can you negotiate salary even if the job ad listed a set number?

This came up in the comments last week, and I thought it was worth addressing it as its own post:

Can you negotiate salary for 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.

You can still try to negotiate even in that situation. It’s not outrageous to to see if they have flexibility.

The key is to approach it with an understanding that the employer did list a range up-front; you want to make sure that you’re not using wording that sounds like you missed the salary info at the start. For example, if they offered you something in the range that was posted in the ad (or otherwise discussed earlier), you wouldn’t want to sound disappointed and say that you were hoping for $X instead, because that wouldn’t make sense under the circumstances. But it would be reasonable (in some cases) to say, “Do you have any flexibility on that? Based on what I’ve learned about the range of responsibilities and the fact that I bring Extra Impressive Skill X, I was hoping you might be able to do $Y instead.”

Also, you want to be sure you’re not asking for something wildly outside the range they listed. That’s going to sound out of touch, and it’s likely to exasperate and annoy the employer, who will wonder why you used up their time in interviews if you knew all along that you were so far apart on salary.

But your example, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to 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.”

They may or may not say yes — but it’s not a risky or outrageous thing to ask.

{ 61 comments… read them below }

  1. Helen

    I have an interview coming up (still to be scheduled) where the listed salary is “Up to $X.” The issue is, X is the bare minimum that I could accept–and they want me to travel to the corporate office for the interview. I’m not sure what to do, because while I don’t want to basically start negotiating before I even meet them, I also don’t want to travel there only to find out it’s below what I could consider.

    1. Adam

      If I were in your shoes I’d probably talk myself out of going. If $X is the absolute peak they are willing to offer and the bare minimum of what you can accept it begs the questions:

      a.) How likely is it that they will hire you at the absolute peak of the range?
      and
      b.) Even if they did, since you start out at the top does that mean your chances of salary increases down the line outside of a promotion are basically nil?

    2. TOC

      What would it take for you to be satisfied with a salary of X? Presumably since it’s at the very bottom of your acceptable range you’d only accept if it the job had something else you really wanted: short commute, great benefits, exceptionally interesting work, etc. Does this potential job possess any of those qualities that would justify a trade-off in pay?

    3. PEBCAK

      Yes, ask in advance if there is some flexibility. It might put them off, but you don’t really want the job anyway, if there isn’t.

    4. Mostly Sarcasm

      How long is the trip to their office? If it involves flying somewhere, it might not be worth it.
      Otherwise, if you like the job itself (and more importantly, your manager), look for some other perk that would mean a lot to you, like good benefits or being able to work from home.

    5. AshleyH

      Would you accept the job for X? I once flew a candidate in for an interview and very clearly told her our salary range. You can imagine my surprise when she arrived at our office and her salary expectation was written down at 50% more than what the maximum I told her, and that “she knew we’d be impressed enough with her skills that salary wouldn’t be an issue”. Apparently she came from some magical world where salary budgets are non-exisitent, and it made me look terrible to the hiring manager. 18 months later I’m still not over it.

      1. Helen

        That stinks. I would accept it if I liked the people, got a good vibe from the organization, and they had decent benefits. (Unfortunately, none of those are a given!)

    6. hez

      I used to travel far for an interview as well, only to find out that they aren’t going to pay me what I am worth. Lately, while looking for a job, I ask right off the bat on the phone. I put it in a way where I say, “I hate to be so candid, but I don’t want to waste anyone’s time.” They actually appreciate my straightforwardness and let me know at that point if there is room to negotiate. I do believe that you can travel and interview and if you are great, they have no problem bumping up your salary–it has happened to me. However, most places nowadays don’t, can’t or won’t because of their budgets and then you have just wasted your time. Hope this helps.

  2. MK

    While I think it’s ok to negotiate in this situation, I don’t believe it’s a good idea to regularly interview for jobs that list deal-breaker salaries. If the ad says 22 and your range is 22-26 (meaning you are willing to consider 22, other things being great), fine. But if 23 is the absolute minimum you can/will accept, you risk wasting everyone’s time for nothing.

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Well, I think it depends. I think if you think you’re just overqualified enough to still be considered, you could ask them if they can stretch the maximum by a percentage point or two. If you really wow them, they might be pretty happy to do so. But I wouldn’t do that if it involves travel, like Helen’s comment above, or if the interview involves a full day or time with a C-level executive. In those cases I might ask before traveling or interviewing with an exec.

      1. MK

        But this isn’t about being overqualified, this is about what salary you are willing to accept. And it may not matter how much you wow them, the salary may be non-negotiable, if the money simply isn’t there. Just as employees make decisions accepting the job they can get, even if it’s not their dream candidate, so do employers hire the candidate they can afford, even if it’s not their first choise.

        The problem I am seeing is that I don’t think there is a good way to know in advance if there is flexibility in the salary. You could ask, sure, but you take a risk: at that point they don’t know you, so they may not see any reason to try to offer more; alternatively, they may lead you on that there is flexibility, hoping that when you have already gone through the process, you will settle for less.

        1. hez

          it’s true that they don’t know you, but remember, they can get a good idea about your experience from the resume they are looking at when they call you. After all, your resume was good enough for them to make the call in the first place. Please also read my initial response above.

    2. Patrick G

      A lot of salary ranges listed by employers are starting points for negotiations rather than firm numbers. Cerainly, there are some industries (especially public sector/government) where there isn’t much flexibility, but a lot of private employers would have wiggle room for the right candidate. And $1-$2 an hour more isn’t really that outrageous.

      Of course, this is why I don’t mind employers asking about salary requirements up front. There is no time wasted if I put in my application above the stated mininum and they don’t want to proceed.

        1. JB

          I agree. Not necessarily definite, so it’s not outrageous to ask in the manner that Alison suggested. But I have worked in government, and my sister has worked in government, and we both wasted time going through interviews and screening only to make an offer to someone who won’t accept at the salary we could offer. They saw the salary range as a starting point for negotiating when it was actually the most we could offer.

          I think it’s a case of know your audience if you can. If it’s a government job or one where you have reason to believe they aren’t going to be or cannot be flexible, then go into the process with the mindset that you aren’t going to get more. And if that’s never going to be acceptable no matter what other perks the job might offer, don’t waste everyone’s time.

          Like Alison alluded to, if someone got all the way through the process and then seem surprised or disappointed by the offer, we were relieved that the person was turning us down because all of the sudden, they didn’t seem like such a great candidate after all.

          1. Joey

            i bet that was a lesson learned.

            It’s good practice to talk about salary expectations before you ever schedule an interview regardless of what’s on the job advertisement.

          2. Spiky Plant

            For real. I’ve had people decline offers because of money when we had stated the range in the ad, and not only are we happy they declined, we’d be unlikely to hire them for anything else. It totally sours us on the person. We were upfront and acted in good faith my listing the salary in the ad, and the candidate acted in bad faith by going through the entire process knowing they wouldn’t take an offer in that range.

            (We’ve never withdrawn an offer because of an attempt to negotiate to outside of the stated range, but we’ve thought about it, and honestly might have but we never had someone attempt that and then accept the original offer.)

      1. KH

        I went through a fairly long job search in the second half of 2014, and every single recruiter broached the salary question in the first phone screen. It seems it’s become common practice to make sure nobody is wasting anyone’s time. I was nervous answering at first but I actually found it helpful.
        I think even if they give a range, there is probably a tiny bit of room to negotiate above the high end of that range if you are their perfect candidate. When I used to manage/hire people, I would push for extra budget when I an excellent candidate and get it sometimes.

  3. Tiffy the Fed... Contractor

    I’ve had this happen in the last round of job searching. They listed the salary (way too low IMHO, but that’s higher ed for ya), I applied anyway. Made it through the telephone interview, and before they would schedule an in-person interview, they made sure I was OK with the listed salary. I hadn’t planned on negotiating until an offer was made, but I honestly told her, “No I was hoping for some flexibility because I have X, Y, Z qualifications.” They said no, and we parted ways.

    It was disappointing, but it’s better to be disappointed in the job-hunting phase than start the job and realize you never should have accepted such a low salary.

    1. Cautionary tail

      This was ex-job. They would post an up-to salary that they knew they wouldn’t actually pay, but they did this to get higher qualified people and then lowball them.

      1. LAI

        I work in higher ed and I have seen this done a lot but not usually maliciously. We often have salary ranges for each specific job role and HR will automatically post the range, even if we know that we only have the budget to hire at the midpoint.

          1. the gold digger

            Cautionary tail, do we know each other? Ex-job did the same thing to me – told me one salary and then when I told my boss I had applied for this internal move, reduced it by 10K.

            I had dinner with someone from ex-job last week and he said their hiring negotiations had just blown up with someone because the person’s salary requirements were too high. I suggested that perhaps the company had pulled the same bait and switch as they had with me.

        1. Businesslady

          Yeah, I’ve seen this in higher ed as well, particularly (although not exclusively) in positions that are unionized. Pay is heavily tied to seniority, so the upper end of the range is for people who’ve been working there for decades, & there’s no way anyone would get it as a starting salary even if their qualifications were fantastic. It would be great if the job ads did a better job of managing candidates’ expectations.

      2. Lily in NYC

        We do this as well. However, we still have highly-qualified candidates beating down our doors trying to work here. Yes, the salaries suck, but these people know that they can basically write their own ticket after working here for a couple of years because it looks so good on their resume. Or, if they are planning to go back to school, they know they are almost guaranteed to get into the grad school of their choice. It’s a trade-off.

  4. Lily in NYC

    How about if you get a job offer through a recruiter? I didn’t negotiate for my current role because I was told it was a set salary and I was happy with the number. The weird part is that the salary ended up being $5k more than they said so it worked out pretty well for me in the end.

  5. TOC

    It’s all about being reasonable. A few jobs back, I was making $32k at a small nonprofit. I left partially because of the low salary; I asked for more and they weren’t able to do that despite wanting to keep me. When looking for a new job, I applied somewhere listing “minimum of $32k” and I well exceeded the minimum qualifications. When they offered me $32k (with slightly worse benefits) anyway, I negotiated up to $35k. I was willing to walk away for anything less. That, in my mind, was a completely reasonable increase to negotiate for, since it was a small amount and the job description listed a minimum, not a firm number.

    But back to that job I left behind. When they hired for my replacement, the job posting clearly listed the salary as a flat $30k. I knew someone applying for my old job, and I also told her to expect $30-32k. They actually offered her $32k, which was already above the listed salary, and she came back asking for $38k. Clearly they couldn’t do that, since they had already lost me because they couldn’t pay more. They were not able to come to an agreement and everyone walked away frustrated. The hiring managers felt like she wasted their time by requiring so much more than the clearly-posted salary.

    It’s all about knowing what’s reasonable and what’s not.

    1. Dan

      It’s entirely possible that your old employer is out of touch with what the market really requires. They might get rid of you because they can’t pay $35k, but what happens when you leave and they realize they can’t get a competent person who will stick around for less than $45k? So it’s not really clear than the NP couldn’t offer the $38k the other person was asking.

      At lower ends of the salary spectrum, a few grand looks like a huge percentage. At my pay grade, $8k isn’t enough to make people “frustrated” for being so far off. For me, that’s about 8%. At $30k, it’s almost 30%.

      How far is too far off? Hard to say — one man’s $8k is another guy’s 30%, or someone else’s 8%.

      1. TOC

        I agree that the percentage, not the actual dollar amount, is what matters. $8k is entirely reasonable in some pay grades but wasn’t in this particular local sector. Given that the candidate had already been working in this sector, it came across as really naive to expect something so much higher than the firmly-listed salary.

        It’s absolutely true that my old job’s salaries weren’t entirely competitive. They were fairly equal to those at their nearest partner organizations, but not competitive within the larger scope of what some people could be earning with those same skills in a different setting. Unfortunately the social-service sector in my community is large and vibrant but has much lower salaries than other sectors (or even other realms of nonprofit work). Everyone working in the field knows that and is willing to take the lower pay in trade for the satisfaction and other non-monetary benefits the work provides.

      2. MK

        I think it’s pretty clear that the NP couldn’t offer what the person was asking; if the money wasn’t there, it wasn’t there.

        What usually happens when an employer realises they cannot hire a competent person for the most money they are able to offer is that they hire a less competent person and make the best of it.

        1. TOC

          Or not even necessarily less competent, but is willing to earn less money and can afford to do so. This is particularly true in places like nonprofits where some very talented people willingly earn less because they find so much job satisfaction in working for “the cause.”

          In my old employer’s case, they found a very talented candidate for my role in the second go-round, and she’s still thriving there.

          1. PEBCAK

            Unfortunately, this often means the position becomes limited to people who have a second income in the household.

        2. I'm a Little Teapot

          Or they keep interviewing and complaining about how they can’t find anybody qualified and there’s a skills shortage.

    2. JB

      Agreed. If there’s just a minimum given, why not try to negotiate? And I hate it when employers list a range knowing that they will never pay anything but the bottom part of the range. But on the reverse side, it is incredibly frustrating for someone to try to negotiate above a listed pay range and then be surprised or annoyed when they can’t get that higher amount, specifically when they have someone in the know who has told them about what salary to expect. It wastes everyone’s time. And it makes the person look kind of clueless or unreasonable.

  6. Dan

    I don’t like the usage of the word “hoping” in this context. It’s too soft, and too easy to shoot down. If you say you’re “hoping” for something, I’d shoot you down and expect that you’d still take the job. If that salary figure is a deal breaker, you’re going to present it in much stronger terms.

    If you’ve got “research” to indicate that you’re worth than the offered figure, less-soft terminology would be “based on my research, and my skillset X, Y, and Z, a salary of $Q would be more in line with the market.”

    1. MK

      I don’t disagree with your choice of words, but I think this is a case for treading carefully. It’s true that the listed salary is often negotiable, but it is still the listed salary, as in the salary they told you upfront they were offering and you sort-of agreed that it was adequate (even if only bearly) by applying. If you come on too strong, you may come across as unreasonable; even if you don’t reach an agreement, you don’t want them to remember you as “that person who didn’t bother to read the ad/chose not to believe us about salary and then started making demands”.

  7. ZSD

    Is there a rule of thumb for what would count as “wildly outside the range listed”? Can we assume, for example, that it’s often reasonable to ask for up to 10% more than the top of the stated range, but anything more than 10% above will be seen as crazy?

    1. TOC

      I think an acceptable percentage would probably be hard to pin down. It would depend on industry standards and culture, how firm the offer was (was there a stated range? Did they already offer you the very top of the range?), etc.

    2. Joey

      It’s relative to the market and your qualifications. If you have no experience and you’re asking for what an experienced person who brings a lot more to the table makes that’s wildly outside of my range for you.

    3. Elsajeni

      I think it also depends a bit on where the range actually is — as Dan pointed out up above, at low salaries, it doesn’t take much to seem like a high percentage. As an extreme example, I’ve applied for retail jobs listing around minimum wage and asked for a dollar over, which at that range is more like 12-18% but which didn’t seem outrageous in context. (I got the job, but not the extra dollar, so take from that what you will; to me it suggests that, while my request might have been impossible to meet, it didn’t come off as crazy or inappropriate for me to ask for it.) But I do think 10% is probably a good guideline for the type of professional or “career”-type jobs we’re usually talking about here.

  8. Kimmy

    I had an interview recently which resulted in an offer at the top of the range listed in the ad (but quite low for my field, which pays peanuts as it is.) I pitched a higher salary and why I was worth it -(20-25% more, which would still be low by industry standards.) A few phone calls later and boom, I had an offer for 30% more than the top end of their range. For unrelated reasons I didn’t accept, but it just goes to show you that you never know.

  9. Rachel

    I work for a digital marketing agency. Our posted salary is usually our “best” offer, although we’d probably go up to 20% for the right candidate. During negotiations, if a candidate says how they’ll save us time or money (“I know this an entry level position but I’m already certified in X and that can take months to achieve”) rather than emphasizing life circumstances (“This salary is too low for me”) or unrelated training (“I have a Masters in Piano, though this job has nothing to do with music.”).

    Every job I’ve been offered I’ve tried to negotiate for more money and/or time off. It hasn’t always worked, but I’ve never had an offer rescinded either. You never know unless you ask, and it is a good exercise in learning how to appeal to your manager.

  10. Alder

    Horror story: When I renewed my contract last year, I got an increase in hours and a corresponding increase in salary, plus an eensy bit more. Except there was a TYPO in my offer letter that listed my new salary as ~10% higher than it actually is. I was like “ok, great, I will definitely not job hunt!” I didn’t catch the mistake until three months later. I’m still kicking myself for not asking them to adjust my pay- after all, it was what they offered me in the document we both signed!!

  11. Anon Today

    Ugh! This is so timely. I just got a job offer that I’m really excited about, but the offer is much lower than I expected. They posted a range in the ad, and offered me close to the bottom. I’m truly surprised – I have more experience/expertise/etc. than they were asking for, and I’d been assuming that we’d start our negotiations at the top of the range. :(

    1. Aussie Teacher

      Definitely negotiate, pointing out exactly what you said – that you have more experience than requested and were expecting to start negotiations at the top of their range. Also emphasize how excited you are about the job, of course!

      Good luck – I’ll be keen to hear an update!

  12. Holly

    Thoughts on whether to ask for the low end of a posted salary range because it’s a nonprofit and the amount they have listed is super high for the nonprofit market here? Like, I don’t want them to balk if I actually ask for 50k when the range is 45-52k, and I want this job so bad I’d be secretly okay with 45 (but content with 48.)

    Negotiating is hard.

    1. Anonymous Educator

      If they list it $45-52k, there’s no harm in asking for $50k. If they’re not willing to pay that, they’ll just say “No, we can offer you $48k.”

      1. Holly

        It’s weird because they list that range on one job bank, but it doesn’t appear anywhere else (likely because this place requires an answer.) I suppose I’m just used to thinking that asking for any money from a nonprofit – this wouldn’t be my first – might come off a bit abrasive. Even though that’s what the ad says!

  13. Editor

    I’m listening to the details of this kind of negotiation from someone I know. She got approached by a recruiter who described a job and a company that sounded appealing (shorter commute, in a business area of interest), but the salary at its highest was at least $15,000 less than what she was being paid.

    The job had been open for some time, the previous occupant was a short-timer who didn’t last a year after someone retired rather than deal with the big changes coming in the job. She did interview, but didn’t come away enthusiastic for other reasons. But the company did admit that they were rethinking the salary. We found federal Bureau of Labor Statistics salary averages that showed the higher salary was average for that county.

  14. cassandra

    I’m a tv producer who has been working in NYC for almost 10 years for fortune 500 companies. My husband is a Marine and he just got based in NC. I had to give up my job to move down here and now I’m looking at a position with a local town where their salary range is 42-55k. I was making almost 70 in NYC. But the hiring range says up to 67k. I don’t know what that means and if I would have any wiggle room to negotiate salary past the 55k range or if the employer would balk at me trying to increase their range. Anyone from an HR perspective have any insight?

    Thanks

  15. Rhapsody

    This is really helpful because I’ve been trying to sort out whether or not to negotiate my offer. The salary was listed as a set number on the job ad as xx,xxx GBP, and the offer letter I received had the same xx,xxx amount listed. I’ve accepted the job but haven’t signed an official contract yet because they’re still waiting for my international background checks, and I just don’t know if I can still negotiate or not! Argh.

  16. singsing

    Hoping you all might weigh in here:

    Had an informational interview for X position – was told that they have a broad range of salary because they are willing to take people with varying experience levels. Range is 30-40k. I was told that based on my experience, I would be looking at 33-36k (36k is the lowest I could go and pay my bills). I was contacted for an interview and the job description said “Starting Salary: 30-33k” and “if you’re okay with this, please tell us which of these times you’d like to interview.”

    I agreed to interview but am not really okay with that range, but AM ok with the initial range quoted by the original interviewer (who is the COO and worked for the org for many years). Would it be unreasonable for me to negotiate above the starting salary?

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