Why Keep Salary Levels Hidden from Candidates?

salaries Dedicating your life to educating children is highly commendable, but few among us can make this commitment without a salary that covers life’s necessities: student loans, food, heat, transportation, decent housing, etc.

While public schools in the West almost always include a disclosure of salary and benefits when advertising for teaching personnel, many International Schools have been accused of purposely keeping salaries undisclosed right up to the face-to-face interview with candidates. Even then there can be hidden variables that alter the quoted salary, and not for the better. Here’s an example:

Assume you hold a Master’s degree plus 9-years teaching experience. At ABC School the pay scale puts you at $52,000. “Pretty good,” you say. But there’s a catch: The contract you haven’t yet seen states that incoming teachers will be credited for up to a maximum of 5-years experience on the pay scale. Additional pay-scale years will be earned while at the school.  This puts you, an incoming teacher, at the level of a Masters plus 5, which translates to $46,000.

Teachers have been quoted saying it’s a waste of time to interview with schools that keep salaries hidden. Some complain schools inflate their salaries on the web sites of the ‘big’ recruiters, only to offer far less at interview, as in the above example. A generally held belief among many International educators is that any school which hides its salary scale is a school that does not respect teachers and, thus, a school to be avoided.

ISR advocates for salary-scale transparency and our School Review evaluation rubric incorporates a field that clearly displays salary ranges. Still, things do change and some schools have even been known to make behind-the-scenes negotiations with teachers. So, ISR recommends you always verify your salary level and have it stated clearly on your Contract.

ISR asks: What has YOUR experience been in regards to schools that keep salary scales hidden? What advice to YOU have for colleagues?


28 thoughts on “Why Keep Salary Levels Hidden from Candidates?

  1. The school that I work for has a salary scale that is available to everyone. Last year, the board decided to make sure the local and foreign hires are on the same pay scale for the first time in over 20 years.

    In my opinion, some schools don’t publish the salary, because of what people said here or also because they just don’t ‘have the time.’ Every school seems to get tons of applications, so they don’t really feel like they have to put all the salaries and benefits to post information online.


    1. Many, many teachers, for different reasons, will not, or cannot work for less than a certain salary- And as we all know applying for an overseas position, with the interviews, paperwork and references is a drawn out process. To go through all that is necessary to make a good impression and get to a point where you will be offered a position is a sometimes a very long process. To do all this and take this time and effort of not only you, but getting the references from your past employer- which a lot of schools now do “blind” references, so a new reference is done for each job application, to then find out the salary is not what one can or will work for is not reasonable. I have personally turned down job offers because the salaries were just too low. Let me know up front and we will not waste each others time. I think this is all he people here are saying.


    2. It is a waste of time schools not putting their salary scales and full package on the Internet. All of us have bills and also an idea of how much we NEED to save in our earning years, so hiding our potential income is a game and is only delaying the inevitable, “No thanks” after a low ball offer. If a school can’t afford you, then they need to find people they can. I think most teachers have a bottom line they won’t go below. I don’t think schools should contact references until AFTER the interview, either. Our referees are getting burnt out. Tell candidates everything you offer, just like candidates tell the recruiter everything he or she offers on a resume and through confidential referencing on reputable websites. If you both like what you see, interview one another. Easy…


  2. I interviewed twice via Skype before being offered a job at George Washington School in Morocco. They sent a contract and the salary schedule was a joke – without any proper benefits – something like $25,000 out of which housing had to be paid. I had an assertive exchange with them about being upfront about salaries and the religious stuff before wasting people’s time with nonsensical interviews!


    1. A lot of the recruiters are no better. I have more than once been given a song and dance about how low the cost of living is and how wonderful the environment will be, which could all be well and good, but we are all working for a living. When I tell a recruiter a specific number and specific benefits that are required, do not come to me wasting both our time with something I am not interested in. I am not a brand new, non-experienced, bright eyed teacher looking for adventure. I am looking for a paying job!


    2. Hi Barbara, I agree with you.
      Oh yes the low cost of living… Well, unless we are retired on a pension from our HOR, it doesn’t help much. I am tired of schools using the low cost of living clause. Sure, it is lower in a lot of places, but the low offers don’t pay the bills back home, help us save for retirement etc. Whose advantage is it to have low cost of living. Seems like the employers.


  3. After working internationally for the better part of 10 years, I’m happy to say I currently work in a transparent salary scale school. Sad to say that’s not always been the case. Earlier in my career, I didn’t have the skills, confidence, or experience to get into a decent int’l school. I took what I could get.

    If you find yourself interviewing with a school with unpublished salaries, here’s my best advice, from personal experience.

    1. Walk away.

    2. If #1 is not an option (it is, more often than you think, but that’s another conversation), then be ready to negotiate.

    3. Research salary negotiation strategies. Many white collar jobs out there don’t have transparent salary scales, so you’ll find plenty of advice out there.

    4. Never make the first offer. Seriously, never make the first offer. They probably read the same book you did, so they will try and try to get a first offer from you. Don’t do it. Make them do it.

    5. Once they make the first offer, don’t say anything, for at least ten seconds. A long exhale is a nice touch.

    6. Let them break the silence. They will typically ask what you think of the offer, or talk it up like how very generous a salary it is.

    7. Reply: “It’s just… I was hoping to get a salary that matches my level of expertise/skills/experience/specialization/etc.”

    8. They’re on the back foot now. Move in with an aggressive counter-offer. How far to the middle you meet, that’s up to you.

    9. MOST IMPORTANT: Be prepared to walk away. Trust me, you’ll never be happy working for a job where you don’t feel you’re earning what you deserve or need.

    To say one nice thing about a negotiated salary: it’s negotiable.

    Further, if you envy the salary made by that inept teacher one classroom over, the one who slogged his way through artful butt-kissing in pursuit of more money and meritless promotion, remember that YOU CAN DO THAT TOO. Just without the butt-kissing. Make sure that all your work, what you do in service to the students and their families, is visible, and have conversations with management to ensure they see it. Make the argument that you’ve somehow made life easier for management. Appeal to their selfishness.

    Smile. That helps too. Even when you feel like punching someone in the face.

    None of these suggestions are bulletproof, but all are worth trying.


    1. Good advice… I never understood how the school decided salary, but the few of us who had substantial experience, education and accountability did not stay long. I DID finish 2 years, but by the sweat of my brow. Most did not. And when teachers quit they left angry and usually after telling a few people where to go.


  4. I just recently left a school in Qatar where everyone’s salary was based on who liked you the day you were hired- And yes, it is a severe punch in the gut when you have a MA Degree and 20+ years experience and find out “teachers” and I call them that lightly, with no credentials or teaching certifications are paid a lot more than you because they lie and sweet talk the manager. It always killed me that the very last thing that was considered in my school was IF a teacher was actually effective in the classroom. You had more value if you just gave everyone high grades and constantly said how GREAT a job YOU were doing. But there was absolutely no measurement of progress or growth in the students except the tests we made and graded ourselves. AND it was a pretty bad place to work. I felt I worked my butt off doing what I had been taught a teacher does, which is teach, only to be thought less of for it and not just turning to empty grades and going out everyday to play football instead of actually working. Unfortunately this will be echoed from teachers all over many Middle Eastern International schools that are simply money making machines for the owners. Kids and teachers are the last served.


    1. Barbara, given the sheer volume of stories I have heard from colleagues and others, it beats the heck out of me why people would want to work in the ME at all.


    2. Because we don’t know how bad it will be until we get there. Seriously. No one can understand the utter chaos of these schools until they experience it day after day after day… And in Qatar your employer has to get you an exit permit to leave the country. I was held hostage a few days before my school gave me permission to leave. That makes you feel real great about the job too.


    3. OMG that is so true Barbara. It is the same at my school. There are also rules about working out and time off – constantly flouted by teachers and management turns a blind eye in case they “upset” teachers by making them comply with regulations. Also no grading checks…….I could go on and on……….


  5. My school does not publish the salary range due to disparities in pay. Local hires receive significantly less pay than International hires, and it isn’t published as to reduce the risk of conflict.


  6. My experience is that schools that keep the salary hidden until the interview are schools that offer a very low salary that you can’t live on


  7. I got past numerous interviews for a well known British International school in Bangkok. We ahd even reached negotiations about flying me in to see the school and agree on terms and conditions. At one point they suddenly said i was no longer needed. When i asked why, where i went wrong, as i wanted to learn from the experience, i was told that me asking about the salary was a faux pas. That I should have trusted the salary to be decent as it was such a renowned school.


    1. Red flag. Strange. Arrogant really. It is like the schools think they have the right to know everything about us and confidential referencing, CV etc but they don’t want to tell us what they are willing to pay us? It doesn’t make sense, does it. What if it were they other way around and we had to know exactly what they offered in writing before we’d consider the school and write to teachers already working at the school to get a confidential report on the principals and director before we’d let them interview them and then after a successful interview, we show them our credentials . … Humm,


    2. There’s also the ‘probation period’ issue. Fine, if I’m no good at the job fire me, but what if I don’t like the school? Can I leave, everybody happy? Unfortunately it’s a buyer’s market huh?


  8. I worked briefly at Yangon Academy in Yangon and the salary is dire and attracts only over 60s, non-desirables or NQT. You get what you pay for!


    1. I work at a school in Myanmar where every teacher, qualified or not gets paid the same salary. An MA and 10 years experience counts for the same as a BA or less and no experience! Not unusual in this country.


    2. I very recently spoke with SABIS about a position and as Jude states EVERYONE gets the same exact insulting salary. I have a Masters and 20+ years in, but would get the exact same as a newly qualified teacher- AND it is shared accommodations. Needless to say I will not be joining SABIS!!!


  9. I worked at Al Yasmina school in Abu Dhabi. They are part of Aldar academies. They refuse to share the pay scale with even the teachers that work for them as apparently this gives away “trade secrets”. They claim to have a pay scale but when you speak to other staff you find staff with less experience and responsibilities get more than you. Unless you are desperate to work in the UAE (not sure why you would be) and no other school will give you a job don’t work for Aldar Academies, they are liars!


  10. I think that it is obvious and should go without saying that knowing (and therefore making public) the salary stakes and benefits before the interviews and indeed even before applying……..is the right and honest thing to do. When making any decision about something financially significant in life……this is essential…..does anyone look around for a car and decide to buy it…without first knowing the price? It would be disingenuous to believe that salary, benefits, cost of living and any caveats that a school board should create…are not of the utmost importance and significance

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I have worked in international schools for over 10 years. At the few interviews I have attended when they ask ‘Do you have any questions about us?’ I have always asked ‘What is the monthly net pay I will receive and how is it calculated?’ A very fair question. I have always had good, professional responses. You must ask those questions, then weigh up the answer against your expectations.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Undisclosed salary usually indicates that salaries are based on the whim of a director or board. It leads to teachers and admin receiving different amounts which may or may not be directly linked to degrees or experience with ethnicity also being a prime factor. People are often told that salaries are confidential, and everyone is suspicious of how much they are making in relation to others. The last school I was at in Kuwait – no one really knew how much anyone was making unless someone actually let it be known. So it sets up a sense of discrimination and a lack of appreciation of one’s worth. That’s my take on it. However, if you are simply keen to join a school, to move to a certain country – you may be willing to take ‘whatever’ in which case you shouldn’t really complain when you find out that someone with much less qualifications or experience may have negotiated for a much higher salary than you are receiving.


  13. I worked at Fairview International School, Kuala Lumpur and had terrible experience. Perks and salary mentioned during interview was never given. FIS had hidden clause in the contract.


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