work with. XWP does not make an issue about working with us for half of your time as you're building a product on the other half of your time. Or, maybe you consult part time. We understand that people have their own preferences and things that work well for them. We want work with the most talented folks that we can.
We try to create a lot of scenarios that can work for different people. Whenever we can legally comply and give that option for both we want to make sure that people understand the difference in benefits. So, you know, we have to think about that and how we share our compensation for those ranges. You'll notice that if you do a direct calculation from salary to hourly, the contractor rates are higher because contractors are supplying benefits for themselves and we want to give people the freedom to choose what they do with that.
Mary: That's really smart. By hiring internationally and also by not limiting the type of employment people can choose you have unlocked a massive talent pool of people who are really smart and might be a really great match for working at XWP.
Lance: And to that point, we've relied very little on markets like New York City and San Francisco. The world is full of so many great people, they're not all concentrated in these major tech hubs.
Mary: For compensation ranges are you using a specific market or does XWP adjust based on cost of living?
Lance: There's a number of factors that come in. You can see in our job descriptions, we don't have a really broad range. That means someone in a very low cost of living area isn't getting a market rate for a really low cost of living area.
Typically we're looking at, at three markets: Australia, the United States, and Canada. We do our research with tools like Hayes and PayScale to give us some insights into the framework of compensation for different roles. And we create a band around that. We have some adjustments for parts of the globe that the market rate is much less but it's not significant if you look at our range.
Then we take that to market and we've had scenarios where we're just not getting the inbound quality or quantity we expected. And, we've received feedback when these rates are too low.
Then it's on us. It's our responsibility to go first here, right? We’ve shared what we think, based on what we know. In the cases where we're wrong, and it's okay to be wrong, we adjust and come back with something that the market will respond to.
Essentially, it opens you up to the feedback of the world you work in and are a part of.
Mary: Internally, what does that process look like to revisit the posted salary range?
Lance: We start by alerting the hiring manager saying, 'What we collectively thought about this range, the market's not validating’. So we need to take another look.
Our CFO will sign off on things like this. We're a company of a hundred and like 10 people so we're able to get to the decision-makers pretty quickly and get decisions signed off on and publish something new.
For us, it's not complicated: get the feedback, respond, validate, and iterate.
Mary: Once someone has joined the team, what does XWP's general career framework look like?
Lance: Engineering has a very robust competency matrix and the other practice areas are actually in the procress of creating theirs right now. For engineering, for example, there are progressive levels like senior engineer, lead engineer, principal engineer, associate director, and on up the skill ladder. And, with each of those there's clear benchmarks on the differentiators between the levels.
Does that answer your question about like career progression? I think there's more to say about that, but I think that's what you're asking about.
Mary: You mentioned that XWP has dual career paths to create space for people who are really great at their craft and people who want to become managers. Why does XWP do that?
Lance: Mastery of Craft is one of our core values at XWP and it's a unique part of our position in the marketplace. We're essentially a boutique or top shelf solutions agency as it relates to WordPress. It is important that ensure that the people in our senior roles and above are some of the sharpest in the ecosystem around WordPress.
We want to reward folks who decide that their career path is being one of the world's leading engineers in our field.
Some structures don’t reward that tenure and expertise if they don't take on the responsibility of training and formally helping others progress in their career.
But that's not everyone’s career desire and, let's be honest, not everybody is in possession of the tools and inclinations to be a people manager. We don't want to force people in that direction if that's not where they want to go.
It is important to be able to reward people in both directions.
Mary: I am in full support of that model. Looking forward, where do you think pay transparency is headed?
Lance: Ah, what's next? Right? Well, I think we're going to see a big flood of major employers sharing salary ranges. That'll be really interesting to see how that affects the playing field.
And, I think that's more tip of the iceberg. Quite frankly, with where we are right now at XWP there's a lot of room to grow in this. There's a lot of room for the script to be written on how this gets done. I feel like we’re in the early days of pay transparency that's leading to greater pay equity.
I'm really excited to watch it and be a part of it.
Mary: Me too. I am seeing some parallels between the start of the pandemic and how companies are deciding to share compensation. Pre-pandemic there was a smaller sample size of remote companies and as everyone started working remotely, it advanced remote work faster because there was a larger sample size.
I think or at least hope that happens with pay transparency. There has been a set of companies, like XWP, that have been working on pay transparency for a while but now that sample size is much larger I think we'll get to speed up our rate of learning.
Lance: I see one differentiation which is that legislation is driving pay transparency today whereas the market drove remote work. Smart leaders have said, 'Okay, we're gonna jump in on this remote work and flexibility moving forward.'
Pay transparency is a little bit different in that this is forced for some. So I wonder if we'll see organizations trying to find any loophole they can to work around this. I have already heard of some that are outsourcing to recruiting firms so they can pass the buck. It will be interesting to see because those that grabbed onto remote work did it from a place of innovation and responsiveness.
For pay transparency, some companies are getting on board purely from a place of compliance and may have been resisting until the deadline. This wasn't their model. This wasn't innovation for them. They're stuck with something they don't want to do.
Mary: Yeah, I was looking at jobs hiring in New York City, curious to see how people were approaching salary ranges. There's a wide spectrum: some have included it, some just sneak it into the bottom, and some have taken time to write out more about their approach to pay.
Obviously it is a lotof work and there's complexity based on things like team size, location, and how you hire. But as you've seen at XWP, it's worth the amount of work that goes into it.
Mary: My last question to wrap up is what advice would you give to someone at a company just starting to work on pay transparency? Someone sitting down saying 'Okay, how do I start? What do I do first?'
Lance: You have more to gain than you have to lose by going in on this.
I know there's a fear that if I put the range up, everyone's gonna come in asking for the top of the range. We've built a pretty robust evaluation process as a remote organization because we just can't have that intensive four or five hour onsite. We have layers of finding out about people and people finding out about us.
That pretty well reveals where folks fall on a range in terms of seniority and ability to jump in and contribute. People understand room for not being pinned to the top end of the range, it allows for growth. So I'd say don't let that scare you.
And, if you're in a state or a country where this isn't law, my advice would be to think about it now. I imagine it's coming, and why be resistant to it when you could really get ahead?
My experience has been this is a real competitive advantage for your team in terms of talent acquisition. You will be a differentiator from your competitors if you embrace this. And people appreciate transparency in the workplace so much. Including salary ranges is a hint to people that you don't have a whole lot to hide and that's a place where they want to work. It's not just about the money, it is also a sense of reassurance that if I go work with you, you don't have a whole lot to keep from me.
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