Competitive salary: What does this actually mean?

Are you lost whenever you read “competitive salary” in a job description? If you’re not lost you might even be suspicious. Does it make you feel like it’s most likely that “competitive salary” is used car salesman talk for “peanuts”? That is often not the case. If you’re currently narrowing your eyes at that statement, take a look at our guide. We’ve got you covered in this explanation of what a competitive salary really is and what it means for you.

What does it mean? A lot of things

A job that states a “competitive salary” rather than a definitive number might cause you to raise an eyebrow, but it often doesn’t mean anything bad. And it definitely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t consider it.

“Competitive salary” is often put in place of a definitive salary range, an estimate, or a set figure, but in terms of what it means, it’s often interchanged with “negotiable salary” and “market rate”.

Equal or more

The basic answer is that a competitive salary is one that will get you equal to or more than the industry standard. If your role has an estimated average salary in the industry in your location, or even a range, a job description that says “competitive salary” is coming from an employer willing to match that average.

You can do some simple research to gauge what you might be offered based on a “competitive salary”. If you put your coveted role into a salary checker, like Totaljobs, for example, you can compare the average for your location and similar roles in the area. That should give you a ballpark number that you can use to open negotiations.

Room for negotiation

If the salary offered isn’t competitive enough to win your race, there is room for improvement. This is your chance to negotiate. The term implies some room for negotiations. Don’t go overboard. You’re not looking to be the most expensive employee in the industry, so aim for the middle of the range, or, if you’re already on that salary, a reasonable few notches above. It has to be worth leaving your current job after all.

Bad apples

There are bad apples everywhere, and yes, there is a chance that you could have your time wasted by a job describing peanuts as a “competitive salary”. You won’t know until you dig further. If it’s a job you’re excited about, take the risk. The worst that can happen is that you turn down the offer, but the best that can happen is that you open the conversation to negotiations. You could end up entering a role you’re excited about with the salary to match.

Why say “competitive salary”?

Employers list a “competitive salary” rather than a number for many reasons, the first of which is the implication of a negotiation as listed above. However, there is also the possibility that the proposed salary is confidential. It might be against company policy to discuss salaries, and therefore posting them online could be a breach.

Plus, employers are looking to avoid candidates that are “only in it for the money”. If you’re applying for a job with a “competitive salary”, yes, you’ve got the chance to negotiate, but make that down the line once you’ve outlined all the other reasons you’re passionate about the job.


The term “competitive salary” isn’t so much of a red flag or something to worry about as you might think. Employers have plenty of reasons to use it, and as long as you’re prepared for one of these eventualities, you should come out of it with a salary that is pretty competitive.

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