5 ways employers discourage you from negotiating salary

While every job seeker looks forward to getting a phone call with a job offer, few candidates look forward to negotiating salary. Employers know that, and they’ve often developed ways of operating that – intentionally or unintentionally – discourage job seekers from assertively negotiating.

Here are five things employers do that often discourage candidates from negotiating salary. (To be clear, employers who engage in these behaviors often wouldn’t label them as deliberate attempts to squash negotiation – but they certainly have that effect.)

1. Not giving you an obvious opening to negotiate. Sometimes candidates, especially at the start of their career, end up feeling like the employer didn’t give them “opportunity” to negotiate, and they end up just accepting the employer’s first offer because it’s presented as a done deal. If you go into a salary negotiation for a new job expecting the employer to give you an easy opening to negotiate, the conversation may be over and done before you realize that you didn’t speak up.

How to combat it: Don’t wait for an employer to explicitly give you an opening to negotiate. It’s up to you to start negotiations yourself if you want to, by saying something like, “I’m very interested in the job, but I was hoping that on salary you could do something closer to $X.”

2. Getting you to agree to a number early in the hiring process. Employers will often ask for your salary expectations during an early conversation, before you’ve had the chance to learn the full scope of the job and while you’re still trying to sell them on your candidacy.

How to combat it: Qualify any early salary conversation by noting that your answer may change after learning more about the job. And if information you learn about the job as the hiring process progresses changes your assessment of what salary would be fair, don’t be afraid to say that during negotiations. If an employer tries to tie you to a number you named earlier in the process and you no longer think it’s fair, it’s reasonable to say, “Having learned more about the management responsibilities of the role, I’m hoping for a salary closer to $X.”

3. Basing an offer on what you’ve been making previously. Salary offers shouldn’t be tied to your salary history; a new company should offer you a salary based on the contributions you’ll be making in a new job. But it’s very common for employers to ask for your salary history and base their offer on what you were earning most recently, giving you a small but not substantial increase.

How to combat it:  If you can, avoid giving out your salary history altogether; after all, it’s really no one’s business but yours and your accountant’s. But if you can’t avoid it (such as with companies that won’t let you move forward in their process if you don’t share your salary history), address it head-on:  “I don’t believe my past salary lines up with the market rate for my skills and experience, and in fact that’s one reason that I’m looking for a new role. I’m seeking a salary in the range of ____.”

4. Telling you that they’ll make up for a low salary with a great benefits package. This may be true, but lots of companies have great benefits and still pay competitive market rates. (Of course, you might look at the full package a company is offering you and determine that some of the benefits do make up for a lower salary, such as unusually generous vacation time or the ability to telecommute.)

How to combat it: Be brutally honest with yourself about what benefits are and aren’t worth a trade-off in salary to you, and how much – and whether you’re likely to be able to find those same benefits somewhere else. And don’t be afraid to say, “You do have a great benefits package, but it’s important to me to earn a salary that’s in line with market rates.”

5. Saying that there’s no room for additional money now, but alluding to increases down the road. It may well be true that you’ll receive generous raises in the future, but if you don’t have an iron-solid agreement about when and how much, you’ll be leaving that solely up to the employer to decide whether or not to follow through on.

How to combat it: Get any promises of this kind in writing. If the promise of additional money down the road is a key part of your decision to take the job, it needs to be in writing or there won’t be anything ensuring that it really happens. If the employer balks at putting it in writing, that’s a sign to you that the plan is tentative enough that it shouldn’t be a factor you count on when making your decision.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 123 comments… read them below }

  1. PEBCAK*

    #6 Keeping salaries secret or discouraging employees from discussing salary (in some cases in violation of federal law).

    1. KJR*

      For clarification, I believe you’re referring to the NLRA (National Labor Relations Act), which would apply to an employer forbidding/discouraging employees from discussing wages and working conditions with each other, not with the employer, as is being addressed in Alison’s article.

  2. Adam*

    My first “real” job out of college I didn’t even try to negotiate. This was because when the offer was made to me the director doing the offering said flat out in the initial offer call that “Since you’re still relatively new to the working world [paraphrasing], we didn’t feel we could go any higher than [$xxxxx].”, which I would later learn was possibly the very bottom of the position’s range.

    I said that would be perfectly fine right then and there for a number of reasons. I was actually interested in this job at the time, they were a non-profit company that didn’t have much wiggle room anyways, and more to the point I was really happy/desperate for any decent job at that point (I had $300 in my back account that day).

    So I agreed without even trying to push back. I do sometimes wonder what would have happened I had.

    1. BRR*

      I also wonder what would have happened. At my first job I was already an intern doing the exact same thing. I feel like I had some negotiation power by saying I was already trained. My first day I went right to work where I had left off the week before.

    2. Vicki*

      In my first job out of college, I had no idea I was supposed to “negotiate”.
      They asked me what I wanted for salary; I told them what seemed reasonable; they said “OK”.
      (I later learned I had guessed on the low side, but what did I know?)

      In my second job, I got a 27% raise over the first company and an apology for the amount not being any higher but “we don’t know you yet and so this is our ground floor new engineer level.”

      After that, in every job I had, they’d ask “What do you want for salary?”, I’d say “I’ve been making X, so at least that”, they’d counter with something about 5% higher, and I’d say OK.

      Maybe I don’t work in a “negotiating salary” industry.

  3. AdAgencyChick*

    I would add to #5 — not only should the promise be in writing, but you should also read it carefully to ensure that it’s what you really want. For instance, the offer may not be for a raise at 6 months but rather for an opportunity to re-evaluate salary at 6 months. This means there’s absolutely no guarantee that you will get the money you were hoping for, or even any increase at all. Which is fine, if you go into such an agreement with your eyes wide open and are okay with that. But I have seen people read “salary review at 6 months” as “I’m totally getting a raise in 6 months!” And it might not be true.

    1. Joe*

      And even when it’s writing, there’s nothing binding them to it. I took a job at one point after having spent some time not working. When I took the job, I wanted $X, but they were only offering me $Y, because they were uneasy at my not having worked in a long time. We negotiated that after 6 months, I would have a performance review, and if my performance was at the expected level, my salary would be increased to $Y. I got it in writing in the offer letter.

      6 months later, I had the performance review, and I was told I was exceeding expectations, and they were very happy with my work. When I asked for the promised raise, I was told that circumstances had changed, and that the budget wouldn’t allow for it at that time. When I pressed them on it, they found a minor issue and dramatically played it up as an excuse to fire me. I thought about fighting back on it, but decided instead to move on, and got a much better job, where I’ve been for eight years now.

  4. hayling*

    I definitely didn’t negotiate my first job and I wish I would have!

    They were really disorganized and the hiring manager didn’t even call me to tell me I’d gotten the job. I knew they were interested in me but I didn’t hear anything for like two weeks. Then I get a call from HR who asks if I can start on X date. I said “Oh I didn’t even realize I had the job! And we hadn’t talked salary.” So she said “well I have here a salary of Y dollars,” and I was so excited to have a freaking job I just said “yes.”

    The salary was really low even for the non-profit industry, and the company gave tiny raises each year. I wish I had negotiated up at the beginning!

    1. Artemesia*

      In my first post grad school job I negotiated 16,500 a year which wasn’t high but not hopelessly low for the times; my peer hired at the same time, accepted the $15,500 initial offer. We worked in the same department for many years and even before raises that were always small percentage raises, I got a thousand dollars a year more than he did.

      While I like to think it pays to negotiate, I also know that women are viewed differently from men in salary negotiations. I have read research that suggests women are viewed as unpleasant and abrasive who push for more (and pushy of course) whereas men are viewed as strong and confident. Men are more likely to get the higher salary and women more likely to have the offer withdrawn or find themselves viewed negatively by their managers (both men and women) even if they succeed. My daughter with my guidance negotiated several starting salaries and was successful each time, but on her first serious professional job she did in fact get a lot of negative push back for taking this initiative. (she got a small signing bonus but not a higher start, but also a lot of attitude.)

      1. Noelle*

        Just making a plug for the excellent book Women Don’t Ask, by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever. It has a lot of great information on how the workplace treats men and women differently when it comes to salaries. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of info on stereotypes. So the basic takeaway is, women don’t ask. If they did it might work, or they might be seen as “difficult” and not get a raise/offer/promotion anyway. :(

        1. Chief Detail Officer*

          “So the basic takeaway is, women don’t ask. If they did it might work, or they might be seen as “difficult” and not get a raise/offer/promotion anyway. :(”

          I wonder if this sort of “common knowledge” isn’t actually working against women trying different strategies to earn more.

          I’m in a profession where most colleagues are men, and there’s only one peer I know earns more than me. Our work is project-based, so we’re always signing new contracts, and I never felt a push back when I stated my expected compensation (usually to male hiring managers or recruiters). At most, I hear, “that’s a bit over our budget, but let me see what I can do”. Sometimes they can’t meet my expectations and we part ways, sometimes I’ll reduce a bit my fee if it’s a project I find really interesting. But the same people who told me my price was too high for them later come back when they have the budget, so I don’t think I’m seen as “difficult”. I’m always polite, and never arrogant about the fact that if one client doesn’t pay, another will (I was never without work for the past 10 years, which means my fees aren’t ridiculously high; it’s my male counterparts that typically don’t negotiate and end up with lower wages). I think that with the right delivery, women can be very successful with salary negotiation, and it’s a pity that so many books and articles focus on the negative side of men being treated differently (which they are, but it doesn’t mean we can’t find a strategy that works).

          1. Noelle*

            I’ve experienced both. In my first position I was drastically underpaid and when I asked for a raise my (male) boss was very insulting and basically accused me of being greedy. In my second position I had a good boss but when I asked for a raise he’d just kind of blow me off, whereas when the men in the office asked for a raise they usually got one. In my current position I didn’t even have to negotiate because they just offered what I asked for. But I definitely think if you stay calm and reasonable, your chances of success go up dramatically regardless of gender. And the book I mentioned does have advice on better ways for women to approach raises (much of which is similar to Alison’s), but obviously you can’t control other peoples’ reactions.

  5. DrPepper Addict*

    Great read. I’ve always wondered if negotiating too hard will turn off the employer. Like if you state a number where you want to be and go back and forth about it more than once, if they will see you as hard to get along with and if that’s overall a reflection of how you will be as an employee?

      1. Artemesia*

        In my first post grad school job I negotiated 16,500 a year which wasn’t high but not hopelessly low for the times; my peer hired at the same time, accepted the $15,500 initial offer. We worked in the same department for many years and even before raises that were always small percentage raises, I got a thousand dollars a year more than he did.

        While I like to think it pays to negotiate, I also know that women are viewed differently from men in salary negotiations. I have read research that suggests women are viewed as unpleasant and abrasive who push for more (and pushy of course) whereas men are viewed as strong and confident. Men are more likely to get the higher salary and women more likely to have the offer withdrawn or find themselves viewed negatively by their managers (both men and women) even if they succeed. My daughter with my guidance negotiated several starting salaries and was successful each time, but on her first serious professional job she did in fact get a lot of negative push back for taking this initiative. (she got a small signing bonus but not a higher start, but also a lot of attitude.)

    1. Clever Name*

      I think this could be true if there is a ton of back and forth. At my current job, I was offered a number, and I said, “Actually, I was hoping for $X” and my boss said, “Unfortunately we can’t do $X because of abc, but we can do $Y” $Y was the actual number I had wanted all along, so I enthusiastically accepted. :) It wasn’t a big deal and didn’t feel awkward at all.

    2. OOF*

      In this scenario, the potential employee needs to listen closely to what the offerer is saying. When I make an offer, I offer what is literally every dollar I can give. No room for negotiation. I explain that, and why (equity in starting salaries relative to experience). I expect one round of attempts to counter-offer, but I hold firm and again explain that there is, sincerely and truly, no room to negotiate.

      If a candidate continues to come back again after that, it can affect how I view them. Especially if the tone is wrong.

      1. maggie*

        Define wrong? And is this affected by gender, do you think? I would love to hear about this from your perspective…

        1. OOF*

          Sure. I had a candidate once come back very aggressively, using reasons that were relevant to a more senior position – but the position being offered was junior-level. The candidate was making a career change, and therefore would be taking a step back in title/managerial responsibility from her current job. I had made this clear throughout, but the tone of negotiations made me concerned that the candidate was simply not hearing me about this being junior-level.

          Like so many things, it’s usually a combination of factors. A very aggressive tone, partnered with indicators that the position was NOT what they ultimately wanted it to be, led me to pull the offer. I didn’t believe the candidate would be satisfied in the job, and would be looking aggressively for a promotion much sooner than we could accommodate, and therefore would not stay long.

          I certainly hope I was not subconsciously influenced by the fact that the candidate was a woman. I do not consciously have a reaction based on gender (and am very supportive of strong women with strong personalities in the workplace), but research of course shows we all host a number of subconscious biases that come into play.

          1. Another Job Seeker*

            Could you please share that research? It disturbs me when people say that everyone has biases or prejudices (subconscious or not) because (1) it is not true and (2) ideas of that nature may make some of the people who do have those biases or prejudices (even if they are actively working to eradicate them) feel somewhat justified because they think “everyone feels this way” or “I really can’t help it”. Some of the research assumes people have biases. For example, one study contains multiple-choice questions that ask respondents to select the answer that best indicates their thoughts about a topic. The selections are items like “Most women tend to be more concerned about home life than work life.” “Women tend to be more concerned about home life than work life.” “Neutral.” “Women tend to be more concerned about work life than home life.” “Most women tend to be more concerned about work life than home life.” The study I am considering did not have options such as, “I have not met most women, and I refuse to make broad statements about ‘most’ or ‘all’ women”. I’d like to study some research that is not based on flawed assumptions – it may prove to be interesting. I also think it might help me understand the thought patterns of some people a bit better.

            1. Michael.*

              There have been a number of studies (the ones I know about I think all happened in the USA) where the researchers have sent resumes out for jobs. Names which were “typically” African-American, or female, tend to do poorer than stereotypical white male names, even when the resumes were otherwise identical.
              So, two resumes, the only difference being the name, one does poorer than the other.

              I’ll leave you to find the citations.

            2. OOF*

              I am not in a position to go look up all the articles, but it is truly a thoroughly researched and documented phenomenon at this point. I’m not making excuses – I am simply informed enough to know that while I do not hold any conscious racist/sexist/other -ist thoughts, the majority of people have them subconsciously. That doesn’t make it okay. It makes it even more important that we as a society holds ourselves accountable to knowing that this is true, and therefore finding opportunities to correct for it (blind resume reviews, for example).

              1. Another Job Seeker*

                It is true that documented research shows that many people have biases. However, this research is sometimes based on flawed data. One study I read about biases was based on the results of a multiple-choice test. The wording of the answer choices associated with this particular test assumed that the person taking the test had underlying biases. I question the validity of the outcomes of such tests. I also question the validity of research that is based on those outcomes. This does not mean that the test-takers do not have biases. It simply means that the test results will indicate that all test-takers have biases – whether they do or not.

                Unfortunately, many people who do have these biases are in positions of authority, and they use their positions and their inaccurate ideas about people to make decisions that are blatantly unfair. I do appreciate the fact that you do not condone this behavior. The earlier statement that I disagreed with was that everyone has subconscious biases. I saw the revision above indicating that the majority of people have them. I’m honestly not trying to mince words here, but I think that saying “the majority” instead of “all” makes a world of difference – at least for me.

  6. mt*

    My first job, i asked about salary and they told me the starting rate was set in stone. As we’re the benifits. The company was hiring a lot of people at this time. Luckily the company paid a low salary to start, due to the amount of training. Basically spent the entire first year in training. Started way below my peers in other companies, but quickly passed them by

  7. Helen*

    #2 is something that’s very difficult for me, and it’s partly why I hate giving a salary requirement in the beginning. Because money’s not a huge motivator for me, if the job was something I’d really enjoy, didn’t expect me to work over 40 hours, wasn’t incredibly stressful, etc. I could accept a pretty low salary. But if the job is really difficult or stressful, I will need to be compensated for that–and unfortunately you can’t really tell how difficult (or conversely, intellectually stimulating/fun/etc.) a job will be until later in the process.

  8. Bend & Snap*

    I once got an offer that they said up front was firm and that the company didn’t negotiate.

    I didn’t take it.

  9. Elysian*

    #1 – I came right out after I got an offer and asked, “Is this negotiable?” The problem for me was that they didn’t say “yes” or “no;” they said something like “We think what we’re offering is fair.” Thankfully I was working part time at the time, and a wise colleague told me that if it isn’t “No,” then it is “Yes.” She said, Of course they won’t be enthusiastic about negotiating. They want to hire you for the lowest amount they can pay to keep you happy. So she encouraged me to give them a number back, and we ended up in the middle of the two. I didn’t have much leverage at the time, because it was my only job offer, but I’m always glad I actually negotiated because every time I get a raise the benefit of having negotiated early compounds.

    1. Clever Name*

      This. Especially if you’re negotiating with HR rather than your future manager, you run even less of a risk of potentially creating awkwardness or bad feelings if you negotiate. I think as long as you negotiate in good faith and remain pleasant and friendly throughout the process, it would rarely be a problem. (for the record, I’m a woman)

      1. TrainerGirl*

        Very true. I negotiated the salary for my current position. It was great to be comfortable doing it, because I was previously laid off 3 times in 13 months. It was nice to not need the job, so I did ask for a higher amount. The recruiter initially seemed surprised, and was a bit reluctant to go back to the manager (for the record, the recruiter was female and the manager male). The manager immediately agreed. My company offers a bonus that is a percentage of annual salary, so negotiating was not only for my salary, but my bonus as well. I’m really glad I did it, and I don’t think I’ve been viewed negatively.

  10. Anonymous Educator*

    I may be a freak, but I’ve never negotiated for a higher salary, and I’ve also never regretted it. If anything, my current job pays too much, making it a lot more difficult to take a cut, which I will probably have to do if I leave it for another job. I think if I had stayed in the same type of job or at the same workplace my entire career, then that initial salary would have compounded less every year with every small raise or cost-of-living increase.

    Fourteen years after my first full-time job, however, I’m making more than 2.5 times what I initially made, never having negotiated a higher salary, never having asked for a raise. In fact, in the jobs I’ve had, I’ve often been given raises completely unsolicited. First full-time job I had bumped me up by $10,000 the second year and then $4000 the third year. Second full-time job I had bumped me up $3000 each year. The third job bumped me up about $5000 a year.

    Ultimately, although I’m glad I’m employed and able to pay the bills, I also believe that more money doesn’t necessarily make you happier. Just my two cents.

    1. YourCdnFriend*

      Some companies do a very good job of paying good salaries. They see it as in their best interest to attract the best candidates and to keep them.

      Sounds like you’ve been very lucky. I have also been pretty lucky and have typically been offered a more than fair at the start and have worked for companies with clear processes for merit raises and bonuses.

    2. Dan*

      …more money doesn’t necessarily make you happier…

      You’re not shopping at the right store ;-)

    3. esra*

      I also believe that more money doesn’t necessarily make you happier.

      It actually does! To a certain extent. Basically once you hit six figures your happiness doesn’t really go up. In most not-crazy-expensive places, 75k is that happy sweet spot.

      Because struggling to pay your student loans, heating bills, and having no money for luxuries is pretty soul-sucking.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        But I’m not talking about not negotiating from $18,000 to $75,000. I’m talking about the difference between $42,000 and $44,000 after taxes per month is negligible and won’t ultimately make you a happier person.

        Honestly, right now I’m making more than I ever have before (by far), and I was a lot happier at jobs where I was making less. I still vacationed. I still paid the bills. Adding an extra $5000 or $10000 means I will just spend more. I doesn’t mean I will be happier.

        Maybe more money makes other people happier. Doesn’t make me happier.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Money in itself may or may not make you happier – but if the salary is so low that you can’t meet your obligations, then it becomes a monstrous distraction.

        Quite often people don’t want to be confrontational, and don’t negotiate salary, and it becomes a miserable situation as months and years go on.

  11. I'm a Little Teapot*

    I’ve never negotiated a salary. At every job I’ve ever had, I’ve gotten the sense that it wasn’t negotiable and that asking for more would be rude and jeopardize my candidacy, so I never have.

    It always amazes me that other people have the confidence. I’ve just always thought that the employer had all the power and I had none and not much I could offer.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      It may depend on the circumstance. If you know you may get other job offers, you then have some of the power instead of the employer. That said, employers don’t like making offers to candidates and then losing out on that candidate and having to go to another candidate. At the moment they’re hiring, you, as the offered-to candidate, have a bit of power. They want it to work. Their calling you to say “We want you here” is that moment of vulnerability they have. Sure—if you make some outlandish demand, they may rescind the offer, but you don’t make an outlandish demand. You make a realistic one. If they’re reasonable employers, they’ll either accept it or just stand firm with the original offer. If you make a reasonable demand, and they rescind the offer, you dodged a bullet—you wouldn’t want to be working for them anyway… Major red flag!

    2. OhNo*

      I’ve gotten that feeling a lot, too. Especially when the position is advertised at a certain pay rate, or when the hiring manager says that their offer is “as high as they can go”. I never know if that means I can negotiate slightly, for either salary or benefits, or if it really is as non-negotiable as it sounds.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        It’s not a scientific process, unfortunately. It really is just supply and demand. Unfortunately, the employer is the one who usually holds all the cards. You don’t know if, for example, they’re lowballing you because their budget really is that tight or if they’re lowballing you just to make more profit and get a bigger bonus for themselves. You also don’t know if you’re the superstar candidate they’re dying to get or if it was a close call between you and the #2 candidate with half the hiring committee vying for #2… in which case, if you become difficult, they have no problems going to make an offer to #2 instead of you.

        Really, though, if you’re asking for just a half a percent or one percent higher than what they’re offering, it’s completely unreasonable for them to rescind the offer. The worst that can happen is they say they can’t do it, and the original offer is as high as they can go, at which point you have the option to take it or leave it.

    3. YourCdnFriend*

      I think as long as you’re not asking for something way outside their ballpark there’s little to lose. Most likely thing to happen is that they’ll say no. I guess there is always a risk they will rescind the offer but I can’t see that happening if you’re polite and not asking for the moon.

      But, that’s such a hard thing to come to grips with, I can totally understand why many people don’t bother negotiating out of fear.

    4. fposte*

      Well, of course they give off that feeling; they don’t want to suggest paying you more than that. It’s pretty unusual that they’d say “…but it’s negotiable” or “Eh, $45k, more or less.” Same as the people who say that the employer didn’t offer a chance for negotiation–employers don’t. You don’t have to be a steamroller, but it’s really unlikely that simply asking for more would be rude and jeopardize your candidacy. The difference between people who negotiate and people who don’t really isn’t that the former are in situations that invite them to.

      In an odd digression, I was hearing that Sara Bareilles song “King of Anything” in a store recently, and I was again gnashing my teeth over the weepy bridge that wrecks a good “bite me” song. I don’t know if the lyrics about “waiting for someone to tell me it’s my turn to decide” are meant literally or meant to indicate that she finally outgrew that, but I think there are a lot of people, especially women, who wait in these hiring situations for someone to tell them it’s their turn to ask for what they want. But the people you’re waiting for permission from aren’t there to protect your interests–that’s your job, and you can’t wait for somebody to grant you negotiating space.

      1. Mephyle*

        I didn’t know that song, so I looked it up. I think it’s clearer when you see the lyrics in print.

        It’s “All my life | I’ve tried | […] waitin’ for someone to tell me it’s my turn | to decide,” so it seems clear that she’s saying she that’s what she used to do until now, implying that now she’s taking or ready to take a different approach.

        1. fposte*

          Yeah, that’s what I’m hoping. I still don’t like the bridge, though :-). (I love that we’ve gone into exegesis here.)

      2. esra*

        I go to Pink for all my “bite me” song needs. Blow Me (One Last Kiss) is a great workout song. I love any lady power ballad that is just about going all out and being awesome. Titanium is another great one right before raise negotiating.

    5. fposte*

      In an additional note–we have a tendency to worry more about risks of commission (what if I negotiate and they get mad?) than risks of omission (what if I don’t negotiate and make less money than I deserve in a cascading effect that leaves me with considerably less money over my whole life?), even though omissions can have just as bad a consequence. So here’s a note for the possible price of that omission: http://lifehacker.com/5968375/not-negotiating-your-starting-salary-could-cost-you-500000

    6. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’ve always asked for more. Even the one time that the offer came in 20% higher than I was expecting! For some reason, I worry that employers might think I’m a pushover if I don’t negotiate salary. It can be stressful, but I always try. Thankfully, I’ve never had an employer rescind due to my negotiation attempts, and only 2 employers refused to budge from their first offer.

    7. scarydogmother*

      Same here. I’m a 32 year old woman and I’ve been working full-time for 10 years now (in a handful of different jobs). Depending on the industry and location, the employer HAS had all the power since the start of the recession. The labor market has tightened a lot in the past year, so the balance of power has shifted in some sectors (skilled trades, most notably), but it is not untrue that workers have had very little bargaining power in recent times. I know I (and most of my colleagues) am being underpaid. Now that the job market has improved, turnover has been out of control and management keeps wondering aloud how to improve retention. The answer is to pay people what we’re worth but they have a VERY conservative raise and promotion schedule/rules and will not budge. I really love what I do for a living but I make very little living doing it. Sadly, like my one-time coworkers, I’ll probably have to leave in order to get a bump in pay.

  12. Brett*

    My employer uses all five of these, but especially number 1, with most of the information being requested on the application or, if the application was blank, on a pre-interview form they will out while waiting in reception.

    They also use a tactic of presenting a fixed salary schedule as a set in stone starting salary point (which is just a “rules” backed variant of #1). This is normally phrased as ‘We are bringing you in at the discretionary hire maximum.’ Well, it is really the discretionary hire minimum too, as they have one set number that they stick to for hiring at each pay grade. In reality, nothing about the schedule is fixed and it only takes a pro forma sign off by the merit board to go outside the schedule and deviate from the hiring number.

    I only learned about this after I was here four years, when two different people were brought in at the same grade at well above what I currently make.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      Oh, no! If you don’t mind sharing, what did they offer you, and what did you try to negotiate for?

    2. Bend & Snap*

      i’m curious too. I once rescinded an offer when a candidate became really belligerent about negotiating to work around her second job. This was a full time career type job and the second job was working a t shirt stand at a ballpark.

      So it was the behavior and not the ask. Not saying that’s the case here.

      1. brightstar*

        They offered me close to what I had asked and the HR person offered to inquire if I could get my actual asking price. I think I probably came off as petty.

    3. I'm a Little Teapot*

      That’s one of the reasons I’ve never tried….I’d rather be sure I’m getting $30k than risk getting nothing for the possibility of getting $35k. I’m not a gambler by nature, at all.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        The thing is, though, asking pleasantly and professionally for something that isn’t wildly out of a reasonable range is never going to get a job offer pulled by a reasonable employer. If they pull the offer (assuming you were pleasant and professional) — which would be really rare — you’ve just dodged a bullet, because they’d almost certainly be a horrible place to work.

        If you have no other options and you can’t even tolerate a risk of like 1%, then sure, maybe don’t negotiate. But otherwise it really does usually make sense to.

        1. brightstar*

          I believe I dodged a bullet. When I got the job offer, they kept saying it was just an offer and didn’t mean I actually had the job but they would inquire about getting me the bottom of my range. The offer was for just below it. Then, a couple of days later, I heard that they had decided to rescind the offer.

          It was researching rescinded job offers that led me to your blog! So in addition to dodging a bullet, there’s that silver lining.

        2. NickelandDime*

          I think this just happened to me. At the beginning of the interview process, the recruiter asked me for my salary range without asking me my current salary. I gave them a very fair range and said I was open to negotiation. Four interviews later (I know, I know), I got a call from the recruiter asking me what I made currently, with the excuse, “Because people ASK FOR THINGS, but, you know, what do they make now?” I told her my salary and that it wasn’t market rate and the reasons why. I also told her why I felt I was worth more. After that, she started asking me how many vacation days I got, including days such as MLK, etc. The whole conversation felt confrontational and I was a bit miffed. When they decided not to pursue my application, I was more relieved than anything. There were other warning signs that maybe this wasn’t the place for me, but this conversation really turned me off. You didn’t have a problem with my salary range before, then four interviews later, you did. Miss me with that.

        3. Agile Phalanges*

          I negotiated for extra PTO once, just ASKING about it, not even driving hard, and had the offer pulled. I’ve always wondered whether I dodged a bullet–the place seemed great up until that point, but it definitely pissed me off that they didn’t even come back to me and say “no, we can’t do an extra week of PTO–take it or leave it.” They just didn’t contact me anymore, then when I contacted them, they claimed they’d left me a voicemail saying they rescinded the offer.

      2. fposte*

        I don’t think gambling is the right analogy, though; do you think of yourself as gambling with risk every time you step into a bathtub or get behind the wheel of a car? Those are activities that can kill you, not just lose you a job, and yet people do those things every day. There’s nothing you can do that’s risk free, and there’s no avoidance of those things that’s risk free.

        I’m not saying you *have* to negotiate–there are lots of situations where it doesn’t make sense, and it’s absolutely the call of the person who’s in the situation–but I think you’re framing it as a grab for a brass ring when it’s actually a normal part of the hiring process.

  13. The Cosmic Avenger*

    The worst part is that, when you’re new to the working world and applying for your first job(s), that’s when it’s the absolute hardest for applicants to ask/know they can ask/be persistent, and that’s when it is the most important time to ask. See, I have yet to hear an employer say “gee, you did a great job, but you’re making too much, so everyone but you gets a raise”. (Although from reading AAM, I’m sure there are some whack-a-doodle employers who would do this!) But the normal process would be for your raise to be based solely on your performance, and so you theoretically should be getting the same raise every year no matter whether you negotiated a slightly higher starting salary. Therefore it’s very likely that the higher you start, the more you’ll be earning at EVERY single point in your whole career! If you negotiate an extra $5,000 a year, and because of that you get $5K more than you would have gotten for the next 40 years if you hadn’t negotiated, that’s $800K over your lifetime!

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      This logic assumes, however, that you’re staying at the same workplace or in the same type of job the whole time. If you switch to a related (or even an unrelated) position or you change jobs, the raises don’t compound that way.

      1. The Cosmic Avenger*

        They do if your new employer bases it on your salary history! ;D

        I get your point, though. Many people have to switch employers just to get any kind of raise, and for those people, that kind of resets the wage scale.

        Still, it can impact your earnings for a long time, and many people only develop the confidence to negotiate later in their careers when they’re more accomplished.

    2. It Happens*

      My boss did say “gee, you did a great job, but you’re making too much, so everyone but you gets a raise”. My review was extremely flattering, public announcement was made about raises being bigger this year, and then I got the you’re near your salary cap excuse. I’ve asked to be promoted to the next level and it seems to be in the works but I feel they’re stalling and I’m not happy that I have to wait while others have already been given an increase.

  14. cat*

    I got my offer for my current job and was happy with the salary but was worried about potentially having to pay back a relocation package for the job I was leaving. I wasn’t going to bring it up, but on the advice of a recruiter friend I told the hiring company that I was worried about my financial liability and asked if there was any way they could help me out. I was expecting a no, but figured I might as well ask. To my surprise, the hiring company said, “Yes, we can probably find some small amount in the budget to give you as a signing bonus” and when the offer letter came in, the “small” amount was $20k! I cringe to think that I would have left that money on the table if I hadn’t negotiated.

    Conversely, last fall I interviewed with a company that stated upfront that they didn’t negotiate their offers. They felt they did enough market research to know that what they offered was competitive. I did end up getting an offer from them, but it wasn’t what I wanted, so I had to straight up decline, even though I would have potentially been very happy there if I could have negotiated on some benefits (their salary offer was, strictly speaking, well-researched). That was a little disappointing, having gone the whole way through the process and being excited about a position but not being able to negotiate at all in order to make it work.

  15. Hlyssande*

    When I was hired at my first (and only) full time permanent position after more than a year of temping in the position, I was asked for a desired range without any indication of what they were thinking of. I wish they’d provided a possible range first or a ballpark for the role. I just mostly named a number that I thought would work (being young and naive at the time). It did turn out fine, but it was still frustrating.

    Next time, I’ll make sure to do more research to determine market rates for whatever position I’m trying for.

  16. Sara*

    I’m curious how much negotiating power you actually have is a desired salary is asked upon completing an online application. Should you aim high? Or, be reasonable in the hopes it might be a deciding factor to bring you in or not knowing the growth potential could make the move worth it? I’ve been invited to interview at an employer I am excited about but concerned I might have low-balled myself. Your thoughts?

    1. Iro*

      I provide a wide range when asked this. Usually a 15K range where the minimum starts near the mid-point of the role I’m applying to. I’ve been pretty successful with this so far.

      1. Sara*

        As in, you list the number at your mid range as the one number? There is not space for listing a range. But, I imagine, there has to be one.

        1. Iro*

          Even on applications that say salary requirement with a blank box, I put in something like $15 – $30; Where $15 is the mid-point of the salary typical for the area. If you only have space for 5 characters try 15-30;

  17. David*

    What about negotiating for internal positions? My company has some pretty strict guidelines when it comes to job transfers and promotions (new salary can’t be more than x% of the old/this is the pay grade, take it or leave it). Is negotiating the norm in these situations? I’ve seen otherwise great candidates told they would have to take a $1000 cut to make a lateral move which, fortunately, an executive stepped in on and brought a little sense to the table.

    1. Iro*

      My experience with internal posistions is that there is little room to negotiate. At my previous company I got promoted to a role 2 pay grades above my previous one, and when the hiring manager pushed HR to try and offer me above the minimum of the pay scale for the role, they actually threatened to disallow him from hiring me into that pay grade. It then changed from being a “I need to offer this candidate more than the minimum” to “No, I absolutely should hire them into the senior role because they have a proven track record and skillset to do it despite being in a far junior role currently.”

    2. Graciosa*

      I haven’t seen demands for a pay cut on a lateral (wow!), but I do think that large companies tend to be a little short-sided in handling internal promotions. I once had to argue to get the minimum salary for a position because it was such a big jump (in number of grades) that the compensation team tried to downgrade the position after I had been selected. Apparently if someone three grades lower could aspire to do the job, it must have been misclassified.

      Now as a manager, I admit that I don’t have flexibility on promotional salary offers and it does cause problems. Long time employees who have been promoted with less of a raise than they should have had end up making less than their colleagues – this is just wrong, and the problem is compounded over time with raises limited by percentages. We have a separate budget that is supposed to help address this, but it’s never enough to get everyone where they need to be.

      It’s great when I’m able to make a case to get enough of that budget to give a deserving employee a nice bump, but it shouldn’t be as hard as it is.

  18. OOF*

    As a hiring manager, I want to add a piece of advice to searchers/negotiators: listen carefully to how the offer is presented and how the hiring manager discusses flexibility. I shared in an earlier comment, but when I make an offer it is truly every dollar I can offer based upon equity for new hires at a title, relative to experience.

    I state this reasoning very clearly to candidates, and use the language that “there is literally no room to negotiate this. I am offering you the absolute highest I can offer. Due to equity, I will not be negotiating this offer.”

    I expect people to come back one time to give it a shot (and I say no), but if you come back AGAIN after we’ve had this conversation twice, it starts to affect my perception of your candidacy.

    1. fposte*

      I think this is valid, but I also think there’s other important information here too–even after you’ve stated this, you don’t hold it against somebody who checks just in case there is room for negotiation after all.

      1. OOF*

        Oh absolutely. The first time a person asks, I say “I’m glad you asked. I wouldn’t want you to think you’d left this unexplored. But no, see earlier reasons.”

        The second time, i start to wonder.

  19. Cath in Canada*

    I’ve only ever had one job where I could potentially have negotiated, and I didn’t do it. The salary was so much higher than what I was making as a postdoc (a >55% raise!) that I was completely dazzled, and had no idea that it was actually below market value. Oh well, I can console myself by thinking that if I’d had a bigger salary it might have been a lot harder for me to leave when I realised I was miserable – I took about a 3% cut to come back to the public sector, where I’m much happier.

    My other jobs have all been for massive public sector employers who have very rigid job grades, and very rigid criteria for determining where each applicant falls within the range for that grid. I think that even trying to negotiate would demonstrate “tone-deafness”, more’s the pity.

    1. blackcat*

      When my husband and I talk about him leaving academia with his PhD (in a computational science, so easily transferable), he gets really antsy when I say that he should be able to make at least 60k. He’s never made more than 23k in his life. I made 40 as a teacher in a low cost of living area. As a highly skilled worker in a high COL area, several of our friends in industries he might enter have pointed out that he probably should earn *more* than that, based on his skills/experience. It depends on the company/position, but it should be significantly higher than the academic positions he’s applied to.

      Academia can really skew your perceptions…

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        “Academia can really skew your perceptions…”

        So can having a partner/spouse making double what you’re making. When someone else is able to pay the bills, it’s not difficult to get caught in a trap that “oh I don’t really care what I make” – but when YOU’RE the primary breadwinner, money matters. BIG TIME.

  20. kristinyc*

    I hadn’t negotiated salaries for my first few jobs (most of them offered more than I thought I was going to get, and for one of them, I was so grateful to get the job I didn’t ask for more – stupid.), but then one that I REALLY wanted offered me 10k less than I was already making, and I knew I couldn’t afford to take less money. I managed to get them up to what I was making at the other job, and then a year later, they gave me a $10k raise. Since then, I feel a lot more confident asking for more, but it’s always intimidating. I’m currently interviewing for a job that’s a pretty big step up from where I’ve been, and it was really scary giving them the range (which was singificantly higher than my previous salary). It didn’t put me out of the running though, so fingers crossed. :)

  21. ism*

    #1 experienced here.

    Not long ago I contributed to an open thread, kicking myself for not negotiating when my company brought me on as a regular hire from the temp agency. My manager’s exact words were “Congratulations, we’d like to hire you on. We’ll be paying you $X.” ($X being the same rate I’d been paid by the temp agency) I was so surprised that the offer didn’t come with a raise or discussion of compensation beyond “here’s what we’re going to give you.”

    I definitely felt there was no “opportunity” given to me to negotiate, but the way Alison puts it here today means I’m kicking myself even more. There’s no reason I couldn’t have politely said, “I’m certainly interested but I was hoping that you could go up 1% on the hourly rate based on what I have learned in my role, what I have learned about my role and market rates for this kind of work. Is that possible?”

  22. Iro*

    I find the entire salary negotiation and complete blackbox that is “normal market rate” absolutely infuriating. I never feel like I get a fair offer, usually because I don’t have the X years experience to boost me up there. It’s one of the major flaws of being successful young, I skipped a couple of pay grades through promotions at my previous company, and because of that my earning potential is very depressed compared to my much older peers in the same role. I do the same work, usually with better results, but since I don’t have the years to back it, only the major accomplishments in 1 – 2 years, I get pigeon-holed at the bottom of the salary range consistently.

    Also I’m not sure if this is a trend or if I have just been very unlucky but every place I have worked is on a ridiculous bell curve for merit raises. The “top” get a 5 to 10% range, the middle 2%, and the “low” none. This works great in theory, but when you are on a team of 5 people it effectively means that everyone is always going to get 2%. I can’t tell you how many time’s I’ve had the “I really wish I could give you a higher performance score, but we are only allocated 1 “top” every 3 years and I just can’t justify giving you the top score since you are new. If it were up to me I’d give you a 10% raise.” Blah blah blah.

    1. College Career Counselor*

      Sounds a lot like academia, where the raise is generally uncoupled from the review. And as a manager, if I want to reward someone else’s excellent performance, I probably have to reduce another high performer’s raise to do it. That’s demoralizing and stupid, so that’s why most of us stick with the 2% (or whatever) across the board.

  23. Zillah*

    I have a question, actually, along these lines. What about roles where there’s a set number listed as the wage/salary – e.g., “$20/hr, 15 hours/week” (or whatever). I’ve seen that and felt weird about the idea of saying, “Actually, can you give me $22?” but I don’t want to lowball myself, either.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Huh! I’m surprised and pleased to hear your thoughts on this. So if you apply to a role with a range, it’s acceptable to ask for something (slightly) beyond the range?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes — you just want to approach it with an understanding that they did list a range up-front. So in Zillah’s example, you might wait until you get an offer and then say something like, “I saw that you posted the job at $20/hour. Do you have any flexibility on that? I’m hoping you might be able to do $22.” And then if they say no, you don’t keep pushing, because after all, they did list the wage up-front. But it’s not outrageous to ask, as long as you don’t using wording that sounds like you missed the salary info at the start. (For instance, you wouldn’t want to sound surprised and say you were hoping for X instead, because that wouldn’t really be warranted by the circumstances.)

          I’m pretty sure this is an area where I’ve changed the nuance of my stance over the years — I think at one point early on in the history of this site I felt like it was more of a stretch to do this.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I received a 25% increase this way. They said x-y per hour. I said “well, you know I was thinking y-z per hour because I bring A, B and C to the table.”

      This was a gutsy move for me. I had never done this before. I realized that the HM had to have a reason for the increase, so I provided her with A, B and C as reasons. I gave a range that was higher than hers but started at her end point. I almost fell over when she said okay to z. I was amazed.

      What worked here, at least for me, was I had pre-planned what I was going to say. I had picked out my range and my reasons. That meant that all I had to do was wait for the conversation to turn to the discussion of pay. When the HM said, “We thinking in the range of x-y”, I did not wait for any further opening to state my opinion. But I matched her sentence structure. “I was thinking y-z.” It felt less argumentative/formidable to match her wording because I was in sync with her way of communicating. And I knew she had to be able to show the rationale for the rate of pay she chose- I was lucky in that she valued the things I was bringing to the table.

      I learned all this by reading here. I felt really good about how the whole thing went.

  24. Grad Student*

    For my first post-college job as “Program Assistant” at Big Nonprofit, I took the salary offered. I later learned from friends who were co-workers that they also did not attempt to negotiate their salaries. For many of us, this was our first full-time, post-college job. Does anyone have suggestions on negotiating salary in nonprofit organizations, whether small or large, and especially if the position is advertised as temporary and based on a grant?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The rules aren’t any different in nonprofits. (I’ve spent my whole career in nonprofits and I can promise you that it works the same way there.) If a role is temporary, they might be less interested in negotiating, although not always, and even then it’s reasonable to try. If it’s grant-funded, there might be less flexibility, but they’ll tell you if that’s the case; you don’t have to try to guess.

        1. Charlotte*

          My second job out of college was at a non-profit, and their offer was a bit less than what I had been making before. I asked them about raising the salary at least to match what I was making before, and they didn’t have flexibility at that time. However, they responded with a staggered raise, twice over the course of first 6 months. It’s a little riskier, but it could work out if you work hard and have honest employers. If you enter into something like this, though, mark your calendar so you can remind them if they forget.

    2. Chris*

      Another lifer in the non profit world here. My opinion is that you should negotiate for non profit salaries just as you would any other job. In a nice, professional manner. As Alison stated, if they have grant related limits, any reasonable hiring manager will simply state that fact.

      What I find challenging in the non profit world is that it is incredibly difficult to determine a reasonable market rate. Non profits have a wide variety of salary ranges across organizations. Some pay similar to for profits, others just can’t. If I do research on my own position, I find a huge, huge range.

  25. Sarah*

    I’ve just been offered a position and am waiting on background check, paperwork etc. They have already told me “position pays $x plus commission”. The base pay is about $10k lower than I would like. Do I:

    A. Wait until my paperwork etc goes through and negotiate when I receive the official offer over email (haven’t signed anything or negotiated a start date).

    B. Email the HR rep this week while everything is going through and explain Id like to negotiate the base pay

    I won’t get an official offer until at least a week from now.

    1. Dan*

      I’d wait until I had the official offer in hand. It seems like you’d be in a stronger position then – you’re sitting on the runway and not still at the gate loading passengers.

      1. TOC*

        I’m not sure I agree. It sounds like Sarah is looking for a substantial increase from the original offer. It would appear disingenuous to essentially agree to the informal offer and then push back a week later. I don’t understand how that gives you an advantage–they already know they want you, so that’s in the bag. The company could decide you’re wasting their time.

  26. AnonymousAndStuff*

    I’m currently a contactor at a large compay and I’ve been applying for permanent gigs within the organization.

    Last week I talked to a recruiter in a phone screen for a entry level Compliance job, and she asked what salary I was looking for. I said that I was currently at $41000 so anything above that would be good. She said that the Hiring Manager was looking to start the person around $40000 but she didn’t think going up $1000 would be a problem.

    Then I saw in an email chain on another position (I work in Recruiting but haven’t worked with this manager or department) that they’re offering $53000 to Intermediate level Compliance folks and $60000+ to Senior level. So I think they lowballed me.

    I have my phone interview with the HM tomorrow. How would I be able to renegotiate what my desired salary is if I previously said $41000+? Or can I?

    1. College student*

      I think your error was stating your current salary. This gives the recruiter the upper hand now and knows you’d be willing to accept basically anything a dollar above $41k. Sort of like when you walk into a dealership and the dealer asks you how much are you willing to spend, and you say $20k. Well, they’re going to show you all the cars in the $20k range.

  27. Erika Kerekes*

    A few years ago I got an offer from a global law firm – routinely thought of as one of the best in the world. It was almost 25% less than I’d been making at my previous job, although slightly higher than they’d stated as their original range. I let them know how excited I was about the job and how much I wanted to take it and asked for a slightly higher salary, somewhere in the middle, explaining that I was my family’s primary breadwinner at that time. Five minutes later they rescinded the offer.

    I have always wondered whether the same thing would have happened if I’d been a man….

    1. Chriama*

      That really sucks :( However, I know Alison has mentioned that salary negotiations shouldn’t be based on personal circumstances, but rather what you bring to the position and the current market rate. I don’t deny that there was probably sexism involved, but it could have been the perception that you were making an appeal based on emotions rather than hard facts, rather than being offended that a woman was being to aggressive by asking for more money.

      1. Erika*

        @Chriama yes, it’s possible you’re right – although it was a fairly senior position and it was clear by that point (stated on both sides) of the value I would have contributed. When I’m feeling generous I interpret it as “she’ll be unhappy and will bolt for greener pastures as soon as the market picks up.” Still, I think it would have been a different conversation, at the very least, with a man.

  28. College student*

    Good read! I’m going to graduate this May and I’ve had a couple phone screen / interviews and I usually suck at answering the “What salary were you looking for?” question.

    1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      You should know that going in. Although – in your first job, you generally don’t have much leverage.

      And don’t be afraid to give a number that might seem on the high side to you – allow the hiring company a chance to negotiate downward. But not too low.

      That way, it looks (to them) like they scored you at a low salary.

  29. Susan P. Joyce*

    I think that it’s a very common — and very poor practice — for employers to post jobs without including the salary range.

    If they don’t have a salary range for every job in their organization, including the open positions, they’re stupid and deserve to go out of business. Keeping salary ranges private wastes EVERYONE’s time and effort — including their own.

  30. Chris*

    My boss, whom I now love, gave me the “Well, that would put you in the high end of the salary range making it harder to get increases later.” Ugh! Not a good argument.

    Honestly, when I am hiring I find it incredibly disappointing when people don’t try to negotiate.

  31. Beerappa*

    Hi all,

    I am in position of negation of salary with one employer but HR is not sticking to particular salary but he is always saying will think on that and get back to you. So what would be his intension on thuis?

Comments are closed.