Nonprofit global talent VP Trish Ferrett explains why hiring transparency makes it easier for recruiters to seal the deal, despite concerns to the contrary.

In more than 30 years in talent acquisition, I have often led with this to my teams: “Let’s be honest with our candidates, and ourselves. Say what we mean and mean what we say.” And my Golden Rule for recruiters is: Treat candidates how you wish to be treated, with open and regular communication. This transparent approach has brought great success for me and my colleagues—whether at nonprofits like Save the Children and the American Red Cross, or brand-name businesses like Advance Auto Parts.

Many recruiters and hiring managers prefer to maintain some sense of “mystery” with candidates, but in my experience that tactic often backfires, especially at offer time. Without transparency around salary ranges, someone’s expectations aren’t going to be met, and the negotiation is tougher than it needs to be. So why not tell the truth—and do it earlier?

Today, laws in at least a dozen states, including Colorado and Connecticut, plus a handful of cities including New York City, have made it a legal requirement for organizations to include salary ranges in job postings. One of the main objectives of these laws is pay equity; they also give historically marginalized people more reason to trust the hiring process. But let’s be selfish for a second and consider that salary transparency also helps to attract candidates who are genuinely interested in your role. People have the opportunity to self-select out of your process if the compensation doesn’t match their expectations. This, in turn, can save you a lot of time and effort.

Other issues around hiring transparency have been making headlines too, such as disclosing that a “fully remote” job may actually require an employee to come into the office occasionally, or notifying employees that they will be electronically monitored while on the job. There was even a #ShowUsYourLeave campaign this year in which hundreds of companies shared their paid leave policies on social media.

Two questions talent professionals should be asking ourselves: Why did it take so long for us to be transparent? And why do we allow websites like Indeed, Glassdoor, and Fishbowl—or accidental influencers on Twitter and TikTok—to speak for us (and, oftentimes, incorrectly)?

What Does Transparency in Hiring Really Mean?

When I worked in recruiting at Circuit City back during the Y2K era (you know, when resumes were flown in by carrier pigeon), I believed that transparency in hiring meant “be nice, but especially to the company.” Today, that’s not enough. We must earn the respect of today’s job seekers, and incorporate transparency in all things: job descriptions, remote working policies, benefits, company culture, how long the hiring process takes, and any other information we can give.

“Transparency includes turning candidates down in real time. Don’t be that recruiter: If you’re not going to move forward with them, tell them.

As recruiters, we are the owners of first impressions. From our employment brand to each candidate interaction in the recruitment life cycle, we have the opportunity to give candidates what they need to make an educated decision on whether the position we are offering is right for them.

This type of transparency includes turning candidates down in real time. Don’t be that recruiter: If you’re not going to move forward with them, tell them.

As a talent acquisition leader for The Trevor Project—and nonprofits Save the Children and the American Red Cross before that—I ask my TA teammates and hiring managers to treat every candidate like they’re our most important customer, because they are. Even if a person doesn't get the job, they are a potential donor to our organizations—and can be a spokesperson for our causes and companies.

What’s more, with conversations about workplace transparency taking place on social media and websites such as Glassdoor, if you're not open, people are going to call you out on it. Honesty is simply good customer service, and it strengthens your company’s reputation.

How to Use Hiring Transparency in Business

With today’s tight labor market and economic fluctuations, hiring transparency should be considered a must-have, not a nice-to-have. The benefits to employer branding alone are worth it. Consider the following four components to bring more transparency to your hiring process.

1. Pay

After the pay transparency law went into effect in New York City, Axios dubbed job listings the "new Zillow," with many people browsing online classifieds like they peruse real estate listings. It also cited numbers from Indeed that job postings that included salary ranges drew 30% more applicants. In fact, as of September 2022, Indeed began including (sometimes inaccurate) estimated salary ranges on all job postings even if employers didn’t supply the numbers themselves. The only way to correct these estimates? Publish your salary ranges.

An infographic that shows cities/states with pay transparency laws including data about salary ranges, job applicants, and applicant dissatisfaction.

I was at Save the Children when Colorado’s landmark pay equity law went into effect in January 2021, and we allowed that measure to inform all hiring practices across the US—we didn’t do it piecemeal, we went all in. The upside: By leveling our policies and practices to the most stringent requirements across the country, we positioned ourselves to recruit in almost every market.

It should be noted that some organizations chose to exclude candidates from Colorado instead of updating their practices. Beyond whether that is fair, is it good for business? I have two big concerns about this approach: 1) Why would I purposely limit my candidate pool? and 2) Is this the right look for my employment brand—opting for easy over transparent?

Admittedly, back in 2021, publishing salary ranges had us figuratively shaking in our boots because we believed (and sometimes for good reason) that if you give a candidate a range, the only number they would hear and accept is the top end. But aside from all the head-scratching and hand-wringing, this change opened my eyes to how a simple thing like publishing salary ranges could benefit employers and candidates alike. We learned some other lessons too: For example, when you have broad compensation bands, find your real pay range for the role, and publish that.

2. Your Hiring Process

It’s good to tell candidates early about your process and how long it may realistically take. For so long, recruiters have been seen as “behind the curtain,” and for that reason we aren’t trusted. (Type “recruiters are…” in a Google search bar and see what you get.)

Screenshot from a Google search of the words “recruiters are” with search results like: “recruiters are trash,” and “recruiters are not your friends.

Google search results, November 21, 2022

If you let candidates submit their resumes into the void without any acknowledgement, it’s no wonder they aren’t exactly happy when you later reach out to them on LinkedIn. (It’s even worse if you string along candidates who send numerous check-in emails after going through the interview process.) We’ve all been there too: vying for a job and wondering if you’ll ever get a call, text, or email to let you know something. Use your own experience as a candidate to create something better. Going back to that Golden Rule, treat candidates the way you wish you had been treated.

I know, I know. You’re busy. You can’t possibly talk to every candidate. Why not at least use your trusty applicant tracking software (ATS) and set it to send a kindly worded communication at each stage of the process, be it good or bad news? This will cement your reputation as a communicative, thoughtful recruiter, rather than lumping you in with the rest. The number of thank-you notes I have received because of turn-down communications is staggering, because candidates have been conditioned to expect the worst (not hearing anything). We have enough technology now to do right by our candidates.

3. Job Requirements

Another necessary gut check for achieving hiring transparency: the job requirements you list in the posting. Look at what it says right above the diversity and inclusion statement in your job posts, for example. If the requirements for most every job start with “Bachelor’s degree plus…,” you might need to re-evaluate what you mean by “diversity and inclusion.” Considering that not everyone has had the opportunity to pursue higher education—and that many people choose to go directly into the workforce—what’s your message? If you sneak in a “bachelor’s or master’s preferred,” that’s even more telling. You’re essentially saying, “My HR department said I have to say this, but what I really want is this.”

In my own quest for transparency, I assure you changing this approach is not easy. The idea that a degree is the price of entry to meaningful employment has been the story for a long, long time. But if this job market has taught us anything, it’s that talent is in short supply, and this is not the time to create artificial obstacles.

I encourage you to stop overinflating the requirements and to talk to your hiring managers about what it really takes to perform in each job. Companies and hiring managers need to be comfortable with the fact that experience comes from any number of combinations of perspectives, approaches, and ideas. It’s a win-win to be inclusive, but you must really mean it.

4. Working With Hiring Managers

But what about the things you can’t control, like hiring managers? Remember that no hiring process is perfect, particularly when you’re waiting for others to make decisions. “Just keep them warm” is something recruiters are often told to do. Unfortunately, in today’s market, that strategy gets stale quickly. Before you know it, your candidate is gone.

This is why I have found it best to be just as transparent with hiring managers as you are with candidates—as early as the intake meeting. As the talent specialist, you are the expert in hiring for your organization, so establishing yourself in that light builds a partnership, rather than an “order-taker” relationship. Make recruiting a team sport by involving the hiring manager in building and executing a reputation for fair, open, and honest hiring, while also underscoring the hiring manager’s accountability for the results. Share the types of conversations you’re having with candidates about the process, the reputational risks of not making decisions, and, of course, the reality and cost of losing great talent.

Ultimately, transparency in hiring protects your employer’s brand and your own reputation as a recruiter. Build a partnership of trust with every person involved in the process, especially with candidates. Lastly, own and love your hiring process enough to acknowledge where pain points exist—and then fix them.