an employer asked me the lowest salary I’d accept, rejected me, and then refused to keep talking

A reader writes:

This is a puzzler for me: I recently had a third party recruiter get me in touch again with the hiring manager of a position I had applied and interviewed for but got passed over for earlier this year. I was excited for the second chance since this was my dream company, albeit this time it was gonna be contract to start. And even though they found out I had interviewed previously, they still phone screened me and had me come in for another face to face, and I believe and felt it went well.

Then the third party recruiter calls me early on a Monday the week after, to confirm my lowest salary number, then later that morning emailed me that he will get back to me. When I replied with my thank you, I got his out of office message, which was until Wednesday. I was excited and waiting patiently, heard nothing back for those days, but then on Thursday, he emails and says he has mixed news: that they me really liked me and wanted me on their team, but for some reason, their budget wasn’t there for a variety of factors and they can’t even come close to my minimum and that he didn’t want me to take less than I’m worth. He was glad to have worked with me and still hopes to in the future, and hopefully the dream company I just interviewed for has the budget in the future, and to let him know if he can do anything for me. I email back immediately to see if there was anything else we can do and I reiterate I am negotiable, and hear nothing back.

Was there anything else I could do? I can’t help feel that my opportunity got botched somehow since if they really liked me, I was willing to find out what their number was. I felt it would be weird to contact the hiring manger directly, since the times I’ve sent him thank-you emails for speaking with me (the first time around I got his email from their in house recruiter) he’s never responded.

Ugh, this is exactly why candidates fear giving out the salary range they’re looking for, and especially naming a bottom number.

On the company’s side, though, they asked for your minimum salary, you gave it, and they know that they’re really far away from that. It’s not unreasonable for them to have believed that that was really the minimum you’d accept, and to conclude that your numbers were just too far away from each other.

Even if you could have agreed on some lower number after that, it’s not unreasonable for companies not to be excited about hiring someone at a salary far below what the candidate wanted … because they want people who will feel good about their salaries, and they don’t want to worry that they’re going to lose you over pay in six months.

Really, the problem is that they asked you for your lowest number in the first place — because not only is it a rude and intrusive question, but the reality is that candidates often aren’t really giving their lowest number even when they say they are. When you gave that number, you might have genuinely felt that it was the lowest you’d go … until you found out that they wouldn’t meet it, at which point you realized you might be willing to entertain a lower offer anyway. But of course, by that point, they’d been told it was the lowest you’d go. Other times, candidates know from the start that they’d go lower but aren’t inclined to share that because they don’t want to lowball themselves. Either way, it’s a clusterfudge of a question that puts candidates in a really bad position and leads to all sorts of bad outcomes — this being one of them.

They could have avoided this whole thing by telling you their range and asking if it worked for you, or by just making a fricking offer and letting you decide at that point.

So, is there anything that you can do now? Probably not. You already emailed the recruiter back to say your number was negotiable and he hasn’t replied — which means they’ve moved on, or they know their number is so far below yours that it really doesn’t make sense to try to work it out. (And again, there’s logic in that. If you said your lowest number was $80,000 and the absolute top of their range is $50,000, they’d reasonably assume that it won’t work out — or that if it did, you’d be a flight risk.)

But in the future, if you get questions about the lowest salary you’d accept, I’d handle them differently. If you happen to have a figure that you know is truly the bottom limit of what you’d accept (meaning you would definitely walk away if the offer came in lower) and which wouldn’t feel like a lowball to you if that’s what they offered, then sure, go ahead and tell them “I wouldn’t be able to take it for less than $X.” But otherwise, I’d start responding to that question this way: “I don’t really want to discuss salary in terms of the lowest possible number I’d accept, obviously. I’m looking for a range of around $X-Y but it depends on the rest of the package and benefits.” Or you could even replace that last sentence with “If you tell me the range you’re planning on, I can tell you if it would work on my end” (but some recruiters will insist you name numbers, so whether that will work will vary).

{ 99 comments… read them below }

  1. Anna*

    Salary is such a pain. I just filled out an online application that asked me for my current salary. I refused to give it. I entered zero. The reason is because where I work is so far below the minimum range for the work I do, and it’s none of their business what I make. The people hiring should be providing that information; not the person applying.

    I’m sorry this happened, OP. It’s obnoxious and it means the hiring manager is probably missing out on a lot of good applicants.

    1. anonderella*

      I think that’s an interesting approach! I have zero experience in salary negotiation; can you tell more about how the conversation might go, say when the potential employer gets back in touch with you re: putting zero for your current salary, while still listing that you are employed?
      (geez, hope that weirdly crafted sentence made sense..)

      1. Anna*

        I have no idea yet! This was the first time I’ve tried this. I wanted to make a note somewhere that said I would be willing to discuss salary at such time as I had an offer, but there wasn’t really anywhere to do that. We’ll see if makes a difference or not. :)

      2. Joseph*

        I don’t think it would raise a lot of immediate red flags on the initial application. Kinda of like the people who put all zeros as their SSN.
        If they follow up and contact you to ask (or ask in the interview), then you *do* need to give some kind of an answer for your salary. But then you’d be actually talking to someone, so you have more room for either explaining your number or even talking your way out of it.
        >You didn’t want to list current salary because your current salary isn’t representative of your skills due to reasons [company in financial troubles / salary freeze / etc].
        >You are looking for a salary of $X to $Y. This sort of evades the whole question of “what do you make now” while still giving them the actual information they need.

      3. all aboard the anon train*

        I’ve done it and no one’s ever brought it up in interviews. Usually they ask the standard, “What salary are you looking for?”. There’s only been a few who asked for my current salary – but they all did so without even mentioning that I put $0 as my current salary. My go to for that is, “I don’t feel comfortable discussing private and personal financial information, but the range I’m looking for is between $X – $Y.”

        1. Shannon*

          Alternatively, “My company treats that as confidential information. I’m looking for a range of X-Y.”

      4. Pwyll*

        The way I’ve handled this is to redirect the conversation to expectations rather than my past, especially if the role is different.

        “Can you tell me what you’re making in your current role?”
        “Well, my current role is in a markedly different industry. For this type of role in your industry, I’d be expecting a salary in the x to y range, depending on benefits and the like. Can you tell me a little about what type of benefits your offer?” The key is to end the sentence with a question, so that they’ll shift to answering it rather than just staring at you until you change your mind.

        One time the person pressed, “Thank you for that, but I really need to know how much you currently make.” I responded, “I’m sorry, my current employer considers its compensation structure to be confidential, but I can tell you I’d be looking for x to y.” When the recruiter pressed again, I said, “I’m sorry, I really don’t feel comfortable divulging information my company considers confidential. Can you tell me whether the range I’ve quoted is within your expectations?”

        To be clear, though, an employer can’t prohibit you from discussing your own salary. But that doesn’t mean they can’t consider it to be “confidential information”, even if they can’t have a policy preventing you from disclosing it.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, well done!

          On that last part: The NLRB only prohibits employers from stopping employees from discussing pay with each other; it doesn’t prevent prohibitions on discussing it with people outside the company.

          1. Pwyll*

            Whoops. You’re right, of course, about the NLRB. My head was in state law; some states (ahem, California) do prohibit employer restrictions on discussing employees’ own wages, even with those outside the company.

        2. Rincat*

          How can this conversation be handled if your salary is public information? I work for a state university so I can’t say that my salary is confidential, as it’s released every year on a website. Thanks!

          1. Pwyll*

            I’d probably go with one of two options: 1) anon train’s wording above: “I don’t feel comfortable discussing my personal financial situation, but I’d be looking for . . .” OR
            2) “As you know, I currently work at a public agency. So, while my current salary is $x, I would be seeking a salary of y to z were I to transition (back) to the private sector. Is that in line with your expectations?”

        3. IBikeNYC*

          I will never understand the point of refusing to tell someone ahead of time at least the minimum they would be paid for the job.

          It doesn’t matter to me at ALL that (as I was once told) “We can’t pay you more than the President’s secretary makes!” (I did end up working for the Vice President at that company) if I can’t — or WON’T — work for what you WILL pay!

          Don’t all those HR people get sick and tired of interviewing people only to learn, after ALL THAT TIME, that, no, they CAN’T just take the $20K now and “discuss an increase” in six months? Isn’t that an awful waste of company resources?

          (It reminds me of all those used cars with signs in the window that tell you EVERYTHING about the car except the one thing that most people buying used cars are interested in FIRST!)

    2. MillersSpring*

      I’ve done this. On ATS’s that require it, I’ve entered 10000 for every single past salary. And in phone screenings, I’ve answered the question “How much do you currently make?” with some variation of “I’m seeking a range of X to X, depending on benefits, etc.” One time after I restated that tack a third time, one young HR recruiter said “So you’re just not going to tell me your current salary? Why not?” Didn’t get an interview at that company, but no way was I going to tell them my personal salary details. It’s about how much I want to make and how much they want to pay.

      My current salary is a private matter between me, my employer and the IRS. And hey maybe one of the reasons why I could be interviewing is that I’m unhappy with my current salary.

      1. OhNo*

        Perhaps it’s not the most professional response, but I feel like if you got that question from the recruiter you might as well just be honest. “I’ve noticed that some companies prefer to base their offers off of previous salary, rather than what the work is actually worth, and I’d like to avoid that.”

        Maybe it would make them think twice about using that tactic next time. Doubtful, but you never know.

        1. College Career Counselor*

          I might have been tempted to ask the recruiter what her salary was–it’s just as nosy and about exactly as relevant.

        2. MillersSpring*

          It was like she’d been told to ask, and it had never occurred to her that anyone would stand firm and refuse to answer. It is none of their beeswax and I will not let an employer base their offer on my current salary.

      2. K*

        I had a very pushy interviewer like that once. After using statements like yours and redirecting the question, I got, “So you’re really not going to answer me?”. I felt really annoyed by that. I didn’t want to disclose because I knew my previous salary was higher than what they would be offering, and didn’t want to put myself out of the running. I was making a career change and needed to start at a lower position to gain experience. Even when I told interviewers that I knew it was a pay cut and explained my reasons, some would still have a hard time believing I would be happy with lower pay.

        Really there is no reason for a company to know what you made at another job. They know what they’re willing to pay for the position they’re hiring. If someone accepts that job at that pay, that more than likely means they’re fine with it. Sure there’s a chance they’re just accepting to get by until something better comes along, but that’s always a risk.

    3. Audiophile*

      This doesn’t always work unfortunately. A few weeks back, I was filling out an application and it would not let me put zero as my current salary or for previous salary. It forced me to put a number. My work around was to eventually put $100.00 as the salary.

      1. Anon1*

        I’d avoid putting in zero anyway; you never know who is going to look at that and assume you are currently unemployed and therefore consider you risky or lowball you.

        1. Mike C.*

          Why would they assume you’re unemployed when the work history section says, “Current Job – 20XX to Present”?

        2. Elsajeni*

          These applications usually aren’t asking for salary in isolation, but as part of the information block they ask for for each job you list — title, company, duties/accomplishments, start date, end date, and salary. So you’re not just saying “I currently make $0,” but “I’m currently employed at Teapots Inc. as a Senior Spout Analyst and my salary is $0,” which makes it more obvious that what you’re really saying is “… and I prefer not to tell you my salary.”

        3. HRish Dude*


          Please don’t take this as rude, but remember applications are read by actual sentient people with critical thinking abilities. When someone puts $1 or $0 for a salary, I’m not going to think it’s their salary. I’m going to think either a) they don’t remember and think that if they get it wrong, it might take them out of the running , b) it was an error, or c) they declined to state it.

        4. Audiophile*

          I don’t list my current position in applications, for a variety of reasons. I don’t want my current boss being contacted, I haven’t been in the job very long either. I haven’t really encountered many issues in interviews. I acknowledge that I’m currently working and no one has asked for more information beyond that.

          Most of these applications are funneled through an ATS system anyway, at least for large companies and this was a large corporation. I imagine putting $0 isn’t getting me kicked out by the ATS system. I’d rather put zero than be lowballed based on my current low non-profit salary.

      2. KH*

        While ATS systems are the devil, be very careful putting an extremely low number. Some recruiters could be using salary ranges to screen out candidates who are making much less or more than the company’s range. If presented with a lot of candidates, they might do so to screen out people they can’t afford and people who they assume are inflating their profile. The second screen is especially problematic but it happens…

        1. MillersSpring*

          Screening like these examples proves the statement that ATSs are the devil. :) Grrrr! If companies want to be jerks and screen out people they can’t afford, they should just state the salary range.

  2. Trout 'Waver*

    Given the huge disparity in power and information between a job applicant and the company, it is an aggressive and assholish move to make the applicant name a number first. Doubly so in the case of “What’s the lowest number you’d accept?”.

    1. BRR*

      It either means “we don’t want to waste anybody’s time” in which case the company should provide the range and let the candidate decide or “we want to offer you the lowest amount you’ll take” which is awful for so many reasons that I think we all already know. With bad policies like this, I always wonder about the people on the other side. How do so many people lose their humanity?

      1. LBK*

        I don’t think it’s about losing their humanity so much as it is about losing perspective. If you’ve been on the employer side of the hiring game for years and haven’t had to do it from the employee side in as long, I think it’s easy to lose sight of how things that make perfect sense to you internally might read to the candidate. Maybe that is a bit of losing your “humanity” insofar as it means you need to remember to constantly engage your empathy when hiring…but being the hiring manager isn’t an easy task either, so there’s fatigue, stress and frustration on both ends, and I think it serves candidates well to remember that as much as the employer.

        1. Trout 'Waver*

          I’m sorry, but the burden and risk is disproportionately on the candidate, and that needs to be remembered in the interaction.

      2. Roscoe*

        Yeah, I very rarely agree with management on hiring things like, but I get it. I think its valuable information to have, but just not presented the most tactfully.

      3. Anna*

        They would waste a lot fewer people’s time if they just stated what the salary is up front. There will be a few people out there who think they can negotiate for more if they get to that point, but it feels like looking at desirable candidates and then asking for their lowest salary means you’ll end up having to turn away more of them than if you were just choosing top candidates who stayed in knowing what you offer.

        1. BRR*

          It seems the most logical way to do it since most people work for money. It’s been talked about on here that candidates might see a range of $50-$60K and wonder why their offer is for $53K but a good manager should be able to explain why it’s $53K and what a $59K candidate looks like. My current position had a range of $5K and I was offered towards the lower end. They asked for 3-5 years experience and I had a little under 3, it’s not mysterious why I was offered on the lower end.

          1. Mike C.*

            Yeah, this really isn’t that difficult. I’ve always heard, “but people complain if you don’t give them the top of the range!!1!” but so long as you aren’t hiring children and you have a concrete rubric, things should be fine.

    2. Jesmlet*

      I’m curious if it was actually the recruiter who wanted the answer and not the company. Maybe he wanted to know which candidate to throw his weight behind more or if they might not have taken the offer because it was too low. Honestly, I’m just always very suspicious of third party recruiters because there’s always the ‘what’s in it for them?’ aspect to consider.

    3. Anon1*

      To me, that question isn’t assholish so much as it screams, “We’re a cheapskate organization, stay away from us!”

    1. Willis*

      Agreed! Assuming OP is not off base on what the market for the position is, than either the company can’t afford/isn’t willing to pay for what they want, or there is some discrepancy between the OP and the company in terms of what the job really is.

      If they’re not even close to what you considered your low end, this doesn’t sound like the right position for you, no matter who named a price first. You deserve to have a job you’re adequately compensated for, just as much as they deserve to have someone who’s excited to be there.

    2. Roscoe*

      I’d say so. I’ve worked at a couple of places that, for some people, would be considered a dream job. Since they were such popular places people wanted to work, they could afford to pay people a shitty salary. I loved my job, but wanted more money, so I left. But I was single and in my 20s. If I was married and childless, there is a good chance I would have stayed because I had enough diposable income

  3. Joseph*

    I’d guess the “minimum” OP salary was well off the range the company can afford. After all, if the salary difference was fairly small ($75k instead of $80k) and they wanted OP, they would have at least *attempted* to bridge the gap. Maybe they’d find the extra $5k, maybe they’d try to sell her on the other benefits, maybe it’s a promise to renegotiate in six months, maybe it’s just telling OP that they only have $75k available and cannot make up the difference. But regardless, they would have *tried*.
    The fact they didn’t even try is a pretty clear sign that the “minimum” salary wasn’t even close to what they can afford and/or what they think OP/job is worth.

    1. LBK*

      Agreed – I think normally if you’re in the $5k range, almost all employers will just give you their number anyway assuming that most people build a buffer approximately that size into their expectation. If they didn’t even want to keep talking, it’s gotta be at least in the 5-digit range.

  4. Amber T*

    Argh… this sucks OP, I’m sorry :(

    Asking for a straight salary number is just crappy, because there are so many other things to consider when taking a job… vacation time, 401k, health care, even commute! Did they not even offer a range, or a ballpark figure?

    1. Rusty Shackelford*

      My employer gives me a statement itemizing the value of my benefits (as in, your salary is X and your benefits are worth A, B, and C so your total salary plus benefits is worth Y). I wonder how other employers would take it if you answered that question with “The total value of my salary and benefits is Y.” After all, benefits are a huge part of the package, and could make up for a low salary (or detract from a good one).

      1. Wheezy Weasel*

        That’s a great statement to have, and I’ve shown it to a lot of soon-t0-graduate college students to help them understand the true value on how to compare jobs.

        I’m planning to do the same thing when my next job interview comes around and mention the tuition waiver at my current University if they balk at my under-market current salary. And I can’t put a price on being able to do some schoolwork from my desk during slow times, too!

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I wouldn’t do that — it comes across as game-playing and reasonably savvy interviewers will tell you to just give the salary number. Either give the number or don’t, but if you do you shouldn’t pad it like that.

        1. Chriama*

          I also think it’s not particularly effective. Especially in the US were health insurance is such a big deal, maybe your company says your insurance is worth x because that’s what they pay in employer premiums. But then the new companies pays higher premiums but has more expensive insurance for some reason. So they can say their insurance is worth 5k more than your current company’s but you wouldn’t be willing to take 5k less in salary for insurance that costs you more to use.

        2. The Cosmic Avenger*

          OK, so not including health insurance premiums and things like that, but I’ve gotten the same bonus for years, so when I’m evaluating salaries I consider that part of my annual income.

          What do you think? And what about 401(k) matching? That’s cash deposited in my account, not an expense they’re paying for me.

          1. BPT*

            I think a bonus should be included, but I’d phrase it as, “I make $X per year including bonus.” 401(k) matching isn’t something I’d include in that number, but is definitely something that should be taken into account when you get an offer.

            If you get the offer and hear benefits, and the 401(k) matching or other benefits are much lower than you currently have, then that’s the point where I’d say, “The benefits being offered are much less than I currently get, I was hoping we could [increase benefits] or [increase salary] to $X in order to be more in line with [my current compensation] or [market value for the job].”

      3. Colette*

        The financial cost of what vacation or health benefits is worth to me may not match the cost to the company, and some benefits may be irrelevant. For example, my last employer donated $X for every Y hours I volunteered with a non-profit. That was worth a lot to me, but would be worth $0 to someone who doesn’t regularly volunteer.

        Plus company A may value vacation at $X but company B values the same amount of vacation at 2*$X, because they need to hire a temp to cover. So if you move from A to B, you’d get a raise in paper (based on the way the company calculates the value) but no additional benefit.

        1. SimontheGreyWarden*

          Or on paper you may have 2x vacation at A as at B, but there is a corporate culture of not taking vacation so actually you had more vacation at B.

      4. MillersSpring*

        An alternative is to consider your salary, plus any bonus, plus any anticipated raise (such as cost of living) that you expect in the next 12 months as your total anticipated compensation over the next year. In a new role you couldn’t expect a raise for at least a year, so if you like your current position, but you’re being wooed by a recruiter, that total anticipated compensation should be your rock bottom for accepting another position.

  5. Brett*

    I’m wondering if this was actually a consulting contractor position (you are an employee of the recruiter who contracts you out to the employer) rather than a direct contract with the company with the 3rd party recruiter as only a hiring intermediary.

    If it is the former, then negotiations broke down between the consulting company and the employer rather than between you and the employer. The employer may never have even known (or asked for) your minimum salary.

    1. Karanda Baywood*

      Good point. The consultant would have added commission on top of OP’s desired salary that could have blown her out of the ballpark.

    2. Recruit-o-rama*

      This would be my guess. If this was contract to hire, the placement agency probably gets paid by the company their rate plus your rate and it may not be enough for the placement firm to make the placement. It sucks for you, and it’s why I never did contact to hire, I hated my fee being part of the decision making process but it happens all the time regardless.

    3. Brett*

      The way it works for my current employer is that the consulting company negotiates their rate, and then you negotiate with the consulting company separately and they pay you out of their rate.
      Functionally, you are an employee of main company and treated in every respect as an employee of main company, but legally you are a consultant employed by consulting company.

    4. LisaD*

      Great point. I know Google now hires most of their community management through a contract agency and the CMs only get about 50K (for a full time on site position in Silicon Valley!) but Google is probably paying double that to the agency :(

    5. DJ*

      Hi All – I actually posted this question and was overwhelmed by the great responses! Brett was actually right in that it was a consulting company that got me back in touch with ‘the dream company.’ To add some context, the ‘dream company’ is this huge cloud computing company here in the SF Bay area. :) and the position I previously interviewed for with said ‘dream company’ was actually senior to this ‘contract to hire’ position I recently interviewed for (hence I assume the pay was a lower.) At the time (of the senior position) they didn’t even balk at my current salary, then again that was through their own in house recruiter. Although sadly when I got passed for for someone else back then, that interview experience with the hiring manager and his team left a very good impression on me. I still actually applied to other positions in the company between that time and being contacted by the consulting company. For this contract position, I had early on let the consulting company know when we discussed numbers, I was willing to go even 20% below my current salary. When 3rd party recruiter asked me again that Monday, I was actually surprised he had to ask me again. Did guy from consulting company perhaps offered my ‘lowest’ number plus what they would make on top of it, inadvertently taking me out of the running? I dunno … but crazier thing: I hadn’t mentioned to Alison is that, the week after, a bunch other 3rd party agencies contacted me for the same, (I guess ‘dream company’ was casting their net again) and I think one that pursued me quite a bit (even if I told her that I had already applied and interviewed for the contract position and explained the numbers thing), may have inadvertently told me how much it was, and I think was my lowest number would’ve been the total compensation including what the agency would make on me. Could I have still contacted the hiring manager myself then? As much as I really want in (even from the bottom!) of said ‘dream company’ I didn’t want to creep out anyone, or seem super desperate to work there.

      1. Brett*

        Consulting company has a rate they ask for. Those rates can actually be pretty standard regardless of who it is they are putting up as a candidate (though if they know they have a strong candidate or a candidate with high salary demands, they will ask for more).
        Hiring manager at dream company probably has a very set rate with narrow approval to go higher.
        (These rates are normally hourly incidentally.) Contacting the hiring manager is not going to change those rates and is not going to get consulting companies to take a lower cut.
        Normally those numbers are fairly high though. I’m not sure of exactly what type of position you are contracting for, but for a big SF bay area cloud computing company the absolute bare minimum should be around $50/hr. If this is some form of engineer, $120-$200/hr is reasonable.

        Of course, as a w-2 employee of the consulting company, you are getting half that.

        The other drawback to contacting the hiring manager is that there is a good chance they are only hiring contract positions (holding regular full-time positions for existing contractors they want to bring on full-time). So, on top of the rate negotiations being relatively disconnected from you, there is probably not a non-contract position that you could be slotted into.

        As you saw, there will be other positions there. You might want to put effort into finding out what companies have a strong established relationship with dream company and contact them. They might place you in other consulting roles initially and then place you with dream company when something comes up that is a better match for position and pay.
        Related to that, if you want to work with dream company then you should start networking towards that purpose.

  6. Aglaia761*

    Yes to this so much! I took a 10,000 pay cut because the benefits were worth it to me. Actually the fact that I HAD benefits was worth it to me.

  7. ReadItWithSpanishAccent*

    And what for those who can’t use the “benefits card”? I usually heard advice such as Alison’s “I’m looking for a range of around $X-Y but it depends on the rest of the package and benefits”, which is marvelous in USA but not in most of the European countries. All the American “benefits” (retirement funds, health care and so on) are already provided for us. Sure, your company can make an additional health insurance for you or some pension fund, but it is not like you are going to accept a lower salary just for that – you may as well accept a higher salary and simply use the public health care and social security system.

    1. FD*

      I’d say “It depends on the exact details of the role.” For example, let’s say that you’ll be making £5,000 less per year, but you may consider the role if it allows you a lot of flexibility, such as the ability to work from home, or has certain perks, like a private office.

    2. BRR*

      I would say I would like to learn more about the details of the position. Like being a teapot analyst supporting three teapot engineers is much different then supporting five teapot engineers.

    3. TL -*

      Yeah, you could use benefits to mean perks instead of specified retirement/health care/ect… What would be something that would make you take a lower salary?

    4. Chriama*

      I don’t know… I’m in Canada where we have universal health care but my employer still offers really great benefits – maternity leave top up, generous vacation allowances, flexible work from home policies, health insurance (doctors might be free but dentists are outright robbers) and a really great retirement match. The retirement match is specifically worth over 10k in gross salary to me and my employer acknowledges that salaries are average (literally, they aim to be in the 50th percentile for market rate). I don’t know about Europe but at least for Canada benefits still matter quite a bit

    5. MillersSpring*

      Sometimes when asked for a range, it’s before you know all the details of the role. So you could say it depends on the scope and details of the position. Maybe you’d expect more for example if it requires 75% travel versus 25% or if you’re supervising 15 people versus 5. In addition to the perks others have listed, the company might provide free lunches or pay/reimburse you for your mobile phone.

      Or even if you know all of the job details, you could just state the range you’re seeking is X to Y, and the company will understand that while you’d be OK with X you’d be thrilled with Y.

    6. Elfie*

      I’m in the UK, and I always say it depends upon benefits – for me, it’s things like number of holidays, private pension contribution, type of pension (final salary would be great these days!), number of hours/week, sick pay policy, ability to work from home – plus things on my end such as time and cost of commute, physical office location, etc. For example, I’m currently moving in a few weeks time from a job that includes a 3+ hour commute daily and costs me £250 a month in diesel, to a commute that will be just over an hour daily and will cost me £60 a month in train fares. Amazingly enough, they upped their salary range by nearly £8k to hire me, which is £3k more than I make now, but that time and money save on the commute meant that I was prepared to drop £2k from my current salary to work there.

  8. Pari*

    Would you really be okay with going lower than the number you said was your lowest? I tend to think that if you did it would be caveated with a “for now”.

    Because when you say your lowest you’re probably basing it on things like immediate bills, other immediate personal expenses, and to a lesser degree relative fairness more than your longer term income goals.

    But the ultimate question is would you really want to work for a company that cared more about being cheap than finding a quality employee. I’d be willing to bet the turnover there is horrendous.

    1. Roscoe*

      Thats a great point. If you know you wouldn’t have taken that amount, or at least been happy with it, what is the point of talking further

  9. Big10Professor*

    I hate seeing this stuff botched by third-party recruiters. They know the information on both sides (company’s range and candidate’s range) and should be able to match the two up-front. Yet, it’s common for them to set up interviews hoping one side or the other will budge later in the process.

  10. HRChick*

    We’ve had it happen so often that we make an offer, the applicant counter-offers with something much higher (because it’s closer to what they’re making now), we say we can go up to $XXXXX and they agree.

    Then a few months later, their manager is in our office telling us that we have to give this person a raise because they are threatening to leave.

    It’s why we advise our hiring managers to make the range clear right away, especially when they’re interviewing someone they know is probably overqualified for the position.

    But, we don’t ask our applicants to name a number. That sucks and makes your applicants feel like you’re trying to trick them.

    1. SophieChotek*

      Then do you find raises? Or because you were already stretched, would you say they should have known? Or does their manager their work/contribution is worth the raise?

      1. BPT*

        Generally a few months is too soon for a raise anyway. I wouldn’t expect a raise before a year in most jobs. Plus office budgets are likely only done once a year, so there really might not be anymore money *that year* for raises. Not that the company was stretched to thin, but because they’ve already decided what to do with the money that year.

        1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

          I might add – at the place I worked it was called the “Incentive Retention Fund”. Dilbert had a comic strip sequence about the practice and the pointy-haired manager called it the “Disloyal Employee Fund”.

      2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Many companies have a set-aside “slush fund” for raises — these are “off budget”.

        Example = a company’s fiscal year may run Jan 1 – December 31. Joe Schmoe agrees to a salary that is lower than he wants, but he wants the job, agrees to come aboard (and it’s probably the best he can get).
        To be fair – the salary offered was just about all the budget could afford.

        Once inhouse, because he was low-balled, he begins looking for his next job. Come September, someone offers Joe essentially the same position, across the street, for $10K more.

        Joe gives his notice. Boss says “hold on”. Boss gets on the phone and reports the situation to the director. The director makes a call. “Can we tap the retention incentive fund for, oh, around $3500 for the rest of the year? Joe Schmoe was offered a $10K raise, we can give him that, then bake his new salary into the budget for next year.”

        If Joe is a valuable player – they can tap the emergency fund to pay that difference between now and the end of the budget year.

        Most big companies – especially in the IS/IT world – have such a fund. They couldn’t function without it.

  11. Anonymous Educator*

    I know the OP is sad because the potential job fell through, but I agree with Alison’s logic from the employer’s side. Yes, you might have been willing to go even lower than your stated lowest, but the employer would then think you’d be unhappy with that and constantly pester them for raises prematurely… or just leave when you get a higher-paying offer.

    That said, everyone here is correct. The absolute best way for this all to be avoided is for the employer to be up front about “This is the range we’re willing to pay.” No, your compensation package isn’t vaguely “competitive.” Just say what it is.

    1. NW Mossy*

      Ugh, “competitive.” Companies want people to think of the New England Patriots, when in reality they’re the Cleveland Browns. Both teams are competitive in the NFL, but there’s a big difference between being a frequent winner and a frequent loser.

  12. Chaordic One*

    I’m impressed that the OP had a lowest salary that she would accept and that she informed the recruiter what it was. Assuming that the figure was fair and in line with what others with similar experience and doing similar work are paid, I think the OP dodged a bullet.

    It also sounds like the recruiter handled the matter well when he got back to you. His language was spot-on professional.

  13. Pot Meeting Kettle*

    In some job applications to both government and private sectors, even before the first interview I had to fill in an “expected salary”. It is always an irritating game of chicken laced with HOW LOW CAN YOU GO. I had asked several friends already working in the company how much they are paid, adjusted my figure as such, and still didn’t get any replies. I always wondered if my expected salary sabotaged the application.

  14. Laura*

    I was out of work and went on an interview for a contract position. When they offered it to me, it was for $0.50/hr less than before the interview. I had been out of work for 51 weeks – who was I to argue? 6 months later with a contract extended from 8 to 20 months, I asked my boss why they lowered it. Came to find out they thought I was making more and had no idea it happened. I ended up negotiating a raise. Some times the recruiter just wants a bigger cut.

    1. Anon anon for this*

      (After working there about a year) I once talked to my supervisor at the company I temped for (not the temp agency) and was able to get a good raise. The temp agency always said to NEVER talk to the company to always talk to the temp agency. Well the temp agency had no skin in the game to work to get me a raise and never would have. The temp agencies have ways of doing things that hurt their contracted out employers in a multitude of ways financially. In the end the temp agency blacklisted me and didn’t refer me to another position after the contract ended, but that was fine because I don’t want to ever work for that temp agency again.

  15. Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys*

    My mind went a completely different direction as I instantly assumed the headhunter is pulling her from consideration as they did not like the fee or weren’t going to get one from the company.

    Having worked in the Staffing industry before, the rules around third party sourcing can be tricky. Since the OP had interviewed before, the 3rd party may not be considered eligible for the fee if the internal HR remembers the OP. Depending on the contract they have, the company may be able refuse to pay the fee even if she had not applied directly herself (that’s when this usually comes up) as she is a candidate they had already sourced on their own previously.

    If the headhunter realized later they would not be able to charge a fee, they may have told her the salary story to end the process. It’s unethical and most WOULD NOT do this, but some might as the fees are typically a % of annual salary. If they make it look like the OP walked away to the company and the company walked away to the OP, then they can submit another candidate to try and get the fee.

    Responses to thank you notes are not required so I wouldn’t let that stop you from a final email. Since I’m jaded and suspicious, I would send a quick note to the hiring manager to say thank you and I hate we couldn’t meet on salary (basically saying what the headhunter said). If the hiring manager really wanted it you, it might spur them to respond. If no answer, then you are no worse off. Also, just because my flag went up does not mean this whole situation wasn’t on the up and up, but a polite thank you note is never inappropriate and may help you if you ever apply again.

    1. DJ*

      Hi Not My Circus – thank you for the suggestion … although it’s been a few weeks now and following up with another email after the last one I sent (before the 3rd party recruiter told me that whole story about not meeting my lowest number) is it still ok time wise? I thought about this at the time, but decided against it (now in hindsight maybe I should’ve against my better judgement), lol just don’t want to be remembered as the weird candidate who ‘stalked’ them :P I suppose it can’t hurt, they can either reply (hopefully positively!) or not?

  16. Purple Jello*

    I just had this happen. the online application system requested my minimum salary, I supplied it, their HR rep came back and asked if it was accurate because it was out of their range. I asked what the range was because I couldn’t find it anywhere, and if it was close because depending upon benefits I might be willing to come down a bit.

    Apparently, it’s against company policy to provide a range to applicants(!)

    So I spent around 3 hours on a cover letter, revising my resume and completing their online application for a job that I had priced myself out of and didn’t even get a phone interview. Very annoyed. If a company has a range, they should publish it. I find it very arrogant to keep that information confidential and expect your applicants to waste time on jobs that they wouldn’t be interested in if they knew the salary range.

  17. wait a minute*

    I once had this woman at a local company reach out to me on LinkedIn. Desperate to chat with me and wanted to see my resume. I am open to opportunity of course so I provided her with my resume and we scheduled a call for a few days later.

    The moment we got on the phone she started to grill me about what I want to do, what my salary expectations are and so on. So I turned the table on her and asked her what about my LinkedIn profile stood out to her and why SHE reached out to me. She couldn’t answer… I then asked her what she thought of my resume and that’s when she went on to let me know that I really needed to specialize my work experience (I’m a marketing generalist for a reason…) and how no one can get by like I am anymore (I’m 35 and I’m getting by just fine…).

    When she asked about my salary expectations I pushed back and asked her what she had budgeted. She got flustered. I did end up telling her my expectation because I know what I’m worth. After that the call quickly ended :)

    Basically there are some employers out there who think they are quite remarkable… they pursue people who are successful and currently employed and really think they can persuade them to leave their job for less than they are making. If you are an employer, please seriously do some research on salary expectations in the area you are hiring for and average that out. Then take a strong look at the skills of the individuals you are considering and their length of work experience and get real because that average is going to get higher. You cannot hire someone with more than 10 years of experience on an entry-level salary…

  18. KH*

    I’d also mention – don’t read anything in to the lack of reply to ‘thank you’ emails – people are busy, especially recruiters. They don’t have time to respond to every ‘thank you’ email. They acknowledged it and moved on. What response would be expected anyway? “Thank you for writing a thank you note” …?

  19. $0.02+15%*

    In defense of, “What is your current compensation?”

    I had a six month contract recruiting for analyst roles. At this particular company, an analyst with division A might start at $15-20k less than an analyst with division B. Not to mention that the word, “analyst” has so many meanings between different companies! Is our junior the same as your associate – or do you *start* as an analyst and gain titles?

    Salary isn’t completely arbitrary. When I was interviewing potential analysts their current compensation told me a lot about their responsibilities at their organization. And, I talked to people who said, “It’s currently X, but I took a $10k cut due to relocation/layoffs/better benefits/w-e,” which is *also* insightful.

    My experience with people not disclosing current compensation was that it was a) always sounded cagey; b) came from people who had a very distorted view of what my company *could* offer; and c) was a maneuver to make a big, big time leap not just in comp, but in responsibility as well.

    If you aren’t especially interested in the job, hold back. But if you’d *like* the position you’re interviewing for at a modest increase, say so. “I make X, to leave I’m really looking for X+15% and/or good benefits. What is the salary range for your position and the benefits?”

    1. KH*

      This is true but is risky as well when moving between for profit/non profit or companies in different industries. It can be the case that a company in a very low margin industry cannot pay as much for the same role/responsibility as another company in a more lucrative industry.

      I used to work for a fancy high end management consulting company that paid above industry average – I saw it all the time with qualified candidates coming from less “prestigious” segments who were willing to work for much less than we were willing to pay.

  20. Massmatt*

    the “what is your current salary?” question seems like a lose-lose scenario for most applicants. If you name a figure lower than they were willing to pay you’ve just low-balled yourself. If you name a figure higher than their range they may cut you from consideration, especially if they as early in the process.

    OP, I do wonder how it is your “dream company” has no budget to hire you? Unless your salary demand was far higher than the norm for the position they should at least be able to counter offer, especially if they are having a recruiter work on this and are interviewing candidates. It sounds like a red flag.

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