I didn’t get a job offer because the employer thought the salary was too low for me

A reader writes:

I recently was turned down for a job offer even though I was the employer’s top candidate, because my current salary was out of their salary range for the position.

I first had a phone interview where I disclosed my current salary and was told it was high. I made it to a second, in-person interview and was told that their only concern with me was the salary. After that interview, I sent thank-you emails and mentioned that I was very interested in the position, thinking that would keep me in the running since I wasn’t scared off about the salary.

After a follow-up email, my HR contact said that the company was really impressed with me. Two weeks went by with no word, and I followed up again. I was told that they offered the position to another candidate, but they wanted me to know that they thought I’d be a perfect fit and tried to “work something out.” I’m guessing they tried to up the salary, perhaps?

I’m trying to figure out why this happened. I was prepared to take a pay cut (about $15K less at the highest end of the range) because the perks of the job (travel, work from home, generous time off) and the experience I’d gain greatly outweighed the pay cut I’d take. What I don’t understand is why a company wouldn’t even bother to offer a job to their top candidate because they fear the salary is too low. Worst case scenario for them is I’d decline and they’d move to the next candidate. Why skip me and go straight to your second choice? Should I have been more explicit in my thank-you email that I was willing to take a pay cut? I was afraid doing this would make me seem desperate and I didn’t want to “lock in” that low salary in case they’d come up.

I’ve never had this experience where the company thought I’d decline the offer, so they didn’t offer.

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked: In the in-person interview, when they told you their concern was the salary, what did you say? The answer:

She gave me a salary number, and I think it was the highest of their range. I said, “Oh, it’s that low” (which I’m cringing at now thinking back to it). It was the first time I’d heard an actual number, and I responded that I was really excited about the company/position, but that would be something I’d have to think about. After I said that, we continued to talk about working from home and she listed other perks, so I thought she was trying to show how they could offer other things. She also mentioned growth opportunities and made it seem as if I would move up quickly.

After hearing the salary number, should I have immediately said I’d be okay with that? My fear is that it would have thrown out the window or any opportunity to negotiate, even for just few thousand more.

I’m still baffled that they didn’t offer to see what my answer would be or reach out to discuss it. I also never told them my salary expectations. I only gave them my current salary range. I thought the salary discussion would come up later. Either after they offered me the job, or during another talk. Trying to figure out what I can do better next time, if this happens to me again.

Yeah, this is why job seekers hate everything about discussing salary. What happened to you is everyone’s fear — that they’ll give a number that’s too high and be priced out, even when they’d be willing to take a lower number … but they of course don’t want to give that lower number originally because if they do, they might be leaving money on the table.

The employer’s side of this is likely that you told them you were making significantly more than they could pay, you shared that you thought their range was low, and you didn’t say that you’d be willing to take a pay cut. You might have assumed that it was obvious that you were willing to consider their salary because you continued to interview, sent a thank-you expressing your continued interest, etc. — but lots of candidates do those things and just plan to push hard for more money once they get an offer.

If you were their first choice, should they have made you an offer anyway and seen what happened? Or even come back to you before that point and said, “Look, $X is the highest that we can go. Realistically, would you be able to be happy with an offer for that amount?” Probably. But employers are often nervous (and sometimes rightly so) about hiring someone at a salary that will feel like a cut to them, because they worry that the person will be dissatisfied and keep looking (or start looking again quickly). It feels really unfair to have an employer make that decision for you (after all, surely you know better than they do what you’ll be happy with), but employers who have been burned by that happening, or heard about other people being burned by it, can be nervous on that front. And it’s not like job seekers never say they’ll be fine with something and then realize later on that they’re not. So it can be a tricky calculus for the employer.

If it ever happens again … well, it’s still tricky for you too. On one hand, you could head this kind of thing off by explicitly saying, “I’d be willing to consider that salary level because ____ (I’m so excited about the role / the benefits you offer would make up for the salary cut / I know it’ll be necessary in order to change fields / or whatever makes sense in your situation).” On the other hand, what if that’s a situation where they’d actually be willing to go a bit above their range to get you? You don’t want to preclude that possibility.

This is why talking salary in so many job search situations is nerve-wracking and confusing and a huge pain in the ass.

{ 91 comments… read them below }

  1. The Artist Formally Known As UKAnon*

    I would actually be tempted to adapt Alison’s script to a thank you letter just to sign off on this, if this is a company you’d consider working for in another position (which it sounds like it is) Asking them to keep you in mind for future opportunities is both fine and re-iterates that you are ok with the salary ranges.

    I also wonder if you can help to address this proactively in the “why are you leaving your current role?” situation (a question I loathe but which is invariably posed) Something like “although the pay is good, I am looking for more work-life flexibility and would be open to exchanging some salary for other benefits like flexible hours/WFH/etc” thrown in among other reasons.

    1. Meg Murry*

      Yes, or when you are asked for your current salary, you could say “I currently make between X and Y, but I’d want to evaluate the total benefit package, including things like insurance costs, vacation time and overall work-life flexibility rather than committing just to a specific salary”

      But I definitely agree that you should respond with some kind of “thank you and please keep me in mind for future positions”. Maybe something will open up soon at the next level up.

    2. annonymouse*

      I agree completely.

      Money isn’t the only reason people accept or reject jobs: benefits, hours, getting into a new industry, experience for your chosen field, chance to work for top people in the field, better future job prospects, better fit for your skills and passions.

      I’ve taken pay cuts before in new jobs because:
      I’m starting in a new industry so of course it’s a more junior position with salary to match.

      I’m going to a smaller company which won’t have the same ability to give me a big wage – but make it up in other ways.

      The cut was minor and the hours better (38k full time to 36k part time)

      In those instances I’ve not regretted it – because I got something better in return.

  2. The IT Manager*

    My sympathies. It sucks that a decision that should have been yours was taken out of your hands. IMO you didn’t do anything wrong. It’s only in hindsight that we see that being more clear about your willing to accept what they said was their highest limit could have improved outcome, but you’re right that has other downsides which could have negative impact and resulted in you writing in with a different question for Alison.

    For some reason I hate, hate, hate this idea many people seem to have that a person’s salary must always go up. I’ve never been burned by this myself, but there’s something about it – perhaps the underlying implication that everyone is living just on the edge of their salary – that really bugs me.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Yes! I personally can not afford to take a pay cut with my next move but 2 people very close to me are definitely willing to because both are burned out in their high stress-good paying corporate jobs. They would easily take the $15k pay cut to have their personal lives back. I think hiring managers do their companies a major disservice by eliminating strong candidates from the hiring process instead of having a straight and forward salary discussion.

      1. Meg Murry*

        Yes, I am considering applying to a position that would be a 25% salary cut – but with better hours, closer commute and way way way cheaper health insurance – so it might be an overall break even or only slightly less take home but with a better overall quality of life.

        1. JM in England*

          Exactly Meg!

          I too have taken a pay cut for my current job. But the much shorter commute (about 1/10th the distance of the previous one) and hence the extra time I have each day are things you just can’t put a price on………….

    2. Nicole*

      Exactly! And this is precisely why it’s antiquated to base salary discussions on the person’s previous salary. Like has been stated on this site many times before, what you’re willing to pay should be based on what your company thinks the position and/or person is worth, not what they used to make. I really wish salary ranges on job postings were more transparent. It would save so many people time and frustration.

    3. I'm Not Phyllis*

      I agree with you, but I think many companies will hesitate to start a new employee off at the top of their salary range.

    1. Laurel Gray*

      Oh, amd also, there are great quotes in that thread.

      “I think I would consider getting to ride a unicorn to work part of the overall compensation package.” – Kristoff

      “They live on rainbow sprinkled cupcakes – so relatively cheap to feed.” – Jamie

      “Yes, because passion for the job pays the rent. Your manager is an idiot.” – Mike C.

      “An executive level member of my division (about 500 people at a large hospital) told us at a gathering that if we were coming to work for the paycheck, we were doing it for the wrong reason.” – Anonymous

      1. INFJ*

        Ha! Love that last one. Yes, hopefully there is something everyone can find to like about their job besides the paycheck, but being paid IS the primary reason!

      2. stellanor*

        If everyone at my employer who was coming in for the paycheck quit today they’d have about 20 people left tomorrow. Out of tens of thousands.

      3. LQ*

        I think there is a way the last one can be done that can make sense. Sort of a we aren’t the best paying gig in town and we know it but we think we have other reasons why you want to be working here, check out our great benefits, or the good things we do, or whatever. (This is ok imo if the pay is slightly low, but not ok if it is very low, that’s just jerky.)

    2. James M*

      Yeah, baloney. I’m a professional with a unique skillset, a hard person to find and recruit, with a clear expectation of salary. I’ve been on the hiring side of the equation enough that I could look any manager in the eye and say “you know I’m not doing this just for my health” and mean it. I’m going to know what they are offering before I even returned the call, let alone got as far as an in-person interview, and it’s either a lateral move with some real perks added, or it’s an increase, or else it’s unprofessional for me or for them to continue the conversation.

      Not everyone starts in a place where they can put this stake in the ground without being seen as arrogant, but my time really is worth what I ask for it, and I can’t imagine anyone wanting me to work for them who doesn’t firmly realize that.

  3. Revolver Rani*

    I think I have mentioned this before, but my current job (of more than 6 years now) was a career-change from a notoriously high-paying field to a considerably more modestly-paying one. During the interview process the hiring manager asked me about my salary expectations and said something like “I’m sure you know we can’t pay you anything close to what you are probably making now?”

    I said that I’d researched the going rate in the new field and knew what the cut was likely to be for me, “but I am committed to this career change for [reasons].” In the end the offer she gave me was even a bit more than I was prepared to take – it was still close to a 50% cut for me but I had managed to convince her I that I had considered this and meant it.

    I guess the takeaway is what AAM said – you can’t assume that your continued participation in the process signals that you are ready and willing to take the pay cut when you change jobs. You have to be explicit about it if you want to reassure them that you aren’t a bad investment or a flight risk. It’s very uncomfortable to talk about salary, but it may be necessary to say, “I’m aware I’m taking a substantial pay cut and I’m willing to consider that because…” And I think you can do this without necessarily precluding negotiation.

    1. MK*

      I think that when the discrepancy is huge the candidate is less likely to have the OP’s problem. If you are changing careers and everyone knows the field you are leaving pays twice as much as the one you are trying to go into, everyone assumes you have done the math and know what you are getting into with the lifestyle change. But if it’s an issue of losing the money that currently pays for your luxuries, they wonder if you really realise what it will mean and whether you might resent the downsizing eventually.

    2. Green*

      I interviewed for jobs paying only 25-30% of what I was making (leaving big-law), when I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to do non-profit, government, in-house or another law firm. I typically said that I would accept “a competitive [non-profit/in-house/government/regional law firm] scale salary” to let them know I was cognizant of the pay differentials. That said, I did decline a job due to salary.

      1. Bend & Snap*

        My friend I mentioned above left big law and went to work for the government. He loooooooves it.

    3. Dee Dee*

      “Flight risk” is a bit of a tired cliche, no?

      I get what it conveys, but I think we can either devise a new phrase or tease it out a little bit…IMHO, reductive terminology leads to reductive thinking, and there’s far too much of that in the recruitment/hiring sphere. I digress….

      I do agree that you should be explicit and upfront about acknowledging a salary cut. If the employer still chooses to pass on you despite you taking the time to research, mull over, and openly discuss what is a tough issue for a lot of people, they aren’t worth working for.

      Personally, I’d appreciate anyone who would be forthright and address an issue like this head-on, as to me it signals they are 1) committed to the particulars of the job and 2) understanding of the necessity for difficult workplace conversations. The latter quality seems to be in short supply in the professional world these days, and often misunderstood among those who profess to be able to employ it.

      I’m on the verge of re-entering the competition for a job that’s across the country and will have to be upfront about accepting what is essentially a salary cut, as a lower than anticipated range is why I pulled out of the running in the first place. Kinda sucks that the org in question exists in a city with an astronomically higher cost of living than my current locale, but given that it’s a competitive field that rarely has openings and this position carries the possibility to “bigly” enhance my network, it might be worth it.

      Generally, I advise pulling out of job searches if the pay is below market rate and/or the org tries to get cute by hiding figures and talking about how great the workplace culture is; that said, if it’s something that has the potential to move your career forward, learn what you can live on while being able to put a little bit away for savings, do everything you can to meet and exceed the job role, find ways to innovate while serving in the position, and add to your connections.

  4. PEBCAK*

    I can’t figure out why the HR person said what they did, especially after offering the job to another candidate. That’s the weirdest part of this whole letter to me.

    1. neverjaunty*

      That and the two-week silence makes me think maybe this was an employer that was planning to lowball the OP all along.

      1. LQ*

        Weirdly I think this might have been lets hope our second choice says no so we can go back internally and say look we really do need more money because our first choice costs more and no one else was acceptable.

      2. MK*

        Why? The OP doesn’t even say the salary was low for the position. If they wanted to lowball her, they would have offered her the job with the low salary.

  5. Kittyvscupcake*

    I really feel like everything they tell you about negotiating salary as a job seeker ends up getting derailed by these processes companies create: forcing you to disclose current salary in application process, not budgeting well enough for a position to begin with, and oftentimes compensating higherups above their actual work value to
    the organization. I now look for jobs that
    are very transparent about their salary
    offerings so I don’t waste my time and stress out about my worth being devalued.

    1. stellanor*

      I’m applying for jobs internally right now, and at my company, salary is determined by job ranking. Because I’m internal I can see the official job level as well as the bare title and the job description.

      I cannot tell you how many job listings I’ve seen that go like:


      Responsibilities: what you’d expect from a Teapot Engineer II.

      Requirements: 5-7 years experience.

      So basically they want a Senior Teapot Engineer but they only have enough money to hire a Junior Teapot Engineer so they’re trying to hire someone with Senior Teapot Engineer skills for Junior Teapot Engineer pay.

      Yesterday I had a meeting with someone who was doing this (he snuck it in by not mentioning it was an hourly position, when salary is typical for that title) and I should have said something but I just told him it didn’t sound like it was the right fit.

      1. Anna*

        I get the feeling some of these are recruiters or hiring managers who haven’t quite caught on to the change in the economy. It’s not as robust as it was, but people have a lot more options than they used to.

  6. YouHaveBeenWarned*

    Great answer! On a related note, I am going to be applying for jobs next year and will almost certainly be facing a 50% or greater pay cut. In this field, everyone can tell what you earn just by looking at where you work and what level you are.

    Is this something that is going to hurt my chances of even getting interviewed? Like OP’s prospective employer, is everyone going to be afraid of me being dissatisfied with the new salary?

    1. Bostonian*

      I think this really depends on the field. I have some friends who are or have been lawyers at big law firms, and that fits your description of everyone knowing what you make by where you work and what level you are. But it’s pretty well understood that for a lot of people, working at a big corporate firm is something you do for a few years to pay off your law school loans and get some experience, and then you move on to something else. That something else is likely to pay half as much (or less), but the people hiring you may have made the same move or know plenty of others who have and probably won’t blink at it.

      This is probably true in certain types of consulting, too – no one is surprised when someone who has a high-paying job that’s 100% travel is willing to take a big cut to have something with more balance. But in some other fields this sort of job switch is a less common career path and may raise a few more questions.

  7. Wilton Businessman*

    I want you to be excited about my position, not settling for it.

    I think if you know you’re going into that situation, you’ve got to be very upfront that your situation has changed because of X, Y, & Z. Due to those changes you are looking for something in the A-B range. That’s not going to fly with everybody, but “Wow, that IS low” isn’t going to fly with anybody.

    1. Ann O'Nemity*

      I agree with this completely. Many hiring managers are going to assume that applicants are looking for similar or higher salaries than what they’re currently earning. If this isn’t the case, it’s the candidate’s responsibility to convince the hiring manager why they’d be happy with a lower salary.

  8. Gandalf the Nude*

    I feel like there’s a way to be a little more non-committal so as not to completely low-ball yourself if they do have wiggle room. Less of an “I’d be okay with this because of (reasons),” and more of an “I might be okay with this if (reasons).” I think that leaves the door more open to negotiating either the salary or the benefit/perk/whatever, or for them to bolster either of those before making an offer, or even just to tip them off that while their number’s not ideal it might still be acceptable.

  9. ChelseaNH*

    My current job offered less than my previous salary, but I told the internal recruiter that the schedule was appealing to me, so I was still interested. It was probably easier talking to the recruiter than the hiring manager. Fortunately, my company made an effort to bump the salary a little — still about $5K below my previous, but the schedule and the culture were worth the tradeoff.

  10. INTP*

    Not to say this whole process was fair to the OP, but I can also kind of see where the company was coming from. IME, pay cuts are kind of like long commutes – people say (and genuinely think) that they’re 100% fine with it when they’re excited about the job, but in the long run, they often aren’t. When they start to get dissatisfied with the job, annoyed with their boss, or disappointed at the size of their raise, they remember that they took a pay cut to work there and are more resentful about the hours or feel more entitled to a raise. If requirements change and the flexibility is reduced or the hours are increased, of course a person who took a pay cut for that flexibility and schedule is going to feel more screwed over than someone for whom it was a raise.

    I’m not saying the OP would do that and I know that many people take pay cuts and never look back (I’d wager that most of them went into new industries rather than just lower paying but equivalent companies). But I don’t think it was a totally out of left field or unfair move, especially if the candidate chosen was essentially equivalent to the OP in experience and fit.

    1. NickelandDime*

      Agreed. And I like the commute analogy. This has been discussed on this blog before. Everyone says they’re okay with certain things and once they get it…it’s not okay.

      1. Dee Dee*

        INTP, cheers and thanks for your input, but I think you’re making a few assumptions there, particularly “people say (and genuinely think) that they’re 100% fine with it when they’re excited about the job, but in the long run, they often aren’t”. Without hard data to back that up, it seems influenced more by negative bias (employers getting burned by a few people taking advantage of them) than objective reality. Which, listen, we all have our proclivities, and you’re certainly entitled to have yours—hiring decisions ought to be made with as much hard data as possible, though, and colored with a minimum of subjective input.

        Now, the scenario you present is certainly plausible, I won’t deny that. However, I think that realizing the job isn’t-what-you-thought-it-would-be-once-you-start-it dilemma kinda rings true for any job in general. Sometimes it’s because HR/the hiring manager isn’t entirely forthcoming about the unseemly parts of the role, sometimes employees withhold information during the interview process. Sometimes it even goes the other way and ends up being a job that exceeds your and your supervisor’s expectations.

        Not to say it isn’t a risk to consider both on the organization’s side and the job seeker’s side—it certainly is— my point is that risks such as these in the hiring process often get overstated, and can cloud recruiters’/hiring managers’/HR staff’s judgment.

        Perhaps the way to move forward, given the scenario you’ve outlined, is to discuss it candidly with a potential hire? Elsewhere on the comment board here someone suggested the importance of being forthright about taking a pay cut during the interview process. If I were a job seeker ready to take on a long commute and I was asked whether I’d considered the possibility that I wouldn’t like it by an interviewer, or if I felt comfortable enough to discuss that with the person interviewing me, I’d feel a hell of a lot better about the transition.

  11. Ad Astra*

    This whole thing would bother me less if the company had asked for the OP’s desired salary range and felt there was a mismatch. Instead, they asked her current salary, which is really none of their business, and then made a bunch of assumptions with that information. Ick.

  12. Dan*

    So here’s what I’d like to know… the OP starts with this: “She gave me a salary number, and I think it was the highest of their range. I said, “Oh, it’s that low” ”

    Then she says this:

    “I was prepared to take a pay cut (about $15K less at the highest end of the range) because the perks of the job (travel, work from home, generous time off) and the experience I’d gain greatly outweighed the pay cut I’d take.”

    The question I have, is at what point was the later clear to the OP? Was it after the “oh, it’s that low?” statement?. If the benefits were clear after the first statement, the onus is on the OP to make it crystal clear to the HM that the benefits outweigh the paycut.

    1. OP Here*

      Hi Dan,
      I’m the OP here and just to clear up the confusion, I wasn’t given a number until the in-person interview. At that time when she mentioned it, she didn’t specify where it was in their range, but I assumed it was at the top. That’s where I calculated the $15K pay cut. It could very possibly have been elsewhere in their range.

      I was thrown off my game when she mentioned the salary number because I had assumed since the HR contact knew my current salary, then it must be somewhat doable since they pushed me to the next round of interviews. We all know what happens when you assume…

    2. MK*

      It may not have mattered. The employer possibly caught on that comment as her spontaneous (and perhaps more sincere) reaction.

      1. OP Here*

        I forgot to add that the benefits weren’t discussed in more detail until after my “oh, it’s that low” comment. I learned how extensive the benefits were later on in the in-person interview. I usually have a better poker face (and responses), but I was really comfortable talking to this person and let myself be a little too honest with the comment.

        Facing a pay cut that large, it takes a bit more time than in just an interview to decide if it’s worth it. I let it sink in a few hours later, but my initial reaction was shock and unfortunately I let that show. Only when I later did the pros/cons did I realize it was doable.

        1. Chriama*

          So it sounds like you weren’t really planning to take a pay cut, but realized after thinking about it and hearing about the benefits that you were willing to make it work — and then didn’t communicate that to them. I get not wanting to name your price early, but I think your initial reaction made it very clear that that they couldn’t afford you, and the onus was on you to convince them otherwise. I think in the future you can make a non-commital sign of agreement (‘ok, is that the top of your range?’ or, ‘given what I’ve heard about the job so far I think it’s reasonable’) in the moment. You can always come back to them after the offer and negotiate — it’s all in the phrasing.

          1. OP Here*

            Agreed! Again, it was the initial shock of how much lower the salary was and it did take me some time after the in-person interview to think it through and figure out that I could make it work. I do think I could’ve tailored my thank you emails more to to make it very clear that I could work with that salary. My fear was that I’d set the number I heard in the interview in stone and would have zero room for negotiation (even for a couple thousand) if they offered me the job. I’m going to remember your phrasing if there’s a next time. ;)

  13. I'm not a lawyer but ...*

    I was on the employer side last year and fought with the panel to hire an internal candidate who should have known exactly where she would land on the payscale. We took so long arguing that she took a different similar position to avoid a lay off. When she saw her new net pay amount she hit the circuit again and was gone in a month. It’s really hard on both sides.

  14. BookCocoon*

    I had a similar situation where I was turned down for a job because they thought it was below me, talent-wise, and they thought I wouldn’t enjoy it. I was trying to get a job on the campus where we live for my husband’s job and applied for what was essentially an office manager position in one of the departments, work that I had done (not that long) before and genuinely enjoyed. I got to the final stage and then they said the work was below me and I should find something else. I was so angry that they’d tried to make that decision for me, presumably because they thought I was either lying or that they knew better than I did what kind of work would fulfill me. I then ended up getting a job as an office manager in a different department on campus, which I loved and did happily for two years until I got promoted after a coworker left.

    Shortly after I took the office manager job, the first department had an opening for a slightly “higher” position that I had zero interest in and they reached out to me basically saying, “OK, we have a job worthy of you now, will you quit this job you just started to come work for us now?” I took great pleasure in telling them that I loved my current job and was not at all interested in the type of position they had open.

    1. AnonPi*

      Good for you getting a better job!
      I had a very similar conversation in an interview about two weeks ago. The main person it was for essentially accused me of lying about why I wanted the job and asked me what the truth was. (Of course this person has bias against admin work anyways, according to him its beneath anyone who’s been to college). But one of the things that infuriated me was arguing with me that instead I just need to go back to school and get a degree in programming since I work with data a lot? Totally out of left field that – to me doing data entry and managing your groups data/info records does not equate wanting to be a programmer. But yeah good part of the one on one with him was arguing about that, and moving back to admin work was a bad idea in his opinion. So while I need a permanent job, I’m not sad I didn’t get that one (I think we’d get on like oil and vinegar).

  15. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    It’s A Thing for people to take jobs for less than they bottom line want to make, swear they are satisfied with it, and then start pressure almost immediately (less than 6 months) to get a raise because “I used to make $XX at my previous job”.

    Because I am old, this has happened to me, or around me, many times. Most any hiring manager who has done this awhile will tell you the same thing and most of us are gun shy to repeat. The situation can devolve into resentment, on both parties halves, pretty quickly.

    It doesn’t mean that we’d never hire someone for less than what they were making previously, but it does mean we need to be well convinced that the potential hire really IS satisfied with the salary, pinkie swear, honest honest, or we’d rather pass. I’m not interested in borrowing trouble.

    1. OP Here*

      I absolutely can see that side of the picture, but my problem with this is that if that were the case, then I should have never made it to the second interview.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        I agree that extending the process after they’d already ruled you out would be a waste of everybody’s time.

        Now, in our world, you only went to one interview. We count them, phone screen, 1st interview, 2nd interview. It sounds as if they were using the in person interview to work through the salary question, and that weren’t ultimately satisfied that it wouldn’t be a stumbling block.

        I really sympathize with your frustration and I don’t know how to tell you to avoid it in the future. I suppose that with a time machine, you could go back to the 1st in person interview and make a more persuasive case about being just fine with a lower salary. The problem with that is then you’re possibly giving way negotiating power at final offer, so it’s tricky.

        And really, what if the people there know that not only would they only have a much lower salary to offer + low raises for years to come, too. I can certainly understand why you’d want to be involved in that conversation rather than have it decided for you off screen, so, sympathy.

      2. Bagworm*

        I hope this doesn’t come across as accusatory or disrespectful because it is genuinely just trying to understand. If I understand things correctly (which is why I’m looking to understand in case I’ve misunderstood something else), you would rather they made the assumption that you would not take their salary after the first interview (when, if I understood correctly there was no discussion of the salary, either yours or theirs) rather than bringing you in for a second interview and having a conversation about the difference and what things they might offer that would compensate for a salary reduction? Do you feel like it was disrespectful of your time or somehow dishonest if in the end they were going to make the assumption or was it something else?

        1. Bagworm*

          Ok. didn’t refresh. After Wakeen’s comment maybe I am misunderstanding and when you said a ” made it to a second, in-person interview”, it was the first-person interview but the second interview in total. I’m still not sure I’m understanding though what was wrong with having that conversation at an in-person interview but I don’t have a lot of hiring experience so maybe that’s it.

          1. OP Here*

            No worries, happy to clarify! I had a phone interview (what I’m calling a first interview) then I had an in-person interview (what I’m calling a second interview).

            I don’t feel the conversation about salary is wrong in either one (it’s always awkward no matter what), but I do feel if they felt strong enough to not even offer me the job because of my current salary, then I shouldn’t have moved forward from the phone interview. It was in the phone interview that they learned my current salary.

        2. OP Here*

          No, I don’t think it’s disrespectful or dishonest, but I do feel like it made the in-person interview somewhat a waste of my time (I only know that in hindsight, of course). In the phone interview, they asked my current salary, so they knew what I was making. If they felt I was too expensive, then they shouldn’t continue with me. Just like they weed out candidates for other reasons during a phone interview.

    2. I'm Not Phyllis*

      Wow really? If I take a job at a certain salary, I would never think of asking for an increase like that, in my first six months no less! I would expect (as long as my performance is satisfactory) to get “normal” increases – in line with what’s happening in the rest of the company – but not until after I’d been there at least a year.

      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        So many stories, over a period of years.

        One random one during the economic crash, qualified, intelligent woman, out of work takes $40k job with us after being laid off making 55K. We went through the yada yada that you do if you’re hiring somebody for that much less, including talking about the time range it takes to advance. She does well but with the learning curve we have, it takes about a year until people’s training period pays off for us.

        And, at 6 months it starts. Here are all of the things I have done in my career, I’m capable of so much more, I used to make 55k, etc. etc. We literally saw it coming and didn’t step out of the way, and here we were.

        We finally traded her off to another division in the company, not because she wasn’t capable but because both sides were getting resentful. She lasted a year there and then moved on to do what I don’t know (moved to a different part of the country).

        Another one, more recently, sincere song and dance (she believed it herself, I know she did) about how what was more important was all of our family friendly policies and absolutely ready to quit high power job so she didn’t have to travel, etc. She got a very high salary according to where we normally start and we created a job for her. She was very happy. Right up until the 8 month mark until a previous employer offered her a quite large salary to get back into the grind again and she did, virtually wasting the 8 months of salary we paid her because we had to completely abandon what she started for us, just trash it, as there was no one to run it.

        So. You can see why I say.

        1. I'm With Phyllis*

          Awful! I wasn’t doubting you … it just surprises me that people think that would work.

      2. Expat MENA*

        I have requested at the start of a contract that we revisit the salary once I’m there for 6 months and have 6 months of proven service. If I’m taking a pay cut then I want to come up ASAP so I would accept the offer with the caveat that we consider a raise once I’ve worked a little while. Though I would never take a major pay cut so it’s nominal and I work in agencies where I’ve gotten raises pretty much every 6-12 months for that past 5 years. You do billable work and you move levels, they gotta pay you more because you know how much more clients pay for you. Not exactly, but essentially.

        1. Expat MENA*

          Which reminds me that I need to talk about this in the Open Thread: who works in agencies? I’m a Digital Agency, Advertising Agency, Consultancy veteran. These agencies all blend together. I saw a question about raises where people say they never get raises and I’ve come up $40k USD over 5 years in agencies. In increments. I’m now an Associate Director and I know I’ll hit Director next year and will get another bump. A lot of this is job switching which is normal as well in my industry but because that’s the norm then you get at least yearly raises to retain talent.

        2. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

          That’s a great example, doing billable work and having the 6 month agreement at the onset. I like things that are that (relatively) clear cut. You come in, you kick ass, you show it with your billables and then time to negotiate.

          We don’t have any jobs that model like that.

    3. Emily H.*

      I’m curious, if you’d be comfortable answering — how does cost of living factor into that? I currently am living in New York City and trying to relocate, and mid-career jobs in my field in cheaper areas of the country typically pay $10,000-20,000 less than I’m making now. But I suspect I would have a higher standard of living making $15K less in a cheaper part of the country (Normally I spend some time before applying for a job looking at apartment listings and such, to get an idea of affordability). Are hiring managers looking at my current salary (which is often a required field on local government job applications) and expecting that I’m going to want a salary way higher than what was posted?

      1. Wakeen's Teapots, Ltd.*

        I can only say for us and for us we’d understand the differential (I don’t have experience with how other hiring managers think about things like this, other than what I read here).

        We’re suburban Northeast. Working in NYC, you’d make 10% to 20% more than prevailing salaries down here and we’d get that. Working in other NE cities (right in the city), you’d make X% more, and we’d get that. So if someone were relocating to suburban town one over, we wouldn’t rule them out because of salary.

  16. Dr. Pepper Addict*

    “That’s lower than I currently make, but I would have to view the offer in full context, taking into consideration all of the other factors such as vacation time and health benefits.”

  17. Searching*

    I ran into something similar recently with an internal position. I had no clue that even though it was the exact same grade level, because it was a different role, the pay scale was significantly lower that of my current role. Neither the hiring manager nor the internal recruiter mentioned this to me. I went through multiple rounds of interviews, which I thought went really well, but was turned down. When I asked for feedback afterwards, I heard about the salary discrepancy. While they might have been able to offer something closer to (or even at) my current salary level, they expected I would not be happy in the long term as I basically would not be eligible for any raises. I wish they had been more transparent with me and asked me about my expectations. The hiring manager later told me he “assumed I knew” about the difference. I never thought to ask, because it was the same grade level. A lot of miscommunication all around. Hard lesson learned.

  18. happymeal*

    This is interesting to me. Recruiting is a large function of my job, and I’ve always directly asked candidates with current salaries outside of our range if they are comfortable with the specifics we can offer. I hate to rag on LW, but it makes me wonder how shocked they came off with the “Oh that’s low” comment.

  19. Jo*

    This is one situation where being a little vague could go a long way. At the point where you both realized the difference between your current salary and what they had in mind, you could have said something like, “With other benefits and perks in the mix, I wouldn’t necessarily need a new employer to match my current salary,” and/or, “I realize you may not be able to match what I’m making now, but I’m still interested and would be willing to work with you to come to a number that makes us both happy.”

    That way you let them know you aren’t scared off, you’re willing to take a pay cut for them, but you don’t imply satisfaction with any specific number they’ve mentioned. It tells them they’re not barking up the wrong tree, but leaves the door open to negotiation.

  20. I'm Not Phyllis*

    Oh man that sucks. I had the same fears when I was looking for work. I knew I’d be taking a pay cut, but realistically I couldn’t afford to take THAT much of a pay cut. So what I did was to spend some hard time with my budget and figure out exactly what I could live with without putting myself into serious trouble. I came up with being able to lose about $10K. But even then, I heard a lot of companies (actually – every single company that I interviewed with) telling me it was slightly higher than what they had in mind. Even my current employer wavered on it a bit. I made sure to tell them that I was very interested in the organization and encouraged the negotiations along, but I did make it clear that my salary expectations were final. In the end, they actually ended up offering me about $3K more than my salary expectation, so pay cut really wasn’t that bad (actually, I barely even notice the difference in my take-home pay because the benefits, etc. are different).

    I think it’s really important to figure out what you’re comfortable with and what your lifestyle/budget will reasonably allow and go from there. You can suggest a salary that’s higher, but know what your bottom line is. That’ll make it easier to negotiate because if they come back with something lower, you can say “actually, that will work very well with my budget, and I would definitely consider something in that range particularly with your company because xyz.” It’s also really important to know the going rate for the industry for that position, with your experience.

  21. Anx*

    I had a situation where the employer thought the salary was too low for me.

    I have very little experience in the field I was trying to get into, but had about 10 years of work experience in general. I had a B.S. which was not required for the job. I actually hesitated to apply because the pay was a big leap (25,000). I got through an interview which I thought I did really well during (I know, I know….). Well, I guess I did too well because I was rejected with a brief explanation that I’d be bored in the role and an allusion to the fact that there was no room in the budget to pay me more. I thought maybe they were just trying to let me down nicely and that I’d actually bombed the interview, but there was a lot of small positive feedback during it, including “that’s probably the best answer we’ve ever heard”. There are plenty of reasons I could have been rejected and maybe it had nothing to do with boredom or pay, but I am concerned that they assumed I’d want a higher paying job, maybe because I had a B.S. (which they knew about from my application) and seemed really insightful and thoughtful about what was admittedly a somewhat boring job, and drew from experiences that were admittedly far more exciting and challenging (but were not anything I could do full-time or even at all after college).

    What do you think I could do in an interview to hit a sweet spot of seeming competent and bright and enthusiastic without going overboard? Especially since I have minimal experience and don’t actually think my interviewing skills are any good to begin with?

  22. AnonPi*

    I just had a recruiter call me this week about a position I’d applied for to make sure I understood the nature of the job (he considers it low-middle admin work) and if I’d be ok with the pay range they’re wanting to offer since he assumed it would be a lot below what I currently make. Thankfully the pay range would only mean maybe a 1-2K paycut if I get the high end of it (which is actually the high end of their “middle range” they shoot for when offering jobs – he said that if offered he’d try to get me to my current salary). I told him that the upper end of their range fits with what I’ve been looking at, and finding that out early on was really helpful, and he said he appreciated the feedback. I also threw in that I would be taking into account their benefits which are a lot better than what I currently have, and would probably make up for a small pay cut. So seemed like that answered his concerns about that and should have an interview soon. I fear I’ll probably have to address this again in the interview stage, hopefully it’ll go as easily there.

  23. Expat MENA*

    I was in a similar situation this summer. Agency was planning to hire 2-3 of my role and I interviewed after the first team member was hired. The range was originally 20k-25k local currency a month but they got the first team member for 23k a month. I was making 25k a month and stated that that was what I wanted. But because they got 1 person for less they adjusted their expectations for salary.

    They then made a huge mistake and told the recruiter that I had a lot more xyz experience and abc experience than she does so they wanted to hear more about that in the 2nd interview. I obviously wasn’t going to accept the lower salary knowing this now! And I told the recruiter that. I then had the second interview and it went great and a week later I was told by the recruiter that I was too expensive. They never offered but I had been told I was the frontrunner and the feedback was that I cost too much.

    At first I was upset because I really was interested… but then I was glad. I would have been bitter to accept less money. Or to bother negotiating when it would go nowhere. I would have expected a raise within 6 months and would have asked for that in my contract and would have been overall annoyed to make the same as someone I knew I had more experience than. So it was for the best. I can see why a company would want to prevent this. You don’t want to start a relationship already bitter. Maybe you wouldn’t have been but a lot of people would be.

  24. Bagworm*

    I just had a couple of thoughts that I hope might add some value to the conversation.

    First, not to belabor the point but, please, please, please can’t we have employers be more transparent with their salary information (and really everything a job seeker needs to know to evaluate an opportunity). More than three years ago I had an interview for an IT position at an engineering firm. They were absolutely AMAZING. Even though I didn’t get the job, their behavior made such an impression that when my new employer was getting ready to bid some new engineering projects (at least two years later), I mentioned my experience. I know nothing about engineering so I genuinely couldn’t provide any information related to the quality of their work but because of my experience, the PTB did look into the firm (which they weren’t previously familiar with, the firm’s relatively new to our market) and based on what they learned decided to solicit proposals from them. I’m not trying to take any credit (they are the ones who did good work and my employer did their due diligence) but that engineering firm’s now had more than $10 million in work that they may have never even heard about if not for treating their job applicants respectfully. You truly never know who’s watching what in your business.

    Second, I am a person who took a pay cut to get out of a toxic environment and was job hunting within months. I worked really hard at determining what my true bottom line was but I’m evidently not as self aware as I’d like to be because that pay cut was way, way harder to take than I had anticipated. (Of course, I thought it would be worth it for the health benefits of leaving the toxic workplace but it’s two and a half years later and I still haven’t extricated myself entirely from FormerJob. Boy can dysfunctional relationships be hard to leave.) On the plus side, although my boss couldn’t do anything about the salary (and I didn’t ask or expect them to), they were able to work with me on making the job better in some other ways and I am still pretty happily here.

    Finally, I don’t want to pick on not-for-profits but I do think this is a problem that may be more frequent in their sector. I’ve sat on committees for hiring a variety of levels at a mid-sized not-for-profit (ok, I get all the political and legal and maybe even grammatical reasons to call them not-for-profits but I can’t take it anymore so I’m saying nonprofits – now where were we? Oh yeah, hiring for nonprofits…) and it was not uncommon at all for applicants coming from for-profit jobs to be looking at a pay cut (especially at a place that was wacky enough to expect CPAs for ALL members of the finance department even if you only ever did data entry and filing). It’s so important to clearly communicate the reasons you are willing to take a pay cut to work at the nonprofit because people who have never worked in the sector sometimes can have some misconceptions (just like with any industry one’s not familiar with). One of the most common things we heard was people were looking for a better work-life balance. Well, turns out for-profit businesses do not have a monopoly on working their employees into the ground. Of course, the bad places are just as likely as any other sector/industry to lie about the realities of their workloads (and other things). Hopefully, if you’re super clear on why you find it reasonable (or, hopefully even appealing) to take a new job that includes a pay cut, you will be better prepared to do your digging and make sure you’re actually getting what you think you are in return for that decrease in financial compensation.

  25. ReanaZ*

    Yeah, I can definitely see your frustration, but agree with other commenters that the onus is on you to convince an employer a paycut is not a problem. I wouldn’t necessarily rule someone out because of a pay discrepancy, but a pay discrepancy plus an “Oh, that’s low.” comment? Yeah, probably. I mean, I’m a fan of transparent communication, and even I find that pretty blunt in an interview situation. (Something like “Oh, that’s a bit lower than I expected.” would make me feel there’s more room for negotiation. Personally when I’ve been in such situations, I’ve gone with something more neutral, like just a “Hmm.” or “Thanks for letting me know–I’ll think about it.”)

  26. OP Here*

    Yep, like I said, cringing when I play back the conversation in my mind with the comment. This is my first experience with with trying to get a job at a lower salary, so I’ll be better armed with my response next time!

  27. Rocky*

    Oh this must have been such a blow, OP! I just came through a process where my recruiter, a lovely but not-so-organised chap, was selling me to the hiring manager at my salary from several raises ago. When he called me with their offer I couldn’t help sounding disappointed. Luckily when I explained his mistake he went straight back and they were able to match my current salary. I knew that I would have moved even for the pay cut (awful toxic environment at current job, started looking within six weeks of arriving. *shudder*) so when they met me at my current salary I was elated.

    1. James M*

      I once went through the whole gamut of a complex interview process for an automobile manufacturer, which I won’t name, but they go by the initials “GM”. It was all very promising and I got a great reception from everyone I met. They made me an offer, which was such an incredibly low figure that I wasn’t even willing to try to negotiate from there. I mean it was downright insulting — far, far less than the salary I was being recruited away from. When the HR person contacted me with this “great” news, I was speechless. I might have been prepared for an “almost lateral” move, but this wasn’t anywhere near that. I don’t remember how I dealt with it. I think I just quietly rejected the offer without trying to explain. It was on the order of 65-70% of what I was making already. Not even in the ballpark of the local market for my profession. It feels bad to have burned a bridge, because I doubt that I will ever get another chance to turn down that particular company, but what else could I have done? They offer entry-level fresh-grad salaries for mid-career professional roles? I’ve been on the talent acquisition side of that equation enough to realize how hard it is to attract and retain talent and the ballpark of salary ranges in certain locations, and I found it hard to believe that they didn’t know exactly what they were saying with that “offer.”

  28. Dealtwiththis*

    I totally had this experience a couple of years ago when I was looking to get back into the non-profit field from Biglaw. I was terrified to tell them my current salary because I knew they would think that I wouldn’t be willing to take a lower salary. When they asked for salary in the interview, I flat out told them that I was afraid to answer because I was worried that it would place me out. They responded with “Ok, how about we tell you what we can do?” They gave me the number and I said that it was good. Then, at the end of the interview I used Allison’s advice and asked “Do you have any concerns about me or see any gaps in my resume that I can answer?” I’m so glad I asked that too because the interviewer responded with “Well, I’m concerned that you won’t be happy with the salary and also that you will be bored”. That gave me the opportunity to reiterate why I wanted to work there, that I knew it was a sacrifice but it was a sacrifice that I was willing to stick with long term etc, etc. I was later offered the job and have been here two fantastic years! For what it’s worth, within a year I was offered a large promotion. :) I am so sorry that this happened to you and I hope this advice might help in the future.

    1. OP Here*

      This is fantastic advice and thanks for the feedback! That’s a great idea to be upfront and tell them why you don’t want to disclose your current salary. I like how it turned everything around. Glad it worked out for you!

  29. Anonymous Educator*

    I was told that they offered the position to another candidate, but they wanted me to know that they thought I’d be a perfect fit and tried to “work something out.” I’m guessing they tried to up the salary, perhaps?

    I wouldn’t beat yourself up about this too much. There are a lot of factors involved in hiring and, more importantly, there can be a lot of inputs, even if only one person ultimately makes the official decision. You could have had someone pulling for you or even several people. You don’t know for sure (at least based on the information you’ve provided in the letter here) that you were the absolute far beyond the rest best candidate, and that they’re settling for #2. The #2 candidate may be just fine, and when they were weighing things out thought “OP is pretty amazing, but #2 is also amazing in these other ways… and #2 will seem happier with our salary.” Not necessarily that the salary would be the only or even primary reason to pick #2 over you, OP, but that it’d be another contributing factor.

  30. brownblack*

    I am going through a job application process right now (fingers crossed) and I am so glad they listed the salary range, plain as day, in the initial posting. It’s been my experience that certain types of organizations – universities for example, or large nonprofits – are more forthcoming about this.

  31. James M*

    I had it happen recently where a person I know well aggressively recruited me, tried to get me to leave a very comfortable job to come work for his company, and I went through the interview process and didn’t get the job (even though they were *aggressively* recruiting *me*, trying to create a position for me specifically, and not “filling a headcount.”)

    I haven’t really processed the experience yet (“recently” means “today”). I’ve been turned down for jobs before, but never for one where I was recruited by the person I’d be reporting to, who knows my skillset and compensation range very well, having worked with him closely. He wasn’t able to get me past his exec decision maker, and I don’t know how honest they were as to the reasons.

    I guess it’s most frustrating because they recruited me — I didn’t go to them asking for a job — intentionally or not, misled me through a perfucntory interview process — and then rejected me for silly reasons. I’m pretty sure they are not being honest about the reasons, and this experience has cost a bit of the respect I had for the colleague who recruited me.

  32. Tia*

    As a hiring manager, I can say exactly why I would have not offered the position to this candidate. She/he specifically said, “Oh it’s that low.” There’s a lot of information in that one phrase.

    Most candidates don’t realize how expensive it truly is to recruit, hire, and train them. Hiring someone that you know is being underpaid (in their mind) is such a significant risk that no smart employer would ever take it. That’s like shooting yourself in the foot. Someone underpaid will always be so, even with raises.

    Not only that, I think the candidate is more annoyed by not being offered the job – a source of pride – than not having the job in the first place. Everyone wants to feel in control. But no one should knowingly take a job in which they truly feel underpaid. They should either change their mindset and say, “This is truly the value of this role,” or move on to something higher paying.

    I gave my sister this advice, which WORKED for her. She was very fearful of telling her prospective employer how much she wanted to make. I suggested that she move past that fear. At the end of the day, we work for MONEY. And when that money isn’t enough, we feel bad, it impacts our performance, and it kills us inside. That is no way to live.

    So, she bit the bullet and asked for what she wanted. She explained that it was the lowest she could work for, that she felt she was worth it and why, etc. And you know what? They gave it to her.

    1. OP Here*

      Thanks for your feedback, Tia. I really appreciate getting insight from a hiring manager. I 100% agree that I shot myself in the foot when I commented that the pay was so low. I was way too comfortable in the interview and shouldn’t have said that.

      However, I don’t agree with your comment about it being about pride. I absolutely wanted that job. I didn’t want them to offer it to me, so I could turn it down. I still check their website from time to time to keep updated because the work they do made an impression on me. The perks were great, the job was great, but the pay wasn’t. They weren’t willing to pay for my skill set and experience, so they went with a less-experienced hire.

      I’m not sure about the “this is truly the value of this role” statement because I think that comes with the person in some cases, not the position. I would expect someone with a higher skill set and greater experience would be paid more than someone who doesn’t have as many skills and experience. Although I do realize in my situation, it was a matter of being overqualified for that particular role in the first place, so maybe that was the role’s value.

      In the end it worked out. Not getting this job inspired me to approach my current position with a new vision. I spoke with my boss, made a proposal for some changes in my role, and he agreed. A few months later, I received a significant raise to support my growing role / new job duties. So you’re right, we work for money and no one should be afraid to speak up with how much they want / deserve to make, whether that be with a prospective employer OR a current employer.

      Lesson learned on “Things You Shouldn’t Say in an Interview” though. :)

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