when a job offer isn’t acceptable

A reader writes:

I have been working for a very small company for about 8 months. One of my co-workers is leaving and they have offered me his position. However, they are offering my a much lower salary than he currently earns for the same position. The salary they are offering me is also much less than the average for the industry. I have tried to negotiate based on the duties/responsibilities of the job and my value to the organization. They produced little to no effect on the offer. I mentioned that it was hard for me to accept the offer knowing that the current salary for the position was much higher than the one they were offering me. The owner told me that the other employee’s salary was an exception because this particular employee had quit his job in another state to help him start the company and did not receive payment for a few months. So, the owner pays him that salary in order to pay him back.

Is this a fair practice? Am I wrong in expecting a salary that is closer to what the person who currently performs the job makes? The current employee is also the owner’s very good friend and they’ve known each other for years.

In addition, this company had also “promoted” me from an hourly position after the first two months I started. However, the salary and benefits that were offered (verbally) were never received and the position did not live up to what I was originally promised. This past situation makes me hesitant to believe what they are telling me. I am the only female in the office and often feel like I am treated differently because of this as well as the fact that I am not their friend outside of the office. I am not quite sure how to handle the situation anymore. Thank you for any advice that you can provide!

It’s dangerous to base your salary expectations on what someone else in the position makes. There are lots of reasons why someone might have earned a higher salary than what you’re offered: maybe the person was hired when the market was tight and thus salaries were higher, maybe there was something specific in their background that the company found especially valuable, or whatever. You just can’t base your negotiation on what someone else is making; fair or not, it’s just not really done.

Now, you said that you didn’t base your negotiation on that — which is good, but you mentioned it as a major part of your thinking, so I think first you need to find a way to remove it from your mental framework about this. Base your salary requirements on the industry norm and what you’ll be bringing to the company, nothing else.

Of course, the company can refuse, and you can’t make them give in. They may be willing to hold firm, in which case you have to decide if the job is worth it to you at the salary they’re offering. Ultimately, salary negotiation often comes down to the question of who is the most willing to walk away.

However, I’d question whether you should be accepting this position at any salary. This company has already misled you about salary, benefits, and job duties in the past; unless there has been a change in management, that’s not a company you want to be working for anyway.

{ 2 comments… read them below }

  1. BB*

    Definitely agree with AAM’s point on not basing salary on what someone else is being paid – too many variables, plus many roles can have a pretty wide salary range for that position.

    Also agree about ‘do you really want to work there’, but one thing that wasn’t mentioned is whether you can benefit from taking the position even at a lower salary. Would it be a step up? Would it put you in a better position to accept a higher position with another company later on? Since companies usually want to hire a person to do for them what that person is already doing for someone else, maybe taking the position at a lower salary would be akin to ‘paying your dues’ in order to make a step up the ladder.

    I’m not advocating a ‘stick it to the company’ perspective, but roles are only a good fit when both the employee and employer benefit from the relationship, and it’s as simple as, “Do your best, which can only help you, and if they value you and what you do, they’ll do what they can to keep you.”

  2. Between a hard place and a rock*

    I declined the job offer. I decided that the salary question was secondary to the larger problem of management and office culture, of which I no longer wish to be a part. However, now that I’ve declined the offer they have come back and asked me what my plans are. They cannot afford and/or do not plan to hire another person to replace my co-worker, having expected me to accept the position. So I have been asked to take on the responsibilities anyway. While they tell me it’s not an ultimatum, I feel as though I have to make the choice whether to do the job or leave.

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