weird behavior during salary negotiations

A reader writes:

I have a question about something I ran into in a previous job than the one I am in now:

I had an interview for a job and returned home afterward. Only about two hours later, the HR manager called me and asked if I could come back to the office. It wasn’t until I drove back to their office that same day, that they then offered me the job. Then things got extremely weird and uncomfortable.

They brought out papers with their offer on it and I politely asked if we could discuss it. I was in a room with the HR manager and my future boss. I brought up extremely valid points to renegotiate the salary. Then everything took a turn. They justified such a small salary by saying that I lived at home with my parents. (Though true, this seems completely irrelevant to me and there was no way that they could know that except for my age at the time – 22 and out of college. I lived at home with one parent until I could find another place and I still paid rent, utilities, etc.) Then they justified such a small salary by saying that I was on my parents’ health insurance. (This was completely untrue. I was not on anyone’s insurance except my own which I paid for.) I politely corrected these misconceptions but they didn’t really seem to care. It was as if they had made up a story in their heads about who I was and what they owed me based on that.

As far as asking for a slightly larger salary, one of them finally said, “Well, when I was right out of college, I made less than $18,000 per year at my first job, lived with my parents and lived off of credit cards for the first two years.” I didn’t see at all how this story was related to me, especially since he graduated from college in the eighties. This was my first time negotiating a salary and I truly needed a job, so I accepted their offer of just $1,000 more on the salary. Needless to say, this was a horrible experience and I started the job with a very, very bad taste in my mouth.

I would really like to know what your take is on all of this and what advice you have for future negotiations. Especially:

– Is it odd for an employer to interview you and call you to return to the office that very same day? They didn’t call, offer it to me and let me think about it. They only asked if I could come by, put me in a room and made their offer.
– Is it odd that they offered me the job in person and not on the phone?
– How do you handle such inappropriate comments and assumptions during a negotiation?
– Was any of this behavior normal and I should know this now and accept it so that I don’t expect better treatment in future negotiations?

I realize now that if they were asking things like that, they probably were a company that I didn’t want to work for. I really needed a job, though. I have since left and it was truly a horrible job with a very corrupt company. The job itself was very impressive but I only lasted five months in that atmosphere. It was a toxic environment.

I am now in a great job with wonderful people. I would just like some help knowing what’s right/wrong in negotiating a salary and accepting a job offer. I feel like all of this was not normal but perhaps it’s more common than I think.

No, this was all weird.

Assuming they know things about you they they don’t know, like your living arrangements: Weird.

Justifying a salary offer by what they assume your expenses are: Weird. (And irrelevant; your expenses are none of their business, just like your expenses aren’t a way to justify it when you want more money.)

Assuming you’re on your parents’ health insurance: Weird.

Suggesting you live off of credit cards: Weird.

Offering you the job in person rather than over the phone: Inefficient, but not unheard of.

There are a bunch of red flags here. I can’t tell if they were pushing you for an answer right then and there in the meeting, or if you just didn’t ask them for time to think it over, but if they were pressuring you for an on-the-spot answer, that’s another red flag (the biggest of all, in fact — that is always a bad sign).

As for how to handle it — well, interviews are a two-way street. Just like they wouldn’t have offered you a job if you had conducted yourself really weirdly throughout, you should be very cautious about accepting an offer from any employer that behaves weirdly itself. It’s highly unlikely that the weirdness is somehow confined only to their hiring process — and indeed, you found that out after you started working there.

So my advice if you encounter a situation like this in the future is to (a) thank them for the offer and tell them you’d like a few days to think about it, (b) do some research if you haven’t already on what the job should pay in your area and at that level, and (c) call them up and counter with a higher number if you feel it’s warranted. If someone refuses to give you time to think over an offer, run. If someone tells you that you should accept a low offer because you live with your parents, politely respond that your expenses are not a factor in how much your work is worth. And if an employer seems to be unprofessional, rude, or unfair in its dealings with you as a candidate, assume it’s going to only going to get worse once you’re employed there.

{ 23 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous*

    I wouldn't even consider this offer given all their strange assumptions and attempts to justify giving you a lower salary. If they want to give you less when you live with mom and dad (again, should be irrelevant info for them), do they plan on a big pay bump when you move out? I doubt it.

    Sounds so shady and unprofessional…run for your life!

  2. Rosezilla*

    To some degree, I would say the same should go with "adversarial" interviews as well. I had a similar experience, emotions-wise, with a company during the interview stage. Questions like, '3.0, seems pretty low, shouldn't your GPA be higher' (for a part-time secretarial position). 3 months later I was also dumped out of that toxic environment with a very bad taste in my mouth, especially since the exit interview was 10 times worse than the entry. If people are rude to you, I don't think it's negotiation, or 'business', its a straight up high red flag.

  3. Sunny*

    Wow, this is totally odd. This may top a lot of the interview questions I've seen posted on here.

    I was just talking to my friend yesterday about something like this potentially happening; I looked at my credit report yesterday and saw a company that I interviewed with had indeed checked the report like they said they would.

    Companies checking credit reports is such an invasion of privacy and your story proves why (I am assuming they checked yours? How else would they know all of that information?).

    The fact you can be thrown out of the prospect pool for not allowing them to look at your credit is alarm enough. Like AAM said, personal finances are absolutely none of their business.

    This story horrifies me!!

  4. Anonymous*

    I agree with everyone above being horrified by the unprofessional conduct of the hiring company. However, here's another point for consideration, that is that generation Y's expectations (no offence here!) to have the best of the world right after graduation. The world just doesn't work this way and people usually start from the bottom and work their way up. But YP seem to start negotiating the salary even for their very first job!
    As unprofessional as it was done, and I'm really sorry that you had to go throug that, it apprears that's what the company was trying to say.

  5. Sunny*

    Starting at the bottom and having a company debate what they think you need based on their assumptions about your bills, where you live, your insurance situation are two completely different issues.

  6. Hukturn*

    Whys would you even bring up your living status, anyway? If you had not discussed the fact that you live w/parents, it would never have been a subject for discussion and would not have impacted your negotiations.
    Your side – It's not at all acceptable for them to do this. A salary should be based solely upon the abilities of the person filling the role and the parameters of the role itself.

  7. Class factotum*

    Hukturn, the questioner is not the one who brought up living with his parents. They company assumed it because of his age. And that's not even a safe assumption: When I finished college at 21, I did not live with my parents.

  8. Unemployed Gal*

    Some posters have speculated how the employer knew all of this personal information. The way I read it is that the employer made a lucky guess about the OPs living arrangements based his stereotype of recent college grads. (And a wrong guess about her insurance.) I hope the OP will correct me and clarify exactly how the employer came to these assumptions (i.e. interview questions, background checks).

    It sounds like this employer has a prejudice against recent grads based on his own crappy post graduation experience decades ago. And hes using this stereotype to exploit his recent grads for cheap labor. I dont know whats worse, his when-I-was-your-age-you-kids-today attitude or that he felt free to express his prejudice and run his company that way. Does he tell his female applicants Im offering you less because you must have a man at home to pay the bills?

    Yikes. As a recent grad, I shudder to think how many of these jerks are out there. Offer me a low salary because its entry level and I have limited experience, not because you college kids live off of credit cards, anyway.

  9. Anonymous*

    Am I reading the anonymous @ 11:51 comment above that new graduates shouldn't negotiate their first job offer?? Why the he!! not? If the offer is low, lower than the regional cost of living and the occupation demands, then they most certainly should negotiate.

    Yes, many Y-geners have an over-abundant sense of entitlement, but that doesn't mean their attitude should swing to the opposite extreme, either–taking whatever crumbs and usury that someone throws at them.

  10. Jane*

    @Anonymous 11:51, I couldn't disagree more on the negotiation issue. There's no right to steamroller somebody just because it's their first job, and it's the foolish Gen X/Boomer who decided to accept that they had no right to negotiate. I'm still pleased that I negotiated the salary up on my first job decades ago. It was the fair thing to do–I had been working there as a temp and I knew what the job paid its previous occupant before the job expanded for me–and it spoke well for the company that they did what they had to do to accede to my reasonable request.

  11. Anonymous*

    OP, this sounds just like an interview I had years ago at a law firm. They were above it all, knew it all and were quick to put everyone in their place. In short, they were a bunch of condescending ill-informed asses.

    Not knowing better, I took that job but left 10 months later with no regrets.

  12. jmkenrick*

    Whoa. Guessing about your living situation? That borders on creepy.

    On another note, whenever I read HR blogs, there seems to be a lot of discussion regarding Gen Y-ers as particularly cluefree and prone to acting entitled. I don't mean to sound defensive, but are we sure that just because hiring manages notice more of these behaviors among young people really mean that Generation Y is especially full of ungrateful job seekers?

    It seems to me that previous generations have their share of entitled, cluefree, and obnoxious candidates too – it's just that after being in the work force for a few years, they've managed to weed themselves out of your lot of serious candidates, whereas recent grads, applying to entry level jobs with less on their resumes, are more likely to get one foot in the door.

    I understand that unprofessional phenomenon like abbrevs and constant texting can be attributed to Gen Y (sorry!) but I'd still put money down that 5 generations from now, the HR will be complaining about the behaviors of recent grads.

  13. Anonymous*

    Anon @ 9:58 AM

    And I suppose that you not being a "YP" are entirely entitled to negotiate your salary? Quit conflating "best of the world after graduation" with "negotiating your first salary." All subsequent raises are based off of the initial salary. Your first salary affects your lifetime earnings for years to come. Do you seriously mean to say that it's the employer's right to negotiate salaries down but not the applicant's right to try to negotiate the salaries up? Besides if a company wanted to signal that range an applicant is giving for a salary is too high for them, there are other ways to do that than by making insulting, ageist remarks about an assumed living situation.

  14. Anonymous*

    Hi…Anon 11:51 here…

    I think some of you may have misunderstood my comment. I absolutely think that a young professional has the right to negotiate their salary up, as any worker does. When I said that the OP shouldn't even consider this offer, I meant that they should avoid this company altogether, because of their completely inappropriate practices. This isn't a situation where negotiating the salary up is the answer, as the problem is not simply a low initial offer. The problem here is rude/incorrect assumptions and bullying based on real or perceived socio-economic status, and as many have stated, those are enormous red flags.

  15. Anonymous*

    Hi all –

    This is the guy who sent in this question. All of your responses are really helping me see that this was, in fact, not a good situation. To clear up some questions:
    – Yes, they were pressuring me to take this job on the spot.
    – Yes, I researched this job for the area and what I should earn in this region.
    – No, they did not do a background check on me. (Not that I am aware of anyway.)
    – No, they did not check my credit.
    – As for the assumptions: My living arrangements, insurance, etc. were not brought up by any party during the interview.

    The biggest lesson I took from this experience is to remember what a "gut feeling" really is. Like some of you have said – obviously if this was how they treated me during the negotiation, they weren't going to treat me well during the job. My gut told me that during the negotiation but I took the job anyway.

    I appreciate the feedback!

  16. Anonymous*

    Hi again –

    This is the guy who wrote this question in. I remembered something interesting to add:

    I recently found out that another co-worker of mine was able to leave for a better job. She was about ten years older than I was at the time. She said her hiring experience was quite similar with them (leaving the interview, driving back, offered the job on the spot, etc.) AND they made a comment to her that she didn't need a higher salary because of what her husband did for a living.

    Once again, completely irrelevant.

  17. Anonymous*

    I know it sounds like weird behavior, but I've seen stuff like this happen as well. So while weird, there are weird people out there. I find that when young people try to negotiate, the older ones try to put them in their place and bring up points that are irrelevant. Just a poor tactic on their end. Glad to read that this person moved on.

  18. Richard*

    Their HR practices sound ridiculous, yet it seems as though it's not a case of them mistreating recent graduates specifically, but that they've actually engrained lowballing into the official HR hiring process if another employee from a different background experienced a similar hiring process.

    Perhaps you should reconsider your employment there, and begin looking elsewhere as soon as possible – especially if you don't want to use the starting salary as your base in your next application – It might actually work in your favour if you don't work there long enough to include them in your employment history.

    Then again, as a recent grad, you probably want as much experience on there as you can – I can't really speak from this position, since filling my CV has never really been a problem for me, so I guess it really depends on by how much they lowballed you, and how that might affect future salary prospects.

    Anybody got any opinions? Especially from a HR background?

  19. Rebecca*

    Anon@9:58, here's another point for consideration: You're tired of my generation being entitled? We're tired of YOUR generation being entitled. Older generations just love telling Gen Y we're all rude, clueless, self-obsessed idiots and that's why we won't get and don't deserve good jobs… but you somehow expect us to smile while we pay for your social security, your Medicare, the financial system your generations destroyed, and the national debt. How is that not entitlement?

  20. Anonymous*

    I'll agree. Entitlement, generation-wise, definitely goes both ways. Older male employees totally get preferential treatment wagewise, since it's expected they have "proper" wives that don't work. Also, this ties into a company's tattoo policy – a 30-something woman with ink won't be tolerated, but the Vietnam-era Marine corp bulldogs on all the old boys' forearms are fine. :)

  21. Anonymous*

    I know that this was some time ago, but you CAN find that information onthe internet fairly quickly. The company could have looked up the addressusing a reverse lookup, then saw that it was owned b y someone other than the applicant with a same last name–easy asumption that these arethe parents. Many other websites exist as well, and home purchases ARE public records.

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