employer told me that it’s not professional for entry-level candidates to negotiate salary

A reader writes:

I recently got offered an entry-level job at a nonprofit in a field semi-new to me after moving to a new city. When applying for the job, they asked me to include my salary requirements with my résumé and cover letter, and I gave a minimum number (I know, I know now that that hard figures should be avoided). After knowing more about the job from the interview and doing some more research about comparable salaries in my area, I realized that this minimum was lower than what is normal for my area.

Once I was offered the position, I replied by counter-offering a little higher, about $3,000 more – still on the low side for this field of work, but one I’m comfortable with given my relative lack of experience. In response, the CEO told me, “just to give me some advice” because I’m young and newer to the workforce, that it’s not professional to counter-offer. He told me I was “moving the goal posts” on him. He also told me that if I had wanted to change my desired salary, I should have told him before he offered me the job. However, I would never, ever think to do this for fear of torpedoing any chance of getting the job by doing so – I’m entry-level in a competitive job market, and I would think that this would scare off potential employers.

The CEO said he wouldn’t hold it against me and that he would get back to me on whether my new number would work, but the exchange left a bad taste in my mouth. The notion of counter-offering being inappropriate flies in the face of all advice I’ve received, my personal experience, and most job advice articles I’ve read. When I told family and friends about the exchange, they were flabbergasted.

Was it rude of me to counter-offer in this situation? Was I wrong to not inform him of a higher desired salary before the job offer? Would doing so seriously risk my chances at a job?

He said he “wouldn’t hold it against you” that you attempted to negotiate? How kind of him.

But I wonder if what he was really saying wasn’t that it’s unprofessional to negotiate (because, wow, no, it’s not), but rather that it’s unprofessional to first state you’re seeking one salary and then ask for a higher one when it’s offer time.

It’s true that that’s not great to do. It’s true that that can even be “moving the goal posts,” as he said. But it’s also true that you generally learn a lot more about a job during the interview process, and you can learn things that change your assessment of what a fair salary would be.

When that happens, it’s good practice to explain that it happened. You don’t want to just ask for more money without acknowledging that it’s a different number than you gave earlier. You want to say something like, “After talking with you and learning more about the responsibilities of the job, I think a salary in the range of $X would be fair.”

And frankly, you probably did mess up by not doing that research about salaries in your geographic area until later on in the process. You’re expected to have done that by the time you’re naming a figure … otherwise that first figure you named doesn’t have much meaning, and they’re not asking you for an arbitrary number. They’re asking you for a number you’d really accept.

So there were some aspects to this that you didn’t navigate perfectly.

But as for his claim that it’s unprofessional to negotiate simply because you’re less experienced, he’s wrong.

It’s true that when you’re entry-level, you generally don’t have a ton of room to negotiate. Most entry-level candidates (although not all) haven’t yet developed the reputation and track record that would give them standing to do serious negotiating. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t negotiate at all, and it definitely doesn’t mean that it’s unprofessional to negotiate.

What’s unprofessional is telling a candidate that it’s unprofessional to negotiate, or frankly, giving any unsolicited career advice at that stage. If he felt he had important information for you, he could wait until after you were hired and share his advice with you then. Right now, though, you’re two business people considering doing business together; you don’t need his advice on being professional, and you definitely don’t need it from someone who’s getting it wrong.

{ 111 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. never jaunty

    OP, this is great advice from AAM… on negotiating at your next job offer. This guy is an unprofessional, gaslighting tool. You don’t want your paycheck dependent on someone like this.

    Reply
    1. M&M

      I recently made a comment about a candidate who counter-offered, as I was discussing the timeline to get this candidate on board. Without even realizing what I was saying – because as a hiring manager its just a part of the process. My peer seemed surprised and I said that candidates SHOULD counter offer. Why wouldn’t you? If you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table. My peer told me a story about when he was given his original offer – he inquired with the recruiter about the chance of a counter-offer, and the recruiter essentially discouraged by saying that if you counter and the hiring manager doesn’t like your counter offer, or is offended, you might lose the offer completely. (That might be the case with some hiring managers, I don’t know.) But my response to my peer was, “If you lose a job offer because your counter offer offended the hiring manager, I don’t think you want to work for that manager at all.”

      Reply
      1. Steve

        Of course the recruiter said not to negotiate. They would much rather the candidate accept the offer as-is. They get paid about the same either way – but if the attempted negotiation does kill the deal, they don’t get paid at all.

        Reply
  2. Snarkus Aurelius

    The CEO reminds me of the investors on Shark Tank.  These are investors who have made their money by doing a variety of business dealings, which naturally includes negotiation.  You rarely get a lucrative deal on the first try.  Yet when contestants go pitch their ideas, the Shark Tank investors clutch the pearls and grab the smelling salts when the contestant starts negotiating the terms of the investment.

    It’s an obvious power grab, and it’s unprofessional in both of these scenarios.

    As you’ll learn when you start working, $3,000 is chump change in comparison to what businesses spend.  For the CEO to make a stink about it is more about your negotiation than the dollar amount itself.

    I’m not going to blame you too much because while you did “move the goal posts” on him, that’s true, it’s not like you’re the most experienced negotiator.  The CEO should have known that and taken the increase for what it was minus the paternal suggestions.  As AAM said, if he truly wanted to help you, he could have done so after he hired you.

    That said, PLEASE don’t buy into this BS that it’s unprofessional to negotiate salary.  It’s not true.  Not only is salary negotiable but a lot of non-monetary benefits are too.  A Harvard Business Journal, which I can find, has an excellent outline of all the other things you can negotiate that aren’t salary.  Workers leave a lot on the table by focusing only on money.

    Reply
    1. Laurel Gray

      Your Shark Tank example is TOO spot on. The negotiation part irks me so much! They want to vampire into someone’s brilliant idea that is already successful and profitable and take a huge chunk of stake and profits and when people negotiate they act offended. Definitely a power grab.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        I have to imagine it’s become more heavily scripted/staged over time – as the inventions get less interesting (do we need to hear a pitch for yet another niche food product?), they have to keep up the excitement somehow with things like “all 5 Sharks put in an offer for the first time ever!”

        Reply
        1. AnotherAlison

          No doubt. I still watch this a lot because it’s on. But seriously, niche food products and clothing seems to be about 90% of the pitches.

          Reply
          1. Three Thousand

            Which makes sense, because those are the kinds of products that get valuable advertising simply by being on the show, whether they get an investment or not. Other types of companies like tech startups rarely show up on Shark Tank because most of them don’t make great tv, so this isn’t a good advertising format for them.

            Reply
            1. mb

              “Workflow as a Service is the new Content as a Service-”

              zzZZzzzzZZZ

              Heh, I’d love to have one of those guys in a software meeting.

              Reply
    2. Three Thousand

      The “Sharks” got to where they are in no small part by bullying and gaslighting people with less negotiating savvy and leverage than themselves, so they want to weed out people who will stand up to them from the very beginning. On the rare occasions where someone like Corcoran or Herjavec makes a show out of not lowballing someone, they get treated like saints, while O’Leary is always the go-to villain the others use to make themselves look better.

      Reply
    3. LizzyB

      How do you ensure that you actually get those benefits if a job offer is not a contract? Is it just part of doing your due diligence in researching the employer? I’m a new reader, but have been digging into the archives and see quite a few people who have negotiated something an extra week of vacation or a salary increase after X months only to have that taken away later. I realize there are no guarantees in life, but it sure could feel like a bait-and-switch.

      Reply
    4. Ad Astra

      You did a good job articulating the things that made me so uncomfortable about the CEO’s behavior: It’s a power grab. It’s like he thinks he’s a benevolent ruler generously giving charity to unworthy peasants. This is a business relationship, and negotiation is a completely normal part of it.

      And, honestly, it’s generally unprofessional to tell someone you just met that they’re being unprofessional, just like it’s generally poor manners to critique someone else’s manners.

      Reply
    5. Koko

      The thing I hate most on Shark Tank is when they start harranguing the contestants to make a decision almost instantly and without waiting to see whether there are any other offers. Do you really want to invest in a business that makes decisions that way??

      Reply
      1. mb

        The professional association for my field in my state actually publicly posts the minimum “acceptable” salary ranges for different experience ranges. The majority of (traditional) jobs would be members of this association, so it would basically be a public shame for them to pay below that minimum range, and most job descriptions in the field simply list salary ranges right in the postings as a result. It is something I never take for granted, after being in the “nobody talks about pay and you should be grateful to have a job” world.

        Reply
    1. BRR

      The job I ended up accepting was one with a $5K range posted in the ad. Not only was it nice to see the salary but it wasn’t some huge salary band of $30K where I had no idea where the position fell. And frankly, because they did this it attracted me to the organization beyond knowing my potential salary.

      Reply
      1. Not The Droid You Are Looking For

        Those $30k ranges scare me, because that represents several stages in someone’s career.

        Recently I have seen a lot of $XXk plus, which I’ve liked.

        Reply
    2. The Expendable Redshirt

      I work with an organization that doesn’t post salary ranges, but asks applicants to name what they’re looking for.
      They know that they are setting thing up from a position of power. Their logic is, the résumé reviewer can filter out applicants who list their salary expectations too high. And they can call the applicants who lowballed themselves.

      And yet, the staff member was complaining that she had SO MANY resumes to look through. Hey Organization, if you listed the salary range …. people could opt out if the compensation didn’t work for them!

      Reply
      1. Koko

        One other really big disadvantage for the employer is that people who are currently employed and good at their jobs are much less likely to apply if there’s no salary range given. Why should they go through all the trouble of putting together a cover letter and resume if the job is going to end up paying less than they currently make? When you don’t give salary range you increase the proportion of unemployed folks and people who are desperate to leave their current job. And sure, there’s plenty of talent to be found in those pools, but I think the talent is more highly concentrated and likely higher overall among the pool of people currently employed in a job they do well, so you might be missing out on the best candidates by not posting salary.

        Then again, if your company also lowballs candidates, the salary range they post probably wouldn’t be enough to entice a happily-employed candidate away from their job. I’ve explored a couple of possible departures from my company over the years when I was contacted by recruiters who told me the salary, and at those times I’ve often done a cursory search through the job banks just to see if there’s anything else out there that looks interesting since I’ve just updated my resume anyway. If salary isn’t listed I just assume it’s below market and don’t apply. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

        Reply
  3. Artemesia

    If you have any options at all besides this, I would refuse the job if he doesn’t come close to your request and would explain why you named that figure.

    And this guy will be a tool to work for. My daughter negotiated a bonus when the offer for a job came in at the bottom rather than top of the range they listed and she had experience that to her suggested she should be higher in the range. They argued that they were hiring everyone at this low rate, but finally gave her a signing bonus. The CEO did in fact ‘hold it against her’ the entire time she worked there while she was delivering first rate work for them. This guy is telling you that he will be a jackass to work for. Believe him and avoid him if you have other options. If not, go in strong and keep looking. Don’t let him push you into being apologetic or weak.

    Reply
    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Seriously?? Someone should have given that CEO a binky and put him down for a nap! Either the bonus was acceptable or it wasn’t, and the time to decide that was WHEN IT WAS NEGOTIATED.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        He was a complete asshat who actually ran his initially very successful business into the ground by not doing what needed to be done to keep the major fortune 500 client and by hiring horrifying managers (who were his personal friends). My kid is now in the C-suite elsewhere. The company that treated her badly is now gone.

        Reply
    2. Mike C.

      I really don’t understand these sorts of folks. Even the most hardened bean-counting business type understands what ROI is and won’t mind spending on an investment if there’s a great return.

      Folks like these? It’s so short-sighted and obsessive.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        For CEOs like these, it’s all about power; the money is just a way of keeping score. They’re offended that the employee didn’t just take what was offered, but asked for and got something beyond what the CEO initially wanted to give.

        Reply
    3. BRR

      I think he’ll be a tool to work for too. He will hold it against the LW and it sounds like the type of boss who says “you should be thankful just to have a job.”

      Reply
  4. Anonymous Educator

    What’s unprofessional is telling a candidate that it’s unprofessional to negotiate, or frankly, giving any unsolicited career advice at that stage. If he felt he had important information for you, he could wait until after you were hired and share his advice with you.

    I think this is the best part of Alison’s advice.

    You could make an argument that the OP named a salary requirement and then seemed to renege when suddenly asking for more later (it sounded more like a number and not a range), but even if you assume that’s the case (not necessarily the case, though), pointing that out during the negotiating phase is definitely unprofessional.

    And, frankly, as a hiring manager, you just have to weigh pros and cons. If you think something a candidate does is so unprofessional as to warrant rescinding the offer, just rescind the offer. But if you want to keep the offer on the table and hope the candidate takes the offer, don’t give unsolicited condescending advice.

    Reply
    1. the_scientist

      THIS. THIS THIS THIS.

      I don’t even think that OP’s actions were necessarily unprofessional- I’d probably categorize them as more of a rookie mistake (providing that the negotiation was phrased politely, etc.). This CEO sounds like the sort that feels that people “should be thankful to even have a job”….probably with a side helping of grumbling about entitled millenials thrown in for good measure.

      This letter speaks to me on a personal level because my first job was actually at a place that did not even allow negotiation, at all. Like they flat-out said “nope, sorry, we don’t negotiate”. I get as an entry-level employee you don’t have a ton of leverage but not allow any negotiation at all?? Not surprisingly, it was dysfunctional on a multitude of levels.

      Reply
      1. Not Today Satan

        Yeah, I don’t really get the emphasis on being entry-level–some entry level employees make $25,000, and some make $100,000. Not all entry level jobs, and not all entry level workers, are equal in the value they bring to the organization.

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        1. Judy

          Or large corporation hiring lots of new grads. All of the companies I’ve worked for had a formula describing what rate they would hire new grad engineers for. $Xk + $3k for good grades + $4k for co-op experience, for example.

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      2. Doriana Gray

        I agree. The OP’s actions weren’t the most graceful, but that’s to be expected with someone either new or relatively new to the workforce.

        If the OP must take this job for whatever reason, stay on guard around this person – he will hold this against you in some way, even if it’s subconscious. I had a very similar conversation with the Senior VP of my division during an internal interview, and his unsolicited advice did give me pause about whether I’d even accept the offer if given to me.

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        1. Ani

          Yeah, even giving the employer the benefit of the doubt (maybe he genuinely thinks OP has a bright future but had a human moment of inartfulness and ineptness), it seems it would be almost impossible for the person who brings this up at the negotiating (!) stage to ever really fully let it go.

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          1. Doriana Gray

            Yup. It’ll come back again in some way – I have a manager who’ll bring up mistakes that I made when I first started her over a year ago in a “joking” manner. The first time I laughed it off. The fiftieth time? Not so funny. Get over it.

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      3. The Cosmic Avenger

        A rookie mistake, a perfect way to describe it, the_scientist. Something that’s not surprising from someone with little real-world experience. It’s like disqualifying a candidate because they seemed nervous at the interview! (Assuming their job doesn’t require a lot of diplomacy or dealing with incredible pressure.)

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      4. Delyssia

        It’s definitely a red flag, but like most red flags, an employer who won’t negotiate at all is a situation to look more closely at. For many government or union jobs, the only real negotiating room would be where your experience places you in their pay grades. In addition to that, I think it is possible for a good employer to decide that they prefer to make their highest and best offer upfront, rather than offer low and allow people to negotiate up. But I think the latter type of employer should be able to make that case, not just say “no, we don’t negotiate.”

        Reply
        1. Meg Murry

          Yes, I was coming to say that. I’ve see places that say “we don’t negotiate for entry level” (or even for any level) but they are 100% upfront about that, and also do studies to make sure they are paying at average to above average for the market (or in one case – they were the largest in the area by far, so they defined market rate, but they made a point of paying starting salaries above the smaller companies). So they would say at offer time “we don’t negotiate, but we make a point to give a fair, consistent offer”. And, in fact, for some around the office anecdata, they offered me and several of my coworkers more than we had been making and more than we asked for when asked for a range during our interviews. (None of us said to the other “hey, how much do you make here” – it just came up that someone was very happy with their offer, and we all mentioned that we were offered way higher than we had been making at our previous crappy jobs and were very happy with the offer).

          Reply
      5. Ad Astra

        I just can’t imagine being indignant about a candidate raising her asking salary by $3,000. Giving a specific number might have hurt OP’s position for negotiation, but it didn’t hurt the CEO or his company one bit. Nothing about OP’s conduct was rude or unprofessional, and the CEO is insane for taking this so personally.

        Reply
        1. Artemesia

          And the only rookie mistake here was not saying something like ‘I am looking for X to Y depending on the responsibilities of the job’ rather than naming a single figure.

          Reply
    2. Stranger than fiction

      True but as Alison points out, sometimes when you learn more about the role during the interview process and all its responsibilities, it’s understandable to then negotiate for more. This guys just a jerk.

      Reply
  5. Not Today Satan

    Something I’ve encountered many times in my career is that you rarely get something if you don’t ask. Whether that something is more money, or better working conditions, or whatever, unfortunately it’s sort of up to you to advocate for yourself. But the good thing is, often times when I have asked for things, I have gotten them. Obviously, the requests have to be reasonable–I haven’t asked for an on-site therapy puppy or a 6 figure salary for my nonprofit job. But it seems that after learning more about this job, asking for more money was reasonable.

    It makes me mad that especially in this day and age of poor wages this employer felt the need to discourage this younger worker from advocating for herself. IMO, it seems like he’s trying to set the tone that he doesn’t need your feedback when making decisions about your career and salary.

    Reply
    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      I bet this CEO is also the type to say, “If people think they’re underpaid, it’s because they don’t negotiate well!”

      Ugh.

      Reply
      1. Three Thousand

        “…which is great, because I want to underpay them and have a victim-blaming excuse for it! So why the hell are they starting to negotiate now? This needs to stop.”

        Reply
  6. Drink Coffee

    Question: why is this called “salary negotiation”? Isn’t what we call salary negotiation simply the candidate asking for more money, in every case? Where is the negotiation aspect? How does the employer benefit?

    Reply
    1. FD

      Let’s say that the employer needs a new chocolate teapot designer. This designer will ultimately make the company money by coming up with designs that please the clients. Better designers will win better clients. (This isn’t just true for designers–better accountants keep the business running more smoothly, and save money by reducing the risk of fraud.)

      The candidate wants a job, but they also want compensation for that job. The potential candidate should know what their skills are worth, and how they can add value to the company. This is where a good resume comes in–for example, maybe her design won Teapot of the Year at her last company. This tells the employer that she would be a good asset to the team.

      In a good negotiation, both sides get something they want. The employer gets a skilled employee, who will bring in revenue with her good teapot designs. The candidate gets a job that pays a salary she feels is fair for her work.

      Reply
    2. AVP

      Also, it’s a negotiation because the person making the initial offer will often lowball a little, knowing that the candidate will counter. So the employer gets the chance to save a little money if the candidate doesn’t counter for whatever reason, or if they don’t ask for as much as the HM expects.

      Just like any other business negotiation – the idea is to make a deal that satisfies everyone in the long run.

      Reply
      1. Anonymous Educator

        Also, it’s a negotiation because the person making the initial offer will often lowball a little, knowing that the candidate will counter.

        What you’re saying is true, and I realize this is just part of business culture… but it’s so messed up. I wish we lived in a culture in which employers just compensated employees fairly and didn’t try to lowball with candidates trying to negotiate up to something reasonable.

        Reply
        1. AVP

          Well, it might make you feel a bit better if you think about it like any other vendor relationship. My clients tell me they have X$ for a project, I tell them it can only be done for X+20%, they say okay you can have X+15%. It’s annoying, but it’s not personal.

          Reply
          1. Anonymous Educator

            I get that… but I also think that’s messed up. I hate buying cars because of the whole negotiating piece. I wish everything was just a price that you take or leave and then just let the market decide…

            Adding in negotiating to the job market means that you’re often compensating candidates not based on how well they can do the job or how qualified they came but more on how aggressively they negotiate (and for many jobs, negotiating salary is not the primary skillset).

            Reply
            1. Ad Astra

              Yes, and it’s common for white men to be perceived as “better” negotiators than women or people of color with the same credentials and negotiation tactics. Very few people are still consciously deciding that white men deserve a better price on that car or a higher salary, but a whole lot of people still perceive a certain behavior as positive in one group and negative in another.

              Reply
            2. Stranger than fiction

              Car buying is actually slowly moving away from that. Some dealerships are implementing fixed price or no haggle pricing or you can get your price locked in beforehand using sites like true car. I’m no expert but I’ve seen some articles recently.

              Reply
    3. hbc

      Do you expect them to ask for less money?

      I’m trying not to be snarky, but I’m curious what your definition of “negotiation” is if this doesn’t meet it. “We’re offering $25K a year.” “How about $30K?” “No, but we can do $27K and give you a $1000 signing bonus.” “Deal.” That’s a negotiation.

      Reply
  7. Eliza Jane

    What particularly galls me about this guy is that it sounds like the OP pretty explicitly gave a minimum number, that is, a number below which she wouldn’t be willing to dip. It is incredibly common to define a low number, wait for an offer, and then negotiate, even if that number was above your minimum. It’s for this reason that I never give a number, but a range. “62-75K, depending on the entire package,” or whatever.

    If the form is just asking you for a single number, it’s telling you pretty clearly, “This is as low as you’d possibly be willing to go.” Holding a candidate to that is totally unreasonable.

    Reply
    1. Eliza Jane

      I’ll add that I’ve had people ask me after the interview process was complete (and with time to consider, not an ‘ANSWER NOW’), “What salary, if we offered it to you today, would make you certain you wanted this job?” In those cases, I’ve given the high end of my range, and said, “But depending on the total package, I might be willing to go lower — I’d have to think about the offer.” Those don’t bother me as much.

      Reply
    2. BRR

      I was asked early in many interviews and I always did a similar thing and responded along the lines of “low $60s depending on the benefits.” Also, “after learning more about how this position would be responsible for A,B, and C, I think $X would be a fair salary for this role.”

      Reply
  8. AW

    When applying for the job, they asked me to include my salary requirements with my résumé and cover letter

    It’s hard to feel sorry for the CEO’s goal posts getting moved when they 1) require salary info up front and 2) apparently didn’t give a salary range in the job posting.

    Even if the OP had done the research on pay in the new city first, they still would have had to change their salary requirements based on what they learned about the job. The company is setting themselves up to get counter-offers that differ from the initial requirements this way.

    Reply
    1. Development professional

      Yes, this. If the CEO really feels like entry level candidates shouldn’t negotiate/don’t have any leverage to negotiate, then why is he asking them to name salary requirements? Even if your company is not willing to name a salary range for upper level positions, there is no genuine reason to withhold the salary that you plan to offer to entry-level candidates if you’re not going to be willing to negotiate with them anyway. The ONLY reason you wouldn’t include the offered salary in the job announcement or very early on in the process is to try to get someone as cheaply as you possibly can, which just sucks.

      Reply
  9. Student

    No idea what the gender of the letter-writer is, but there’s a substantial body of research that shows women are held to different standards than men when negotiating. It’s seen as a positive for men and negatively for women. Further, people negotiate differently with men than with women, regardless of the negotiator’s gender. Women get offered worse deals than men on average.

    Regardless of your gender, OP, I suggest you run from this “opportunity”. This issue about negotiating is going to come up over and over in your job, for pay raises and promotions, but also for task allocation and navigating normal workplace interactions. They just told you loud and clear not to “ask”. Go somewhere with a better long-term prospect, because this one is way below average.

    Reply
    1. KR

      This, and when women negotiate they are often seen as pushy or bitchy, when if a man negotiated it might be considered a show of capability or power and otherwise completely reasonable.

      Reply
    2. Ad Astra

      To me, it sounds like the CEO practically started his sentence with “Listen, missy.” I’m sure there are idiot CEOs who believe it’s unprofessional for both male and female candidates to negotiate at entry level, but something about the OP’s situation seemed quite gendered to me. I would be genuinely surprised if OP turned out to be a man.

      Reply
    3. Artemesia

      This. I have had several friends as well as my daughter find that negotiating created them problems with the boss. I have never heard this happening with a man — he is ‘tough’ and ‘aggressive’ and a ‘go-getter’ and of course they have to give him more money or risk losing him. And once again she is ‘abrasive’ and ‘demanding.’ Women aren’t supposed to be uppity.

      Reply
      1. neverjaunty

        THIS. And of course, the man is supposed to be providing for a family, not making “pin money”. *flips tables*

        Reply
        1. Biff

          This exact argument came up some years ago — our team mates with children were getting preferential treatment with raises/time off/flex time. Well of course, we also had team mates with non-standard families (elder care, non-custodial parent, domestic partnerships, etc, etc.) I got very tired of my little family getting consistently downgraded in terms of importance because it lacked human infants or toddlers.

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      2. Biff

        I agree, Artemesia. I’ve watched this play out several times and often-times it’s a total head-scratcher. You’d think a company would want their female employees to be as successful as possible because that’s just going to get the business that much more money, status and power.

        To be fair though, there have been a few times I thought women being called to the carpet for aggressiveness was justified was when a woman was exhibiting behavior that falls under (shudder) “Boys will be Boys” — that is, behavior that gets explained for men away but honestly isn’t acceptable. They sometimes claim “but a man wouldn’t be called out on this!” And I think, quietly… but he should be.

        Reply
        1. neverjaunty

          You’re not wrong… but whoever is doing the ‘calling out’ needs to be doing so to the boys, too. If management is only scolding Revelentia for being a jerk but shrugs off Wakeen, well, I’m not saying Revelentia should just keep on keeping on, but she has a point.

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  10. E.R

    Also, couldn’t the CEO have just said “no” to the counter-offer? S/he seemed to take it as personal affront. If I offer something and they counter-offer and I dont want to change my offer, I just say no, and I don’t lecture the other party on how I dont like their counter-offer! It’s truly basic business skills.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous Educator

      This happened to me. I tried to negotiate up a salary, and my future boss said there was no room for negotiation. I took the job anyway because I needed it. She didn’t lecture me or anything—just said no.

      Reply
    2. Ad Astra

      There’s a huge difference between “Sorry, our first offer was really the top of our range for this position” and “We don’t negotiate.” Or worse, in the OP’s situation, “It’s unprofessional to negotiate.” Same results, very different attitudes.

      Reply
    3. Development professional

      This is what makes it so hilarious – he gets all offended by the negotiation, but then proceeds to negotiate with OP anyway! To me, it just proves that he’s full of crap.

      Reply
  11. CM

    I’m surprised by all the responses telling the OP that they should consider walking away from the job over this. I agree that the CEO shouldn’t have said that, but is it that bad? Seems like people are interpreting it as a red flag that the CEO will be a terrible boss or that the organization is dysfunctional. Is that based on personal experiences with similar situations, or do you think the statement itself (“let me give you some advice, negotiating salary is unprofessional”) is that egregious in this situation?

    Reply
    1. 42

      Because one could extrapolate that if the CEO dismisses outright a commonplace staple of the hiring process, that he or she carries over that dismissive quality in his or her day-to-day leadership style.

      Reply
    2. Shelby

      His reaction is telling you a lot about how he thinks as an employer. He clearly doesn’t understand professional norms and doesn’t seem to respect when an employee values himself and stands up for himself. He also doesn’t know when it is or is not appropriate to address an issue. What is his reaction going to be a year from now when you ask for a raise? What other odd ideas does he have about professionalism? It’s less about the actual words and more about the attitude of the person who would be in charge of you for eight hours a day.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        And he knows she is just a girl and will fold when it is time for promotions or raises. A man who treats a new female applicant like this is never going to be a boss who rewards her work. If she takes the job, she should be constantly working on the resume and scanning the environment for offers. She may want to stay a year — but her goal unless things are dramatically different than expected, should be to make a move the first time a good opportunity presents itself.

        Reply
    3. Three Thousand

      Negotiating salary is in no way unprofessional, and a CEO who says this to an entry-level job candidate is doing it because he wants to see if she’ll buy it, which means he can probably treat her badly as an employee because she won’t think she deserves any better. This is a power grab. He will almost certainly be a terrible, gaslighting nightmare of a boss who will shame her for trying to ask for raises or promotions when she’s earned them.

      Reply
    4. neverjaunty

      Yes, it is that bad, because it’s not just the one (admittedly awful by itself) statement about giving advice:

      – condescending advice which is self-serving as well as wrong
      – painting himself as a generous good guy for offering not to ‘hold it against’ the OP (when in fact she did nothing wrong)
      – after all that, saying he’ll get back to OP on the number, which is either the CEO being totally unprepared, or punishing the OP for her “unprofessional” behavior by keeping her in suspense.

      Overall, this is a picture of somebody you do NOT want to work for.

      Reply
  12. Jillyan

    My second job was 38k a year. I went back and negotiated to 40k because I thought the extra 2k would help. Didn’t matter- after taxes, my paycheck wasn’t much higher than if I hadn’t negotiated.
    That being said, my boss didn’t mind me negotiating. He was worried I was going to ask for more but when he heard the amount he sounded relieved and said that sounded fair

    Reply
  13. Shelby

    I had an offer pulled once when I tried to negotiate. It was a position as an attorney and the entire interview process was about the long hours they expected you to put in and how unhappy they were with the quality of work they were getting from the people who previously held the position. I also got the sense there was frequent turnover. Then they offered me $30k. With no benefits. I countered (with a number still fairly low for the field but at least something I could live on) and they didn’t even bother to come back. They just pulled the offer entirely. And you wonder why you can’t get anyone to stay in the position and the work you got was bad.

    Reply
      1. grasshopper

        I think that the poverty line in North America is currently between $18K to $27K depending on location, cost of living, etc. I hope that this is a story from 30 years ago because otherwise paying a lawyer $30K means that you’re going to work at a terrible company and get a terrible lawyer.

        Reply
        1. Shelby

          Two years ago. It was almost funny the extent to which they were complaining that they couldn’t find anyone who was the right fit for the job and that people either weren’t meeting expectations or leaving quickly. Well, duh. You’re hiring people who probably have $150k in student loans and offering barely more than they’d make working retail. With no benefits! I went to law school on a full scholarship and still couldn’t afford to take their offer.

          Reply
      2. neverjaunty

        Seriously! I graduated from law school in…. um… it was the days before tuition was ridiculously inflated and everybody graduated with $100K in debt, let’s put it that way. And even back then, $30K with no benefits would have been considered a tough sell.

        Reply
  14. I'm older than I look

    Realistically I agree wit h the CEO though I think the way he approached the advice was off.

    She gave a number, he met that number, and then she asked for more. If I put in an offer to a house at asking-price, and (assuming they don’t have multiple offers) they asked for more, I’d say hell no. Asking price is basically their first counter offer. (wellllll if I really loved the house maybe I’d think really long and hard before saying no but I’d say no)

    True that she’s entry level and she really didn’t know the range. Maybe the biggest point here is that she should’ve/would’ve/could’ve done the research before plugging a number in on the auto form.

    I do agree that the way he phrased it is weird. I think he should just have said “Well let me see what I can do” and if he can’t go up then whatever. It sounds like she will accept the offer regardless – $3k is hardly enough to make a huge difference on a paycheck.

    Reply
    1. Hiding on the Internet Today

      But an offer on a house is after you’ve walked through it and looked at comps, not “Hey, I have a house you might like, how much are you willing to spend?”

      Asking for a salary requirement (read: minimum) up front and then being shocked, shocked! that more information about the job changed that position is beyond disingenuous. I read the whole position as dramatics being used as a bargaining chip, designed to make the prospective employee feel like they have a weak position. (Frankly, its a rouse I’d use, if I thought it would work, though not for hiring. I find it to be short sighted to cheap out on hiring. I’d rather give someone more than they asked for their first year and start the relationship with the base assumption that I am doing my best to take care of my staff rather than starting as an adversary.)

      Reply
      1. DMented Kitty

        When we bought our house we renegotiated the asking price after the inspector came in and one of the furnaces was found to have rusty holes in it. We said we’ll take the house at either lower than the initial price as we’ll have to replace the broken furnace or they replace the furnace and keep the price we agreed on.

        They decided for the second option and it seemed like a fair deal.

        Reply
    2. chilledcoyote

      Not to mention that putting a number on an application is not a firm offer from the candidate – it’s a requirement for the application, not a final bargaining position. I don’t get why anyone would just assume that a number on an application is final. Or why you would be surprised that knowing nothing about the job, the candidate adjusts their expectations.

      I like the house analogy – I have a dwelling unit you might be interested in. How much are you willing to pay in rent? Up to $1,500? Great! Oh, you’re upset now that you know it’s a studio in a bad neighborhood with a communal bathroom? But you said you’d pay $1,500!!!

      Reply
  15. Anx

    3K can be a huge difference, even if part of the differential is lost in taxes.

    3K is a huge portion of my paycheck and I didn’t pay income tax last year. The standard of living for my family shot up drastically the year I did make ~3K. It really gave us some breathing room.

    Reply
    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      Not for the employer though. $3k is how much an ex-boss of mine spent on airfare to Asia. It’s nothing to them.

      If $3k is going to make or break an employer, then they’ve got big problems.

      Reply
  16. ThatGirl

    My first job out of college was in Kentucky, where I barely cleared $20k a year (this was in 2003, I should add). Two years later I moved to the Chicago suburbs, and my rent was going to nearly double (plus other cost of living stuff), so I knew I needed to be paid considerably more. I had a number in mind, and when my new boss offered me the job, he put out a number that was a bit shy of what I thought I needed. I told him honestly that given rent and the expense of the area, I could use at least $1,000 more a year. He sounded a little surprised but said he’d get back to me, and came back the next day saying they could do it. Even though it wasn’t a huge increase, it gave me some courage to keep negotiating as my career has progressed.

    Reply
  17. AnonPi

    “What’s unprofessional is telling a candidate that it’s unprofessional to negotiate, or frankly, giving any unsolicited career advice at that stage.”

    I find the whole giving unsolicited career advice weird, but it seems to be a thing lately? (I’ve been given career advice during three interviews the past few months, often not even relevant to the interview/position) What’s worse is he’s giving bad career advice, but again there seems to be more bad advice floating around than good – thank goodness for blogs like this one!

    Reply
  18. Thomas W

    Who wants to bet this same CEO would say the applicant is lucky to have a job at all, as jobs are gifts from employers to employees, given out of pure pitiful charity.

    Reply
  19. Honeybee

    I think employers bring this on themselves when they force applicants to name a single number in the box on the website, make it a required question, and/or claim that they will reject you immediately if you don’t put an actual number in there. I – and I think many other people – put a number that’s close to the minimum I’m willing to accept for the job, but we haven’t even TALKED yet. If this job sounds super crazy, or you sound super crazy, or it turns out the benefits are terrible or there are some additional details or duties you didn’t put in the ad, I might want more than that.

    If it’s so important for an employer to stay within a certain range of salary, it should be their responsibility to specify that range. Otherwise, you get what you get.

    Reply
    1. Hiding on the Internet Today

      So much this. A 30 hour a week job with a walking commute and benefits that make me cackle can pay me far, far less than an 80% travel job with laughable benefits, even if the base skills required are the same. I might still take the second one, but I think there might be different numbers of digits in the salary. Add in a bonkers culture or expectations that I will do some heavy lifting for cultural change, and I don’t care what I typed in the little box, we are going to have a discussion about what that is really worth for you.

      Reply
  20. Unprofessional OP

    Hi all! OP here. I totally agree that I made a few rookie mistakes in my salary negotiations. I’ve definitely learned a lot for the next time.

    I would like to clarify two things, though: I later learned that he did, just in general, think that salary negotiations were unprofessional (like, as a rule), and I will say that in all likelihood I would’ve accepted the number he offered – I just negotiated $3,000 more to see if there was any wiggle room. I thought that’s what you were expected to do after a job offer. There was wiggle, by the way: he offered me $2,000 more.

    I made the mistake of accepting the offer because I need the job, and had the world’s most appalling first day of work at his company. I should have trusted my gut that this guy would be a bad boss – he’s more unprofessional and abrasive (and abusive, at times!) than I ever could’ve imagined. I don’t want to get into details, but the number of red flags I encountered in my first two days there were staggering. I got out of there as soon as I could.

    Thanks for everyone else’s comments and advice!

    Reply
  21. Joanna

    A used car salesmen tried to pull the same trick on me as this CEO did. After discussing the car’s features and doing a test drive, I offered something lower than the asking price and he claimed that at that dealership they don’t negotiatiate prices. Then he kept repeating, “We never do this,” as he proceeded to negotiate!

    This CEO did something even many used car salesmen don’t stoop low enough to do!

    Reply

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