why did this company lead me on about salary?

A reader writes:

I recently had a bizarre interview experience and was hoping you may be able to provide some clarity to the situation.

I applied for a job that’s the same title as the one I currently hold, but at another company that’s similar in many ways to one I’m currently working at. I had a phone interview with the person who would be my boss at the new company that went very well. We later set up a meeting to have an in-person interview. After this interview, my would-be boss emailed me about salary expectations and said, “It’s helpful for us to know, so we can avoid leading on any candidates and then realizing we’re lowballing them in the offer stage.” I told him what my current salary was and explained I’d be interested in a 15% increase at a new role.

He said great, and the process moved forward. I completed a test which he said the team was greatly impressed with. He then asked me to come back to the office and meet with six other team members for interviews. I took the day off from work and went. All of the interviews went extremely well, and I felt great about my chances. The team even implemented a bunch of my ideas after speaking with me and looking over my test. This whole process took about 50 days.

I was offered the job. But remember when he asked about salary in order to avoid leading candidates on and lowball them in the offer stage? That’s exactly what happened. They offered me nearly $10K below my current salary. I, of course, told them I could not take a pay cut. He responded by saying that he spoke with the executive team and they can’t get close to what I’m making now, but hopes we can work together in the future when our “budgets better align.”

(Oh, it may also be worth mentioning that during my interview with the CEO, he said the company was healthier than its ever been and has millions and millions of dollars in the bank for the first time. He also said “these new people are so expensive.”)

What gives? Why would they have me invest so much time and effort into this process and offer me the role only to tell me that they can’t afford me? Why would he ask about salary to refrain from leading me on or lowballing and then do exactly that? I’m genuinely so confused and extremely frustrated.


Sometimes when this happens, it’s because the employer seriously believes that the job is enticing enough that somehow candidates will end up overlooking that the salary is significantly lower than what was discussed earlier. Sometimes it’s because they assume that candidates are inflating their salary expectations — that you’re leaving room to negotiate or that you’ll take less but figure you might as well try for more. That tends not to be the case when the salary they’re offering would be a cut from what you’re earning currently, but some employers really are delusional enough to not to realize that. Sometimes they mistakenly think you want the job badly enough that you’ll accept what they’re offering. (And of course, sometimes people do.)

Other times, especially with positions that are new, they hadn’t fully thought through the salary and run the numbers until very late in the process. In that case, they’ve been working with fuzzy ideas of salary range, and so when you shared what you were looking for, they didn’t yet have a strong enough sense of what they were willing to pay and so they just vaguely agreed … and then later, when they actually looked at their numbers, they realized they couldn’t or didn’t want to make that work. That’s pretty disrespectful of your time, of course, but it happens.

The thing that’s most offensive about what they did is that they didn’t even acknowledge or explain it. I suspect you would have felt differently about them if they’d said, “I really apologize about this — I know we discussed salary earlier on, and you’d said you were looking for $X. Because of (reasons), the most we can offer is $Y. I really hope we can make that work but I of course understand if we’re just too far apart.” That’s at least respectful — it acknowledges that the earlier conversation happened and it explains what changed. But acting like that never happened or like it’s not important enough to mention is just rude. And it’s a bad sign about them.

Speaking of bad signs, this part of your letter is alarming: “The team even implemented a bunch of my ideas after speaking with me and looking over my test.” That’s your work. They’re using your work without paying you for it. That’s not okay. It’s extremely sketchy.

These people are not impressive.

{ 148 comments… read them below }

  1. Brett*

    A 50 day process where you work with the whole team and complete a “test” that consists of actual work they implement?
    These feels so much like free consulting….

    Although I think I figured out what these means:
    “It’s helpful for us to know, so we can avoid leading on any candidates and then realizing we’re lowballing them in the offer stage.”
    “… instead we like to know right up front that we are lowballing them.”

          1. Anonamoose*

            But the difference is that they actually implemented the OP’s ideas, whereas the previous ‘you’re an asshole so I’m going to charge you for my brilliant development strategy ideas’ didn’t, and even commented that they were basic.

            Shouldn’t there be, like, property rights to these bait and switch situations? At the very least BASIC DECENCY? (I know, I know, how naive of me. Siiiiigh.)

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I will copy what I wrote in the comments on that post when the question came up there:

              “If you want to bill someone, you need them to agree to pay your price first. You can’t decide after the fact to charge them. (It would be like me suddenly deciding to charge you all $300 each for reading this blog. Even if I think that represents the value you get from it, I can’t unilaterally decide to bill you for it. I’d need to make the price clear up front and get your agreement.)”

              1. CEMgr*

                I generally agree, but there is in fact legal authority for billing in analogous situations. “What is the legal doctrine of quantum meruit in California?

                To recover on a claim for the reasonable value of services under a quantum meruit theory, a plaintiff must establish that: (1) defendant requested plaintiff perform services for the benefit of defendant, (2) that plaintiff formed the services as requested, (3) that defendant has not paid for the services and (4) the reasonable value of the services that were provided. Judicial Counsel of California, Civil Jury Instructions (CACI), No. 371; Ochs v. PacifiCare of California (2004) 115 Cal.App.4th 782, 794” From http://www.bc-llp.com/what-is-quantum-meruit-in-california/

                I give a California example, and to the best of my knowledge all 50 states acknowledge the doctrine to some extent as it is a part of standard contract law. Lawyers frequently use quantum meruit to get paid in the absence of an enforceable contract, and the doctrine is not specific to the sphere of law, it can potentially cover almost any provision of services in any domain assuming the elements (items 1 through above, for California) are met.

                1. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Eh, this isn’t really a quantum meruit situation. It’s more for the kind of situation where both parties are acting as though there an agreement about the work to be performed and that there will be compensation for it. I’m oversimplifying, but it’s not really for situations where one person thought they were doing it for an interview and acted accordingly, but since they didn’t get the job they want to be paid for their time.

                  Think of it this way–if the everything had worked out well and the OP had taken the job, she would not be billing the employer for the time she spent on that. Quantum meruit is more for situations where you might conceivably have a contract but for whatever reason don’t have one.

                  Since you’re quoting California law, I’m assuming you’re a lawyer who practices there and knows how the doctrine is enforced there. But don’t assume it’s like that in other states, because it’s sure not like that in mine.

                2. animaniactoo*

                  There’s a technicality in which the plaintiff here would be performing the services for the benefit of the plaintiff (attempt to be hired at said company), but IANAL I think that because so many of the ideas were used/used for purposes other than requested/defined at time services were performed, the services held potential benefit for the plaintiff but actual benefit for the defendant and it could be argued that it was misuse of the services and the plaintiff is owed due consideration. But, IANAL, pretty sure it would be a longshot, and pursuing this would be likely to be far more costly than the actual value of said services.

                3. Elysian*

                  Yeah, quantum meruit comes up a lot with partial performance – like, you and I agree that you’ll paint my house with two coats of paint for $200, but you only paint it with one coat and then never come back. Quantum meruit suggests I still owe you $100, rather than stiffing you entirely. Or maybe we agreed to the job, and I bought the paint and stuff while I was waiting for you to sign the contract, but then you backed out because the guy down the street had a sale and you decided to go with him instead. It’s not like you can go around randomly painting unsuspecting people’s houses and then sending them a bill because you’ve performed a service for them.

                4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  This is a misapplication of the doctrine of quantum meruit. It exists as an equitable backstop when a contract is voided or deemed unenforceable. The key distinction is that it applies when the parties intended to form a contract or when one party knowingly deceived the other into thinking there was a contract.

                  That’s not the situation, here—a job interview is not a contract for consulting services, and no one in their right mind thinks it is. What the interviewing company did here was sketchy and ignoble. But that doesn’t mean there’s a legal basis for sending them a bill for time spent on interview-related tasks.

                5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  JB, CEMgr’s description isn’t how quantum meruit works in California, either.

                6. JB (not in Houston)*

                  Thanks, Princess. :) California can be an outlier in employment law, so I didn’t want to presume anything.

    1. Anonymous Educator*

      A close friend of mine is a graphic designer and can easily sniff out these free consulting job interview sessions. Once she gets the sense they want her ideas without actually hiring her, she peaces out. It’s frustrating because it happens so often.

      The funny thing is—I had sort of the opposite happen, too. A couple of job interviewer asked me some hypothetical about what I would improve (not how I would go about it or the actual details) about some of their processes. I gave a three-sentence answer off the cuff (I didn’t have all the information I needed for a full-blown recommendation), and they turned to each other and said “Wait… isn’t that exactly what that consulting company we hired told us?” In other words, they wasted thousands of dollars “consulting” with a company that didn’t come up with anything better than a candidate could on the fly.

      1. animaniactoo*

        I didn’t want to get into it – but there is the need to hold in reserve. You give out a few of your ideas, and then you tell them you have more like this, but this is an example. They want the rest, they have to hire you.

        I’m not sure what the setup was that ended up with OP putting forth several ideas, and I’d be curious how that happened. They mentioned something about a test?

        1. Stranger than fiction*

          I’m curious too. I mean, if they interviewed her just to pick her brain, I don’t think they’d be dumb enough to say they implemented a bunch of her ideas. Usually that happens behind the candidates back after they’re rejected. Either way, they handled this crappy.

      2. Anonymous Educator*

        Yeah, it can be kind of a fine line, but you definitely don’t want them walking away with “Oh, good… we don’t have to pay someone to do X, because candidate did X for free.”

      3. Anonamoose*

        That is excellent to know, thank you. I’m starting to get more into infoviz and wondered how a ‘test’ could totally be free work, if you’re unaware how it gets reused later (w/o your knowledge).

        GOD BLESS reverse imaging searches!!! (please let this link go through Alison, it’s a good site, promise!) https://www.tineye.com/

      4. Wendy Darling*

        I recently had a person high up from a competitor at my current company call me, ostensibly because he was interested in interviewing me for a job.

        What he actually did is spend 15 minutes asking me how his company could better serve its clients (who are also my current employer’s clients) and 10 minutes asking me about the org chart at my last employer (also a client of my current company, who he clearly wants to become a client of his). Then he told me they weren’t hiring anyone until next year but he’d be in touch.

        It was WEIRD. I didn’t tell him anything because I have a sense of self-preservation, but… weird.

    2. Jessesgirl72*

      Or it was a sneaky way of corporate espionage.

      Depending on her contract with her current employer, the “test” she did may technically belong to them, and is potentially a firing offense.

      1. Anonamoose*

        Oooooh interesting. You just made me think about how if I use my current work samples for a job interview, that they technically still belong to my employer since we’re a research hospital campus and we sign our lives (work) away when we get hired. Hmm, I will need to go through my stuff again and change it around. But at least if I used my work stuff in an interview, and it was used without consent, I would have the ability to notify the school and then their lawyers could get on it – most folks don’t have that legal luxury – and that really stinks.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          My husband has a REALLY restrictive intellectual property rights clause in his hiring contract. It’s so restrictive that he almost turned the job down because of it. Any piece of code he writes, even if it’s for a completely unrelated industry or open source project, belongs to the company unless he gets prior consent from the company. Now, in practicalities, the hiring Manager and everyone in the department he talked with assured him that it was a non-issue unless you were trying to consult for one of their competitors, and most of them were working on open source projects or part time consulting, and no one they knew had never been turned down. A more usual intellectual property rights clause, however, always prohibits work being done within the industry, and this OP gave her ideas to a “similar company”

          I’d assume she knew what was in her contract, but the other OP today hadn’t even read the part of her employee handbook about vacation not rolling over…


          1. Ann O.*

            Employee handbooks are long and often in legalese. I know the common advice is to read carefully and really know what you’re getting into, but I don’t think it’s so surprising that people often don’t (or that even when they do, they can miss significant details without realizing that they’ve missed them. Or forget)

            1. Anonhippopotamus*

              And know the law. There are often clauses (especially if you work for an unreasonable and shitty company) that would never hold up in court.

              Those non-compete clauses (with a list of competitors that you’re not allowed to work for) are a good example.

            2. Saturn9*

              Many employee handbooks are also accessed via the intranet within the company or otherwise not accessible to the candidate when/if they would like to read the agreement they’re signing.

              I wonder whether you can actually be held to any of it when the manager processing the new hire paperwork is saying “Don’t read that now, we don’t have time. Just acknowledge that you read it and you can take a look at it whenever you have time during training.” (And there’s no time for that during training either but the implication was if the paperwork wasn’t signed NOW, well, there’s the front door because other people in other stores also have to get onboarded by the district manager today and YOU ARE WASTING LITERALLY EVERYONE’S TIME. (I need to get a real job.))

        2. Thornus67*

          I’m an attorney and, because of the work product doctrine and attorney client privilege, I have to be very careful with what writing samples I provide when applying for another job. I make sure to always use only those writing samples (or portions of them if there is a page limit) which are now a matter of public record because I filed them with the court. But my signature (well, /s/Name) is on all of them to clearly identify that I wrote them.

          1. animaniactoo*

            Yup, I can only use design concepts that actually went to market. Or ones that I develop independently (my own work/company has passed on them). But I have a non-compete clause which would also mean that I can’t go somewhere too similar or work for that particular department if I do, until the blackout period is up.

        3. Jeanne*

          I had a problem with a job interview. They kept wanting writing samples and I kept saying I was not allowed to share anything I wrote for my company. They finally said to provide a sample on (impossibly broad topic). That wasn’t the type of writing I did. I didn’t get the job.

  2. JuniperGreen*


    An update on fiscal health is one thing, but I think the more valuable info from the CEO was that comment about new people being expensive. So, they want to grow, but will balk at investing in talent.

    1. Jadelyn*

      I think that’s a key point. They’re doing well, but they expect to be able to lowball salaries – and that may be what they think will keep them doing well. That’s a dysfunctional culture you don’t want anything to do with!

      1. Katie*

        Seriously! It speaks to a level of arrogance that reasonable people should avoid. The “our name/brand is so valuable on your resume that it should outweigh the crappy salary we’re offering” type companies might make money, but they’re so demoralizing to actually work for.

  3. Lauren*

    I once had a hiring manager go from 90k to 60k based on my current salary, which I reluctantly gave the recruiter later in the process. They said up front that they are paying 90k only and there was no room for negotiation. I said that is fine as long as it stays at 90k and doesn’t become 80k if I am offered the job. Recruiter insisted 90k was the offer to anyone that they pick. Yeah … they went with 60k and said it was based on my salary history vs. what the job was worth for my level of experience. I chewed out the recruiter and told him to be honest with the hiring manager about perpetuating the pay gap and that me being underpaid now doesn’t give him the green light to get around market rate.

      1. Lauren*

        I turned it down immediately, and said unless they come back at 90k – there is nothing left to discuss. I also reiterated the original conversation we had about salary and how disappointed I was that they were trying to dupe me when I knew the 90k number all along. The recruiter listened, but he knew it was a lost cause. I was too angry to consider working there after that.

        And the follow-up? I use Glassdoor as my followup. I add salary info, and reviews and give honest answers about my experience to help others. But honestly, I just encourage friends to state all salaries for past and present jobs on those sites. It helps women in particular to determine when they are being low-balled too. Always put the higher end, not the beginning salary.

        1. Chaordic One*

          Glassdoor isn’t everything, but it certainly would not hurt to tell what happened with this employer (in a factual and nonjudgemental way).

        2. Tabby Baltimore*

          First-time poster here: It’s probably way too late in the day for anyone to come back and see this, but I’m interested in learning more about which URLs commenters (and other lurkers) are using to get regional salary data, in addition to Glassdoor. I am looking for information in the DC/Metro area, if that makes any difference. Thanks.

          1. Editor*

            I found some salary information listings by county somewhere in the census numbers, as I recall. You need a fairly common job title for that to work. If your local library has someone who works with government documents, they may be able to ferret it out. I will try to rediscover the site.

        1. Lauren*

          A man took the job, I went back and looked Glassdoor months later – job salary was listed at 90k

          1. addlady*

            AAM, can Lauren sue? Not that she is asking to of course, but hypothetically. I want to know if I am ever in the same situation.

            1. Shazbot*

              IANAL but I would guess not. She would have to prove they discriminated. If they based their offer on salary history and that’s how they came up with the 60K, they could defend themselves by saying, well, the other (male) candidate had a salary history that warranted offering him 90K. It is ABSOLUTELY not fair, it DOES promote the wage gap, but I doubt it is legally actionable.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Yeah, she’d need to prove the decision was based on sex. It’s possible that she could, but it would depend on all the facts of the case, which we don’t have here.

            2. AD*

              Sue for what? I know Alison has said this many, many times but having the idea that unfairness = illegal is not helpful, as that is not the way laws (at least in the US) work.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  She’d have to show that they discriminated because of her gender, though. Here, they have an “out” by saying they relied on her prior salary history and work experience. I know the pay gap and wage discrimination are institutional, but it’s hard to bring a gender discrimination case on only these facts.

              1. Lauren*

                Yeah, it was years ago for a company that would have been an hour commute each way with a really boring product. The money and title would have gotten me out of the gutter of being so underpaid compared to male peers in my industry (55k vs. 85k then). I really wanted to take the job for a year and get out only to avoid spending 5 years job hunting getting to the 90k point (that after another 5 years would be 130k).

                So 6 years later, I am at 108k when market rate for my job is 120k. I’m getting there slowly on market rate. Trying to make moves that give me a bigger jump each time.

                1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                  Lauren, I’m so sorry. This is pure suck, and everyone who has shorted you is a jerk. I’m still keeping my fingers crossed for the day everyone else adopts MA’s new law and blocks out salary history as a basis for future salary.

    1. Sunflower*

      Recruiter asked me for my salary expectations before a phone interview. Said yes in the range. End of the phone interview, she asks for my current salary which I tell her I don’t disclose. She was flabbergasted. Apparently, no one in her whole 20 years of recruiting has ever refused to share their salary. She then went on to lecture me by saying ‘I know you’re young in your career so let me give you some advice. You’re really going to limit your options by refusing to share your current salary. How are we supposed to know how much to pay you if we don’t know what you’re being paid now’

      It took EVERYTHING in me to not go on a rampage about how many things there were wrong with those sentences. I told her to let the company know I do not share my current salary and if they chose to not proceed with me, so be it. If I ever come across her again, I don’t know if I’d be able to resist giving her a piece of my mind.

      1. Anonamoose*

        “She was flabbergasted. Apparently, no one in her whole 20 years of recruiting has ever refused to share their salary.”

        BUUUUUUULLSHIT. God, this is exactly why we hate recruiters. They’re like the new lawyer. (no offense lawyers!)

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            I don’t think Ananamoose meant this is how new lawyers behave. I think they mean, “how much we used to hate lawyers because they are sleazy, that’s how much and I now don’t like recruiters.”

            If I’m right, that’s pretty unfair to both lawyers and recruiters.

      2. Mike C.*

        “Oh, that’s easy. You take a survey of what others with a similar set of skills, experience and achievement are paid in this region, and offer me a salary based on that”.

      3. harryv*

        Interesting. That happened to me too when I applied for a sr IT manager position for a HUGE media company. I caved and gave her my current salary and my expectation. She assured me that the expectation was in range with the position and ‘should not have any issues.’ I didn’t get the offer so I wouldn’t know what would’ve came about.

    2. all aboard the anon train*

      This is why I refuse to give my current salary. I’m in an underpaid field and I’m looking to move into fields that pay significantly more. I had enough experiences with recruiters doing something similar to me that I just tell them it’s none of their information what I make now.

      Luckily, I’m in MA so they have that law going into effect that doesn’t allow employers to ask about current salary, but I’m betting it’s still going to happen (I can see a lot of people who aren’t up to date on current laws, re-entering the workforce, or new to the workforce not knowing about this and letting shadier companies get away with asking).

      Did the recruiter ever respond after you chewed him out?

      1. Harper*

        I was just going to bring up that law. I think it’s important that we as a society move away from that, because it is harmful to a lot of people. I’ve been answering the “salary history” question by stating what I’m looking for. If not answering that is a deal breaker for them, it’s a deal breaker for me.

        1. Annonymouse*

          Yeah.. We don’t do salary history in Australia. There is no real reason to.

          We post the salary range in the job ad or the hourly rate. If you don’t like it, don’t apply.

          Of course you can negotiate within that to the top of the range or slightly outside it if you are an amazing candidate.

          Also it surprised me to read here how people negotiate things like time off / health / other benefits because:
          We have universal healthcare
          Superannuation (401k) is 9% of salary paid by employer by law (I.e if I earn 100k my employer has to pay 9k on top of that into my chosen super fund)
          You are legally entitled to 4 weeks annual leave a year (pro rata) and 10 days sick/personal leave.

          I never realised Americans didn’t have those until I started reading this blog.

          1. SeekingBetter*

            Wow. That’s great to hear that you don’t deal with salary history in Australia. I wish companies in the U.S. would all post their salary expectations along with the job. Makes it so much easier for me to decide right away whether or not to apply.

  4. Frustrated Optimist*

    Having been in situations where the company wants a highly skilled professional, with many years of experience, only to find out that the salary is entry-level, this whole story makes me want to cry.

    OP, I’m so sorry you went through this. Please take heart in knowing you’re not alone.

    1. Paige*

      I have coached many, many a friend through interviews at start-ups where they require both technical and subject matter expertise, loads of customer service skills, masters degrees, etc., and then lose my mind when they’re quoted that the “highest” the company can offer – in SF or NYC! – is $40k. For a specialized, highly skilled role. I’m with you, it breaks my heart.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Good lord, I make almost 40k at a NONPROFIT in the far reaches of the East Bay Area, for an early-career role – and I’m still underpaid. I can’t even imagine wanting a skilled tech professional in the city for that pay.

      2. Jessesgirl72*

        My husband’s cousin just moved to Silicon Valley and wants to create his own start up in the industry my husband worked in until 3 years ago. The cousin has zero experience in his field and really needs my husband’s expertise. He cornered him about it for almost 2 hours at a recent family funeral lunch. When he realized he wasn’t getting anywhere, he moved on to me. I told him point blank that he couldn’t afford my husband. His face went white when I told him that his current Midwest employer had matched his Silicon Valley salary to get us to move to the Midwest. He expected my husband to work at an entry level salary (for his 15+ years of experience, Masters, etc), far below the salary we already could barely afford to live on when we left Silicon Valley! I told him that if he couldn’t afford to double the salary he currently makes, to not bother to bring it up again.

        Start ups seem to think their super important work is enough to get people to work for pennies, or the stock options you will get that they assure you will make it worthwhile when they go IPO- as if every business can be Google or Facebook!

        1. Kristine*

          It seems like every startup thinks they’re going to be the next Google or Facebook. If my husband had a nickel for every time one of his employers talked about how much money they’d make after going IPO he’d have more money than he ever made with the stock options.

        2. SimontheGreyWarden*

          Wow – your husband’s cousin is so gauche it makes me cringe for him. A family funeral lunch? entry level salary? Like, no part of this makes him come off good!

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            “But he couldn’t even afford to pay himself any more than $60K!”

            He was completely out of line, I agree. But we got off easy. During the VISITATION, he was cornering the more wealthy relatives and family friends, trying to get them to invest!

            1. Shazbot*

              So was it a closed casket, or did everyone actually get to *see* the deceased turn over?!

              Good grief, the foolishness of some people.

      3. SystemsLady*

        I was once underpaid at $50k in the relative middle of nowhere, and that was an entry level salary, albeit one in a specialized field. What the heck are they thinking trying to get specialist pros out to SF or NYC for a salary of $40k!?

        Luckily those types of jobs are an economy for which I can yell “stop accepting these awful offers!!!” without feeling like I’m alienating too many people. At the very least, you’ll find a company that underpays you better.

        (I am no longer underpaid all things rolled together, thankfully!)

      4. Anonamoose*

        Ya but the benefit (you hope) is that by being one of the early birds you eventually get stock options, and if the startup is then sold you can show working at such a successful company while it was expanding. It’s like gambling with a hedge fund, really. You just really need to understand start up indicators to know which will be successful (haha, like it’s that easy).

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          And was the reason for the Dot Bomb. The current crop of start ups pretend they aren’t doing the exact same thing as happened in 2000.

      5. RVA Cat*

        Well, they do want you to be at work 24/7 so it’s not like you actually need a place to live… :/

              1. Jessesgirl72*

                Not in Silicon Valley or NYC- land is too valuable there!

                They weren’t paid in company scrip, but there WAS a major gaming company (Blizzard?) that started out in some small town in the middle of the nowhere in some Flyover state (no offense. I live in one too) and everyone pretty much ended up living in the same neighborhood and they had to have houses built to accommodate all the employees as the company got bigger.

                1. Property Manager*

                  Nah, not Blizzard. They are in California … even though many of their employees pretty much do live in the same neighborhood. Now I’m curious….

                  Source: I work for their landlord.

            1. LadyKelvin*

              In Pittsburgh Google (or maybe facebook, I can’t remember, I think it’s google) built apartments for their workers and connected them via a walking bridge to their offices. They don’t even have to go outside to get to work. And then they were charging DC rents for Pittsburgh apartments, where the cost of living is 1/3 of what it is here and they could buy a mansion for the equivalent mortgage payment. I know this because all my friends are buying 3-4 bedroom houses downtown and their mortgage is less than my rent. :( It almost makes me want to move back.

              1. Pretend Scientist*

                It’s Google. We live near there–the complex is called Bakery Square, because the main building used to be a Nabisco factory for Nilla Wafers. Mark Cuban is part of the management group–we’ve seen him at the restaurant over there. It’s definitely high-priced for regular Pittsburgh folk, but I guess doable for more high-paid tech? I can’t see spending that here though, as there are oodles of homes with land available for much less than $1000/mo. But then again my house doesn’t come with fancy amenities.

              1. RVA Cat*

                I’m envisioning the cell-like apartment Bruce Willis had in the Fifth Element that had all the moving pods for things like the shower.

            2. neverjaunty*

              Sort of, yes. The free onsite meals, gym and so on are basically paying part of their salary in board.

    2. tink*

      Oooh that burns me up so much. “We require at least a Bachelor’s and 3 years of experience but prefer a Master’s and 5 or more. Pay is $10/hour.”

      1. Jadelyn*

        I’ve seen HR Assistant positions that wanted a PHR certification (which costs like $500 to get, plus you have to have a 4-year-degree and anywhere from 1-4 years of “exempt-level professional experience” to get) and offered $15 an hour. Like. I really wanna know how that candidate search went for them, with those requirements matched to that pay.

  5. Pari*

    I bet he was expecting to offer more, but whomever had to approve the salary had a different idea. There are many places that have salary ranges and decisions aren’t made about the offer until the very end. In other words the higher ups might say we’ll consider higher in the range for the right person but don’t say what type of qualifications it takes to get there. They decide when the manager makes a hiring recommendation.

    1. Not the Droid You Are Looking For*

      This may be the case, but it’s an extremely bad practice.

      As a hiring manager, I know the range we typically pay per position, and I know what my department budget can handle prior to even posting the position. My boss, as the division VP, might be the one who signs off on the final paperwork (or even grumbles that everyone is not starting at the lowest possible amount), but there is no going back on the offer.

      1. Artemesia*

        This. I hired a lot of people for far less than I would have liked to pay them but I knew exactly what the best I could normally do was and also exactly how much more I might hope to get for someone amazing. And I always made it clear to the candidates what the limits were — some dropped out early on as a result — and those who ended up as finalists and that we hired were never surprised we couldn’t do better.

  6. Iron Thunder*

    I’m with the “send them a consulting bill” crowd for taking your work and implementing it in their workplace, and possibly threaten legal action. As well, I’d send a nasty letter to the manager in question thinking you’d actually want to leave for you job for $10k less, after listening to their CEO brag about how healthy the companies finances are.

    Seriously WTF.

    1. Sunflower*

      I totally agree. I also totally think the reason he never addressed the salary change is because he was hoping if he didn’t than you wouldn’t either.

    2. Gaara*

      I’m outraged and all, but I would not recommend any of this. You won’t get paid, and you will come off as unprofessional. Even if you’re not worried about burning bridges at this company, you never know who else will hear about your response, and the more outlandish it is, the more likely it is that word will spread.

      1. Penelope Pitstop*

        Yes, this. Outrageous (prospective) employer behavior, but a jobseeker deciding to go toe to toe will do more harm to the jobseeker.

        The reality is that if you’re an idea person, there’s always going to be someone or somewhere that will fish for your thinking and then try to implement. It’s unfair and not high scruples on the taker’s part, but it happens. All the time.

        The good news for idea people: you can always make more. The well never runs dry. Yeah, you don’t always get a paycheck for a ‘used idea’ and the idea of going after a taker is momentarily satisfying, but it’s unnecessary. Move on to where your ideas are valued. You have the gift of unlimited resources. Don’t lose sight of that.

  7. Erin*

    Yeah, the fact that they’re using your ideas jumped out at me too.

    Yep, this is bizarre and it sucks to have wasted your time and used up vacation/sick time from your current job.

    Did they at least offer some other benefits to compensate for it? “I know this is lower than what we’d originally expressed but we have very generous vacation times, excellent health insurance, a very flexible work/life balance, option to telecommute,” etc. etc.? It sounds like, as Alison said, they didn’t even acknowledge your earlier conversation though. So weird and disappointing.

    A couple of months from now hopefully you can look back on this and think, “Phew, dodged a bullet.” Since they obviously aren’t the type of people you’d want to be working with.

  8. Anonymous Educator*

    You dodged a bullet. Believe people when they tell you who they are. They told you what a disorganized and horrible mess their company is, and you found that out before you possibly accepted a job offer from them. Consider yourself fortunate.

    Yes, it sucks to put all that time and energy in to not have a real job offer pan out, but it could have been much, much worse…

  9. CAinUK*

    Go straight to Glassdoor and leave a scathing comment there. Alert other potential interviewees that this company appears to be 1.) disrespecting candidates’ time by asking for minimum salary requirements and then offering 15% below 50 DAYS LATER, and 2.) using candidates as free consultants.

    And while I recognize you don’t want to burn bridges, I’d be tempted to reply to the hiring manager and professionally but sternly tell them how disappointed you are that they wasted your time.

    1. Jadelyn*

      I’d steer clear of going directly to the hiring manager, but I could definitely see going to Glassdoor and leaving a review with these details to forewarn other candidates.

    2. MW*

      I’d 100% agree with posting on Glassdoor. I think you want to be factual, be clinical, be accurate. The facts will speak for themselves, and should be a caution for any future applicants. I think it’s probably best to avoid using language that might make you look catty, or generally reflect badly on you if someone read it out of context. Not that I think OP is likely to say anything like that based on the language of this e-mail, but just to caution against the “Burn them in Effigy!” instinct that I have reading the post…

  10. Gazebo Slayer (formerly I'm a Little Teapot)*

    Glassdoor. Name and shame.

    I’d also be tempted to directly ask why they weren’t honest earlier when you were looking for something more than your current salary. “When I mentioned I was looking for somewhere aound $x, you indicated that this would be fine. Has something changed between then and now?”

    1. Paige Turner*

      Well I’m cynical, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their plan the whole time was:
      1) find out what OP’s salary requirements were
      2) get a bunch of free work from OP
      3) lowball OP on purpose knowing that she wouldn’t take the job for that amount
      4) repeat with next “candidate”

  11. Paige*

    “These people are not impressive.”

    I cannot wait to incorporate that sentence into my daily lexicon.

    1. Emac*

      I picture her saying it in a kind of Queen Victoria “I am not amused” way (except not British).

  12. Anonymous Educator*

    By the way, assuming this is incompetence and not malice, if you’re a company like this, don’t tell candidates you want to be on the same page salary-wise and not lead them on and then say “Okay” to their numbers if you don’t know you can back up those numbers with your allocated budget. Also, don’t brag about how much profit you’ve made if you’re going to lowball on salary.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*


      I worked for a charity that had some good and bad donation times. During the good times, I asked for a decent raise and was told there was no money.

      I asked*, “You do realize I write the Annual Reports that have all the financial data, yes? And I just inserted a pullout quote, at your request, that bragged about donations being up a zillion percent, yes?”

      *I didn’t do this.

  13. animaniactoo*

    All aboard the “consulting fee” train here.

    “It would be understandable if you had implemented one or two of the ideas that I presented, however you put several of them into action. I presented those to you as a show of the value I would bring to your company in a role that you would be paying me for. They were not a free consideration that you received as a bonus for interviewing me.”

    You probably won’t get it – but I’d want them to be clear that you know what they did. They listened to you, they took your plan(s), and then they’re going to hire someone else to run it (them). At the lowball rate.

  14. Caroline*

    Depending on the value of potential ideas that they extracted from you, it seems to be it could even be a scheme to do this to candidates, and then purposefully lowball them with a number you know they’d never accept.

    Asking for your salary history and then completely “forgetting” that conversation makes me think this may be it–they had to know how much you were expecting not so that they could avoid lowballing you, but precisely so that they would know what lowballing you would be.

    They then can play innocent if accused of just trying to get your work without hiring you by saying “but we made an offer! clearly we can’t be doing that!”

    1. Paige Turner*

      Oh, didn’t see your comment first- glad I’m not the only one jaded enough to assume this might be going on.

  15. Burn it all*

    Ugh I had something similar happen. They asked during the phone interview what I was looking for. I said $50-55k and they said that was the range they were looking at as well. Perfect. Went through another phone interview and 3 in-person interviews before getting the offer. The offer was for $35k, ONE WEEK of vacation/sick time, and no health insurance. For a management role (lower level management but still). I was so pissed.

  16. KatieKate*

    I’ve gotten the excuse of “if we pay you more, you won’t have the budget to actually do your work!”

    This was a large teapot educator organization who relied a lot on outside funding, but still!

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      This is such shady use of emotional blackmail. If they did their jobs, you would have the budget to do your job and have a 2-3% COLA adjustment (at a minimum!).

  17. Chriama*

    Alison, do you have a script for how OP could respond in a way that expresses disappointment with the process while still being professional? Because I feel like this is something I personally could not just let go.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t know there’s really much point in doing it, but certainly if the OP wants to say something on principle, she could say something like:

      “I want to be candid with you that I’m disappointed in how this played out. We’d talked explicitly about salary much earlier in the process, and you’d indicated that the number I named worked on your end. I continued in the process with that understanding. I’m not sure I understand why you’d ask me to invest so much time with you and your team while knowing that we were so far apart on salary, and I’m pretty taken aback that you’d offer me something so far below the number we discussed without even acknowledging or explaining it.”

      1. Chriama*

        Thanks for that. I agree that it’s probably not going to accomplish anything, but just *maybe* he’d realize how disrespectful of your time it was or maybe he was under pressure from the executive team and this is something he can use as ammo in future candidate searches when setting salary. Or maybe he’ll come up with an explanation that at least makes you willing to talk to him in the future if he has another job opening. Or maybe I just need to perfect the Art of Letting Go.

        1. Michele*

          Is it possible to include the mention about using her/his work? I get that prospective employers want samples, but to actually implement her/his ideas and not offer him/her the job is surprising.

  18. Crazy Dog Lady*

    Something similar happened to me, and I’m sorry this happened to you! They weren’t giving me a pay cut, but they were coming in way under what I wanted in terms of salary – so it would’ve basically been the same as what I was making at my current job. The title would’ve been a giant step back for me as well. This firm approached me about this job – I wasn’t looking – and I was very irritated. They would not negotiate at all, and kept saying that they have an extremely high employee satisfaction level. When I asked about their benefits because they were worded in a strange way, they admitted that they were below market. I ultimately turned down the offer and they were genuinely confused as to why…you have to know what you’re worth and you have to stick to your guns (if you are in a position to do so – I recognize that sometimes circumstances don’t allow for that). Good for you for making this decision, and shame on them for being cagey and stealing your ideas!

  19. Barney Barnaby*

    The third paragraph is interesting. So the OP had:
    *a phone interview
    *an in-person interview
    *a test that was apparently more than a quick half hour thingy
    *discussion about the test
    *interviews with six team members that took an entire day

    That’s not necessarily excessive, but it’s borderline. In my old age, I’m wary of companies that are either too abrupt with the interviewing process, or drag it on ad nauseum. The former often shows that the hiring manager thinks his employees are interchangeable; the latter can either be a result of dysfunctional company culture or a subservience test.

    This sounds like a subservience test: the company wants to hire doormats and has found an effective way of doing so.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      If she has a technical job at all, this would not be at all out of line. My husband used to complain about the longer testing process, until he was put in charge of making up tests for his departments, and so many of the candidates- ones with years’ experience, not just college hires- couldn’t do the very simplest thing they claimed they had years’ experience doing. He’s never had an interview process shorter than what the LW described. They always do a phone interview first, then some companies want to do a Skype interview. Then they let you into the office where you interview first with the Hiring Manager and then with a delegation of the team or teams looking to hire you, who likely administer the test- all done in one day. Then there is a follow up conversation where the Hiring Manager either tells you no (or has the recruiter tell you no) or he tells you to expect an offer whenever HR/Etc crunch the numbers. It was likely during the call that they discussed that they’d be implementing some of her ideas. Then eventually you get the offer. The 50 day time frame is also about what I’ve experienced- mostly long waits between the phone and in person interview, and then another long wait at the end while they evaluate all the candidates.

  20. Ruth Haw*

    On glassdoor, and I’m sure other sites, you can review a company for its interview process. I recommend telling your entire story there.

  21. Zack*

    @Paige Turner, Caroline + Alison you are all right on the ball with this one. I can’t help but put a little blame on OP here. C’mon lady wake up. Companies play you when you appear less than 100% clued up during negotiating and accepting a job offer. Instead of trying to please everybody doing these waste of time ‘tests’. Politely object. I experienced similar cases recently with several companies I interviewed with. When asked to complete strange assessments which look like veiled attempts at free work, I halted the process. Simple as that. As for salary, never ever give them a figure. No no, just give a wide range. That way you remain likable and polite and respond to their salary request without oversharing and providing information that will deter you getting a higher salary. I just accepted a job with a company I was really impressed with. They offered me at the top of my range in addition to other bonuses. But this did not come without a strategy. HR tried of course to coerce me into a salary expectations discussion at first phone screening. I spun the “if there is a good fit at the end I would be willing to negotiate”line. Notice I said I ‘would’ not I will. This in the case of a low ball allows space to flat out reject a crappy offer and forces them if still interested to work harder and come back with something better. After final interview I was asked again by way of a quick phone call. This time I gave a wide range. In a nutshell any company openly trying to low ball you is a bad sign. In OP’s case they see a nice person who can do the job but no smart business woman hence they treat you like a clueless college grad. Throughout a job application and an interview, a company is assessing you. Your personality, your business acumen, as well as your credentials. You probably can see now how and why it went how it did. At least you know for next time. It pays to be circumspect and prudent when dealing with future employers. Begin to question things at the time and avoid acting like a zombie or a headless chicken. Good luck!

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