employers say they appreciate that I tried to negotiate salary, but they won’t budge

A reader writes:

I wonder if there is some critical flaw in my negotiation strategy that’s making employers not take me seriously. With the last two jobs I’ve been offered (both in the last year), I have tried to negotiate on flexible scheduling and/or salary. For the first, I had a great interview and a near immediate offer for a job I was highly qualified for. They offered me a certain salary and I asked if they could come up from that number. I presented the (publicly available) salary information for the other employees at the same level and asked that my salary offer match the higher of the range. It was a difference of only $5k, but the hiring manager still refused and stuck with the initial offer. She said she appreciated that I was negotiating and that she knew that skill would serve me well in the position. I was annoyed, but accepted the job anyway.

In my current job negotiation, I was very clearly told I was the favored candidate and offered a certain salary. I expressed enthusiasm for the position and offer and asked for a flexible schedule, as that was the most important factor to me over salary. I was denied ostensibly on account of other employees having been denied the same. In response I asked for them to come up on the salary since the flexible schedule has real economic value to me, but was again denied and told that the offer was the highest in the range for the position. The hiring manager said that he appreciated my negotiation and that it would serve me well in the position.

What is up? Is it common now for an employer’s first offer to be final offer? Is “appreciating the negotiation that will serve well in the position” a throw-away line from managers stonewalling applicants on negotiation? If they think it is a valuable skill, why aren’t they persuaded to respond to it? Are they not taking me seriously for some reason? For what it’s worth, I am a young-looking mid-30s woman with excellent credentials in a highly skilled field.

Just because you can try to negotiate salary doesn’t mean that you will always succeed.

I think you’re thinking of this as “if I ask for more money, I’ll always get at least something,” but that’s not how it works.

If you ask for more money, sometimes you will get it.

But not getting it in two cases (while still getting an overall positive response) isn’t about employers not taking you seriously or trying to stonewall you. It just means that in those two cases, those two employers weren’t persuaded that it made sense to offer you more. They made you their best offer the first time. Some employers do that. I wouldn’t conclude anything more than that based on two instances.

You might think, “But surely if they think I’m the best candidate, throwing another few thousand dollars my way shouldn’t be a deal-breaker.” But when an employer has a clear, set salary range for a position, it can be legitimate for them to want to keep you in the part of that range that your skills and experience match up with. For one thing, if they don’t do that, they risk creating salary equity issues with other employees (current or future ones). For another, if they start you at the top of their range, they may not have room to raise your salary in the future.

Or frankly, they may just be more willing to walk away than you are. One person in a negotiation usually is, and sometimes that’ll be you and sometimes that’ll be the employer. If they have other good candidates who they’re excited about, they may not have incentive to cave on stuff they’d rather not cave on. (It’s also possible that if you’d walked, they would have raised the offer. Or not, which is why bluffing can be very risky.)

And when you’re talking about negotiating something like a flexible schedule, there can be all sorts of reasons it doesn’t make sense for them to say yes to that. The reason they gave you — that they’d denied it to other employees — can be a good one. Yes, employers in general should try to be as flexible as possible but there are plenty of roles where that doesn’t make sense or where they could do it for one or two people but not for everyone (and in that case, doing it for the newest person when others have wanted it is unlikely to go over well).

Keep trying to negotiate with future offers. But go into it being okay with the idea that asking for something more doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get it (just like they won’t necessarily get a yes from you if they ask you to consider something unpalatable as part of the offer). That doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong; that’s just how these things go sometimes.

And when an employer won’t budge, you still get to evaluate the offer you have … and you can walk away if you don’t believe the pay is fair or in line with the market or if the offer otherwise isn’t what you want.

{ 215 comments… read them below }

  1. Charlie*

    For my current job, I apparently started negotiating for a higher salary without really knowing it. “Wellll, given that it would involve a relocation, and the cost of living is fairly high there, I’d really have to think about it.”

    “We understand. How about [offer] + $8000?”

    “………SOLD to the man in the funny hat.”

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      That can work the opposite way too. ;)

      I don’t know if my husband would have been able to negotiate more anyway- although the salary offered was smack dab in the middle of what glassdoor says his position pays, in both his specific company and the overall area- but when the offer only met his current salary, and he tried to negotiate a little more, they cited the relocation expenses and the fact that COL is so much lower here. Which is very true (and in real terms, it was like he doubled his salary. We knew that.) but he also wasn’t asking for anything outside of the going market rate, and he knows the best time to get more money is when you’re hired, as they are so much less likely to offer substantial raises later. The company writes off the bulk of those relocation expenses- they made that clear, so we knew we couldn’t write any of them off- so the real thing was they didn’t think they had to offer more because we were relocating someplace less expensive. If he’d moved from within the area, they likely would have had to.

    2. Government Worker*

      I kind of negotiated by accident for my current job, too. It’s public sector and part of a union, so I really had no idea if it was negotiable. There was no salary info in the initial job posting and it didn’t come up in the interview (there was a single interview, with a panel and pre-set questions, by phone with crappy sound quality. Not great for asking questions.) I found out the salary in my official offer letter from HR, and emailed back to ask if it was negotiable at all but without mentioning any numbers – it wasn’t clear to me at all if the salary was totally set by the union rules or not, or who I would negotiate with. They responded by offering $5k more, which I found out only after I started meant starting me at grade X step 2 instead of grade X step 1.

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Boy do I need glasses. Thought you said “public sector and part of a unicorn”‘

  2. Lead, Follow or Get Outta the Way!*

    Am I reading this correctly that the OP just took a job last year and is already interviewing for other positions? If so, this could also be a reason why your negotiation in this last case may not have gone so well. They may not be willing to invest more in someone that (from the information given) may not stay very long. Just a thought…

    1. J*

      Or, it’s an industry thing. My friends who work in advertising change jobs every 12-18 months. When the client goes, so does the team, and no one bats an eyelash. So maybe this is a perfectly reasonable thing?

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        I work in advertising, and stints of 18 months or so are common at the junior level. OP says “two offers in the last year,” though, which means less than a year in her current position. When I see a resume with a job duration of less than a year, if the job before that wasn’t at least a two-year thing, I start to wonder whether I’m going to be able to keep the person on for very long.

        Depends on the agency whether teams are let go when clients change agencies — the smarter ones will use the loss of a client as a way to shed dead wood, even if the mediocre employees are not working on the account that was cut, and redistribute the best employees from the lost account. The more shortsighted ones will do as you say.

        1. Spooky*

          Seconding this. I worked in PR (very close to advertising) and the average turnover for the entry positions was 8 months. I was there for 1 yr 9 months, but by the time I left I’d been there longer than 2/3 of the agency. It’s frequently seen as a good thing to move around because working with different brands and editors grows your network of contacts, and that’s the most valuable thing a publicist can have.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Advertising is one of the rare fields that works like this though. If the OP isn’t in advertising or similar, then it’s definitely true that these are very short-term stays.

    2. AdAgencyChick*

      Excellent point.

      Also, a flexible schedule is often harder to provide than salary. An employer at least has a chance of keeping salary differentials between employees quiet, but if Jane gets to work from home every day and Lucinda does not, that is obvious to other employees and likely to create dissension in the ranks, especially if Lucinda asked for a flexible schedule and was told no.

      At least in my world, “flexible scheduling” means we employees are expected to be flexible (i.e., extend ourselves beyond a normal workday/week) to meet the needs of our clients. I as a manager am not going to say yes to an employee who wants reduced hours or guaranteed telecommuting unless she has REALLY proven to me that she’s worth it, because invariably I or my other direct reports are going to end up picking up some of the slack. So I’m REALLY unlikely to allow that for an untried candidate, especially one who might be a job-hopper.

      YMMV by industry of course!

      1. LBK*

        Yeah, I think negotiating for a flexible schedule is always going to be tough. Either that’s just not how the department operates, so you have to be a truly perfect candidate and have a good justification for why you want an exception to their standard practice, or the department is already fine with WFH in which case you don’t need to negotiate for it.

        Salary is easier because everyone gets paid a salary; it’s not as dependent on the culture of the team as to how big of an ask that is.

        1. AMPG*

          There are different ways to be flexible, though. At my current job the standard start time is 8:30. My kid gets on the bus at 8:30 and I didn’t want to have to pay for before-care, so I asked up front if I could start later, and it was no problem. I still work in the office every day, but come in around 9:30.

          1. LBK*

            Oh yeah, for sure – I was thinking flexible in terms of being allowed to WFH, but if it’s just a case of a shifted schedule that’s otherwise the same as everyone else’s, I agree those should be pretty easy to negotiate (and I wouldn’t even consider that a true negotiation, more like asking for an accommodation).

            1. AD*

              In the industries I’ve worked in, negotiating for flex schedules is also something that doesn’t come into play until you are in a much more senior role.
              Not knowing what industry the OP is in and what point in their career they are at, it’s hard to make the call. But the job-hopping and the lack of seniority may certainly factor into why these negotiations are tanking.

      2. Stranger than fiction*

        Their reasoning behind no flexibile schedule was sound too. Sounds like no other employees have it there.

    3. Sue Wilson*

      We only have evidence of one short stay. We don’t know how long OP was her job before the 1st negotiation attempt, if she had a job.

    4. OP*

      OP here. I’ve had only one short stay and it was both not terribly surprising for the industry and revolved around an out-of-state move for partner’s job. So, no red flags there.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        I think you are mistaken if you think a short stay because you moved for a partner’s job isn’t a red flag. It actually is in a lot of cases. Ask any spouse of anyone who moves often for a job (military being the most common, but clergy’s spouses also have the same problem)

        1. Gaara*

          I think that might depend on more context. Military people move frequently. An academic might move frequently, particularly at the start of his or her career. But lawyers rarely move geographic areas, for example, so they’re more likely to be in their new location permanently.

    5. Artemesia*

      Or maybe they will think – hey we lowballed her and so she is moving on.
      It may not be the case, but I always wonder if a man in the same position would have been offered more if the OP is a woman. The literature certainly suggests that women have less love negotiating car prices, salaries etc. Perhaps since the OP already has a good job, walking away would have been the best strategy especially after only a year on the job; I think when you are serious about negotiating it communicates. If you will take what you are offered maybe that shows.

  3. always in email jail*

    This is very common with government jobs, unfortunately. At least in my state. There are actually rules stating that a candidate can not be offered more that X% over their current salary, that the salary must be in line with comparable positions in the organization, etc. It’s frustrating both from an employee and hiring manager perspective, but unfortunately there is truly very little room to budge. If other employees’ salaries are publicly available it sounds like it may be a government position, which may bring it back to the “can’t offer more than X% over their current salary” rule. I only say all of this because I’ve been in the position of hiring someone and really, really wanting to offer them more money so I can retain them, but ultimately being powerless to do so.

    From the candidate side of things I would take it as a good sign that they’re upfront with you about the reason (such as “unfortunately we’ve denied current employees that same thing”). At least they’re being relatively transparent.

    Either way, this is always frustrating to deal with, especially when you feel like you’ll always be locked at a lower salary than you’re valued at because of standard salary practices in an organization.

    1. Charlie*

      This is a good point. Many public-sector jobs have a fixed, predetermined pay ladder. For the Feds, it’s the GS scale – GS-5, GS-7, GS-12, whatever. Within each grade there’s “steps” to adjust for time in grade, education, experience, and so on. If you meet the requirements for a GS-12 Step 3, you get $68,311 plus location adjustment and that’s it – there’s almost no room for negotiation.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Honestly, this is a big part of why government work appealed to me so much when I was a wee thing and looking at the workforce: as a woman, and especially as a black woman, I knew I would be operating at a disadvantage negotiating salary for all the usual reasons (too pushy, too “angry”, etc.) and I wanted to at least start my career without that holding back my initial earnings (which as we all know multiply over the course of a career).

    2. TootsNYC*

      I would also take it as a good sign (for you, for your negotiating tactics, and for the world in general) that they say, “I appreciate your negotiating; that’s a good thing.”

      Instead of getting pissy at you for being greedy, etc.

      It means they are reasonable managers, and it means your technique is strong but not making enemies.

    3. Emily*

      If the issue is that they cannot legally be flexible in terms of salaries, they would presumably make that clear to LW. It doesn’t sound like that’s how the conversations are going. I would take her at her implied word here that no one has said to her “there is a fixed salary schedule here and I must hire you at this level” or something equivalent.

      1. always in email jail*

        I read that there IS a fixed salary schedule, since they already told her she was offered at the top of the range for her position and they can’t go any higher.

    4. SouthernLadybug*

      I’ve worked in state government and with non-profits – I agree with all of the above. Sometimes it’s ridiculous. And really hinders government from hiring the best people. Also, my field is often grant funded. When a funder cuts a grant request, sometimes that comes from salary – and there really is no additional money that can be put towards the position. At my current work, we have a contract from a state agency that is funded by federal dollars. The position really is worth more than our salary cap for an outstanding person with lots of experience. But we still wouldn’t be able to negotiate above a certain cap – even if we desperately wanted to and agreed the requested salary was reasonable for the position and experience of the candidate. It stinks and isn’t fair.

    5. insert pun here*

      Just curious — what happens if you have someone coming from the private sector who can’t (or won’t) reveal their salary? Do you just… not ever hire people if that’s the case?

      1. OhNo*

        They may base it off the previous salary for the position, rather than the applicant’s previous salaries. Although in my experience, they really want that previous salary info as well, so it may be based off that.

        Last time I applied for a government position, I had to provide previous salary information with my application through the online system. Anything other than a plausible number (like putting zeroes or any text explanation) either doesn’t allow you to submit the application or gets you auto-rejected. I don’t know if or how they verify previous salaries, though.

        1. SouthernLadybug*

          In my state, it depends on the agency and their if those types of responses get you knocked out of the system. But in general, caps on raises are only in effect for those moving from a state job to another state job. Some people go state-private-state to increase their salaries more. Limits within salary ranges for specific positions are still in effect, however.

        2. MillersSpring*

          When I’ve run into such systems, I’ve entered 10000 for each past position. I do NOT supply my past salary details. I’ll provide a target range for the desired position but not my own current or past salaries. F—. That.

          It’s a tactic that can put me out of the running, but I hope the tide is turning among employers. I’m a hiring manager, and I would respect any candidate who took this tack. (Pretty sure my current company does not ask for past salary info.)

      2. Always in email jail*

        You must provide at least 2 of your previous pay stubs as proof of your previous salary before getting a written offer with your salary and start date (I think it’s a horrible system)

        I don’t know what happens if they’ve signed a NDA or something with a previous employer, but I’m pretty sure refusal on other grounds means no offer

        1. Koko*

          Pay stubs?? There is personal information on there beyond just salary! Your SSN is often printed, they can see if you’re putting large amounts of money in an HSA, they can see if you have wage garnishments, they can see how much vacation you’ve accrued and recently spent. What an awful thing to make people choose between giving near-strangers who haven’t even offered them a job yet access to that kind of information, or giving up the job.

          1. Zombii*

            I agree on most of your points but clutching pearls over providing your SSN to an employer as a condition of employment seems like a waste of outrage.

            1. Koko*

              I will happily provide it to an employer who has offered me a job. I’m not “outraged” so much as I know that limiting the amount of people who have your SSN to those who actually need it is a smart thing to do. It’s the fact that the SSN would be available to them *before* an offer that may not even come that seems like unnecessary risk to me.

        2. insert pun here*

          Interesting, thanks. I’m in the private sector and signed an NDA, but my job exists in the public sector too, and I’ve always wondered how this would work.

    6. Rusty Shackelford*

      There are actually rules stating that a candidate can not be offered more that X% over their current salary

      What about entry-level jobs where someone might not even have a current salary? Or someone who took a job they were overqualified for while looking for a position in their field? What a horrible way to do things.

      1. HRChick*

        The rule isn’t that they must make % over, but that there’s a limit to how much higher they can go.

        There are pay ranges in the government. If things get sticky, they refer to those.

      2. Always in email jail*

        For us, if they don’t have a previous salary, they start at the bottom of the pay scale. I had to fight very hard to get a borderline living wage for someone I hired (exceptionally smart and qualified, and had a master’s degree) who was working as a receptionist for a paycheck. The state insisted we go off of that salary despite it not being a comparable job. I agree, it’s a horrible way to do things.

    7. motherofdragons*

      Same for nonprofit/other agencies contracting with government entities. When I worked for a State agency, salary was fixed, and you could count on an X% pay increase each year on your work anniversary (and sometimes at the beginning of each fiscal year), depending on union negotiations. When I interviewed for my current job at a nonprofit, I thought I’d be able to negotiate salary, and I took all of Alison’s great advice and tried it out. I was told nope, salary is firm, and it has to do with the fact that my salary is paid exclusively out of contracts with government entities.

    8. Jerry Vandesic*

      “There are actually rules stating that a candidate can not be offered more that X% over their current salary …”

      It will be interesting to see how these kinds of rules will fare against state laws (e.g., Massachusetts) that outlaw employers from asking candidates their current salaries before an offer is made. The MA law doesn’t kick in until July of this year, so it will be a while before we see what happens.

      1. Jerry Vandesic*

        Sorry, I meant to say July 2018, not this year. Even longer to wait to see the impact.

  4. Big10Professor*

    I’d be curious if having more information widely available over the internet (glassdoor, job search forums, cost of living comparison tools, etc.) has lead employers to open with their best offer more than they would have 10 or 20 years ago.

    1. PinkCupcake*

      I’m curious about this too, so I did a little experiment yesterday. I was contacted by a corporate recruiter for a position I’d be highly qualified for and reasonably interested in. Based on the job description alone, though, it was difficult to tell what “level” the position really was. I’m already in a really good job with a really good company, so I’m not currently looking. I told the recruiter I’d be happy to discuss the position, but first I’d like to know what salary range was budgeted for the position in order to determine if investing time in their process would be worth it. After several iterations of their used care salesman tactics, they wouldn’t even give me a range. I didn’t have anything to lose by insisting on this, but they wouldn’t budge. We both walked away. So, granted, this is just one data point, but the recruiter was from a major healthcare corporation.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      We tend to open with our best offer because we see hiring as bringing someone onto our team and want to make a fair offer that we hope someone will feel good about accepting (and also because it’s far more efficient to lay our cards on the table early on). We will sometimes negotiate for a niche skills, but, I’d say 9 times out of 10, starting with a fair offer makes the hiring process easier and more pleasant for everyone. I don’t want someone coming in feeling like we tried to cheat them. (Some do anyway, but we do spend a lot of time with market surveys to make sure we’re in the right ballpark, at least, and you can’t make everyone happy.)

      I think internet resources are hit and miss. I find a lot of disparity between those and the paid surveys that HR gets that are industry- and area-specific (in both directions — if my senior staff is on salary.com, I bet they love us and think they’re being paid well above market). Glassdoor is useless for my organization. The few salaries that are on there are for mostly single-occupancy positions and fairly out-of-date. I’m sure that this is not true for all industries, but I haven’t been wowed by their information on mine.

  5. Emily*

    I’m female, in my early 30s, and have also not done well negotiating salary.

    In one case, I actually had the employer not show up to the next interview. As in, the head of the company, who was supposed to interview me, was not in the office when he was supposed to interview me. I wound up interviewing with people who were much more junior. They never contacted me again and I sure didn’t want to talk to them. I can’t think of anything I did that was offensive other than try to negotiate salary in the phone interview; I was talking to the head of the company and he practically recoiled when I listed a number that was very much in line with my industry and experience. (I just wish he’d canceled the next interview rather than not showing up for it.)

    In my current job, I know I’m making less than both of the last two men to hold the position before me. (Both were less-qualified based on academic credentials and work experience.) I attempted to negotiate salary, they went up a little, but I’m still making less. But the job was the best option I had at the time.

    I don’t know that this LW is being taken less-seriously because she’s young-looking and female. But I’m fairly certain that is a thing.

    1. Gabriela*

      The thing that sucks about this is that yes, it is a thing, but you can never be sure why you don’t get what you want in salary negotiation. I have attempted twice and both times met with stiff resistance (both for internal promotions) and it drives me crazy, because I don’t want to walk around harboring the resentment that it might be because I am a woman (obviously not explicitly, but because of the way women are perceived, unconscious bias, blah blah, etc), but like you said- it is a thing.

    2. TCO*

      It’s quite possibly a factor, because we know that gender discrimination exists. But I’m a young-looking 30 year-old woman and I’ve successfully negotiated salary at my last three jobs. Our personal experiences aren’t proof that OP’s gender is or isn’t a factor here. I’m leaning towards no since her negotiation attempts were applauded–it means that the hiring managers appreciated her assertiveness, even if she wasn’t successful.

      1. Emily*

        I’m not suggesting that my personal experience is proof that her gender is a factor in hiring.

        My experience has been that when you suggest this might be a thing, people find all sorts of reasons why actually the outcome you’re seeing is your fault or what you think you’re seeing isn’t actually what you’re seeing. I’d like to offer the possibility, based on my personal experience, that if you feel like you might be being treated differently because you are female, that’s not crazy and maybe you aren’t doing anything wrong and you are perceiving your situation correctly.

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I agree with TCO, mostly because of the positive responses OP is receiving.

        FWIW, I’m a woman in her 30s who appears younger than her age, and I’ve negotiated my salary since my mid-20s and have succeeded 85% of the time (including with public and private employers).

        I don’t say this to brag, but rather, to note that despite the structural barriers women face re: equal pay, when you’re receiving positive feedback on your effort to negotiate (even if it doesn’t ultimately lead to a pay raise), that’s often an indicator that your gender/age may not be the driving factor for why negotiations aren’t successful.

        1. Purr purr purr*

          It might be industry-specific as well though, just to add a complicating factor. I work in STEM in a very male-dominated field (in my previous job, I was the only woman) and there was a definite bias in the way I was treated. That situation was obvious to everyone, not just me, for salary and promotions given that I had 9 years experience and was stuck in an entry-level job, despite glowing references, significant responsibility in my old job, etc. I could see how women would be second-guessing themselves if it was more subtle sexism, e.g. am I a poor negotiator, is my gender holding me back or does the company not have the budget?

    3. Jessesgirl72*

      In the first case, did you try to negotiate the salary, or simply state what range you were expecting? You’re not supposed to actually try to negotiate until you have the offer in hand. I would stop the process for someone who was already trying to argue with me, if I had a salary range in which I could hire- and since it was a phone interview, I would think how young you may or may not look wouldn’t come into play. The polite thing to do would have been to cancel or not schedule the in-person interview. Or you could have said that there was no reason to continue, if your expectations for salary were so far apart.

      There are also legitimate reasons why someone could make less than the last two people who held the position- the market changes, and so does the health of the company. People who were hired during boom times are going to earn more than people who are hired during a slump.

      It’s not that sexism doesn’t exist- it surely does- but just because you earn less than the person who held your position before you isn’t a clear cut indicator that it’s sexism.

      1. Emily*

        The last person who held my job was there for maybe 10 weeks. I don’t think that there were major changes to the market or the company during that time.

        I am not claiming 100% certainty on this. But I wish that a common response to “I think I’m being discriminated against” was not “here are some reasons why maybe you’re not.” Because it’s never going to be 100% certain, that tendency means that in nearly every scenario where gender discrimination is actually occurring, the common response that women get when they talk about it is to be doubted.

        1. AD*

          It’s not that sexism doesn’t exist- it surely does- but just because you earn less than the person who held your position before you isn’t a clear cut indicator that it’s sexism.

          I think you misinterpreted what jessegirl72 said, as the above sentence indicates.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Trying to negotiate salary in the phone interview strikes me as off, though — typically you shouldn’t be negotiating until you have an offer, whereas phone interviews are typically early stages. (Although reading your comment again, it sounds less like negotiation and maybe more like you just answering a question about what salary range you were looking for? If that’s the case, I wouldn’t put that in the “didn’t do well with negotiating” category because you weren’t really at the negotiating stage there.)

      1. Emily*

        He asked me for a range, yes. We don’t necessarily need to put that in the “didn’t do well with negotiating” category, but I think it’s in a related one.

        1. Henry Bennett*

          But that’s still poor negotiating. You didn’t have to give him numbers.

          Typically when I’m asked to give a range like that at that stage I’ll say something like, “I don’t know what your range or budget is for this job. If we get to that stage make me the best offer you can and we’ll go from there.”

          Hell I’ve even negotiated up from the number they subsequently gave me. Telling them the range over the phone like that was poor negotiating.

    5. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

      Discussing salary during a phone interview isn’t really negotiation, not the way I think of it. If we had a job that paid in the 40k range and an applicant said their floor is $50k during a phone interview, we just wouldn’t bring them in at all. That’s not a failed negotiation, that’s a mismatch to weed out at the start.

      In the case you describe, what the owner should have done is not schedule the interview (assuming the amount you wanted was more than he knew he was willing to pay.)

      1. kristinyc*

        I came here to say something similar. I’m hiring for a role right now at a nonprofit, in an industry that has a VERY wide range of salaries by location (digital marketing). I’m getting amazing applications with perfect experience – but I have a budget for the salary, and there’s not a lot of wiggle room. It stinks. If I could afford some of the applicants I have, I’d hire them. It’s also weird because we’re in NYC, but the job could be remote. I’ve found that the level of candidate we can get for our budget REALLY varies by location. I am still getting great applicants in our budget though, so I’m excited about that!

        1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

          Yeah, any range that’s available doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Another consideration is current employee salaries in the same or like jobs. If my best most amazing Teapot Polishers are making $30 an hour after years of experience with us, I can’t bring the new guy in at $30 unless there’s some extreme circumstances and I’m willing to do the work/spend the money to adjust the disparity.

          Which! Doesn’t mean New Guy shouldn’t be making $30 an hour, he just can’t make that with us within our structure and I have to find someone who is happy with what we have to offer.

          I absolutely think people should negotiate for what they want or need. It’s not a failure on anybody’s end of the parties can’t come to terms, that’s business.

    6. LSP*

      It’s definitely something that happens, though since you can never be certain if there is an unconscious bias playing into it, it’s really hard to address it.

      I was fortunate enough that upon moving out of the restricted government realm into the private sector, when I had to actually negotiate a salary for the first time ever, I was actually offered $5k over what I had asked for. Maybe that means I undervalued myself and I could have asked for more, but for me, I’m making good money, and between my salary and the salary my husband brings in, we were able to buy a dream home this year.

    7. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Just remember though, sometimes male co-workers make more than females because of a) experience and qualifications and / OR they may be better negotiators than the female was when she came into the firm.

      And perhaps in this position – they were looking to lower expenses when they filled the vacancy, and it may not have had anything to do with gender.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        If it’s just because they’re better negotiators, that’s actually illegal. You can’t pay men and women differently for the same work unless it’s based on qualifications, responsibilities, or seniority. Doesn’t matter if your intent wasn’t discriminatory; the impact still is.

        1. Artemesia*

          Men are ‘better negotiators’ buying cars too LOL. But when controlled experiments have been done with blacks and women using similar negotiation tactics to white men, they still didn’t get the good deals. Companies would walk away from a sale before giving them the kinds of deals they were offering white guys the same week. ‘Better negotiator’ is code for ‘we reward guys like us.’

        2. BPT*

          Does that include performance? If two workers of different genders have the same qualifications, responsibilities, and seniority, but one performs higher than the other, is there legal basis there for paying them more? (Obviously the high performer would hopefully get more responsibility, etc, but that depends on the role.)

            1. BPT*

              Gotcha, just wanted to check. And obviously that wouldn’t be a factor in the original hiring anyway, so negotiation skill would still be an illegal criteria to base salary on.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Not really, no. The law is pretty clear-cut. If you can’t legitimately show a concrete and relevant difference in qualifications, that won’t fly.

    8. Artemesia*

      This. And that is the vibe I got with the OP’s letter. A pat on the head ‘you are a good girl for negotiating and isn’t that adorable’ but no money. (of course it may be a guy — but it felt like the kind of routine that is run on women whom they assume will take the job regardless.

      1. Kj*

        Yeah, that is my guess. Maybe I am just cynical, but every time I have tried to negotiate, I’ve been told “we don’t do that.” Women hear that all the time; my husband has never heard it. While that isn’t proof, I’d love to see a study of how often women are told that companies don’t negotiate vs. how often men hear that.

  6. Pink Coat*

    As an HR Manager with a decade of experience, the comment about appreciating her negotiating skills would be something I say out of politeness when I would not appreciate it at all. The way the letter is written (‘I was annoyed but I took the job anyway, etc.) sounds aggressive. And I wonder if she is also negotiating aggressively. I’ve also let seemingly great candidates go when at the negotiating stage they sound VERY monentarily motivated and aggressive. To me they wouldn’t be a good fit personality-wise on our team.

    Aggressiveness is valued and needed in SOME situations but in some it isn’t and I wonder if she is reading the room and people appropriately or being super aggressive and that’s not a good match. Especially since it hasn’t worked twice in a row, look at what she can do differently with the negotiations, not keep negotiating the same way.

    1. Gabriela*

      That’s interesting, because I didn’t read aggressive in the tone at all- maybe a little frustrated, but that is understandable given that she is writing to an advice columnist. Given that both times the offer was still extended, I’d tend to think that they are in fact being transparent about the reasons they are not able to meet what she’s asking, rather than her being “super aggressive”.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I don’t read the letter as aggressive, but I do think being annoyed that an employer gave you their best offer isn’t really a well-taken response.

      1. Mike C.*

        I dunno, hearing that repeatedly would come off as patronizing to me. I feel like that’s a larger factor than many here are taking into account.

    3. Charlie*

      In fairness, of course they’re monetarily motivated. Aggressive strays over the line, but they’re selling you the majority of their waking hours and they want to get a good price. And given the employment market’s past ten years, you’re unavoidably going to be dealing with people holding fresh memories of being treated in poor faith by an employer they were loyal to. The workforce is thinking in a lot more mercenary way lately.

        1. Jessesgirl72*


          And making money is also why businesses exist.

          In an ideal situation, the company is getting more out of you than you are costing them, and you are getting enough money to keep you feeling valued.

          Loyalties and Ideologies change. The person who is working for the money she’s being paid- that doesn’t change. At least not usually, since most of us don’t hit the lottery or get unexpected inheritances.

        2. Charlie*

          Same here, but I think that in the past, particularly with Boomers and Gen X, there was a lot more expectation that the employment relationship would entail a certain amount of mutual loyalty and relationship-building, that one had to pay dues and would be duly advanced in return, that good workers would be rewarded with frequent raises and protected during bad times. Now? HAHAHA right, show me the money.

          1. LBK*

            I’m not usually one for such cynicism, but I really think a lot of that was BS to keep people happy with bad circumstances – false promises of future rewards for loyalty. This seems no more evident than it how rapidly those promises dissolved as soon as things got bad. Which makes total sense, because if the company’s losing money, they can’t pull a salary budget out of thin air, but there was a certain level of pulling the wool over people’s eyes and assuring them that it would never happen.

            We’re temporarily in a state where people are more skeptical about those kinds of promises because the last economic downturn is so recent, but I wonder if after another decade we’ll start getting back to the way things used to be, potentially for the worse.

            1. Charlie*

              Oh, I don’t think that’s too cynical at all. I think that was sentimentalism on the part of the workers, not a real loyalty on the part of their employers.

              1. LBK*

                Good perspective. Some people probably told themselves that in order to keep motivated and/or sane, that all their work would *have* to pay off at some point, and companies probably didn’t see any reason to dissuade them of that notion.

            2. Kj*

              Boomers were much more likely to get pensions based on how long you work at a company. That encourages loyalty. I have never even seen a job posting that offers a pension. Now we get 401Ks, the company maybe matches a bit and we are subject to the whims of the market. Bring back the pension and maybe there will be more loyalty.

      1. always in email jail*

        Glad I scrolled down, because I came to say the same thing. OF COURSE they’re monetarily motivated… otherwise they’d be doing volunteer work, not a job.

      2. Pink Coat*

        I also work for money. But money isn’t the ONLY thing I look for when I apply for a job. It’s the job itself, my colleagues, the supervisor, and the company and benefits that complete the picture. Yes, money is important but it’s not the only thing. Plus, I do not work in a business but a non-profit so maybe that’s skewing everyone’s replies to my comment.
        Job satisfaction isn’t tied to dollars. All the research states that. I’m simply looking for people who if paid a fair rate, will be happy working with their colleagues and doing a job they enjoy.

        1. Mike C.*

          People who work at non-profits still have bills to pay.

          Also, job satisfaction isn’t the only thing, but it is certainly tied to dollars. It’s just like everything else, you have to deal with the marginal value of whatever it is that you’re being compensated with. There’s no “all research says that”, and studies I’ve read differ from the maximum value/dollar anywhere from $70k per person in a household to $210k.

          Given that the household median income in the United States is around the mid 50k range, money is clearly going to be a motivating factor for the majority of us.

          1. Willow*

            There’s a difference between money being a motivating factor, and money being the only factor. Money is generally why people work at all, but someone can choose to work in a particular job for lots of other reasons.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Of course, but if you’re applying to a nonprofit with limited resources and low salaries (which isn’t all of them, but it’s some), you’re probably not a great match if money is your single most important motivator for wanting this particular job.

        2. Don't Mind Me*

          People can need more money without it being the only thing that they are looking for in the job. They may also be considering the colleagues, supervisor, company, benefits AND their own bills and ability to take care of themselves and their families.

      3. linda*

        THANK YOU, Charlie.

        “The way the letter is written (‘I was annoyed but I took the job anyway, etc.) sounds aggressive. And I wonder if she is also negotiating aggressively. I’ve also let seemingly great candidates go when at the negotiating stage they sound VERY monentarily motivated and aggressive. To me they wouldn’t be a good fit personality-wise on our team.”

        She was monetarily motivated–uh YEAH, it is a potential JOB, not a volunteering gig!!! The tide is turning and employers need to pony up the dough. People are not showing up to work for the fun of it. They work for PAY, capice?!

    4. Mike C.*

      Why is it bad to be “monetarily motivated”? We all work for a paycheck and we all have financial responsibilities.

      Also, I’m always concerned when I hear people say that they decline to hire good, professional candidates because they wouldn’t “be a good fit personality-wise”. That’s a great way to eliminate people of various and differing backgrounds.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Sometimes that’s what it means, but sometimes it’s legit — “not a good fit personality-wise” can be “too rigid in an environment that values flexibility,” “brash and aggressive in an environment that requires diplomacy and a light touch,” “not likely to be able to deal effectively with the strong personalities here,” and all sorts of other things that are genuinely relevant.

      2. Pink Coat*

        I never said it was ‘bad’ to be monetarily motivated. It’s just not a characteristic valued by my organization or industry. Please see my comment above.

        1. TL -*

          It is indeed valued by your organization or industry, and above all else, because otherwise you would be completely volunteer-staffed.

          It probably isn’t valued to the exclusion of everything else like it could be in Wall Street, but I imagine that if your organization told your employees they were moving to volunteer status, effective immediately, all of them would quit on the spot. Whereas other things (new management, change of mission, ect..) would probably lead to a slow exodus of most, but not all, employees.

    5. OP*

      OP here. This is just the kind of comment that makes me wonder if there is a gendered double-standard at play here. In my experience I have seen the same kind of words and/or tone from a man be interpreted as “assertive,” while interpreted as “aggressive” (or worse) from a woman. Not saying that is what you are doing, PinkCoat, and I do appreciate and will consider your comment– especially if you have concrete suggestions of non-aggressive successful negotiation strategies. But it gives me pause that expressing annoyance (expressing it to myself only, I didn’t tell the employer that I was annoyed of course) could be read as aggression.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        For what it’s worth, I’d interpret annoyance with an employer not being willing to negotiate as potentially off for either a man or a woman.

        1. OP*

          Really? It was less annoyance at not being willing to negotiate than it was annoyance at an offer I perceived as less than what I deserved. Does that not seem like an appropriate response? Whether or not the offer was empirically lower than I merited, who’s to say, but annoyance at what appeared to be a too-low offer seems like a pretty appropriate emotional response. It’s not like I was angry. What am I missing?

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Ah, in the letter I thought you were saying that you were annoyed that “It was a difference of only $5k, but the hiring manager still refused and stuck with the initial offer.”

      2. Pink Coat*

        I am also a female. A very feminist one at that. I totally understand your hesitation with double standards with reactions to men vs. women while negotiating. I have those too. I can’t speak for the hiring managers you encountered but I am certainly very cognizant of treating both males and females the same way.

        Having said that, I have personally had to ‘soften’ my approach at work. I’ve learned to smile while disagreeing with someone, or hold my tongue when I’m interrupted in the middle of talking. I BRISTLE as I type these words. I am in no way asking you to do the same. But, I’ve had to change because I wanted to survive in a professional business environment. Because I guess, I wanted to be liked. I’m not proud of it but that’s what I’ve had to do and it badly hurts my feminist sensibilities.

        Early on in my career I got so much feedback saying I was ‘direct’ (like that’s a bad thing!), ‘abrupt’ (because I didn’t bookend my comments with, ‘I’m sure you’re right, but…’ or some such nonsense) etc that I decided to change. Again, totally not asking you to but that’s what I had to do.

    6. Blueberry*

      The whole point of getting a job is to make money. I don’t understand when hiring managers get all upset when the candidates want to negotiate money.

      I’m sure everyone wants to hire people passionate about the job but at the end of the day most people work because they need money to pay their bills.

      I would not want to work for someone who doesn’t understand this. Because these bosses are the types who don’t understand when you need time off, they don’t understand why you’re asking for a raise, do not have and professional boundaries.

  7. Mark in Cali*

    I would be frustrated too. I would rather them leave it at, “Sorry we can’t do that.”

    I know they mean well, but saying, “But your negotiation skills will serve you well,” just brings me back to high school and middle school where adults kept telling me how talented I am and how far I’ll go and all this crap, but at 31 I’m struggling to see how far I’ve come.

    1. PinkCupcake*

      Agreed. That comment that my negotiation skills would serve me well would almost be a red flag that the job was going to be even more difficult than portrayed at the interview stage. Maybe that would be an overly sensitive misreading of the comment, but that particular statement would almost leave me more frustrated that I didn’t get the higher salary.

      1. LBK*

        Hmm, I don’t know that we can really draw that kind of conclusion from those comments. If this is a sales role then negotiation is a pretty obligatory skill, and there’s plenty of other roles that might need to draw upon negotiation tactics without directly involving a true negotiation. Being able to use benefit language to get buy-in from key stakeholders has been a huge boon to me and I don’t do anything close to hard negotiations.

        But regardless, being good at negotiation doesn’t mean always getting what you want; you can’t measure the success of a negotiation that way. Being good at negotiation means giving yourself the best possible chance at getting your way – but sometimes your best chance is still no chance if they really, truly can’t come up from their original offer.

        1. PinkCupcake*

          Oh sure, it would totally depend on the type of position and the manner in which it was said. I was just kind of envisioning this being said to me for the types of jobs I normally apply for, which are not in any way sales related. It just kind of struck me as a nice way of saying “Glad you’ve got a thick skin. You’re going to need it around here.” Of course, YMMV…

          1. LBK*

            Ah, I definitely wouldn’t have made any kind of connection between negotiation and needing a thick skin. I suppose you can argue that there’s a necessary stoicism when negotiating that might imply that, but I was thinking more along the lines of willingness to negotiate being a sign of confidence, and confidence is a good trait in pretty much any role.

        1. IowaGirl*

          It sounds patronizing to me: “We’re not giving at all, but you sure are a good negotiator, Little Lady!”

          1. Lily Rowan*

            Yeah, I can see that. But especially with young women, I want them to know they should keep negotiating! Even though I’m not moving my offer, someone else might actually be trying to lowball them.

          2. OhNo*

            That’s how it comes across to me, too. But I’ve actually been on the receiving end of that kind of talk on more than one occasion, so that may just be past experiences coloring my perception.

    2. NonProfit Nancy*

      I would try as much as possible to brush off the wording. It’s easy to read too much into what exactly they said in their effort to communicate that they would not revise their offer, which is an awkward thing to communicate. I believe their point is, they wouldn’t go higher but are trying to leave the impression they’re not holding it against OP that she asked.

    3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I would also be frustrated. The second comment re: OP’s negotiation skills could go either way for me, depending on the tone. Depending on how it was delivered, it could easily mean the employer was condescending, the hiring person wanted to encourage OP to negotiate in her profession in general (i.e., not to give up in the future), or it could be said to make her feel better. There’s no way OP could know what’s inside those employers’ heads, and since she didn’t comment on her interpretation of their response aside from expressing annoyance, which is a legit reaction to her situation.

    4. Mreasy*

      Yeah – that comment seems really condescending to me. I honestly don’t see the motivation for making it, unless the employer actually thinks it would soften the blow of refusing the offer? So odd.

  8. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

    As I have said in other threads – the easiest time for you to achieve your salary objective, is usually when you are “the” hot candidate for a position at a new employer. It’s also politically easier for the hiring team to get that money, at that time.

    As far as looking within a year of starting your current situation – it depends. You might be biding your time in position A but position B is a perfect fit for your skill set, experience, and career goals.

    Example – if you’ve been trained/educated in computer engineering and programming, and you are bringing in a paycheck working in operations, anyone understands why you’re looking to get out and move on. Staying in a position beneath your capabilities for any length of time can eliminate you from advancing, even going outside your current company.

    At least in IS/IT, it’s not just a somewhat frequent occurrence; when someone finds him/herself in a role for which he/she is vastly overqualified for – it makes sense to get out and move on – QUICKLY.

    1. Jessesgirl72*

      And then people complain that they can’t get hired for jobs they are overqualified for…

      1. LBK*

        I genuinely believe that most people who get angry about being rejected for being overqualified are just mad that the employer called them on their bluff. The percentage of people who are truly happy in roles they’re overqualified for is minimal, so you have to have an excellent argument that you’re one of them if you want to convince a hiring manager.

        1. Jessesgirl72*

          I think people get mad because (for the most part) they are only thinking about how they need the job. They forget or don’t care that the company loses money every time they have to hire someone new for a position.

        2. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.*

          I’m old. I’ve bitten the

          1) overqualified
          2) long commute
          3) significantly less salary than I was asking for but I’ll take the job anyway

          apples way too many times and it always turns out the same way. What people think they are okay with never lasts long and we don’t go there anymore unless we’ve got a plan to deal with 1) 2) 3) when the issues crop up at the 6 month (or less!) mark.

        3. OhNo*

          Really? I don’t think so. I’m in a role I’m vastly overqualified for right now, and I’m happy with this job. It lets me work on skills I’ve not used much, and lets me leave work at work at the end of the day. It’s nice.

          I didn’t have to give a good reason for wanting it, either. My boss basically ran the first quick phone interview like this:
          “You realize this is a very junior role?” “Yes.”
          “You realize it doesn’t require [advanced degree] that you have?” “Yes.”
          “You realize this position is only part time?” “Yes.”
          “You realize it has no benefits or PTO, and no room for advancement?” “Yes.”
          “Okay, when can you come in for an interview?”

  9. KTM*

    This letter hits near something that I feel like I keep hearing lately that’s slightly misguided. I work a lot with graduating students and participate in a number ‘advice for early career’ type of events and I often get the impression that students think that you HAVE to negotiate. I think some people (students or otherwise) think of it like a car dealership – the employer says a low number, you say a high number, and you meet in the middle. But to me personally, negotiating salary and benefits isn’t necessarily part of the process. It just CAN be. And asking for something doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily get it (or even a portion of it). I think a lot of it depends on the employer and what their approach is with regards to giving you an honest ‘price’ up front or low-balling, etc.

    This is not exactly applicable to the OP (they listed their reasoning) but just because you tried to negotiate doesn’t mean it’s necessarily fair to be annoyed when the employer wouldn’t.

    1. Gabriela*

      That’s a good point. There is a lot of advice out there that encourages negotiation just for the sake of it.

    2. Graciosa*

      I think that this can also cause some misunderstandings about a company’s position and the reasons for not negotiating.

      My (very large) employer tries really hard to make sure pay is equitable. In a given year, we will hire a lot of Teapot Polishers, for example, and there is a pretty set salary that we will offer all of them. We review it regularly against the market, but there needs to be something significant to pull one candidate out of the normal offer range.

      Just asking isn’t enough – if it were, we would end up hiring workers with comparable qualifications for the same position at very different salaries. This is how inappropriate pay disparities are created.

    3. LBK*

      Well, FWIW, I actually do think you should pretty much always at least ask if the salary is negotiable, unless the original offer is obviously on the high end or you get the sense that they’re not likely to react well to the question. There’s tons of stories out there about people who did nothing more than ask if there was room to come up and the HM kicked a few thousand dollars their way with minimal effort required. Particularly because of the way salary drives future earning power, I’d hate to leave any money on the table if I felt there was a low risk/reward ratio.

      This is actually one of the things that contributes to the wage gap: because women are socialized to not negotiate, especially early in their careers, they miss out on those little bumps that ultimately snowball into making a lot more money down the line. Not only are you missing out with your starting salary, but you’re missing potential gains for every percentage-based raise or bonus you get in the future, plus bargaining power for companies that based their offers on your current salary (wrong as that may be). Adding a few thousand dollars to the salary for your first or second job can equate to tens of thousands of dollars at your fifth or sixth job.

      1. Gabriela*

        The flip side of this is that people are likelier to respond more negatively to women who negotiate then men, so while I agree with you in theory- in practice, I think it’s a little more complicated than “negotiate just in case you can get more” if the offer is at or above your expectations. That said, I work in an industry that is notoriously rigid about salaries and have also had negative personal experiences with negotiating.

        1. LBK*

          Oh yeah, I completely agree that there’s gender politics involved and that’s why it’s not always as simple as “just ask”. My point was more that if you assess that it’s not likely to go over poorly, I’d err on the side of asking even if you’re totally happy with the original offer, because in that case there really is no sense in leaving money on the table. Just as a counterpoint to KTM’s point that you don’t always have to negotiate if you’re satisfied with the offer.

          1. Gabriela*

            Yes, agreed. It’s even more complicated for a new grad (as in KTM’s post), because while you don’t necessarily have a ton of leverage with which to negotiate due to lack of experience, your first salary can determine your salary for years to come.

        2. NonProfit Nancy*

          Please let’s not spread the message that women may be penalized for asking and thus should not ask! Women should ask, unless they already have evidence that the offer is generous – as should everybody. Otherwise how else are we ever going to change the status quo.

          1. LBK*

            I don’t think Gabriela was saying that women *shouldn’t* ask, but that there’s an understandable hesitance to do so, because they actually do get penalized for it at a disproportionate rate to men. Stating the reality of the situation isn’t meant to discourage but rather to acknowledge the problem. If we just don’t talk about it, it absolutely won’t get fixed.

            1. Anon for this*

              Yes. While I absolutely think women should negotiate, I think it’s wise to acknowledge that a change in the status quo is going to involve more than women negotiating more like men.

            2. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, but the way it gets talked about here often leads women readers to conclude that they shouldn’t ask at all — some of the comments I’ve read in that regard have been really alarming. You’re penalized MUCH more by not asking than by asking (and it’s not a given that you’ll be penalized at all if you do, and I hate so much that it gets discussed as if you will).

              1. Gabriela*

                That is helpful feedback. I would never intend to suggest that women shouldn’t ask, but I do get tired of the burden of change being put on those who have been historically put at a disadvantage. However, if harping on it is sending the message that it’s not worth it (and given NonProfit Nancy’s response it must be for some people), maybe that’s a discussion for another blog.

              2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

                Yes, yes, yes, this. I agree that putting the onus on women to negotiate is not a structural solution to the pay gap/sexism/gender inequality, but I also think it’s super important for women, at a minimum, to consider whether to negotiate. So we need short- and long-term strategies, and encouraging women to negotiate is a short-term/interim tactic.

                Sometimes it makes no sense to do it because you’re already being paid fairly, or there’s no room to negotiate because of other restrictions on the employer. But if you don’t approach a new job by at least doing basic market research to figure out your appropriate pay range, you won’t know if you’re being low-balled. And if you don’t know you’re being low-balled and take an offer without negotiating, it becomes more difficult to fix that gap as time passes (plus, the cost of being underpaid becomes exponential over your lifetime).

              3. LBK*

                Makes sense – I certainly didn’t mean to imply that so sorry if my comments came off that way!

    4. Kyrielle*

      Yes, this. When I was most recently job-hunting, I had a number in mind that was the floor I would accept (otherwise I was better staying in my current position and continuing to look), and I had a number in mind that was about what I was worth to any given company. (It varied depending on how well my background matched their position, and what their benefits looked like!)

      I discussed range in my phone screen for this job based on that second number (and the recruiter sounded a little uncertain about whether it would happen), did the interviews, and the offer came back slightly above the top of the range I gave them and well above my floor. For *the* company I had really wanted to work for (not a “dream job” but a “dream company” for how they treat their employees, and doing interesting things for the job!). Also, there was a bonus program in addition, and the benefits were really good, and the people on the team were great….

      I didn’t negotiate, just accepted. I don’t think I left any money on the table. I don’t have access to an alternate universe where I negotiated to check on it, of course – but I’m content with what I got and feel it was plenty fair. Trying to negotiate it would have felt like acting in bad faith in this case, I really feel like the hiring manager had already gone to bat for me before offering.

      1. Chriama*

        I think it also matters if you gave a salary expectation earlier or not. If they mentioned a range and then offer you something on the low end of it, or if they just gave a number with no context, I think it’s pretty usual to go back and ask for more. But if you give a number and they meet that number then unless your understanding of the job significantly changed during the interview process, it’s pretty difficult to go back and ask for more in a way that doesn’t leave them thinking you acted in bad faith.

    5. AndersonDarling*

      I also think that the availability of more salary information is making negotiation easier.

    6. NonProfit Nancy*

      You know, I really think there’s something to this. When I was starting out, I was explicitly told that failing to negotiate was “leaving money on the table.” Whatever I was offered, even if I felt happy to get that amount, I was told “a man would ask for more” (sorry to gender this, I *don’t * want this discussion to go down the rabbit hole and I’m conscious that Alison asked us not to bring gender into everything, that’s just the quote I remember from my classes). The reason was exactly what is described above – your first salary is important, and small differences snowball over time, and ‘what does it hurt to ask.’ So, I agree that I was left with the impression that initial offers were likely lowballs, like at a car dealership, as someone said above, that only a sucker would take out of hand. Now that I’m further along in my career I understand that it’s not so black and white, but with that narrative in mind it does seem more reasonable to be annoyed if a company won’t “play ball” even if you were fairly happy with the offer.

      1. NonProfit Nancy*

        To clarify: I think you probably should always ask, but you shouldn’t think of initial offers as being necessarily lowballs, and you shouldn’t be annoyed if you don’t get a bump for asking. But ask! Just in case! It’s like … due diligence. And good practice for next time. OP has nothing to be ashamed of here.

        1. MillersSpring*

          Agreed 1000%. Always ask! As in, “I appreciate the offer. I was actually hoping for $X.”

    7. MillersSpring*

      The ability of the employer to negotiate also can depend on how much the hiring manager’s boss, or grandboss, had approved to budget for the starting pay.

      If the hiring manager had to request and justify and practically beg just to get the position created, there may not be a single bit of room for her to get more pay, even if the ideal candidate tries to negotiate.

  10. Elizabeth West*

    Ugh, I had to answer the “What salary are you looking for?” question this week. I asked about range and they said “[$1 below my bare minimum].” I said I was looking for at least $ my min. – $3 above it to start. I wanted to say, “I have to fookin eat” but of course I didn’t! Watch me not get it because cheap cheap cheapity cheapcheap.

    Also I saw this today when scrolling on a job board: Firefighter, MyCity, ST $11.31 AN HOUR. That’s just sick. :P

    1. NotNewtoAdminButConfused*

      What? A firefighter paid how much? And they put their lives on the line for us? No way. That’s awful.

        1. LBK*

          Yep – a quick Google says about 70% of all US firefighters are volunteers. But you would think that for the ones who are paid for it, they’d get more than that.

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I was surprised–obviously that’s a lot of part-timers in the volunteers, but it still boils down to the majority of the fire stations in the country. My guess is that there are areas of the country, like mine and Elizabeth’s, where the volunteer tradition is so regionally prevalent that the pay was really dampened as a consequence. Unfortunately, I doubt that those are regions where the unions have managed to get great benefits in compensation.

            1. TootsNYC*

              I grew up in small-town America, were our firefighters were volunteer. But they mustered out relatively seldom. And they got a lot more community appreciation than the paid firefighters do here in NYC, bcs people know what the gift is we’re all being given.

            2. Jessesgirl72*

              Some places go part volunteer, part paid, and the paid aren’t really paid that great. I had an ex who was a paid firefighter in the same department where my uncle was a volunteer- that he had applied for, from a volunteer.

              Those places USUALLY still go with a 24 on/24 off type of schedule, though, so a lot of firefighters can easily accommodate another job.

              Those kinds of places are also the kind of place where COL isn’t high, to begin with.

              1. notgiven*

                We have both paid and volunteers. Our paid firefighters are on 24, on call 24 and off 24. Many of them do some kind of contracting work or other small business, in addition, something they can drop if they have to on their on call days.

            3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

              I always thought the divergence was often a product of whether or not there was a union, and that union’s relative strength (e.g., union in a rural area often has less wiggle room than a union in a city). Or, in some cases, base pay is fairly low, but the health coverage, pension, and survivor benefits/disability are extraordinarily generous (as they should be).

              It probably also does not help that firefighters are exempt from some of the FLSA rules re: overtime.

            1. fposte*

              They make a good point about the OT, and I bet their bennies are very nice indeed. I think city and country are worlds apart on this.

      1. Marillenbaum*

        Yeah, it’s pretty crap. My brother is a firefighter, and in Utah, where wildfires mean they’re out pretty often in addition to house fires. The pay is decent for Utah, but there’s no real wage growth, which is why he’s looking to get into arson investigation.

    2. PinkCupcake*

      Wow. I commented on a similar situation above I had yesterday. I was contacted by a corporate recruiter about a position and I’m not currently looking so I felt I could push the envelope a bit and insist on knowing the range budgeted for the position. First, they couldn’t release that information over email. Fine, I offered to call the recruiter so she could tell me over the phone. Nope, wanted to know what I was looking for so she could see if I fit into their range. I insisted on knowing their range first as a gauge of how much they really valued the particular position. The recruiter then came back and said she didn’t have access to the range for the position. Huh? Well, how in the heck are you going to determine if my desired salary fits into your range if you don’t even know it? Fortunately, this time, I’m not looking and was able to just walk away. I felt like, hey, you contacted me. And, you haven’t given me a single bit of information that would incentivize me to spend time on your process. Of course, if I was actively looking, I would have played ball. But, I gotta say, it really felt good to not have to play their little games this time.

  11. Esperanza*

    In my field it’s just an employers’ market right now, and they don’t have to negotiate. Offers are final, take it or leave it. If the candidate says no, we can find someone else who will say yes.

    I think labor supply/demand, combined with economic hard times, have made negotiating less fruitful in many fields.

  12. Chriama*

    So the comment on your negotiating skills shouldn’t really be taken to heart. Maybe they actually are impressed with your negotiating skills. Maybe they actually were taken aback by something you did in the negotiation, like when you see someone with an awful new haircut and tell them “nice haircut”. Or maybe they’re just making inane conversation/not trying to discourage you – “sorry, we can’t do better, but good on you for asking”.

    Either way, it doesn’t change the outcome. The outcome is that they’re not willing or able to meet your requests. So at that point you need to decide if you want the job on those terms or not. I’d caution you not to go into a job resenting them for the negotiation process.

    One final thing to note is that the last 2 jobs have offered you less than you think you’re worth and haven’t been willing to come up at all. It might be worth re-evaluating your job search process. Is it your industry or the types of jobs you’re applying to where offers are pretty rigid? Or your experience level or something in your work history that makes employers a little hesitant to take a chance on you? Are you actually asking for more than someone with your skills and experience would command (the salary of current employees presumably includes years of increases, so unless you’re bringing something unique to the position they’re not necessarily wrong for wanting to start you off at the bottom of the range)? Or maybe these 2 are just coincidences and your next negotiations will be successful. But if you are concerned, take a moment to self-evaluate.

    1. LBK*

      Or maybe they’re just making inane conversation/not trying to discourage you – “sorry, we can’t do better, but good on you for asking”.

      This was my read. I’d take as them trying to not discourage you from continuing to negotiate in the future just because they weren’t able to meet your request.

  13. Anon 12*

    An employer’s willingness to negotiate will vary a lot based on industry, location and skill set needed for the job. It’s super common for tech employees in the Silicon Valley, for instance, but probably less so in other industries. One thing you should not do is communicate what you need in terms of a salary early on and then try to negotiate up from there later. It’s really, really annoying to an employer. You should frame expectations in terms of the total package so that they understand the benefits, commute, travel expectations, etc.. will all play into what a successful final offer will be for you.

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yeah; it’s pretty difficult to provide a range or expectation early on and then try to negotiate above that range at the offer stage. It just comes off as disingenuous.

  14. AndersonDarling*

    I’m curious what the OP was asking for with flexibility. Did she want to adjust her start/end time by an hour depending on need, or did she want to work 4 ten hour days? If it was something on the extreme side, I would expect the question to come up earlier in the interview process.

    1. always in email jail*

      I was wondering the same thing. As mentioned above, sometimes in government one situation is OK while another isn’t. For example, in my organization you can adjust your start/end time, or theoretically work 4 10 hour days depending on your position, etc. However, you have to fill out a form and have it approved and then going forward that is your work schedule. You can’t just adjust your schedule at whim. You can’t just say “oh my son has baseball so I’m going to come in early and leave early today…. I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning so I’ll just stay late after… I’m going to work extra this week then leave at noon on friday…etc. For us adjusting on need is more “extreme” than a regular adjustment.. if that makes sense.

    2. OP*

      OP here. I asked for a condensed workweek. I brought it up after I had the offer, but maybe I should have brought it up before (not sure if this qualifies as “extreme”)? In my mind I see the scheduling as part of the negotiation stage in the same way as salary, i.e., not negotiated until after a firm offer.

      Funny that EmailJail’s idea of “extreme” is irregular scheduling because part of the response that I got was to tell me that they are flexible on the day-to-day, and expect that sometime people will come in early/late on their own accord because they know people have lives outside of work. I tend to agree with EmailJail– it would seem far preferable to have employees with fixed, regular schedules so that I wasn’t having to manage regular, minor adjustments to each employee’s schedule. But perhaps what makes it easier on the employer is that regular, minor adjustments can be off the books whereas a condensed work-week needs to be cleared with HR and is more obvious to other employees who may want the same.

      1. Jessesgirl72*

        State laws also vary about 4 day weeks. In some states (California, for instance) they have to pay overtime for any day over 8 hours, regardless whether it’s only a 40 hour week. I think the Labor board can give exceptions, but I have a friend whose company left California because their request for an exception was denied.

        1. Zip Silver*

          A few years back, my company sold off their holdings in California because the labor situation was absurd. We run 24/7, and break staff down into 3 8-hour shifts. Well typically a shift change take 15-20 minutes, and paying overtime for every single staff member every single day, and then whenever double time kicked in (I think on weekends?) was incredibly expensive. No big deal, right? Just do 4 6-hour shifts? Well, as turns out, it’s hard to find staff willing to work 5 days a week and only get 30 hours, or work 6 days a week and only get 36 hours. So then we had a staffing shortage in California, and had a hard time even operating.

          Ultimately, it was easier and cheaper to not even do business in California.

          1. Joe X*

            That doesn’t add up. Employees working 8 hours are generally required to have a lunch break. So an 8 hour shift should cover at least 8.5 hours, giving time to handle shift change. I’ve worked shift jobs like this and it worked just fine, everyone was paid for 8 hours but there for 8.5 so we had a half hour for shift changes.

            1. Zip Silver*

              I dunno, it was before my time and I heard the backstory second hand. I do know that we don’t operate in California anymore and that we did several years ago.

  15. Engineer Girl*

    OP doesn’t seem to understand negotiations. Either side can say no, hold firm, or walk away at any time.
    They don’t have to negotiate with you
    They can reject your offer
    You can do the same.

    1. LBK*

      I wouldn’t necessarily say the OP doesn’t understand negotiations, but I agree that there’s a level of disconnect in assuming that if people are telling you you’re good at negotiating, that means you should be more successful at getting what you ask for. I think that’s the wrong way to measure that skill. No matter how great you are at negotiating, sometimes the answer is always no, because it just is, and Jack Donaghy himself couldn’t convince them otherwise.

  16. Snowglobe*

    I think it would be a great thing if ALL employers stopped negotiating, and just offered their highest and best salary right from the start. The system where the person who negotiates well gets paid more than someone who negotiates poorly is an inherently bad system that leads to pay inequity.

    1. Anon 12*

      The thing is that not every candidate is created equal. Highest and best isn’t some static number, it may be appropriate to pay more for certain experience and skill sets in certain jobs. It’s the employer’s inability to catalog, capture and value that which leads to inequities based on negotiating skills.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        “The thing is that not every candidate is created equal.”

        That’s true – a higher paid employee – if qualified – will likely

        – hit the ground running on day 1

        – be able to produce more, sometimes more than two people — remember the case in here of the “unprofessional” guy who walked out – but the story ended “happily” (go figure) as they hired two people to take his place and distributed the rest of the work among two or three others?

        – stay around longer – and not be lured away if he/she is making market level ++

        Think of a comparison – baseball. The teams that pay – Boston, Yankees, Dodgers, and now Cubs tend to be perennial contenders — the teams that don’t, generally aren’t. The working world isn’t much different.

      2. Snowglobe*

        I didn’t mean the highest that would be paid for anyone int the job; I meant the most that would be paid for a particular candidate with their particular experience and skill levels

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Not necessarily, Toots. Companies that lowball generally don’t get top-notch performers, and if they do, they’re only setting the employee up for his or her next gig.

    2. Anon for this*

      I kind of agree. The last person I hired was beyond a perfect fit- purple unicorn territory and heads and shoulders above the rest of the applicant pool. Because she indicated that she would accept the low end of the range advertised (on the online application- I believe that she was trying to make sure she got past the first HR screening) that is what my organization wanted to offer. I negotiated on her behalf to get her closer to her true market value and while I used up what little political capital I had built, I would do the same thing again. Not only is it the right thing to do, but because I felt it would go a long way in retaining her.

      1. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

        Absolutely! You don’t want to make an offer to someone, only to have him – her accept, and from day 1 begin looking for their next job.

        That’s what low-ball offers not only set up – but FACILITATE.

  17. DCompliance*

    On the second negotiation, if you are being told you were offered the highest on pay range, I would not assume that the employer can negotiate further, but just isn’t. There may not be any wiggle room. You may have been made the possible offer.

  18. Jules the First*

    As an employer, I’ve always started with my best offer (and been open about the fact), and I’ve always assumed my potential employers are doing the same. That’s not to say I never negotiate – if the candidate I’m offering to is exceptional and has solid reasons why what I’m offering isn’t enough (or, as an employee, if I think something’s changed since we talked numbers initially), then I’ll do my damndest to get you what you need.

    But I guess it’s never occurred to me to question whether a good employer should start with their best offer?

    1. TootsNYC*

      Me as well.
      And I have flat-out said it: “I have a range, and I’m offering you the very top, so there’s no sense in trying to negotiate. I want you to be excited to work for me, so I’m going to bat for you at the very, very beginning.”

      The one time I worked w/ an HR person who said, “let’s keep $5k and an extra week of vacation in reserve, in case he asks for it,” I thought, “this seems chintzy for $5k. We really want him to come full-time, so why not just give it to him, if we’re already willing.” He asked if we could do better, I told him I’d check and press them a little, and they OK’d the pre-set amount.

      (though, I learned w/ my current employer that people should really just ask for more $ and an extra week)

    2. The_artist_formerly_known_as_Anon-2*

      Lowball offers are effective if you don’t care about turnover.

      Someone who readily accepts a low-ball probably does so because they don’t have a choice in the matter. But when they do, a low-ball can end the negotiations and the candidate walks away.

      The company I work for has a policy of getting “right down to business” – they make an offer that the candidate will accept – that is probably market-rate or better- and FAIR. Stunts in this area generally backfire. If you don’t pay now, you WILL pay later, one way or another.

  19. Retail Lifer*

    I’ve never had salary negotiations work out for me. I was offered a job once but they offered me less than what the salary range was supposed to be. When I tried to negotiate it back up, they rescinded the job offer. That was the most extreme case. The rest of the time they just said no.

    1. LBK*

      Other than the time when they pulled the offer, you didn’t *lose* anything in those cases though, right?

      A negotiation where you come out with exactly what you started with is a successful negotiation, as far as I’m concerned: a dialogue occurred, both sides said their pieces, an agreement was reached. I think people need to get away from the mindset that if they don’t get what they asked for, the only reason is because they didn’t negotiate well enough.

      I honestly think people put too much stock in negotiating abilities and their correlation to the employer saying yes. It’s usually much more related to budget and how badly they want you based on everything they’ve already learned about you throughout the hiring process. Being able to sweet talk them right at the very end of the process is overrated; if you haven’t convinced them of your value already, only the slickest manipulator is going to do be able to do it at that point.

  20. MassMatt*

    IMO the important thing to remember about negotiating salary and/or benefits is that while they may say no and not budge, you are still no worse off for asking. If you don’t ask, you are GUARANTEED not to get an increase beyond the opening offer.

    I don’t anything about the OP’s negotiating skills but I’d say 2 attempts is a small sample size, maybe you get somewhere 25% of the time, why not take the shot?

    I’d also be interested in a discussion (mentioned above) of whether positions with more publicly available salary info lead to better offers from hiring managers.

    1. NonProfit Nancy*

      Yeah, I think people are misinterpreting the adage “it never hurts to ask” (to which I would add the caveat, “as long as you’re being reasonable eg you’ve done your research, and you’re acting professionally”) with *asking will get you more money* which is not always true. If you fail to ask at all, you could be leaving money on the table. Because she asked, OP, can be reasonably assured that she didn’t, in this case. So good on you for asking, even though it didn’t get the result you hoped for. The real tragedy is failing to ask when the money could have been yours for a little effort.

  21. designbot*

    In this case I’d consider “but your negotiation skills will serve you well in this job” to mean “we’re not holding it against you that you asked.”

  22. ShellBell*

    When I make an offer, I make the best offer I have (based on budget and what I think the role commands). I have good info from my company on the going rate in the area for the role. I can’t negotiate because I came in with my highest offer? Isn’t that a good thing?

  23. Anon3*

    I wonder if companies stop negotiating because they’ve done so in the past and didn’t get their money’s worth? We hired someone who made a big stink about her salary, she had short job stints on her resume, and when she started, was constantly late or had to leave early, and her output was much lower than the rest of the team.

    IME the people who ask for the most right out the gate, usually do the least. I’m not a fan of negotiating, here is the job, here is the salary, take it or leave it. Now if I as a job candidate, say no thank you, and then the employer ups the ante, that’s great, but I wouldn’t do it to play games or because some rule says you should negotiate. I’ve taken jobs at a lower salary than previous jobs, and proved myself fairly quickly and got promotions and raises that exceeded the old salary.

  24. OP*

    This is all such great feedback. Thanks everyone. I especially appreciate the points made about shifting my perception of what constitutes a “successful” negotiation; success is measured by reaching a mutually rewarding agreement, not based on one side getting what it asks for (big shout out to LBK for making that point so clearly in a few posts).

  25. Jennifer*

    The problem I have with articles like these, is that they are always employer biased.

    “Don’t bluff, or it could backfire”

    Who cares if it would backfire? If the OP has no issues getting a job they are obviously in demand. Go ahead and bluff. Worst case? You get a job that suits your needs.

    Any employer who stands firm stating rediculous reasons like “if we do that for you we would have do to it for others” can go screw themselves.

    Of course I take into consideration the personalities of upper management. If they are cool with me I return the favor.

    People need to stop being so afraid of their employers. Stand up for yourself and get what you deserve.

  26. Tyler Czerwinski*

    I have been in a very similar situation to the one you’ve presented. The only difference being that I was offered a raise and then denied that promised raise. At my old job, we had a switch in management from a man to a female, and the new manager was a very sexist one. I personally am a firm believer in fair treatment for all no matter of your gender, ethnicity, or beliefs, but this manager didn’t believe the same way. So I completely understand where you may be feeling that you are being cheated out of a raise due to your gender. When I presented my case to the manager, I showed her how I was not only the quickest and most efficient at what I did, I also had the highest customer satisfaction at my position. When I showed her those statistics, she gave me no more than a eye roll and said that you don’t deserve a raise.

    So my best advice for you would be to either present your case with concrete reasons why you should be receiving a raise, and being very firm and confident with your presentation. Don’t be afraid to not take no for an answer. This is not to say that you should quit your job in the absence of the raise, but stand true to what you believe in no matter what.

  27. Sphinx*

    I have been offered a job, the offer letter is in hand via email, but salary was never negotiated. The position was posted with a range based off minimum requirements, but i exceed all of their requirements. The offer is at the minimum range posted. Why post a range if you’re only going to offer the minimum? While the offer is more than what i’m making now, I’ve never been more happy with my current job (other than salary) as far quality of life and job flexibility. I replied to the offer asking to speak, what next?

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