employer offered me a job but refuses to tell me the salary

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A reader writes:

I applied for a job with a salary range of $20,000. I made more than the higher number in my last job — although they have not asked about my salary history — but am interested in the skills I would gain in this new position, and wouldn’t mind taking a drop in salary to get this new experience.

I interviewed, and was offered the job by phone within a few days and asked to respond within 24 hours. As the hiring manager was making the offer, there was no mention of salary, I waited and used the “stop talking” advice, thinking that eventually he would get there on his own. Nothing, so I asked if I could ask some questions. He said sure. I said, “We haven’t discussed salary.” He said, “Well, if that’s something you need to know, then yes we could talk about it.” I said it was. He still didn’t offer a figure, so I pushed back and said, “Could you give me a range? Is it the top end or the bottom end of the scale posted?” He said it was at the bottom end, and I asked “Is it within $5K of the bottom of the scale posted?” He said yes.

His explanation is that as they are hiring 5 new positions, they have to figure out the various salaries, which are all from a single line item. It doesn’t make sense to me, but I think my best course of action is to thank them, tell them I expected an offer in the higher range, and ask if they have any flexibility.

I have all the essential skills listed in the job description except for one, and 10+ years of experience in the industry. I am confused. Is this a negotiation strategy on their part, and if so, how do I convey that I’m not able to accept the range that they have-sort-of-offered? I’m also worried that they’re not convinced they want to hire me.

Honestly, I would run as fast as you can away from this employer, unless you’re desperate for the job. Find a safehouse and hide inside it, because there’s a mad man on the loose in your town.

Making an offer without mentioning salary right up front is odd enough on its own, but fine, whatever. But then to tell you when you ask about it that “if that’s something you need to know, we could talk about it” (!!!) is indicative of some pretty severe dysfunction there.

People accept jobs for money. They need to know what money they will be being paid. And being surprised that a candidate would need to know – and then still not committing to a number but expecting the candidate to commit to the job anyway — well, it’s crazy town in that office.

And no, it’s not a negotiation strategy on his part, not unless he went to the Negotiation School for the Criminally Insane.

Run. Seriously.

{ 103 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. VintageLydia

    “Find a safehouse and hide inside it, because there’s a mad man on the loose in your town.”

    <3

    Reply
    1. Jessa

      Exactly. This is completely wiggy. Why would they not expect to tell someone how much they intend to pay them? Isn’t that the number one thing you need to know.

      Reply
    2. Jamie

      Came here to love the same sentence – and yes, this is completely crazy.

      Making an offer with no salary discussion – might as well try to buy a car without coming to an agreement on price.

      Reply
      1. Poe

        I once had a manager who attended the same school. OP, RUN!

        But seriously, AAM’s response, while spot-on, was also amazingly hilarious.

        Reply
    3. none

      Happened to me too. The manager said that didn’t know the salary and referred me to the secretary who also said she didn’t know. She then referred me to someone else who also said they didn’t know. In the end the salary turned out to be horrible.

      Reply
  2. Portia de Belmont

    My most recent interviewer did something similar to me. He tried to steamroll me into accepting on the spot, got very coy and vague when I brought things down to brass tacks like PTO and salary, and got irate when I said I needed to think about it. I ran and I’m glad I did.

    Reply
  3. Ophelia

    I have nothing to add besides laughing at “Negotiation School for the Criminally Insane.” Do they also teach monologuing and other villainous skills? ;)

    Reply
    1. LisaD

      The first rule of Negotiation School for the Criminally Insane is you don’t talk about Negotiation School for the Criminally Insane… UNLESS you have already tied the hero to a chair/centrifuge/other villainous device and set your Giant Countdown Clock in motion, at which point you may reveal all your secrets, including the entire curriculum, because you may be sure that the hero DEFINITELY will not be escaping and halting your doomsday device leaving one second remaining on the Giant Countdown Clock. That would be ridiculous! She’s tied up! She couldn’t possibly stop you!

      Reply
      1. TL

        I just spent a few minutes imagining tying superman up in our giant centrifuge and spinning him at 1000g. O.o

        Reply
      2. FD

        Dear AAM:

        I love my job: the hours and benefits are great, but my boss has a bad habit of blowing up peaceful planets and twirling his mustache…should I quit?

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth

          If the mustache-twirling is keeping you from getting your work done, then politely bring it up. However, since it’s your boss and not a peer, if asking him to stop doesn’t work, then you’ll have to accept this as part of the job. If it is acceptable in your office, perhaps a pair of noise-canceling headphones would block out the maniacal laughter and let you focus on your work.

          Reply
            1. Greg

              Equally important, is beating me to the punch with the same joke illegal? (In related news, I really need to start hitting refresh before I post).

              Reply
            2. FD

              As long as he doesn’t only blow up planets containing a particular race, species, or gender, then yes.

              Except in California.

              Reply
            1. Sourire

              Ah, but only if your Alliance of Evil has more than 15 villains *ahem* I mean employees and/or if you can prove that getting rid of Mr. Bigglesworth isn’t an undue hardship upon your boss.

              And can I just say, I love this thread so very much.

              Reply
        2. Greg

          You forgot to ask the most important question: Is blowing up planets illegal? Alison, your advice is desperately needed here!

          Reply
        3. Natalie

          Anyone who hasn’t seen the awesome Simpsons episode You Only Move Twice (Season 8) should grab it on Netflix or something. Homer gets a fantastic, high paying, middle management job for a Simpsons version of a Bond villain. It’s glorious.

          Reply
          1. the_scientist

            I can’t believe this is the comment that brings me out of lurkdom….

            The character’s name is Hank Scorpio, and he is the greatest auxiliary Simpson’s character yet.

            Reply
            1. PuppyKat

              We’ve all been there. You read and lurk, and lurk and read—until finally there’s a comment thread that sets your mind whirling and your fingers twitching.

              Welcome to the group!

              Reply
  4. Tara B.

    My face just scrunched up when I got to the “if that’s something you need to know” part and I was like “Run, OP, run!” . Of course, the salary is something you need to know! I hate it when folks pretend otherwise.

    I seriously think you dodged a bullet there, OP. That hiring manager is seriously batty.

    Reply
  5. Sourire

    Okay, that is just ridiculous. Really, one of the most ridiculous things I’ve read on here.

    Your best course of action is indeed to run. However, you stated “at my last job” and not “at my current job”, so I’m thinking unfortunately unemployment may factor in here. If it’s not financially possible for you to turn down this job, make them state a salary, and get that and absolutely everything else related to benefits, PTO, etc in writing. Have both parties sign it. Because seriously, it sounds like you will end up needing such a document.

    Reply
  6. Legal Eagle

    Yes, get away from this manager. Getting an offer very quickly and given a short deadline to accept were red flags on their own! You should never have to play 20 questions to figure out how much an employer is offering. My goodness!

    Reply
  7. Steve

    What about the unusual compensation philosophy that “your salary will be determined by how much we have to pay the other people we are hiring. And we don’t know that yet.”

    This is poor practice and could lead to unexpected results. If they follow this practice across the board my compensation will be increased when there is money left over in the salary pool. It provides an incentive to poison the food at the next office potluck.

    Although given the coleslaw that one of my coworkers always brings that might happen anyway.

    Reply
    1. Chinook

      “It provides an incentive to poison the food at the next office potluck. ”

      When I worked as a substitute teacher, I always joked that they never wanted me to bring food in for the breakroom because the only time I worked was when they called in sick.

      Reply
    2. Frenchie

      Interviewer recently pulled that one on me : “well, the number you stated is largely above what we agreed to pay for the gal we just hired so we won’t pay you that coz’ that’s not fair to her”.

      First off, I am super qualified for that job. Secondly, why should I be paid less because the last employee you hired did not know how to negotiate her salary ?

      Also, interviewer managed to sing 5 different verses “how would you feel if your manager was a jerk ?” in 1.5 hours of interview.

      What do you think, should I run fast or should I run far ?

      Reply
  8. Erica

    Run fast, and far really is the ONLY advice to be given in this situation. And when you decline, expect them to berate you about your choice.

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    Back in the day, I was 22 yrs old and interviewed for a office gig at the Church of Scientology. After 2 hours of them talking to me about what they do, she finally mentioned that her FT salary was about $40 a week as a senior level person. Mid-level gets about $30 a week and junior (would have been me) get $22 a week on average, but none of it was guaranteed. She then said this was not a job for people that need to pay rent. Wow. I didn’t even care about them / know how weird they were back then, but $22 a week??? Just call it a volunteer job already and stop wasting peoples time. This of course was at a very impressive and obviously expensive building in the heart of the city, which could have been used to um pay salaries!

    Reply
    1. Adam V

      Before you threw away their contact information, did you report them to the labor board? That’s so far under the minimum wage laws, it’s not even funny.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        Nah, what’s the point, they are technically a religion by whatever tax thing that deems them one so they have protections and can bypass normal employee laws like other places of work with a religious overhead (hospitals / schools).

        Reply
        1. Natalie

          They are technically still subject to those laws, but that is one crazy organization so I’m not surprised if no one is investigating them. I suspect they would try to infiltrate the DOL. It worked with the IRS!

          Reply
        2. Chinook

          I think religious organizations still have to follow laboru laws except when it comes to discriminating in favour of their own members or for their clergy (who probably still get T4s/W5s for their wages)

          Reply
          1. Another Ellie

            501(c)(3) non-profit status is an IRS designation that governs donations and income and whether they are taxable for certain types of organizations. It has absolutely nothing to do with whether the organization is exempt from any other laws, including labor laws. It also is a federal designation and doesn’t negate state laws. 501(c)(3) organizations even must pay some taxes, such as sales taxes, payroll taxes, etc. Unfortunately, a lot of people, especially the ones working at non-profits, don’t realize this and think they’re somehow above the law. Something that sometimes leads them into a lot of legal trouble (The Catholic Church has recently learned that lesson).

            Reply
            1. Lisa

              My sister was fired at a catholic daycare center for being pregnant but only married by a JP. She visited 4 lawyers, and no one would touch her case. The nun outright told her that her employment couldn’t continue since she wasn’t living like a good christian.

              Reply
    2. Thomas

      I initially read that as $40 per hour for a senior person, $30 per hour for a mid, level, etc. and it wasn’t until I read Adam V’s comment that I realized that was per week. The notion of paying those quantities per week is so patently absurd (I agree about just calling it a volunteer job) that my brain couldn’t process it.

      Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        Well. . .Anonymous didn’t mention how far “back in the day” was. $2/hr was minimum wage in 1975, which would be $80/week FT. $40/week would still suck, but not like it would right now if 40 hrs at minimum wage should pay near $300/wk.

        Reply
    3. Another Interviewer

      OMG, I interviewed for an office gig at the Church of Scientology too! (And am not a Scientologist). This was around 2006 at the NY Celebrity Centre, and yeah, what you describe is very similar to my experience. Mine was 3 hours; involved 3 different tests; the interviewer mentioned that they were some of the first volunteers during 9/11 but the media wouldn’t publicize that; and finally ended with her saying that “sometimes we get paid, and sometimes we don’t.” I was so pissed.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous

        YES! They did talk about the 9/11 people doing detox! No tests though. Mine was in Boston. She wasn’t trying to convert me or anything, was very intelligent, and not a nut case. Anywho, if I was just looking to volunteer, It didn’t seem like a bad place, but I was looking to get out of my parents place and wanted to pay rent.

        Reply
  10. Grace

    Why would you care about a little thing like salary? Not like you need it to function or anything.

    Seriously, though, if a new-hire’s salary is going to be pulled from the same funds as other new-hires and you need all the numbers to be able to offer a salary, you WAIT until you have all the numbers to offer the position. You don’t offer the position and withhold the salary! That’s maddness!

    Reply
    1. Sourire

      Plus, let’s say they all of the sudden tell you that your salary will be higher than originally expected. This means the other people they hired are “worth” less than what the company originally wanted/expected. So you automatically start out with the unfortunate assumption that you will not be working with the cream of the crop, so to speak.

      Reply
      1. Ruffingit

        That’s a good point, but it could also be that you’re working with people who are desperate for a job so will take any paycheck over no paycheck. May not be that they are not cream of the crop, just that they are at the end of their unemployment rope and had no choice.

        Reply
  11. Calla

    My current job didn’t tell me the salary up-front when they called to offer the job, but immediately answered with no problem when I said asked (and every single benefit was covered before that). And it’s been a great job. So yeah, not saying it up-front is a little odd but not necessarily a deal-breaker… but being reluctant to give an actual number, after making an offer, when pressed repeatedly? Sketchville.

    Reply
  12. AdAgencyChick

    At first, I read the post and thought, “This employer sounds annoying, but depressingly normal.”

    Because I hadn’t noticed the part where AN OFFER WAS MADE.

    Normal (if annoying) for them to hedge around the discussion to try to get you to name a number first before an offer is made. But he a) made you an offer without a salary and b) says “IF you need to know, we can talk about it”?!

    Just when I think I’ve heard everything…

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    If you can afford to walk away, yes run away! if you really need the job, and have to ‘negotiate’ with this nut, I go with something like “I am interested in the job and salary isn’t the only consideration but it IS an important factor so I’ll need to wait until I get an offer letter with details”. If he balks at giving you an offer letter, then I would say you have to run away no matter how much you need the job because they are clearly up to no good. Or abjectly unprofessional and either way, it’ll end badly.

    Reply
  14. AnotherAlison

    OP: You can’t consider this (unless you’re unemployed and absolutely running out of options.)

    If I’m interpreting correctly, old salary was at least $30k and new offer is more in the $20k even range. It’s a $10,000 gap. A big one. A person making $110,000 can consider taking a $100,000 job to learn new skills or whatever, but you probably can’t afford to lose one-third of your income! (Even if you can, due to a spouse or something, don’t do it. Settting a lower precedence for future earnings compounds greatly over your lifetime. Take a look at the SheNegotiates blog. They have some great examples.)

    Reply
    1. Sourire

      Not OP, but how I read it: the posted salary had a range of $20,000 between highest and lowest. So it could be $20,000-$40,000 or it could be $100,000-$120,000. Though I agree with the part about thinking very hard about taking a pay cut due to the impact it could have on future earning.

      Reply
      1. Jamie

        That’s how I read it. Although I would still think it’s on the lower end because if you’re in the six figure range you typically aren’t being hired in a batch of new employees and splitting a pay bucket.

        Reply
    2. Anonymous

      I think you might be misreading; it reads to me more like the posted salary range spanned about $20k from lowest to highest. (Ie, 60-80k.)

      Reply
    3. fposte

      I initially read it the same way, but I think the OP means the posting had a range of $20k between the high and low numbers, not that there was a $20k salary involved (you couldn’t even be legally exempt for only $20k per year).

      Just to clarify the “stop talking” advice, though, that’s not to make somebody bring the subject of salary up if it isn’t already on the table–that’s when you both know you’re talking about salary and you’re resisting talking your way out of a negotiation.

      Reply
      1. AnotherAlison

        Yeah, I was thinking who in the world makes $20k with 10 yrs experience, but I know some people who work in home health care or warehouse jobs in that range, so I thought, well maybe.

        Reply
    4. Anonymous

      I read it like this at first too, but I think OP was saying that the $20k was the range, not the estimated salary. So it could be that they were offering between 80-100k, and now they’re offering 80k, but at OP’s old job, she was making 110k.

      Reply
  15. JR

    “Find a safehouse and hide inside it, because there’s a mad man on the loose in your town.”

    This made me lol in a really big way!

    Reply
  16. Greg

    Let’s not ignore the fact that, despite their refusal to give out a key piece of information, the company still wants an answer within 24 hours!

    Moving on, though, I was a little disappointed to hear the OP say that s/he was willing to take a new job that paid less than their current salary. Obviously, I don’t know the details, so I’m not going to make any definitive judgments on the OP’s actions, but in general I think it’s a really bad idea. The reality these days is that companies simply don’t give big raises to internal employees anymore, and the only way to get a bump of any significance is to switch jobs. If you don’t take advantage of those occasions to get a raise — and even worse, if you allow yourself to be paid less — you’re wasting a big opportunity that will have long-term effects on your future earnings.

    So OP, I’m not going to tell you what to do, but my general advice for someone in that situation would be to think long and hard before taking a step like that.

    Reply
    1. Daisy

      She talks about her ‘last’ job in the present tense though, which suggests she’s not currently employed to me.

      Reply
    2. ADL

      What if you are moving into a different metropolitan area where cost of living in city B is lower than current cost of living in city A? And you were offered a lower salary on face value for the job in city B than what you are currently making in city A? But by the cost of living standard, it is equal/higher? Do you still suggest not taking a job that pays less than your current salary?

      Reply
      1. Greg

        Interesting that you ask that. My wife and I have been toying with the idea for the past few years of moving to a city with a lower cost of living, and for some of that time I was unemployed. So I had direct experience pondering this question. And what I decided was that ideally, yes, I would want to avoid taking a cut in absolute terms. But I wouldn’t let it stand in the way of an otherwise good opportunity that would allow us to move to the new city.

        The key point is that I’m not proposing that as an absolute rule, but rather as a principle that you should look to uphold. You can deprioritize it, or you can consciously trade it off for other factors that you consider more valuable. But you should do it with your eyes open. What bothers me is that too many people unwittingly give up their leverage. As the great American statesmen Rod Blagojevich once said, ““I’ve got this
        thing and it’s f***ing golden, and, I’m just not giving it up for f***in’ nothing.” (Though I would not recommend actually making that statement out loud, especially if you have reason to believe the FBI is tapping your office).

        Now, as I said, I have no idea if the OP is doing that (and yes, I had missed the part about it being a former job rather than a current one, which obviously reduces — but doesn’t eliminate –their leverage.) I just took the opportunity to make a broader point about salary negotiations.

        Reply
    3. Rana

      Well, not all of us think that way about money. If I was shifting from a job in which I was being paid, oh, let’s say $45,000, but with long hours and a PITA commute, I would consider it a bargain to move to a job where I would work flexible hours with a short commute and the option to work from home for $35,000.

      But then, I try not to live at the limits of my income, in any case.

      Reply
      1. Greg

        Sure. My point is that switching jobs is an opportunity, and an opportunity has value. There’s nothing wrong with trading away that value for other things that you value more. Just be conscious that that’s what you’re doing.

        Just curious: In that hypothetical you describe, if they offered you $35K, would you try to negotiate to get at least what you were making previously?

        Reply
  17. Tina Career Counselor

    Now this is one I’ve never heard before. What a bizarre reaction on the part of the employer. “Well if that’s something you need to know”? Are you kidding me?

    Reply
    1. Sourire

      It’s like going to the doctor for some time of test and when you ask for the results, you are met with, “Well I guess I can get back to you about that, if it’s something you need to know”. Wha….

      Reply
  18. Anonymous

    This is completely insane. I also appreciate Alison’s note that “people accept jobs for money,” which she has also touched on before. I hate the aspect of job searching where the applicant is supposed to pretend that they don’t care about money. Money may not be the deciding factor, but you don’t work for free!

    Reply
  19. Laura

    Wow, OP, you sure are uppity and demanding. You’ve got alot of nerve asking what you’ll be paid. You should just be so grateful for the opportunity to work for this company that you throw yourself at the hiring manager’s feet, and thank him profusely for deigning to consider you. NOT.

    This is so ludicrous, because the hiring manager is trying to make the OP feel petty for wanting to know what the compensation for the position will be, as if asking for that information automatically classifies one as avaricious and money-hungry. People don’t work out of the kindness of their hearts. People work because they need to support themselves and their families.

    This reminds me of why objectives on resumes always annoyed me, even back in the day when it was part of the accepted format. I wished everyone would put an objective on their resume of, “I want to make a crap-ton of money” because really, that’s what it pretty much all boils down to.

    Reply
  20. CatB

    Sadly, I once worked at a company whose owner (my direct boss) told me loud and clear “Your wife should be grateful you have a job, not demand to see home at night!”. That was at about 1 am, the end of (one of the many) days that started at 8 am the previous day. So, your “You should just be so grateful for the opportunity to work for this company” is not, unfortunately, pure irony…

    Reply
    1. PJ

      Yeah, ’cause we girls only marry for money. No need to actually show up at home — just give us your check.

      Doesn’t it make you wonder what your boss’s marriage was like?

      Reply
    2. Cat

      Sounds like an employer my mom once had who – when asked if they would be paid overtime – responded “no, you get to keep your job.” (This was quite a while ago; not sure what the actual legality of this position was.)

      Reply
  21. PJ

    Some companies (I worked for one, alas) make it a practice to hire unemployed people, on the premise that they’re not in a position to haggle about money. They’ll low-ball the salary just because they think they can.

    Do you suppose that’s what’s going on here?

    Reply
    1. Jazzy Red

      Probably.

      I still see want ads specifically stating that only currently unempolyed people will be considered. They might as well say only extremely desperate people…

      Reply
  22. Anonymous Accountant

    This is so sketchy and shady. I hope the OP is in a position to hold out for another job offer.

    Reply
  23. Kerr

    I love AAM’s answer to this! Seriously, run. What were they expecting you to do, take the offer and be happy with whatever shows up on your paycheck?

    The part about paying five employees from a single line item sounds insanely sketchy.

    Reply
  24. Ed

    Assuming you have a good skill set/experience and are in a thriving industry like IT, I would never deal with this kind of crap. I think companies are under the impression they have more bargaining power than they do. The days are long gone when you can expect to have a job for life so you’re happy just to get your foot in the door. When I take a job, I assume I will no longer be there in 5 years so salary is now higher on my list than it was 20 years ago. I give little thought to dangling carrots like “career development” because they typically don’t exist anymore.

    Reply
  25. Jan

    I will be the first to admit that I have a dull life, but this is the funniest thing I have read in ages.

    Still chuckling about the Negotiation School for the Criminally Insane…

    Reply
  26. SCW

    So I actually did accept a job once without asking the salary, and they didn’t tell me when making an offer. It was my very first post college job and they called to offer the job the day after I did a phone screen that was supposed to be first of a long interview process. I had mentioned something about another interview at some point and I think they decided to hire me quickly as a result. So quickly that when I called back to ask about the salary they didn’t know what it was going to be. Honestly, it was all just one big red flag. But I learned a lot at that job and gained a lot of good experience. Though right after I’d moved across the country for it (back to where I grew up) the first lady training me told me she thought I was really brave to make that risk on a job that might not be a good fit. Turns out they hire willy nilly and expected people to self select out who weren’t up to their standards.

    Reply
  27. Elise

    If you have another option, don’t take this job.

    If you don’t, then accept the job and keep a journal. I get the feeling you will be able to put out a book before too long.

    Reply
    1. lana

      Hi – OP here

      First thanks to all for making me laugh after a tough/weird week. I took Alison’s excellent/hilarious advice, and ran. To clarify questions upthread, the range was a $20k band – and they were offering somewhere in the lower end of the range, and yes I’ve been out of work for a while. So, I pushed back and got an offer (finally) but they were so vague and also hurried (weird combination) about it all that I just couldn’t see a way past the original strange conversation. Also plenty of other red flags. I guess I learned a lot, especially – when in doubt, trust your instincts and keep reading Ask A Manager!

      Reply
  28. he-he-hello!

    I was recently in a similar situation. I was offered a job, and when I asked what the salary would be was told that we couldn’t discuss that until after I had accepted the offer…

    Glad to know my initial thought that this was a little ridiculous was correct.

    Reply
  29. anon-2

    I guess I’ve never heard of a situation in which a job is offered but they won’t tell you how much it pays.

    I have been lured into interview situations and low-balled; the best thing to do with a low-ball offer — if you can do so — is ram it back down the “pitcher’s” throat —

    “Those were not the figures we talked about and that was not the salary I was expecting. ”

    .. then allow them ONE shot – and ONE SHOT ONLY — to rectify it. Then they may get serious, and realize that they can’t play games with you.

    The worst thing is – they’ll retract the offer that you wouldn’t accept.

    Reply
  30. Ava

    I would never apply for a job unless the salary was mentioned in the advertisement. If they don’t mention it, they are ashamed of it or trying to get someone for buttons. End of.

    Ava

    Reply

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