What does competitive salary actually mean?

More money, more…competitive salaries?

OK, so a job that doesn’t state salary may not always seem particularly appealing at first – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it. A competitive salary can mean many things, and an employer may have many different reasons to use this term instead of an exact figure.

To help you decode one of the most commonly used job ad terms, here’s what competitive salary actually means (and why employers use it):


What does competitive salary mean?

To put it simply, competitive salary means that what’s being offered is equal to (or more than) the industry average for similar positions in the same location.

So although the salary isn’t specifically listed – that doesn’t mean you can’t estimate a ballpark figure based on your own research.


Where is competitive salary shown?

Competitive salary is something that’s shown within a job advert, in replacement of a salary range, estimate, or set figure.

It’s used in cases where the salary for a job isn’t fixed and may vary.

Other common phrases include ‘negotiable salary’ and ‘market rate’.


Why do employers list salary as competitive?

Employers use competitive salary for a number of different reasons.

Firstly, they may want to allow room for negotiation – and deciding on a set figure from the outset doesn’t allow cooperative input from both sides. The salary they eventually decide on will then depend on the candidate’s expectations and/or experience level.

Secondly, salary information is often confidential – and isn’t something that’s openly discussed within workplaces as part of their company policy. Leaving it out of a job advert is a way of keeping this information private to everyone except the successful candidate.

Finally, many employers are keen on filtering out those who are only in it for the money. Listing a salary as competitive allows them to only target candidates more interested in the job and the organisation than a lucrative pay and benefits package.


When can I ask about salary if it’s listed as competitive?

Asking about salary can feel like dangerous territory.

But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be interested in finding out what you could earn before investing too much time into the hiring process.

If you’re lucky, the employer will bring it up first. But if they don’t, it’s all about gauging the interview process and the interviewer’s attitude to find the right opportunity to discuss salary.

One option is to wait until the second interview, if there is one – but this all depends on the situation.

However, there’s no harm in asking earlier in the interview process if things are particularly short or informal.

Should I ask about salary at my interview?


How can I figure out what’s competitive in my area?

If you want to figure out what kind of money you could earn for a vacancy with a competitive salary – you need to do your research.

Using salary checker tools are a great way to gain an idea of what similar roles in your location are paying, and will help to ensure you’re getting paid what you’re worth.

Not only will this give you a better idea of whether the role is suitable for you – it’ll also mean that you can be more confident in naming a reasonable figure when you eventually discuss your salary expectations.


What if the salary they offer isn’t enough?

When a salary is listed as competitive – there’s a possibility that the offer you eventually get might not be within your expectations.

But this doesn’t mean you should walk away from a potentially good opportunity. Instead, use what you’ve learnt from your research (as well as what you’ve earnt previously) to negotiate a more suitable alternative.

Employers will often allow some level of negotiation for the right candidate – so as long as you don’t go overboard with what you’re asking. And if you have all the relevant skills and experience they’re looking for, there’s a good chance they’ll up their offer if it means they get to hire you.

Remember: Never be tempted to sell yourself short, unless you’re absolutely positive that it’s the right position for you in the long run.

How to negotiate salary


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5 comments on “What does competitive salary actually mean?

  1. Shelley Davis - July 8, 2017 at 20:33

    In my experience, interviewing with a PR agency recently, competitive salary means: we want you to work for us for the lowest possible wage we can legally pay you because we assume you’re desperate for the work to begin building your career and know nothing about your worth or the average salary in the industry you’re applying to work in. In other words, it means they want to pay you minimum wage and bestow the “prestige” of working for their company on your CV, which is why they advertise tantalising prospective employment for graduates with limited experience – they can potentially pay you far less. “Prestige” doesn’t pay the rent, utility, travel or grocery bills and not all of us live courtesy of the bank of Mum and Dad. In my experience with the same agency, competitive salary also means the company will advertise a job within their company, then, when you arrive to interview for the advertised position in a specific department (with an approximate industry salary range of £16k – 24k depending on location) they’ll not tell you ’til the end of the interview the position they’ve advertised doesn’t actually exist. Instead, they want you to ‘intern’ for minimum wage, but, but, BUT you can keep ALL your meagre earnings and there may possibly be, at some far off point in the future, the possibility that you’ll be in the department you applied for and you might possibly at some point in the future, earn the average salary for the position of the job they originally advertised and that you applied for, then, they wonder why applicants are angry that their time was wasted and their hopes dashed.

    1. Darren Evans - March 14, 2018 at 18:33

      Cynical maybe but an understandable stance given far too many employers like this, especially those involved in the agency industry as you say, do exist in the world, making it easy to come to this conclusion 🙂

  2. Darren Evans - March 14, 2018 at 18:31

    Job descriptions with ‘competitive salary’ get put at the bottom of my job search list. It’s simply not transparent enough. I agree that exact figures are not helpful because the job requirement may be open to people of various experience levels but overcoming that is stupendously trivial. Simply give a salary range covering the experience levels required. The bottom end of the range covers less than 2 years, top end more 5 or more years. Done.

    ‘Default to transparency’ should be the norm for all companies. Anything else is disingenuous.

    1. Kevin McNamara - June 27, 2019 at 14:22

      I agree. If you don’t want to be transparent from the outset, that tells me almost everything I need to know about your company culture.

  3. Stuart Banks - August 2, 2018 at 17:50

    If an employer does not know the value and worth to their company or organization of filling a particular vacancy with a candidate that exactly matches what they want and need to make that role financially successful by setting the salary remuneration to a particular value in an open and honest way. They are likely to lose that candidate to their competitors if they negotiate a competitive salary using catch-up tactics of a perceived industry standard role of similar, job description, duties and responsibilities.