when no one gives you an opening to negotiate salary

A reader writes:

I’ve been working at my current company for about nine months. I applied for a different internal position at my workplace. The HR department’s last response to me was that they were still deciding and would get back to me, because they had taken longer than they had originally expected to decide.

The next day, my current manager and the manager for the position I applied to both had a meeting with me to discuss a performance review. They started to talk casually, then suddenly mentioned when my job transition would start. I was surprised, because no one officially told me I received the job. Both of the managers were surprised I hadn’t been notified, but we continued with our conversation.

It’s now been about a month, and I haven’t heard anything from HR about contract signing or a chance to negotiate salary (this is a completely different position which I have a little experience in). If I transition into this next job within the next few weeks, I will be starting a job well underpaid because I would keep the salary of my previous position (both jobs are very different).

Is it too late to talk to HR about a salary negotiation? The whole thing happened in an awkward way and I never felt like I got an opportunity to discuss salary but I have technically accepted the job because I’ve discussed start dates with my current and new manager.

It’s surprising how often this happens to people — that they suddenly realize that they seem to have accepted (or that they’re perceived to have accepted) a job without ever having had an opening to discuss salary … and as a result, it feels like they might have missed the window to negotiate.

The important thing to know here is that you don’t ever need to wait for an employer to give you an obvious opening to bring up salary. They might give you an opening to do it, but they might not. So you want to be ready to bring it up yourself.

For example, in the conversation that you had with your current manager and the new manager, when they started talking about the job transition, ideally you would have said something like, “Oh! That’s great news. No one had told me yet that I was being offered the job. When would be a good time to discuss salary and other logistics?”

But you shouldn’t kick yourself for not having done it — loads of people don’t — and it’s not too late to do it now, especially since you haven’t started the job yet and it doesn’t sound like there’s been much more discussion about logistics. You should email the manager for the new position and say something like, “I’ve been waiting for HR to contact me about salary and other logistics for the new position, but I haven’t heard from them. Could you and I set up a time to discuss salary?” (I’m suggesting the hiring manager rather than HR because managers should be dealing with salary negotiations themselves … but if you’re sure that HR handles that in your company, then just say something similar to them.)

Now, it’s possible that doing this will generate some confusion, since it sounds like plans have been moving forward as if you’d already accepted the position. And it’s true that you’ve compromised some of your negotiating power by not making it clear from the start that your acceptance might hinge on whether you could come to terms on salary. But it’s still better to address it now rather than just never bring it up. And if anyone says anything to indicate that you should have brought this up earlier, say that you’ve been waiting to hear from HR about the transition but haven’t and so realized you needed to raise it yourself.

Do it ASAP though, since it’s going to get weirder with each passing day.

{ 56 comments… read them below }

  1. CBH*

    I might be reading too much into this…. I wonder if this scenario is truly a miscommunication between managers and human resources or if it is a type of bait and switch

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s really, really common for this to happen with no nefarious intent — the manager assumes HR has handled it and vice versa, or they’re actually not planning on a salary bump and assume that’s understood, or there’s a set salary for the position and they just forgot to talk about it (sounds crazy but definitely happens — salary is hugely important to you as a candidate but not impossible to forget to address on the hiring side, especially when you’re caught up in talking about all the other details).

      I’m not saying that no company out there ever intentionally says “let’s skip over talking about salary and see if we can get away with not mentioning it,” but it’s not a common explanation.

      1. Recruit-o-rama*

        I want to add that this is precisely the reason that a consistent, transparent process should be in place. Employees often will read nefarious intent where there is simply incompetence. Neither are good for morale.

        Of course, sometimes there is nefarious intent which is even more of a reason it is incumbent upon responsible employers to have the transparency in the first place, to demonstrate they are not “one of them”

      2. hbc*

        They may have even failed to mention it for somewhat good reasons. As in, it didn’t cross their minds that this is a Very Important Conversation because of course they’re going to move you into the pay range for the new position. It might be near the bottom of the range, but if it’s a big jump in salary and you’re inexperienced enough at the new position that it’s totally justified to be in the bottom range (and you’d be unlikely to get the same job elsewhere), it might be obvious to them that it’s a good thing for you.

        Yeah, it would be better if everyone laid it out in the proper way, but this is exactly how it happened to me (twice!) at my old company. It’s kind of cute that the thought of them screwing me over didn’t occur to either side–or maybe I was the only naive one and they just didn’t know what they could have gotten away with.

      3. myswtghst*

        This happened to me in my first few internal transfers / promotions, and as Alison says, I don’t think it was ever malicious – it was more that I was young and inexperienced, so I didn’t know to ask, and I was at a large company where there were set salary bands and job levels, so I theoretically could have looked up the information.

  2. Banana Sandwich*

    I always feel like the company is trying to get away with something when stuff like this happens. Very irritating! Congrats OP, but definitely take Alison’s advice.

  3. hayling*

    Something similar to this happened to me at my first job. I didn’t hear anything for weeks, then HR called me to confirm my start date. I said I’d never talked to the Hiring Manager about salary, and HR told me what the salary was, and I was so excited to have a job that I just accepted it. The salary was paltry–although this was at a nonprofit, so I don’t know if they would have gone much higher–and I wish I would have at least tried to negotiate it up.

  4. Jerry Vandesic*

    They need to make you an offer that you will consider and either accept or reject.

  5. Bruce*

    Since you work there internally, I’m not sure why you aren’t at least as much at fault for not taking some easy steps to figure out, at least roughly, what the salary for the position would be before you applied for it. I’m not sure why it is their job to mention salary when it is natural for them to assume that if you didn’t know the salary, you would have asked before indicating your interest.

    1. LBK*

      That’s not the issue, though…where are you seeing that the OP isn’t sure what the salary expectations are for the position?

    2. CM*

      I think you’ve got it backwards. The company is doing the hiring. It’s their responsibility to tell her what the salary is. Job applicants shouldn’t assume they know what the salary is even though they are never told. The OP probably has some idea of the range, but the company never formally offered her the job and told her what the salary was.

      1. Sharon*

        Exactly. I’m working on an internal transfer right now (interview tomorrow) and when I asked about the salary for the new job, the hiring manager said something like “I don’t remember right now but I can tell you it’s in salary band 16.” So the onus was on me to check what my current salary band was and figure out from that if the new job is an increase or decrease in pay!

    3. Murphy*

      I assume OP knows the ballpark/range for the salary, but doesn’t know specifically what they’ll be offered…because the company hasn’t actually offered anything.

      1. Hazel Nut*

        We provide info/details on transfers and promotions to employees in writing. They sign and date their acceptance. It’s worked well.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Same – for major moves we do a full offer letter, for smaller moves or promotions we have an internal form that we use that has effective date, new title, new salary, new supervisor, and it’s signed by both employee and manager and goes in their file.

    4. fposte*

      And I also think who’s at fault isn’t really that useful a question–it’s how do we fix this situation?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        This was exactly my reaction. How is it helpful to OP for you to attack him/her? And why undertake several logical leaps/assumptions to arrive at an attacking conclusion?

    5. Zombii*

      OP seems to have a good idea of what the salary range is, OP just doesn’t know whether Company intends to increase OP’s salary to match that range. Even if Company posted a salary range on the job listing, that’s no guarantee Company is going to honor that range for an internal hire (shitty practice, but fairly common).

  6. CM*

    I really like Alison’s advice here because her script is very matter-of-fact. It’s more like, “Of course, we’ll need to discuss this before I start, and there must have been some oversight,” rather than, “Please give me a raise?” I think in situations like this it’s easy to come off as asking for a favor, when really what you’re asking for is for business to proceed as it normally would.

    1. BF50*

      And with a transition like this, especially with switching managers, there are likely other areas that will need to be worked out. A face to face is a good idea regardless, so you can segue between the two topics.

  7. AnitaJ*

    Absolutely, go for it!

    I asked for a raise a few years ago, and it felt very, very uncomfortable. When someone said ‘the worst they can do is say no!’ I would think ‘no, the worst thing they can do is say no and then think I’m arrogant for asking and give me the side eye forever’.( I really hate tooting my own horn.)

    But honestly, it shows confidence as an employee–you value yourself and have enough confidence in your work to ask to be compensated accordingly. I made a list of my accomplishments and my contributions to the firm, and I realized that I do good work and there’s no reason why I shouldn’t ask for more money to reflect that.

    You can do it!

    1. boop the first*

      “The worst they can do is say no!”

      Uggghh. Yes, I try to console myself with this all of the time and it really doesn’t work. I’ve spent a month or so trying to ask for (unpaid) vacation time, but my workplace has so many damn managers that no one has the balls to say yes OR no in case of stepping on each others’ toes.

      And the longer this goes on, the more worthless I feel, and the more I feel like I’m the one with all the unreasonable hang ups who just can’t “let go”.

  8. H.C.*

    This happened to me with my CurrentJob: after a 2nd interview I got an informal verbal offer of the position, and I said I look forward to next steps – which apparently just involved HR emailing me my start date & salary (at the bottom of their scale for the position, which would’ve been a pay cut from my OldJob.)

    So I emailed back myself to negotiate salary (& pushing back the start date, so I can give a more generous notice to my awesome former boss + take a little time off between jobs), noting that I’ve never had an opportunity to discuss that from my interaction thus far (phone screen & 2 interviews), as well as my attributes & skills that should warrant more than a “bottom of scale” pay. Thankfully, we came to an agreement that led to a decent raise for me & a good two weeks’ break after a four-week notice period.

    So yes, definitely inquire about your salary with your manager & HR and negotiate if you feel their offer is too low. And of course, don’t give notice to your current employer until you are satisfied with the offer and have formally accepted the job in writing (my negotiation took almost 2 months!)

    1. Heidi*

      Two months between first offer and meeting of the terms/acceptance? That seems extraordinarily long. Did you feel confident the job was still yours during all of that? Were they in continuous contact with you?

      I ask because had an offer fall apart after it stalled. They offered X, I accepted, and then HR changed their mind when my W-2 showed I was making much less now. In the two weeks between the offer and the background check, they just stopped talking to me.

      When we got to the third week, I dug in to find out what the hold up was on formalizing my start date, etc. I was told the offer was “on hold” and it would be at least three more weeks before they could tell me anything other than that — they didn’t ask me to take a lower salary, they just told me to wait, and it certainly seemed I’d be waiting three more weeks for them to just say they were pulling their offer altogether.

      The hiring manager nor his boss, who I interviewed with, wouldn’t escalate or expedite it, which I took as a sign that they’d likely not go to bat for me on the job, should I get it, so I walked away.

  9. AdAgencyChick*

    I have seen this happen more than once in my industry. Once it happened to me — a higher-up had asked someone else in the organization to float the idea of taking on more responsibility by me and a coworker after our boss quit. We thought it was just an informal conversation, but the higher-up apparently decided we’d agreed to everything and announced that we had in front of the entire agency. I blurted out something sarcastic about learning this at the same time as everyone else, which did not go over well.

    But…my coworker and I had a LOT of leverage. We were understaffed even before my boss quit; if either my coworker and I had quit, the account would have been in still deeper doo-doo. He and I talked to each other and insisted on going into salary negotiations together. The higher-ups were shocked but also clearly afraid because we’d decided on a united front and that they could lose BOTH of us if they weren’t careful. We both got a pretty hefty raise out of it, and I do think the higher-ups had previously thought they’d just proceed paying us the same amount of scratch as before. HA!

    1. Artemesia*

      My daughter and a colleague did exactly the same thing and ended up with a substantially higher salary than the boss had expected to pay.

  10. Cautionary Tale*

    Listen to Alison’s advice! I’m a cautionary tale.

    In the fall, I accepted a new project that would trigger a new title (and significant salary increase). At the same time, my division was reorganizing, and so my salary and title adjustment kept getting put off. I didn’t worry about it, because I know/thought that my managers had integrity, and I accepted the argument that it should be done in conjunction with the overall reorganization of the organization. Of course, that’s gotten hung up in internal politics, months have passed, I’ve not only started the new job but have decided and told my bosses that I want to transfer back to my old department (at the end of the fiscal year, which will mark a year in the new job) and now it’s alllll funky and I’m still getting paid my old salary.

  11. Poster Child*

    Sometimes for internal transfers the salary is not negotiable. My company allows a standard increase for internal moves, dependent on whether it is lateral or a promotion. Of course they should tell you what it is and not just assume you’re going to accept, but sometimes internal offers are assumed to be accepted because the perception is you shouldn’t interview internally if you’re not going to accept (I don’t agree but there it is).

    1. LBK*

      This was one of my thoughts – that it was being viewed as a transfer rather than a fresh hire, in which case the process might be less formal (you’re simply approved rather than offered the job, under the assumption that if you applied, you wanted it) and, as Poster Child says, may not come with a salary increase.

    2. NW Mossy*

      Yeah, in my org, it’s generally understood that pay increases are only available if the job change results in a move between job grades. I’ve not ever heard of anyone getting an increase on a lateral move. Even for a higher grade, though, the pay change has always been presented as take-it-or-leave-it.

      I’m currently in the running for a lateral move and I would be stunned if an increase was on offer. Instead, I’m setting my sights on negotiating a jump into the next PTO accrual tier a couple of years ahead of schedule – I don’t know if it’s possible, but figured I’d at least float the idea and see what happens.

    3. Recruit-o-rama*

      In my company, the range for each position is determined at the time of requisition and offers must fall in that range. We can occasionally go outside the range for exceptional candidates, but it requires approval from several layers of management.

      There are a lot of factors that go into determining a salary and it’s not just guess work; a lot of data is available, if companies choose to take the task seriously, as they should, it’s not that difficult to offer a range that is fair to both sides of the business relationship.

      Internal candidates should be given an offer letter and time to consider/negotiate/accept/decline just as external candidates are. A consistent process helps to avoid situations just like the OPs.

      OP, I would email your HR point of contact and ask if you will be receiving an offer letter and if not, ask them to tell you what the salary is. If the salary is not what you were looking for based on market value and your experience, respond back to both HR and the hiring manager with your desired salary and the reasons you think it should be that number. Your reasons should focus on market data, your experience with the job tasks and your accomplishments in your current role that have benefitted the company.

      Good luck!

      1. Anna Pigeon*

        I’d be cautious about negotiating over email. Comfortable as it may be to write out your thoughts, the loss of tone can be fatal. I’d forward the HR email to the hiring manager with a simple request to get together to discuss and then negotiate in person if at all possible.

        1. Recruit-o-rama*

          Mmmm….good point. I prefer email so I defer to your point….I like the efficiency of email in work situations. You’re right though, a face to face would be better in this situation.

    4. Hlyssande*

      The other problem there is that you end up with people leaving the company to get significant raises. The company should assign a position a pay grade and stick to it whether the candidate is internal or external.

      I know there have been letters and comments about that here in the past, actually!

  12. Craftsman*

    I am employed by a construction firm that has fewer than 20 employees. The owner has been after me for two plus years to take a significant role in the everyday field operations. I have denied this role more times than I care to admit. It has been offered in just about as many ways, always without a job description, expectations, salary or any other pertinent info that one would expect to hear when being offered a promotion. I am practically in the role yet I have not formally accepted it, just sort of happened because of the lack of available manpower and the “you gotta do what you gotta do”. After 14 months without a raise I have been provided with 5 paid holidays, a “mystery” week of vacation time and a work van to travel between job-sites, this Is something I requested for in writing and which was never discussed in person, other than many hints on my part. It just kind of slowly happened the first holiday after my request, my boss assures me that I will get my paid week when I wish to take it, and the vehicle was provided out of circumstance more than as a part of a promotion. However none of this is in writing, just like most things in the organization. Now I am at a point of not really wanting to officially take the position for multiple reasons, yet my Boss seems convinced that I do. I am thinking of just cutting and running however I think there could be a considerable financial reward if done correctly, but at what sort of time and stress cost to me and my family? I have also been told that a Work Van is the equivalent of a 10K salary increase, thoughts?

    1. fposte*

      Craftsman, I can see why the OP’s question made you think about this, but I suspect your question has too much meat of its own to get a good answer in the same thread, so you’ll probably get better answers in the Friday open thread.

      However, I will say in the meantime that it never hurts to look at what might be on offer elsewhere.

    2. Craftsman*

      The OP had brought up the sense of not being given the particulars of a position, just kind of finding out that the position was theirs. This is fairly similar to my experience. I am fairly new to this site, not certain of the protocols. I appreciate the advice to post to an open thread or even email Alison direct. I apologize for my ranting post.

    3. fposte*

      Looks like it’s not considered too much of a digression, so I’ll offer a few more thoughts :-). It’s hard to tell if your boss is stringing you along on the things that matter or if he’s just a flake who would go with the flow if you pushed the flow in the direction you want–it sounds like you are getting the paid holidays and the van that were agreed on (I don’t know about the salary value of a work van, but if it’s your boss who’s telling you that it’s worth $10k of salary I wouldn’t rush to believe it). Do you know what terms on which you *are* willing to take the job? You say “this was never discussed in person other than many hints on my part.” What if you discussed it in person directly and not in hints? If you want the job if the pay is at least a certain level, then that’s the point to make: “Boss, I would need to hammer out information about the field op role before I could officially accept it. I’m looking for $X to make that move; is that something the firm could provide?” If it’s a yes, then talk about a concrete start date for that; then follow up in email stating what you agreed.

      But if you don’t want the job, you’re perfectly entitled to get another one; if the time and stress cost are too high and you already are uncomfortable with the way this firm manages, maybe another place would be better. And, as I said elsewhere, it never hurts to at least look.

      1. Craftsman*

        Thank you fposte, your thoughts are spot on. This guy is not a flake, I would say that he and his business partner are rather shrewd. I have some serious thinking to do. You have stated what I am already thinking, sometimes that is what one needs to properly weigh the pros and cons.

  13. Super Secret*

    I was actually told by my manager that in order to get promoted within my company, management expects you to take on the increased job duties for at least a year before they’ll consider promoting you. And, even then, they seem to give promotions at the end of the the year, so that they don’t have to give anymore than the usual 2 to 3 percent annual increase. I’m not sure if this is normal practice elsewhere.

    1. Zombii*

      Definitely not normal. Companies with integrity will change your title/salary to match the work, not expect you to “prove yourself” (or some other such nonsense) by taking on the full responsibilities with no recognition of that—if it’s more like a training/trial period with some new responsibilities and there’s a logical explanation for doing it that way, it’s more of a grey area, but at least a year is excessive, bordering on exploitative.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      That’s somewhat sneaky of them (in the misleading sense), and not a norm at any place/sector I’ve worked. I’ve had jobs where there’s transitio time built in before you get a formal title and pay change, but it’s never been for more than 3-6 months, and the pay grade change is always a real increase—not a 2-3% COLA.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      That seems like a recipe for training employees for your competitors, because once you promote someone to a new job title but they’re being paid at the old title, that’s like a neon sign to recruiters that they can probably get that candidate for less money than someone else who has that job title and is being paid what she’s worth!

      (Certainly true in my industry, in which I KNOW all of my junior people are getting at least two or three phone calls a week from headhunters. The only way I have not to lose them is to keep them really freakin’ happy, and part of that is arguing with upper management who wants to not pay them as much as their competitors will.)

  14. Augusta Sugarbean*

    This is tangentially related to the letter but if it looks like a derail, it can wait. I’m really, really hoping to get an offer on Wednesday. It’s a union position in a county government office. Does anyone know or have thoughts if it would be an option to ask for wiggle room on the salary? In the interview, they asked if the starting wage listed in the job opening was acceptable which it is. I’m willing to take a pay cut because I am new to the field (although it’s sort of related to my current one) and my current job is horrible and I have some salary flexibility but I’d like to minimize that cut in pay.

    1. AthenaC*

      Typically with government positions there’s not a ton of wiggle room on salary (if any), and the usual tradeoff is good benefits, work-life balance, and job security. But I’m happy for someone more knowledgeable to chime in.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Augusta, if it’s a union position, there’s probably a CBA on file that you could review—those agreements will spell out ranges and limits. And with limited exceptions, those documents usually have to be made publicly available if the employer is a government.

  15. AthenaC*

    I accidentally negotiated my starting salary at my current position. I was moving from Small company to Big company, so when Big company went to go write up the offer letter, the recruiter asked how much I was making at Small company. I told him, and I could hear his jaw drop. He immediately starts explaining that at Big company, the salary bands are pretty inflexible, and that their offer of $X was really quite competitive, and a few other things. I tried to calm him down by assuring him that my true salary number at Small company should be properly interpreted by subtracting the cost of health insurance (which I purchased myself for a family of 5), and that my expectation was that the benefits at Big company would offset any changes in salary. Continuing to stammer, the recruiter responded by telling me that the benefits were, indeed, fantastic, and when we said goodbye he said to look out for an offer letter by email.

    A couple hours later I received another phone call, where the recruiter said that he had found a way to get me some more money because I was coming in toward the end of a performance year and wouldn’t be eligible for a performance raise until the following year.

    He sounded legitimately, really scared that I would walk away because Big company couldn’t match my Small company salary. But the funny thing was, when you put salary and health insurance together, what was a 3% pay cut became a 7% raise.

    So that was fun.

  16. Not Rebee*

    I think that applying for an internal transfer is honestly worse than trying to get the job externally. In my experience, it’s like your managers and HR entirely forget how the hiring process works – your manager and your potential new manager handle it all over your head and get start date and other logistics sorted, all under the assumption that because you applied for it you will take it no matter what it looks like. When I applied for my internal transfer (which I did eventually get), I was kept in the dark for months about where we were at with the approval process (everyone I had spoken with up the chain was supportive, but it took ages for it to be formally signed off on at the top), my potential new manager (and department) changed three times (though the tasks I would have brought with me did not), and they were clearly thinking that I was just going to move the way they wanted with no specific discussions. I had to bring up salary on my own multiple times, and finally when it was approved I had to mention it again, at which point everyone seemed surprised, hemmed and hawwed about it being a lateral move, reminded me I had just gotten a raise the year before (!?!), and eventually grudgingly accepted my pitch for a raise and gave it to me ($1/hour). Considering I was doing those tasks the entire time, and had been for a full year at that point, and the job took technical skill and a special certification that was not a requirement (or factor in my salary) for my previous position, it was extremely frustrating. I had to flat out tell my manager, and my new manager, that I was not going to transition over without actually having that discussion and getting at least a verbal offer (my company doesn’t do offer letters for internal candidates) presented to me. At that point, I would have rather gone through any other interview process at any other company…

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