I've recently had an interview with a company that listed a salary of $X based on experience. They brought me in and told me that they needed someone for a position that's similar, but which only makes use of part of my skills. I was still interested in this other position so we continued through several interviews and I was eventually made an offer of $X - 50%.

My counter was that I was looking for something closer to $X. They mentioned that this is a different position than what I originally applied for, but even if it wasn't they considered $X as a "total package", not base pay. The total package they are talking about is a 401k, health insurance, and promotion potential over 3 years.

The owner eventually counter offered with $X - 30%, which even after 3 years of promotions is still 10% below $X, even if you include the total package.

Is listing a total package as a "salary" on job postings the norm or do most job postings use the base pay?

  • 4
    I've spent a lot of time applying to jobs over the past three years and this is the first I've ever heard of a listed salary including 401k and health insurance...and promotion potential?? Gimme a break! This seems like a gimmicky sales tactic to get people who otherwise wouldn't be interested to go in for an interview. Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 20:04
  • @JoeStrazzere No it doesn't matter in this case. Next week I also have an interview which listed a similar salary and I wanted to verify that it would be base, not "total package".
    – Melissa
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 20:06
  • @AffableAmbler Thanks for the information. They did inform me that they have been looking to fill this position for a long time. It sounds like they will be looking even longer now.
    – Melissa
    Commented Oct 25, 2017 at 20:08
  • 1
    Sounds like a "bait and switch", huge red flag.
    – Myles
    Commented Oct 30, 2017 at 20:41
  • 1
    Please list that company on glassdoor, you will be saving the rest of us some time. Commented Oct 31, 2017 at 6:48

2 Answers 2


Listed salary always refers (or should refer) to base pay. Total benefits vary and can be difficult to estimate, and for this reason should not be factored into the exact compensation amount.

Companies sometimes estimate the 'value' of certain benefits (e.g. matching 401K, or other perks). But these amounts are the company's estimates of what they are worth to the business -- not to you. So anything like that should be reported separately, and the base pay figure should be stated separately from everything else (bonuses, perks, etc). As a general rule, unless explicitly specified otherwise in the position announcement, advertised salaries refer to base pay.

Their response sounds like a poor attempt to make excuses. Sounds like they are trying to "pull a fast one" - in other words treat you like an idiot and see if it works. You owe it to yourself to prove them wrong. On the second thought, if a company engages in this type of haggling from the start, it makes you wonder what kinds of benefits or compensation-related issues you might run into with them once you begin work... Good luck!


The simple answer to your actual question is that:

yes, the listed "headline" pay is indeed, almost always, the base pay.

Not the "total package".

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