I misheard my interviewer and agreed to the wrong salary!

A reader writes:

From my experience and the going local rates, I was underpaid at my last job. Then I was laid off. My first job offer finally came as the unemployment was running out, and during the interview, when asked about salary, I pointed out that it was a buyer’s market. It is, and especially for someone who is unemployed and not in a position to move. I knew the range, and while it would be a pay cut even at the top end, it was still a job, and one that looked interesting.

I got the intial offer in a phone call, and what he offered was at the top of their range. I verbally accepted. The next day I got the offer via email, and realized that while I had heard $69K, he had said $59K. That was the bottom of their range, and for someone with many years of experience.

Nonetheless, because I had verbally accepted, I didn’t think it was appropriate to try to negotiate. Was I correct?

I am going to stay and do a good job, for at least a couple of years. Other than being underpaid, everything else about the job seems really good, both for me and the company. I know I’m underpaid because I allow it, I don’t push as hard as I probably could. But, was this a case where pushing harder would have been a bad idea anyway?

I hesitate to say this, because you’re really going to kick yourself, but yeah, I would have said something as soon as you received the email and realized there had been a miscommunication!  Ideally, you would have given him a call and said something like, “I’m so sorry, I thought you said $69,000 yesterday; I must have misheard.” Then you’d stop speaking and wait to hear what he said (because sometimes when you do that when discussing salary, the person says what you’d like all on their own, without prompting). If he said that no, $59,000 was the offer, then you could have attempted to negotiate, based on your experience.

He may or may not have been willing to budge, but it’s certainly not inappropriate to try to negotiate in this type of situation, particularly when you know their range and know where you should fall within it. You can always still accept the original offer in the end if the employer won’t increase it.

I know it’s too late now (sorry, that sucks!), but definitely in the future don’t be shy about speaking up if you realize there’s been a miscommunication, especially on something as important as salary.

Meanwhile, aside from this, congratulations on ending up in a job that you like!

{ 40 comments… read them below }

  1. two times

    Odd that I know OP is a woman. No man would just let this go…..and that is why more women are underpaid.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      While it’s true that in general women tend to negotiate less than men, there are plenty of women who do negotiate quite assertively … and plenty of men who don’t! I can definitely think of men I’ve known professionally who would have handled this situation the same way as the OP. I mention this only because it’s important not to apply generalizations (which are often true as generalizations) to specific individuals (where they’re not always true)!

    2. Kit M.

      Obviously you have not met the large majority of my male friends. Or you are just forgetting them because, yay, confirmation bias.

    3. Yuu

      I don’t understand why the OP sent the question after making the decision to let it go. The time to hesitate is before you make a decision…

  2. Not So NewReader

    Could this be a talking point, in some manner, at raise time?
    I am thinking of an instance where a friend accepted a new job with a NICE raise. When raise time came around, the company said that she would have to take a pass on a raise, the first year, because of the amount she received at starting the job. Does this work in the opposite way? (Assuming outstanding work, blah, blah…)

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I do think she can and should make a strong case for a raise — not based on mishearing the original number, but on turning in a strong performance. She could say that she’d accepted a lower offer because she wanted to demonstrate what she could do, but that she thinks she’s proven she deserves to be further along in their pay scale. (Of course, it’s always harder to get a raise once you’re working there than to negotiate it as part of the starting salary, but it’s absolutely worth a try.)

      1. OP

        I do plan on doing great work, and I’ll keep your advice in mind when review times roll around. I can point out that they hired me at the bottom end of their scale, and I’m proving to be a good value for them.

        The good news is that I’m financially stable even with less money. The bad (?) news is that I think this may be a great job and a great company and I may want to stay a long time, even with less money.

        1. moss

          eh, if you love the place/work/coworkers, that’s totally worth having less money, IMO. I would never judge you for that. Just pretend your peace of mind is worth $X and you’re getting paid that much more.

        2. Long Time Admin

          Being happy with your job, your company, and your co-workers — priceless. Well, maybe not really, but definitely worth a lot.

          Keep notes on what you learn, how you exceed your goals, responsibilities that you’ve taken on, etc., and bring them out when raise time rolls around.

          And congratulations on the new job!

      2. Anon for this

        Agree with this. I also came in very under market (combination of the economy starting to tank, my getting desperate, and my absolute lack of ability at negotiating. If you can have less than zero skills at something that’s how I am at negotiating.)

        In a little over four years I’ve had 5 raises. All either 8% and 9% for a total of 36%. I debated posting actual percentages, because it sounds crappy, but since I keep seeing raises of 2.9% kicked around as average in all the media I wanted to make the point that it really depends on the company.

        I’m still a little under market, but the gap has narrowed. The point is, in my case they knew that I was low coming in so as they liked my work they wanted to try to even things up as finances allowed.

        I would just go in and do the best work you can possibly do and try not to resent the disparity too much. It’s hard, because even when the gap narrows you never get back what you lost by being under market in the first place…but letting go of resentment isn’t my strong suit. I’m trying meditation, so we’ll see if that helps. And there is nothing wrong with mentioning the fact that you can in low at your next review.

  3. Anon

    LOVE the advice to just not say anything. That was something that I was coached on early in my career, and it works wonders. It also produces the perception that I am always up to something, but still, I get my way ;-)

    1. Liz in the City

      I just started a new job, and when the salary question came up, I said my range (which was as researched as I could get), and then zipped my lips! Hardest thing to do. But then they ended up meeting me on the lower end of my range, which was still a raise for me based on my previous salary. The power of just shutting up cannot be underscored enough.

  4. A Magician Named GOB

    What’s the best way of going about researching salary ranges for a specific job or field?
    I’m going into my second interview for a job where there is no range listed in the description. The matter is complicated by the fact that it’s a position in another country and housing is provided.
    I’ve never had the opportunity to negotiate salary before and I want to do it right. Thanks in advance!

      1. A Magician Named GOB

        The suggestion to ask professional organizations is a really good idea. Thanks for the help!

  5. Rob Bird

    I find it interesting that you said “during the interview, when asked about salary, I pointed out that it was a buyer’s market.” It sounds to me like the OP was setting themselves up to get the lower offer by pointing that out, if the employer didn’t know it already.

    1. Dog Mom

      I agree, it is a bit dicey to say that to an interviewer. not only does it make you seem like you are prepared to receive less, it could also be interpreted that you are implying that they are not going to pay you fairly.

    2. Joey

      Yeah, it’s better to say something like “I’m very selective about where I apply and right now I have some options.” Conceding that you don’t have a lot of options is kinda setting the stage for a lowball offer. Because most employers know that great candidates always have options, even in a tight market.

      1. Joey

        Let me expand a little further. If an employer believes another company may hire you before they do they often try to pad the salary offer with the hope that you’d still accept even if you get another offer.

    3. Ask a Manager Post author

      I agree too. OP, I think this ties into your statement that you’ve allowed yourself to be underpaid. You’re certainly not alone in doing that, but how about resolving that you’ll start advocating for yourself and getting paid what you deserve?

  6. moss

    AAM, do you recommend negotiating a raise when an internal promotion is offered? It seems like that would be harder to walk away from.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Yes, absolutely! If your employer is operating in good faith, they should be willing to have a discussion with you about what reasonable compensation for your increased responsibilities are.

  7. Vicki

    > realized that while I had heard $69K, he had said $59K.

    The thing is, you don;t know that. You know what you (think) you heard. You know what he typed in the email. You do _not know_ that he didn’t say 69 yesterday. You don’t _know_ that the 5 isn’t a typo now.

    You have (or had :-( every right to bring the discrepancy to light.

    1. Ruby

      Good point. I think if it were me, I’d try for a light response, but face to face. Imagine if they’d typed $79 instead – would they be willing to pay the extra? :)
      The reason I suggest a face to face comment is because I would do my head in trying to think of the best way to write it in an email, but I am confident I could smile and breeze my way through a conversation that pointed out the typo and what I had actually agreed to. YMMV.

    2. ABC

      I can understand her hesitance…makes her look a bit foolish & incompetent. She might not have wanted the icky business of asking, and running the risk of them thinking “how silly of her” . I suspect she did not want that…my sympathises(I might have done the same). At least its your dream job :)

    3. Long Time Admin

      This actually happened to me, on my job offer letter. The salary stated had a “2” that should have been a “1”, so I called and talked to them about it. I’m sure my paycheck wouldn’t have been the higher amount, but I wanted to have everything correct.

  8. Anonymous

    I was thinking it might be possible that he actually did say $69 and you heard right but there might have been a typo? No one is perfect.

    The good news is that you do have a job in this economy! Congrats! Plus, $59 is not all that bad. It could have been a lot worse.

  9. mel

    Totally unhelpful comment, but daaaaaannnngg! Congrats on even getting $59K! I don’t think I’ve earned that much in the past five years put together!

  10. Steve G

    Maybe it was a typo? Sixty and fifty do sound very different?

    If fifty-nine is at the bottom of the range, why would you accept it anyway?

  11. Zee

    I’m confused by the timing of this whole scenario. Day 1 she verbally accepts the salary thinking she heard $69K (Vicki above makes a good point that she might have heard wrong to being with). Day 2 she receives it in writing via email. So when did the OP email Alison about this? Has that much time passed in which she cannot question it?

  12. anon-2

    One thing – you will almost NEVER have as much leverage as you’ll have when you’re going into a position.

    Always straighten things out before you begin. $59,000 instead of $69,000. OK, they give you 5 percent in 2013, you’re at $62,000.

    If you started at $69,000, you’d be at $72,450.

    In 2014, you’d be at $76,000. Meantime, your raise on $62,000 would get you to around $65,000.

    See where this is going? NEVER accept less.

    1. kasey

      seriously. +1 oh, yikes. This is for real? You really have no footing unless you spoke up when you figured out the gaff. Speak up for yourself, no one else will.

  13. Cass

    Interesting! Alison has reiterated here many times that you don’t REALLY have a job offer until it is extended to you in writing. There you can dissect it line by line, and make sure that everything documented is agreed upon.

    It’s also the time to ask questions regarding specific details of the offer and get any misunderstandings cleared up. A discrepancy in salary would fall under major “misunderstanding”, in my opinion. I would have definitely brought it up before signing/agreeing to move forward.

    The worst they could say was “Sorry about what you thought you heard, this is the offer – take it or leave it”. Or they could have worked with you a little more.

  14. OP

    True, you don’t really have an offer until you get it in writing, but Alison has also said (From #3, Nov 12, 2011) “It would be bad faith to try for more after you already accepted. Once you accept a job, negotiation stops.” And, in that case, I had verbally accepted, that was my word. Yes, I didn’t have it in writing yet, but…I guess my word is worth at least $10K a year to me. I just wondered if there were ways to keep that word and still negotiate. There were, but I didn’t know them.

    I didn’t discover Ask A Manager until after I started this job — it has some wonderful advice, advice that will be used in the future.

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