when I tried to negotiate, employer told me to decline the offer first

A reader writes:

After asking several of my friends if they had ever negotiated a salary (none had), one of them recommended your site. I read a lot of your advice about negotiating salaries, and listened to your recent podcast about it. I’ve never done it before, but I gave it a shot after reviewing your advice.

I asked to speak to the HR rep extending the offer on the phone, but the rep wasn’t available to speak on the phone until the middle of next week, so I decided to ask via email.

I said: “I’m really excited to become part of [company] and a member of [manager’s] team — I think I’d really be impactful in that role! However, I am wondering if there is any room to increase the salary offer.”

She responded with this: “We work really hard at coming to you with our best offer. So no, there isn’t room for an increase unless you can help me understand how I have undervalued your skill set. Like we discussed in our call, we compare or candidates to our internal incumbents to make a fair and equitable offer. So write me an email with your declination of the current offer and explain your counter to me. At that time I can talk to the team about a new offer! Sound good? I’ll look forward to your email!”

Where do I go from here? I’m not working presently, so I definitely don’t want to lose the offer, but I’m also hoping to get $5-10k more.

Eeuuww, that is really crappy of her! You don’t need to decline an offer before you can negotiate, and in fact it’s not at all normal to do it that way.

Lots of people negotiate even if they might ultimately be willing to accept the original offer. That’s generally understood by both sides. Negotiating doesn’t typically come with a preliminary “no, I will not accept your offer.” There’s an implied chance of that, of course, but that’s all.

By telling you to decline the current offer before you can negotiate, she’s asking you to do something that of course will feel really risky. It’s also completely unnecessary. If she can’t meet what you ask for, she can simply tell you that — and you can decline the offer at that point if you want to.

As for what to do from here, I’d actually just ignore that unreasonable part of her request and see if that flies. Just go ahead and ask for what you’d like. She’s also telling you that they’re going to want to hear an explicit justification for what you’re asking for, so make sure you include that as well. (Many employers will figure out on their own if you’re worth the additional money you’re asking for, so this is a little annoying in the context of the rest of the email, but it’s not outrageous for them to ask.)

Here’s a basic template for how you might respond (this is pretty generic, but flesh this out with real details): “I’m hoping that you might be able to do $X. That reflects my experience of the market for this work, particularly since the position manages a large team. I’m also excited to be able to contribute my background in Y, which I know Jane and Luther were enthusiastic about and hadn’t originally envisioned including in the role. And as you know, I have a strong back in getting results in A and B, which I think will pay off enormously for your ___ project. I’m really pleased with everything else about your offer and would love to be able to on board.”

So, basically, “I’m awesome in these specific ways, your team thinks I’m awesome in these specific ways, I’m excited to do this job, and what I’m asking for is in line with market rates.” (Of course, to do this credibly, you have to know something about the market rates for this kind of work in your particular geographic area — which isn’t always straightforward, but there’s advice on how to do that here.)

But if she still comes back with “I need you to formally decline the offer first” … well, that’s pretty odd. And it would be reasonable to respond to that with, “I’m very interested in the offer and just hoping to work out its details.”

All that said … because you’re current unemployed and want this job, you do need to be extra delicate about how you proceed. Since she’s already being a little weird about this, you don’t want to say anything that sounds like “I won’t accept this offer if you don’t increase the salary” (unless that’s true). And that’s frustrating, because one of the things that gives people power in negotiating is the prospect that they might walk away from the deal — and she’s putting you in a position where that feels a lot harder to do.

{ 257 comments… read them below }

  1. Hills to Die on*

    “So no, there isn’t room for an increase unless you can help me understand how I have undervalued your skill set.” sounds a little coomabtive to me. I’m glad this is an HR rep and not a hiring manager because this is a red flag. I would have second thoughts about taking the job at all if the hiring manager said it.

      1. Specialk9*

        A little bit of a huge asshole.

        But as was said above, this is HR, not the hiring manager. You’ll likely never deal with them again.

    1. Luna*

      Very combative. Even though it isn’t the hiring manager, the way that HR handles this kind of thing can say a lot about the overall company culture. If one of their employees ever dares to ask for a raise is this the kind of response they can expect to get? It sucks because being unemployed puts the LW in a tough spot, but if there were other options available I would definitely have second thoughts about this job.

      1. Jesca*

        Honestly, I would save the email and then ask someone else at the company. But that is me talking as someone already employed. Sadly if I were unemployed and really needed the gig, I would likely just write back stating that I am not looking to get a counter offer but rather to negotiate a slightly higher salary based on the current market rate for my experience. If this is not doable, I understand.

        But honestly all that competitiveness leaves you with nothing. I mean you can’t come back from that. Its like “BOW BEFORE MY POWER OR PERISH, YOU WHO DARE TO CHALLENGE I, GREAT HR WONDER OF THE WORLD!!!!!!” (you have to say that like Skeletor, cuz this person literally laid her HR Master Control all over whatever sword OP was trying to swing)

      2. Tassie Tiger*

        As someone on the autism spectrum, I sometimes have trouble reading tone. I would be grateful if someone would elaborate a bit on why the HR’s reply reads as combative! To me is reads like, “No, we probably can’t offer you more. If you explain your point of view and give some good reasons why you feel your salary should be higher, though, I can look into that.”

        Is it the usage of the word “no” that reads as combative, or something else?

        1. Jesca*

          When dealing with strict logic, no it is not combative. It is a logical and factual statement as far as the HR person is concerned. What makes it combative is that not all social situations call for sheer logical responses. Many require a tone. Since the OP did not send a message personally attacking the HR person on her choice of salary, the HR coming back and making it oddly personal (“I choose this salary” and “you need to prove to ME why you disagree”) comes across as a little hostile. It comes across as if the OP is questioning the skills of the HR on a personal level as opposed to just inquiring about a little bump in pay. This is not a response one would expect in this situation. It would be like you went and ordered fries at a restaurant but then the waiter caught you added a little more salt to taste and responded with “You don’t like the way I salt your fries? How dare you question my fry salting!!!! Prove to me I am not bad at job of salting of salting fries!!! I demand it!” See. That would be a little irrational to take salting one’s fries so personally lol.

          1. Leela*

            Agreed to the above! Also salary negotiation, unless previously discussed as a no-go here, is a pretty regular part of making someone an offer and the HR rep is coming off a little like no one ever does that and OP is severely overstepping normal bounds by trying to negotiate, which OP is definitely not doing. Also, discussing why the salary is being negotiated is such a normal part of what candidates do that it feels really weird that the HR rep is calling it out, kind of like if you spilled something at a restaurant and someone shouted “CLEAN THAT UP!” before you had time to even make a move to clean it up or not. It’s kind of condescending and without hearing someone say what the HR rep said out loud, it’s a little hard not to read it in an aggressive, holier-than-thou tone. If I were the candidate and this was one of many options I had I would ask to be removed from consideration because this is a serious, even if it turned out to be unfounded, red flag about this company. Of course that’s a luxury not everyone has. Good luck with this OP!

            1. Jim*

              Another analogy might be that OP asked about the special at a restaurant. The server indicated that the special is fish & chips. OP asked if they could substitute onion rings for the fries, and the server said that you would have to (bindingly) leave the restaurant unless they will serve the fish and onion rings.

          2. Blue*

            Yeah, I got a strong hint of, “You’re saying I’m bad at my job.” Which is obviously not what someone asking about salary flexibility is implying, but nevertheless…

            1. TrainerGirl*

              I negotiated salary at my last job, and the recruiter was VERY offended that I made a counteroffer. I don’t even think it was the amount, but just “How dare you not think my offer is the best offer made to anyone EVER!!!!” She got very quiet, and I said, “All they can say is no. Ask them.” I got what I asked for and the recruiter seemed shocked.

              1. MichaelM*

                This is like real estate agents wanting a seller to take the first offer they get. If it is 10% below asking, the seller loses a lot, but the commission is certain for the agent. Only you can look out for your best interests.

                1. Workerbee*

                  So much this. A friend was recently convinced to do exactly this by his real estate agent. My friend wanted to get out of his house so badly, he just accepted that first, well-below-asking-price offer per his agent’s advice. I think she played him. I see this as exactly the same as an unemployed person feeling hurried (and harried) into accepting the first offer, especially with its offended tone.

        2. NW Mossy*

          In my reading, it’s the comment about “unless you can help me understand how I have undervalued your skill set.” People rarely invite someone else to enumerate how they’re wrong, because most people really don’t like being wrong and getting called on it. This framing is somewhat provoking as a result – the HR rep is asking the OP to cross a boundary (tell an organization you want to hire you that they’re wrong) that very few job seekers are willing to cross because of the power difference (HR rep has something the OP wants – a job offer). The HR rep likely knows that the OP will be reluctant to challenge, and might even be counting on it in hopes that the lower offer will stick.

          1. Kelsi*

            This is an A+ explanation. I was trying to figure out how to reason out why it reads as combative, and though I can pick up the tone, I was having a hard time articulating what it is that GIVES it that tone.

          2. Workerbee*

            Yes. Most people will be afraid to challenge, and then there’s the other side of it that I learned from reading “Catch-22,” that if someone invites you to tell them where they’re wrong, they will hold it against you if you do.

        3. Hills to Die on*

          The line ‘So, no’ is rude because it’s a bit brusque, but mostly ‘how I have undervalued your skill set’ is the really rude part for me. It implies that the OP thinks that HR undervalued her, which isn’t necessarily the case. That wasn’t what OP was saying. Trying to negotiate salary is a very normal thing, and it’s okay to say ‘I understand that you are looking for more money, so I can go back and discuss this with the team’ or ‘I’m sorry, but this is a firm offer and there unfortunately isn’t more room to negotiate’. Also, the HR person is making it about her by referencing herself and how she did or didn’t value the OP. and it isn’t about the HR person at all. It’s about the business arrangement between the OP and the company.

          1. Tassie Tiger*

            Hmmm, I see! In that case I may have made some blunders in the past…since I need/do best with as much information as possible, I tend to assume others need the same, and I may be giving too much information to people when they ask for a favor/task that I may not be able to complete. I tend to explain the limits of my role/ability, etc, in hopes it gives them clarity and confidence they know the situation–but I didn’t realize I could be giving a tone or message of being uppity or like I thought they were dumb!

            1. Hills to Die on*

              You aren’t necessarily being uppity by providing lots of information. In fact, judging from the tone of this post, you sound perfectly nice. The request for more information to justify the salary increase is okay (but lots of places don’t even ask for that much). It’s the WAY that the HR person phrased it that sounds unprofessional. I have a couple of examples above of how I would have phrased it, and there are other examples through the comments section that clarify other ways the HR person could have said it that would hae soubnded professional.

              And we have ALL made blunders in the past. Probably a lot of people have made them today. I will certainly make some in the future. But that’s okay–we are all learning here. :)

              1. designbot*

                Right, and she could’ve asked for that in a totally different way. If she’d said, “Based on our understanding of your skillset of X and experience level of Y, this is where it makes sense from our perspective to bring you in at to avoid any imbalance in the team. The most effective way I could make a case to the team that you warranted a higher salary would be if there was some additional skillset that we could argue increases your market value.” That would have been a way to get the same information, convey the same team information about the dynamic, but make it sound like LW and the HR person are in collaboration instead of in combat.

            2. Indie*

              No it’s more that shes saying “Tell me I’m ‘wrong’ at my job; I dare ya”. This automatically makes it a battle between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and puts OP in a very awkward situation of having to school or be schooled. What the OP is willing to accept is not written in black and white in the big book of right and wrong. It’s a flexible number based on HER personal preference but the HR jackass is being totally authoritarian as though she is the only one who has the ‘right’ figures.

          2. Kay*

            I disagree with some of this reasoning mainly because OP already stated her wished salary and is now backtracking. So for me, while it does come across rude, it’s more of a ‘well you’ve already indicated what I should be paying for your skillset, why is that an incorrect assessment?’ which is fairly cold but not out of line to me

            1. TrainerGirl*

              Where does it say in the letter that OP already stated her wished salary? It says that when she got the offer, she hoped for $5-10k more. We don’t know if she stated a desired salary.

        4. The New Wanderer*

          I’ll point out the phrases I think sound combative:

          “We work really hard at coming to you with our best offer. So no, there isn’t room for an increase unless you can help me understand how I have undervalued your skill set. Like we discussed in our call, we compare or candidates to our internal incumbents to make a fair and equitable offer. So write me an email with your declination of the current offer and explain your counter to me. At that time I can talk to the team about a new offer! Sound good? I’ll look forward to your email!”

          To me, it’s mainly those two parts. “So no” sounds very dismissive, like “fat chance.” And “unless you can help me understand how I have undervalued your skill set” reads as sarcastic or condescending, like there’s no way the HR person’s calculation is wrong and how dare anyone question it. In combination, it’s combative.

          That same sentence in a less combative (IMO) tone would be:
          “Unfortunately, there generally isn’t room for an increase unless you are able to make a strong case for it.”

          1. Tassie Tiger*

            Hmmm….do you think in addition, the phrase, “We work really hard at coming to you with our best offer” could come across like “we did a lot of labor for you on this, so you owe it to us to accept it without question”?

            1. Blue*

              I actually didn’t mind that part of it! I think it would’ve been fine if she just finished that sentence differently. If you combine it with The New Wanderer’s suggested phrasing, I’d consider it well within the realm of standard professional communication: “We work really hard at coming to you with our best offer so, unfortunately, there generally isn’t room for an increase unless you are able to make a strong case for it.” (But I do tend toward the direct/blunt side, so maybe that’s just me!)

            2. The New Wanderer*

              Kind of? That part should not have to be said, it should be expected that HR would give their best first offer. The fact that it is said at all, and that way in particular, adds to the whole feeling of Hard Pushback. So I think in the whole email as written, it comes across as “show me how I failed if you’re so valuable” but I agree with Blue that put together with softer language, it’s not so harsh.

          2. smoke tree*

            I thought the “so no” sounded pretty condescending–implying it should have been obvious to the LW that asking for an increase was an unreasonable thing to do. It also sounds like she’s taking the situation way too personally, like the LW was accusing her of negotiating in bad faith. Makes me wonder whether she has never come across anyone who’s tried to negotiate before, which seems unlikely unless she’s really new to the role.

            1. designbot*

              I agree, it’s these little things that really do it. When I read, “so, no,” I just picture this person with vocal fry rolling their eyes and slamming down a phone. It’s just so dismissive.

            2. Birch*

              Yeah exactly. It also sounds very unprofessional because of how people usually say it, like they’re reacting to something ridiculous you’ve said to them.

          3. Specialk9*

            I also read the “like we DISCUSSED” as bitchy too. Generally people don’t say “as we discussed” except as a summary of a discussion (which is fine) or when they’re being a bit of a jerk (ie the acceptable way of saying ‘yeeeah, we already talked about this, you mouthbreather’). I rarely see the second from kind people, but the douchey ones love it.

            1. AKchic*

              Oh yeah, I love using “as previously discussed on X date” then attaching the email(s) or meeting minutes (or even screenshots) with the section highlighted if I’m having to remind someone for the umpteenth time of the same conversation and decision over and over again. Is it bitchy? Yes. Is it to the point about how many times we’ve already gone over this very topic and what has already been discussed and decided (usually by people above us and we have no power to change it amongst ourselves)? Most assuredly.
              Would I ever do that to a person I am trying to hire? Not if I really want to hire them. It’s rude.

        5. Turkletina*

          For me, it’s a combination of things. The “no”, contributes. Starting the sentence with “so” contributes.

          “help me understand how I have undervalued your skill set” comes across poorly for a number of reasons as well. It’s kind of patronizing and implies that the emailer wants to hear the OP’s reasoning so that she can poke holes in it. It’s a small step up from a sarcastic “PLEASE tell me about how I’ve failed at doing my job of extending you a reasonable offer. I’m sure YOU, with YOUR vast experience in hiring, would have done better.”

        6. Seriously?*

          There is no use of softening language. Most people try to soften a rejection. For example: “Unfortunately, this is best offer we are able to make based on your skills and experience” would read a lot better than and get the same point across. Also, demanding that the OP officially decide the offer before they will discuss why the OP feels it is too low is inherently hostile.

        7. Canarian*

          I think the usage of no is a big part of the combativeness. The following sentences have functionally the same result, but very different tone:

          “So no, there isn’t room for an increase unless you can help me understand how I have undervalued your skill set.”

          “Yes, we can work with you to negotiate an increase, if you can demonstrate value we didn’t account for.”

          “No- unless” and “Yes- if” mean the same thing here, but one is much more combative/door-slammed-in-face than the other.

          There’s also deviations from the norms that make it more combative. It starts off with unusually defensive language. Saying “we worked really hard on” your offer implies that a counter-offer is somehow discounting all the work they put into the offer. When actually, it’s definitely normal to counter-offer and doesn’t imply that the company was somehow careless in the initial number it offered. Likewise with the request the OP decline the offer, it isn’t the norm and gives a threatening undertone of “we can rescind our offer/we have the power here.”

          1. Tassie Tiger*

            Oh, I love the “no-unless” and “yes-if” comparison! I think that concept will help me live a more positive and thoughtful life! Thank you!

          2. Tassie Tiger*

            Oh, I forgot to say it makes so much sense when you write, “Saying “we worked really hard on” your offer implies that a counter-offer is somehow discounting all the work they put into the offer. ”

            Using Jesca’s fry-example above, I can imagine it’s comparable to saying, “We worked really hard to cook that batch of fries, and we salted them using our best judgment and expertise. So, it’s hurtful when I see you wanting to shake more salt onto them.”

            Like…if a customer wants more salt, they want more salt, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting more salt! You want a job that understands your “worth in salt,” after all! :D

            1. Dr Wizard, PhD*

              I have literally had fast food staff reply to a request for salt with “they’re already salted”, so yes.

          3. No means no*

            The word “no” is NOT combative. People need to learn it’s OK to say “no.”

            1. Specialk9*

              This HR person was being rude, manipulative, and hostile. That does not mean that all people who say “no” are those things.

              We can point out the former and *also* pull up our own big kid undies, they’re not mutually exclusive.

            2. Mookie*

              They are not communicating “no.” They are flouting normal hiring practices and putting the onus on the applicant to “prove them wrong.” It’s manipulative and gross.

            3. Julia*

              In some cases, yes. In others, a single flat “no” is rude.

              Scenario 1:
              X: Let’s make out.
              Y: No.

              Scenario 2:
              X: Could we talk about Z?
              Y: No.

              Usually, with 2, you’d say, “sorry, that’s not possible”, not just “no”.

              1. T*

                One time I asked my Uncle if I could borrow a book of his, and he just said, “no”. No explanation for why. It threw me for a loop!

        8. Rat in the Sugar*

          Hello, someone else on the spectrum here to help! So, from my analysis, it’s not the “no” that’s the issue, it’s the “So, no,” that’s partly doing it–generally when I hear that phrase used to open a statement, it’s contradicting the first person speaking in a dismissive way.
          Person A: “We should all do my new Great Idea.”
          Person B: “That idea is stupid. So, no, we won’t be doing that.”
          Additionally, HR Person gave the OP a task to perform (“So write me an email”) and also at the end of an overall negative response had cheery-sounding sentences with exclamation points. Being told to complete a certain task can feel like someone is giving you an assignment (which can feel like they are treating you like a student/subordinate) and the cheerfulness contrasts badly with the negative message which makes it feel fake (and therefore rude). So, altogether what I’m seeing here (and any neurotypicals please feel free to weigh in!) is this:

          OP sends a very-normal-in-the-business-world request to negotiate, to which the HR person responds by saying no in a dismissive way and then assigning OP a task she needs to complete and ending the overall negative message with (seemingly) false cheerfulness.

          Of course, I see at least a few commenters here disagreeing that the HR Person’s response was combative at all, so I could be totally wrong. I use the reactions of others to gauge the accuracy of my analyses, so I may have been thrown off by looking for combativeness after seeing others assume it, rather than analyzing HR Person’s response with no assumptions.

          1. Rat in the Sugar*

            Oh geez, I thought I had refreshed the page…good to see all these other explanations, tho! Looks like I was correct to zero in on the “So, no…” phrasing, a bit off base about the email request and cheery-sounding closer, and that I missed a few other things like the HR Person making the message too personal.

            Always good to get this chance to recalibrate, thank you helpful commenters!!

            1. Tassie Tiger*

              -joyful frolicking, bruxing and boggling to see a fellow spectrum-person, who likes rats as well-

            2. Gingerblue*

              The false cheeriness really grated on me too. Combined with the patronizing “help me understand…” bit, it sounded to me like a particularly passive-aggressive parent-child interaction. “So no, Bobby, you need to do the dishes, unless you can help me understand why you shouldn’t have to pitch in. Sound good? I’ll look forward to your explanation!”

              1. Specialk9*

                Yeah the aggressive tone that ended in a syrupy bouquet of exclamation points was pretty annoying too.

                All of this was made worse by the power imbalance and shitty demand (oh you want to negotiate? You can only do it if you turn down this job. Let’s see how willing you are to challenge me now, mothersucker!). I would have given her more leeway on the tone if she weren’t simultaneously being a demonstrable a-hole.

                1. AKchic*

                  Very much a “turn me down, I dare you”, almost as if the rep is hoping LW will turn them down so the rep won’t have to deal with a negotiation at all.
                  “Oh, LW turned us down, guess they didn’t want the job!” *bins the resume/application and moves on to the next applicant*
                  *Rep continues with streak of never having anyone negotiate their salary successfully, keeping salaries low and profits high, which nets an attaboy and a small bonus*
                  (Yeah, that last bit is serious juxtaposition)

            3. SS Express*

              I think you’re absolutely right about the false cheerfulness. It’s very fake, and kind of says “I don’t feel remotely uncomfortable about what just went down, and I expect you to play along even though I was just super rude to you because I’m in charge here and I set the tone”.

            4. boo bot*

              A day late, but I think you were spot-on about the email-request and the cheery-sounding closer. What is interesting to me about this email is that each of the tonal infractions is, on its own, pretty small, but taken together they make up a really hostile picture, and I think different people zero in on different pieces of it depending on their own experience.

          2. Kelsi*

            I think you’re right about a lot of that! To dig in a little further: “So, no” already invokes a certain tone, as you mentioned–and combining that with the fake cheerfulness makes it read to my ear like Regina George (or any other teen movie mean girl) talking! The kind of viciously cheerful, “how dare you challenge me” tone.

        9. Johan*

          There’s an implied threat. It’s not just that the HR person is taking this strangely personally (“help me understand how I have undervalued your skill set,” combined with the emphasis on how the offers are fair and equitable and then the repeated statement to “explain your counter offer to me.”). It’s that on top of the HR person already taking this inappropriately personally, there is the flat-out statement “No, there isn’t room for an increase (unless you explain why this isn’t fair and equitable)” and “DECLINE THE OFFER FIRST” then we’ll see how it goes. Decline the offer first? HR person knows well and good that this is not typical, and that it puts the candidate at enormous risk (or the appearance of enormous risk) of having the HR person say, Hey, you declined the offer, so sad too bad, bye.

        10. MM*

          The “how I have undervalued your skill set” part that others have highlighted is what gets me too. To me the implication is, “I know how much you’re worth, asking for more is a delusion of grandeur, and I am inviting you to trip over your own feet by arguing otherwise.” It doesn’t recognize OP as a person with her own wants, needs, and constraints; it doesn’t maintain the tone of “hirer and hiree are two entities with their own sets of interests, negotiating a mutually beneficial arrangement.”

        11. Jim*

          To me, the combative part is the “take it or leave it” tone of “So write me an email with your declination of the current offer and explain your counter to me.”.

          Negotiations of this type usually expect that the company will give an offer that is good, but maybe not best. It is in the company’s best interest to get good people at the best price. It is in the person’s best interest to get the highest salary possible, without losing the offer.

          Normally both parties will have similar expectations in a range. A company may expect to pay between $13-$15/hr, and a person may expect $14-1$16. The company may offer $13 to start, and the person may counter with $15. If the company thinks that the person is a top tier employee, they may accept. Or, they may counter with an offer of $14. At that point, the person may accept (now that the offer is within their range), or try to ask for more, say $14.75. At any point, either party may claim the final offer and the other makes a decision to accept or decline.

          In the OP’s case, it **feels** like the company played the final offer card really early in the negotiation, which is outside of the norms here.

        12. FD*

          “So no, there isn’t room for an increase unless you can help me understand how I have undervalued your skill set.”

          I would say it’s the combination of factors:

          So no,

          Starting with a flat ‘no’ tends to put you and the person you’re talking to on opposite sides. The ‘so’ modifier also tends to give it a tone of ‘obviously this is the case’, because ‘so’ implies a causal link the reader is supposed to find clear.

          help me understand

          This is context-dependent, but ‘help me understand’ is most commonly used to imply ‘I’m 99% sure I’m right but you can try and explain yourself to me. THIS IS NOT 100% TRUE IN ALL CASES but in the context of the rest of the line, it comes off this way.

          how I have undervalued your skills

          The usage of I/your in conjunction with the ‘so, no’ and ‘help me understand’ adds to the sense of the LW and HR person being on opposite sides. ‘Undervalued’ is also a loaded emotional term that I probably wouldn’t use in this case.

          For contrast, compare something like this:

          I understand where you’re coming from.[1] We really try to do our research on the market too, and bring forward a job offer that’s competitive with what we see being offered.[2] As a result, we don’t have a lot of flexibility in the salary beyond the initial offer.[3] That said, can you share with me a bit more about where you feel your skills may go beyond the market rate, and I can talk it over with the team?[4]

          [1] Acknowledge their point, put yourself on the same side by saying you understand.
          [2] Explain a bit of your POV with terms that feel important to the other party–competitive offer relative to the market.
          [3] Warning that you’re not sure how much you can move (assuming this is actually true in this case)
          [4] But leave an opening for the other person to explain their reasoning

          I’m sorry, I know a lot of this is a bit fuzzy. For additional theory and practice, I would suggest How to Make Friends and Influence People (good general theory though it has some outdated job advice), The Charisma Myth (good info about how to be seen as more likable), and The Like Switch (really good detail work, though I haven’t tested all of it).

          1. Traffic_Spiral*

            “I/your in conjunction with the ‘so, no’ and ‘help me understand’ adds to the sense of the LW and HR person being on opposite sides. ”

            This. HR is setting themselves up as an adversary, and saying “if you can prove you deserve more, you will be proving me wrong, and possibly making me look bad to my superiors.” It’s no-win, because even if you get the raise, the implication is that HR will now resent you and no one wants to start off a job with HR hating them. Add the whole “you have to quit first” and HR is making very clear that this is going to be a high-stakes fight that HR does NOT want you to win. That’s a lot of office-psycho drama to be getting into.

        13. designbot*

          The HR rep is pushing this further than it needs to go, making LW really go out on a limb by rejecting the offer to counteroffer. Because that doesn’t need to happen at all and puts LW in a risky position (if the counteroffer is rejected, but LW has already rejected the initial offer, LW is left with no offer at all!), that’s a bigger thing that underscores everything about the tone issues pointed out above. That fundamentally raises the stakes in the interaction, and again there’s no reason for it.

        14. PsychDoc*

          Thank you for asking for clarification. I have enjoyed reading the responses and the additional insight that has been provided into the thinking and experience of others.

          I felt like the “help me understand how I undervalued your skillset”, when taken alone is fine (when I just read that chunk alone it sounds like a reasonable request and an area for further exploration). But, when combined with, what I read as, “I’m feeling defensive about the implication that I was wrong in my assessment of you, so you’d better have a *darn* good reason to suggest otherwise”. However, my reading of it is filtered through my lens of currently feeling on the defensive in a work situation, so I may be seeing everything as more emotionally-laden than it really is.

          1. Birch*

            There’s also a difference between saying “help me understand how I undervalued your skillset” and the (IMHO) more genuine sounding “help me understand how you will bring more value to this position.” Using the word “undervalued” makes it sound like the HR rep is defensive–people don’t usually genuinely describe themselves as doing negative things like that. It’s like she’s using language that she assumes is in OP’s head, which comes across as accusatory, like “Oh, you think I undervalued you?” And it focuses on the money, as if OP is only worth so much, rather than focusing on the skills that supposedly determine the salary.

        15. SophieK*

          I’m very much not on the autism spectrum and I agree with you. There’s nothing wrong with asking someone to make a business case for asking for more money. And the OP is completely unproven!

          I personally do not like people who try to negotiate. I treat people right to begin with, so if they want more, more, more, more right off the bat? Bye bye!

          1. AMPG*

            This is unreasonable, IMO. Someone who’s encountering you for the first time as part of the hiring process has no reason to believe that you’re treating them “right,” not to mention that there’s no reason to believe you even have the same definition of “treating people right.” Negotiating during the hiring process is part of an employee’s due diligence when accepting a job, and it’s inappropriate for you to penalize them for it, as long as they do it professionally.

        16. Close Bracket*

          Also on the spectrum. I read what everyone said in reply to you. I understand why people think “so, no” is combative. To me, it just sounds like, “therefore, no.” I understand *that* other people think “tell me why you think I undervalued you” is combative, but I think they are overreacting. I think this is one of those cases where people need to give the benefit of doubt and look at what they are being invited to do, which is provide a counter argument, which is completely reasonable. They don’t have to pay you more just because you asked. You need to make a case. That’s how it is when you ask for a raise, and that’s how it is in negotiations. In fact, OP should have anticipated this kind of response. If you are ever on the receiving end of this kind of language, I would let it go and pay attention to the underlying message.

          1. Persephoneunderground*

            I think the main problem is that they are expressing “therefore, no” as a conclusion, but really mean “maybe, if you fulfill these steps/hoops and we agree” when you read the rest of the message- it isn’t a conclusion at all, it’s stated then backpedaled weirdly. You don’t open with a conclusion, you end with it! So why did they lead with a flat “no” when they didn’t need to and actually didn’t even mean it? Why not use “maybe” or equivalent? It is an aggressive move to lead with that in the context of everything else. Also, if trying to have cordial written communication it’s best to only use “no” when necessary, and use softening language when you have to, because tone is hard to convey in writing and a direct “no” can read as harsh.

        17. Safetykats*

          I’m not sure I do see it as combative. I work in an industry where salary ranges are established by contract, and in fact if I’ve given you an offer at the top of the salary grade for the position then you are going to have to explain to me why you are entitled to a higher salary grade in order for me to justify more money. In addition, in order to formally offer you a higher salary grade, I will likely have to repost the position at that grade – so will at a minimum need you to reapply. I might ask you to formally retract your application for the lower level position, although I don’t think I would need you to turn down the offer – but if I had issued a written offer, I might need that. However – I would likely have the discussion about salary grade and justification with you before before asking you to apply or decline or retract anything.

          My guess is this means they have other well qualified candidates, and are pretty sure they can get one of them for the initial offer – but perhaps can’t issue additional offers until this one is formally closed out. Which would mean declined or retracted. Does the offer have an “accept by” date? If so, you may have until that date to negotiate, but my guess is that this response means they aren’t negotiating.

          Do try again to get the HR rep on the phone, as you may have better luck figuring out what’s going on in an actual conversation. You may just be seeing a level of frustration from the HR rep – it’s hard to work within a very structured system, and she may actually have to show that she cannot fill the position at the offered salary before she has any leeway to increase the offer. However – if that is the case – you will likely need any other qualified candidates to also turn down the same offer before they can get back to you.

    2. Dan*

      Perhaps it’s combative. But I work in an industry where a lot of the pay is somewhat formulaic (hello government contracting!) so your skills, education, and experience more or less determine your pay. What the HR person is basically saying is that she wants to know if the candidate was properly evaluated and put into the right labor category, etc. If not, then hey, more money. If properly categorized, then too bad.

      1. LSP*

        That is very government-specific, however, and not applicable to almost all non-government jobs.

        And as someone who has also worked both directly for the government and as a contractor, there is usually some wiggle-room within the categories. OP is thinking of $5-$10k over the offer which, unless she was already being offered the top of the range, would almost certainly fall into the range they were already offering.

      2. Hills to Die on*

        The point she is making is fine, but the tone is what I have an issue with.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Exactly – there are ways to say this, without sounding like a jerk about it. There’s a whole undercurrent of insulted “are you saying *I* made a *mistake*? How dare you! You better provide proof that I am not infallible if you want me to reconsider.” that I’m getting from that response, and that’s not at all a productive way to approach a negotiation like this.

        2. Parenthetically*

          Yes, exactly this. My eyebrows shot up when I read that — such a needlessly aggressive way to phrase it.

        3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

          Agreed—the tone is a bit condescending and definitely reads as combative. That’s not a good look, even if the content is accurate.

        4. Leela*

          Definitely! “Based on market values, our budget, and how we see your skillset aligns with our team needs, this is the most logical offer and we don’t have wiggle room for it. Are you still interested in the position at the current salary?” Would have gotten the same information across without making it sound like OP had torpedoed their chances by being difficult/crazy which isn’t the case at all from what we see here. I do think that asking OP to decline the offer instead of just opening up negotiations is really out of line. I honestly wonder if the HR rep plans to show it to the HM and go “Well they declined, I guess we’ll look into other candidates!” I agree with AMA and feel that OP should completely not engage with the “decline the offer” instruction

      3. Antilles*

        If you have formulaic salary bands, that’s one thing and can explain why there’s not much flexibility on pay. But it *doesn’t* explain the request that OP decline the offer first, which is way out of the ordinary.

        1. Specialk9*

          Yeah, the demand that the candidate must reject the job to negotiate the salary (!!!) is the part that raises it from ‘that seems weirdly combative but maybe I’m reading tone wrong’ to ‘oh, nope, this is a raging control freak with a bare civil veneer’. She just went nuclear and then fake kiss-kissed at the end.

      4. Brett*

        The letter seems to indicate, though, that the pay bands are based on what they pay people internally and not based on market.
        That means the fairness of the HR eventually is based purely on a very circularly fairness of their internal pay, which is based on their internal pay.
        (It also sounds like pay compression will be a huge issue there in the long run, if that is their system.)

        1. Someone else*

          Yeah that part stuck out at me too. It’s slightly overshadowed by the generally snotty tone, but it seems like the HR person was saying they “worked hard” on the offer based on what they’re already paying people in that role, which has very little to do with market rates unless it’s so niche that their existing staff make up a statistically significant portion of the market. This makes her “prove it” angle even worse.

      5. Indie*

        I have a government job where every job description has a corresponding pay band and this would still be inappropriate here! You can’t ignore the fact she’s basically said “prove me wrong punk”. If it were a banded position, the rep would simply attach bands and policies for the candidate to consider. She wouldn’t use phrases that imply she’s readying Custer’s last stand.

    3. Jadelyn*

      The fact that they’re HR doesn’t make it any less worse or less combative tbh. In some ways it almost makes it worse imo, simply because that sounds like the type of petty tyrant HR so many people have had bad experiences with – an HR rep who has a tiny bit of power and abuses it to the max because they enjoy it.

      1. Hills to Die on*

        Agreed–what I am saying is that if this is a person the OP will never work with again, then maybe it isn’t sucha big deal. If this was OP’s direct manager, I would caution them to think about working for someone like this on a daily basis.

        1. Safetykats*

          This. Unless you are a manager, your interactions with the hiring folks in HR are pretty limited. In a good sized company, the HR folks who deal with benefits and such – the ones most employees interact with – will be different people. So if you liked the hiring manager and the people you would work with, turning down an offer because you didn’t hit it off with one person in HR is probably a bad idea.

    4. Opting for the Sidelines*

      This sounds so much like our HR when I inquired about my raise last year. It was supposed to be performance based, but instead was COL.

      When I talked to HR, I got that response pretty much verbatim. You see, our company had hired an outside consultant to evaluate our salaries as compared to salaries industry wide. So, to HR, based on my title and years of experience, I was “slotted” into a salary range. This range did not include: the promotion I received, acknowledgement of the new clients I brought in, and the repeat business I acquired (no marketing or BD dollars spent!).

      So I “get” what HR was doing. However, one size (in the private sector) does not fit all. BTW, our HR department at that time was new, and, I think, making a very poor attempt to save the company money by keeping salaries lower. ( And oh, btw, this was just one more red flag among others in our company that it was time to move on. I am no longer with that company.)

      To the LW, this is a red flag. If you really want the job, write a very detailed letter as AAM suggests. Otherwise keep hunting.

      1. Opting for the Sidelines*

        Oh, forgot to mention, when I said verbatim I meant it: The “please help explain how Company has undervalued you” sticks out in my head.

      2. Stormfeather*

        Or accept the job so you have money coming in in the meantime, and also continue job hunting

        1. President Porpoise*

          Eh, but bad faith acceptances are pretty not cool. I wouldn’t do this unless you are really, truly desperate and middling about whether you want to work there. If you’re not desperate, or if you don’t want to work there at all, don’t accept and keep looking.

          1. Specialk9*

            Yeah but “reject the offer before we can negotiate, but of course you won’t, because you’re a powerless maggot unlike meeeee!” is pretty decidedly not cool too. I can see taking that job for the salary and making it a pit stop rather than a place to settle in.

          2. Stormfeather*

            But the whole point about needing the job and being afraid to risk declining the offer make it sound like the OP is… maybe not desperate, but at least heading in that direction.

            And I tend to think if you pull stuff like this in negotiations (or in nipping them in the bud) you pretty much get what’s coming to you in terms of people getting out ASAP (there’s that abbreviation again…)

            Besides, no one is saying that she’d have to take it in bad faith even if she continues job searching. She could be pleasantly surprised with the rest of the company outside that HR person, and maybe get a raise (or realize the perks are worth a slightly lower salary). But with a red flag like this at the start, it would be foolish NOT to keep looking for something to fall back on.

    5. NW Mossy*

      Yeah, something more like “We think it’s a fair offer based on Reasons and we don’t have a lot of wiggle room – can you tell us more about what you’re looking for and how you came to that number?” gets at the same thing (don’t ask for the moon because I don’t have it to give; show me you’re worth it) without sounding so defensive about the original offer.

      Salary negotiation is ultimately about getting to a number upon which the two parties can make a deal, which in the vast majority of cases is going to slightly favor one party. Sometimes that’s the candidate, and sometimes that’s the employee. But in any negotiation, implying that the other party comes to it in bad faith (in this case, the HR rep implying that the OP doesn’t have the goods to support a higher offer) is a very fast way to trigger a thanks-but-no-thanks conclusion.

    6. soon 2 be former fed*

      Yeah, OP doesn’t know how her skillset was valued to know if it was undervalued or not. Not a tactful response at all.

    7. Lalaith*

      Maybe I’m playing devil’s advocate a bit here, but I’m wondering about the “Like we discussed in our call…” line. I’d like to know the substance of that previous call. If HR already described the compensation determination process to OP, I can kind of see why she could be annoyed that OP is disregarding that process and that’s where the tone is coming from. (Whether that process makes any sense is a different story.)

      1. Mad Baggins*

        Yeah, I think the only thing that justifies this response is if, as you said, HR had already explained the “valuing” process in detail over the phone and now OP is renegotiating in bad faith. That really doesn’t sound like the case though.

    8. Girl friday*

      Yes, two years from now, the conversation won’t go much better when negotiating a raise. I would not work for that person. I honestly think hiring practices reveal more important information about a company and a boss than most people realize when they’re looking for jobs.

  2. Wannabe Disney Princess*

    I don’t think I can side eye the HR Rep’s response enough.

    LW, if you weren’t unemployed I would tell you to walk away. As it is, however, proceed with extreme caution…this just seems so sketchy to me.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Agreed 100%

      The whole “explain how we have undervalued you” is just… icky.

  3. Johnny Tarr*

    Is it possible that the HR rep was simply told the salary by the hiring person, and she wants to have an argument ready before she approaches the hiring person with a request for an increase? I would agree that her tone is unnecessarily testy, but maybe she has justification for the substance of her response.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      Sure, but in this context–HR rep vs potential employee negotiating salary and whether the person will be hired at all–tone is extremely important. The HR rep doesn’t get let off the hook for having a reason that she needs the OP to come back with specific details to justify the requested increase.

      1. Sally*

        I agree! She could just say that she needs a justification to take to the decision maker(s) if that’s the case. Her response sounds really defensive, especially when all she was asked was “…I am wondering if there is any room to increase the salary offer.”

    2. LarsTheRealGirl*

      This was my thinking. The recruiter/HR person has to go back to the hiring team or her management with “Hermione wants $x salary because of x, y, z.”

      Otherwise they may just tell her to get you to agree and this gives her justification to push back.

      It’s crappy either way.

      1. AnonAnalyst*

        I was thinking that the instruction that OP has to decline the original offer might be along these lines too. That way the HR person can say “OP declined that offer. But she would be willing to accept $X salary based on her experience in x, y, and z.”

        Definitely crappy. Hopefully this is just one inept HR person handling the process badly and not indicative of how any future negotiations would be handled if OP ends up working there.

    3. AdAgencyChick*

      I think it’s more likely the HR rep controls the salary than the hiring manager, at least based on my experience. A hiring manager hires only when she has specific needs on her team, whereas the HR/recruiting department makes hires far more often. So I bet the recruiting team has better knowledge of market rates and the company’s own budget than the hiring manager!

      In my experience as a hiring manager (and as an applicant), recruiting always screens the candidates first, makes them disclose a salary requirement (I know, grrrr), and the hiring manager gets to interview only those whose requirements fit the budget of the position.

      1. Detective Amy Santiago*

        Yup. When I interviewed with my current manager, she made sure to tell me that she had no say in what I was offered salary wise. It’s a huge corporation and the salary levels are very standardized. I was okay with that because even the lowest end of the posted range for the job was an increase for me.

    4. Chalupa Batman*

      Agree. I didn’t like her tone at all, but my go-to strategy in those types of situations is to respond to the words only, treating the message as tone neutral. Unless I have strong reason to believe that the tone needs to be addressed (for example, if I think that the person’s emotional reaction could be a sign that MY tone was misunderstood), I assume there’s context I may not know about that makes it necessary to ask in a particular way. This may be more common in some fields than others, but in mine (higher ed), very similar words can mean different things that change the answer if the question isn’t asked precisely, so I’m more likely to view a question asked in a brusque way as needing to be addressed very literally rather than taking offense at the brusqueness of it.

      1. Johnny Tarr*

        That’s a very Zen way to think of tone. I will try to implement this mindset. “Don’t let the bastards grind you down,” and whatnot.

      2. CM*

        Agreed! I’m a lawyer so my job is basically to argue with people. Ignoring tone and focusing on the words the person is saying helps a lot, and I think it will help the OP here to get past some of the initial shock of this message.

        I’m also really glad to hear Alison’s advice about ignoring the unreasonable part of the message, i.e., “you have to decline the offer first.” That’s another technique I use all the time! The OP could respond, “Thanks so much for considering my request. According to my research, the average amount for my skill set is $__ and I would be excited to accept at that salary. I know you’re looking for someone with skills in __ and I have 5 years of experience doing that. Please let me know if you have any flexibility in the salary range.”

      3. Jennifer Thneed*

        It’s also a good approach with passive-aggressive statements, or the people who use sweet concern as a mask for aggression: take it completely literally, and respond to the words rather than the insult. It lets you not have unpleasant interactions and also takes the wind out of the sails of the speaker — and they can’t really object to your reply without looking really bad.

      4. Johan*

        Yes — but the HR person literally said to decline the offer first. If OP does follow that instruction, HR person can always go back to the hiring manager and say, OP declined the offer. Let’s move on to candidate No. 2.

        1. Safetykats*

          Yes, this. My guess is that they had several well-qualified candidates, and are pretty sure they can get one of them for the money they offered. If OP is not their top choice by a mile, they may well just want to move on to the next offer – and maybe can’t do that until they close this one out by rescinding it it by having OP decline it.

          Alternatively, OP may be their last choice, and everybody else has declined their offer. In which case they may need to have OP also decline it so they can increase the salary range and start over.

          In either case, I’m not sure it reads well for OP, except in the unlikely scenario where OP is the only qualified candidate and they just need to be able to demonstrate that OP won’t accept the offer in order to have the leeway to increase it.

    5. Indie*

      If the HR person is going to be whipped for ‘undervaluing’ someone, or for merely asking about negotiation wiggle room without being able to defend and justify…….then OP doesn’t want to work there.

      The most optimistic interpretation is that she’s a lone crackpot who can be ignored and worked around. Luckily her bizarrely control freak phrases coupled with the fake Dolores Umbridge perkiness (to quote Specialk9) make this reading almost certainly accurate.

  4. Kathlynn*

    What really struck out to me was the “we compare it to current employees” rather then how it relates to the market value. Makes me wonder if they are paying under market value. If they are, I’d mention it.

    1. Ralph Wiggum*

      True, comparison to other employees doesn’t matter to the OP, because she only cares about the salary compared to other potential employers.

      But it is meaningful to the company, since they don’t want to introduce a large pay disparity among their employees. It could introduce morale issues if it becomes known, and it may be a legal liability if the pay disparity is in line with a protected class.

      1. Jadelyn*

        Yes, but in that case, what you do isn’t “tell candidates you won’t pay them any more than current EEs to avoid the issue”, it’s “revisit comp for existing EEs and see how it compares to market data to correct the issue”.

        1. KHB*

          Well, if the current employees are willing to work for what you’re willing to pay, is there really any issue to correct?

          But in that case, what you do is say “I’m sorry, but this is our best offer and it’s non-negotiable,” not goad the candidate into a passive-aggressive game of chicken.

          1. KRM*

            Well, I was willing to work for the salary I had last year plus COL raise, but that didn’t stop upper management from reviewing market values, deciding I was underpaid, and giving me a raise to reflect that as well. So it’s crappy to say “hey our people haven’t done their market value research so we can continue to underpay them, because they’re happy with what they have!”. I mean, I was happy with my old salary. But with my new salary I’m happy, I feel valued by the company, and I feel that I’m working for a place that looks out for their people.

            1. Eliza*

              Also, “willing to work there” isn’t a binary thing. Having a lot of underpaid employees who are willing to keep working for you until they can find a better offer might not be an ideal situation, even if they’re still working for now.

          2. Jadelyn*

            …yes. Yes, if you’re underpaying people, it doesn’t stop being underpayment just because nobody is complaining. How is this a question?

            Sure, if your only focus is on short-term savings, keep underpaying your people for as long as they’ll put up with it. But if you actually care about long-term sustainability and keeping a strong workforce, that’s a problem you really should be proactively correcting.

            For example, my organization has been slowly creeping our lower salary limit up by $1/hr each year for the past few years. We’ve gone from an internal minimum wage of $10/hr to $14/hr. This resulted in some compression in the lower salary ranges, where we had CSR IIs who’ve been here for years making the same amount as CSR Is who just got hired, because the CSR II had been slowly working their way up at the same rate as the minimum increases and hadn’t really gotten ahead of that curve but we were hiring in new, inexperienced folks for that higher minimum rate.

            So you know what we did this past year at merit increase planning time? I worked with our comp specialist and org leadership and we developed a grading system to help ease the compression problem we’d created. Several dozen people got bumped to new thresholds and then got their merit increases on top of that, to rebuild a more fair distribution of salaries. Employees didn’t ask us to do this – we looked at it, said “wow that’s really not fair” and decided to fix it.

            If the only reason you ever do anything for the benefit of your employees is because they force you to do it, you’re a terrible employer and you’re not going to wind up with a workforce that actually cares enough to contribute any more than necessary to not lose their jobs.

            1. AMPG*

              This is an excellent comment. And I’ll add that for the past decade companies have been able to get away with doing the absolute minimum for their employees because the labor market was bad and people were scared. That’s currently changing and a whole bunch of employers are going to get caught flat-footed when their workers decide to jump ship.

      2. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

        I’m giving it a huge side-eye, because this is basically a green light for the company to never give anyone raises and to never bring anyone anywhere close to their market rate. “We are sorry, Wakeen, we know you’re worth 20K more, but that would be unfair to your teammate Bob.” “We are sorry, Bob, we know you are worth more, but giving you a raise wouldn’t be fair to Wakeen.” You can give people this runaround for years without ever having to pay them what they deserve! Pretty slick! until, of course, everybody leaves.

    2. aj*

      It means they absolutely are paying under market value. Most companies are usually very proud of their ability to pay market value or higher. When HR says, “compared to what we normally pay”, its a clear red flag to me that they’re very use to paying less-than-market rates.

      1. Steve*

        Yeah, even though most companies tend to underpay existing employees (at least in my industry), at least they give lip service to their “competitive compensation.” OP’s potential employer isn’t even trying.

    3. Luna*

      On the one hand companies do need to make sure that they are paying employees of different genders and ethnicities equitably. However that shouldn’t be used as an excuse to suppress wages, it still needs to be tied to the local market value and allow room for individual experience & education to be considered.

    4. Kathlynn*

      I forgot to add, as an outsider, the LW has no way to compare her skill set to the current employees. Thus it makes it rather difficult to impossible for her to argue for more money.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      It’s the combination of their (very odd, I agree!) salary determination techniques and the “please help me understand how I have undervalued your skillset” that complete the picture for me. “How dare you question the salary we came up with for you, that we determined based on the salaries of our current employees, the information that you have no access to! You should have read our minds and agreed that we are being fair here.” What fresh hell is that? Where’s the logic?

      1. Girl friday*

        Well at least it is self-correcting, because if this company is determining salaries based on what they’re paying each other, the market will just leave them behind.

        1. Girl friday*

          In fact that makes such little sense that I think it must just be that one employee’s set speech, which thankfully is also self-correcting eventually.

  5. ExcelJedi*

    This definitely seems like a powerless, probably inexperienced HR rep on a power trip to me. She probably has no idea how to respond, and didn’t ask anyone above her what would be appropriate.

    Still side-eyeing her, though.

    1. Jadelyn*

      I’m not sure about inexperienced, but absolutely on a power trip. This is someone making themselves feel important by throwing around whatever weight they have.

      1. smoke tree*

        I did get the sense from HR’s tone that she seemed offended by the concept of salary negotiation and was taking it really personally. Unless the LW’s negotiation was seriously off-base somehow (which I doubt, if she based it on Alison’s advice), it makes me wonder if the HR rep has never dealt with salary negotiation before. I suppose it’s also possible that this is just a strategy to discourage negotiation, but that would be really weird and unnecessary, since she could just as easily say no in a pleasant way.

        1. Pollygrammer*

          It’s a really poor strategy that would universally leave a bad taste about the company in basically every new hire.

        2. Troutwaxer*

          Personally, I’d bail at this point, but I am easily offended by stuff like this: If there’s someone who might be making decisions about me who doesn’t understand that the relationship between an employee and an employer is a two-way relationship (albeit with some obvious power imbalances which I am willing to tolerate) I’m just not interested in working there. My own favored reply – assuming that I wasn’t desperate – would be something along these lines, addressed to both the hiring manager and the HR person, so the hiring manager would see what the HR person had written:

          Dear Potential Manager,

          Based on HR’s response, I am withdrawing my application to work at your company. The response to my request reads as defensively phrased and unnecessarily confrontational. It seems like HR sees ordinary salary negotiations between an employer and a potential employee as something which can’t be handled according to ordinary standards of politeness, and at this point I’m worried about whether your HR will handle other issues which might come up in the course of the employee-employer relationship with the same sort of defensive attitude.

          Best wishes, etc.

          Obvious, the OP’s mileage will vary; if his/her financial situation demands an immediate return to work this might not be possible, but in the best of all possible worlds this is how I’d proceed. Allison’s advice is probably better than mine, but I personally wouldn’t work anyplace where HR is so easily offended.

    1. Robin Sparkles*

      While I get that it could make a difference in how combative she sounds -if they are treating her as less because she is unemployed -that is a red flag. Of course she is unemployed so taking the job with eyes wide open to look for other flags will be important.

      1. Robin Sparkles*

        Ugh I am typing while trying to do other stuff -big mistake! I meant to say that I understand that the HR rep knowing the OP is unemployed might make a difference in how she is treating the OP but if that is how she/company behaves- that is a flag.

    2. Kat in VA*

      I have noticed a distinct difference in how HR reps and recruiters treated me when I was looking for a position while employed (it was a short-term contract with a clear end date, so no shenanigans) and how they treat me now that they know I’m unemployed (short-term contract ended without me securing another job in time).

  6. Canarian*

    I’m not sure if this is relevant/applicable to what is happening here, but I know someone who once had to decline an offer to negotiate a higher offer because what she had been offered was at the top of the salary range of the job that had been posted. This was a quasi-governmental job – not directly for a governmental body, but subject to government pay scales – so she had applied for something posted as, say a GS 5, and been offered a salary at the very top of the GS 5 scale. In order to negotiate anything higher, she had to decline, then the agency re-posted a different job opening for a GS 6, and they had to go through the motions of the application process again to get her the higher offer.

    If that IS what’s going on here, the HR rep obviously didn’t explain it clearly at all. And, again, no matter what it’s always a risky gambit to decline one deal because there’s no guarantee it will reappear, even if that’s something you informally agreed before.

  7. MSSS*

    Lawyer here. In most places, your counter-offer legally IS a rejection of their offer. But yes- the way they are doing it is completely out of all business norms I know of.

    1. Ralph Wiggum*

      [In most places, your counter-offer legally IS a rejection of their offer.]

      That’s what I thought, and I did a bunch of quick googling to verify. But I was specifically looking at US contract law. I wasn’t sure if that transfers to employment offers, since at-will employment means they’re usually not exactly contracts.

      1. Seriously?*

        Although the fact that a job offer is not a contract means that the don’t need a formal rejection. They can simply say that they are taking it as a rejection and move forward either with another offer or another candidate

      2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        You’re right—it doesn’t translate in the at-will employment context in the U.S. MSSS is applying black letter contract law to a non-contractual negotiation, so it doesn’t really map the same way that an offer/counter-offer map in the contract negotiation context.

    2. JB (not in Houston)*

      Ehhhh, it depends. Yes, technically, she is rejecting terms of a proposed *contract* if she counteroffers, but she’s not necessarily negotiating an employment contract. But it just doesn’t work to try to analogize the norms of salary negotiation in an at-will context to an offer and counteroffer in proposing the terms of a contract. It just doesn’t map exactly onto negotiating, say, the sale of a business. We’re not talking about where someone says “I won’t accept the job at this pay, could you go up $5k.” It’s so common for people to still accept a job if the salary can’t be negotiated up in this kind of context, so the law of forming a legally-binding contract is quite different from the situation that the OP is in and that the HR rep is proposing. The HR rep understands OP has *not* as yet rejected the offer of working there. It’s closer to where parties have agreed on some of the terms of a contract and have left nonmaterial terms open for later negotiation (yes, pay would be a material term in an actual contract and no, OP hasn’t agreed to work there yet, but that’s what it’s closer to if we’re going to compare this to contract negotiations)

    3. Jessie the First (or second)*

      Yeah, as JB says, you are talking about contract law, MSSS, but this is not a contractual negotiation. This is employment – which, if this is the U.S., is not contractually-based. So the nuances are different. There won’t be the eventual lawsuit in which we argue to the judge whether a contract was formed, and when, and under what terms. When negotiating normal U.S. at-will employment, we don’t necessarily use black letter contact law.

      So, no, counter-offering in an employment offer context (again, in the US) is not the same as a rejection during a *contract* negotiation. Therefore, the difference between formally rejecting the offer but making a counter-offer vs. saying you are interested but are asking for $xxxx instead is actually pretty significant, I think. You don’t want to be signaling that you will reject the offer as it stands, which is obviously what you’d be doing if you do actually reject the offer then counter.

      1. MSSS*

        Not quite. Just because it’s employment at will doesn’t mean there is no contract- it just means it’s a contract that can be terminated at any time for any reason (so long as the reason is not illegal, such as discrimination). That begins before the job offer is accepted too- so job offers can be easily withdrawn for employees at will without breaching the contract.

        But most importantly as I said above- what this HR rep is doing us well outside the norms of business practice.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      Yes and no. A counteroffer is essentially the beginning of a new negotiation, but in the at-will employment context, it doesn’t extinguish the original offer. OP could counteroffer and ultimately accept the original offer. Asking OP to formalize each phase of that process introduces a level of contract dealing that is not common (and not really reasonable) in the at-will employment context.

      1. Steve*

        Furthermore, unless there is some kind of signed contract otherwise, the company could even withdraw the offer (either the existing one or a new offer, if they make one) even after it is accepted. Or they could let OP start there and then fire them on the first day to make an example of her to the other employees.

      2. Girl friday*

        Well they might be dealing with three or more candidates, and eliminating the ones who find their offer unacceptable is understandable. They don’t have to play just because o p wants to negotiate. I read it as possibly saying, “Clarify your position in writing so we can use it at this stage of our hiring process.” And it would be within their right to remove the offer entirely after this point. In fact I think trying to negotiate at this point might have been a little tone deaf of the applicant, to offer gently a little constructive criticism.

    5. Don't Miss It*

      Also a lawyer here. As others have mentioned, the usual rules of contract law do not apply to employment offers. A lot of lawyers-to-be learned this the hard way in the middle of my 3L year when the economy tanked and big firms started rescinding or significantly altering permanent employment offers that had been accepted the year before.

      1. Steve*

        Heck, the company could accept OP’s request, then on the first day, tell her “actually we recalculated and we can only pay you the original offer.”

  8. animaniactoo*

    I’m almost wondering if she has been pushing for an internal candidate and is hoping that she can get OP to “decline” and thereby get the internal candidate back in the running?

    OR alternately, she knows the internal candidates are underpaid and is hoping that OP will decline and she can use that as “proof” that there’s a salary issue going on both in hiring and in retaining?

    Otherwise, this is weirder than weird. Even if she’s been up against people who want more so they can afford the two-bedroom colonial near downtown, not because they feel they’re getting lowballed on market rate for the position.

    1. Antilles*

      I was wondering that too. The request to *decline the offer* is just so oddball that it immediately made me suspicious that Something Else is going on here and there’s some kind of reason she wants OP to decline the offer – not just as part of standard salary negotiations, but as a pawn in other games…which likely results in OP remaining unemployed since she “declined” the offer.

      1. Troutwaxer*

        Yup. I saw the same thing. As I noted above, this doesn’t give anyone data about how people respond to their pay scales, but to how HR phrases things.

  9. Amy Kaiser*

    Even AAM’s answer seems risky to me. There’s chance that by proceeding with that email she will interpret you as rejecting the offer and not let you back in. However, if you really want the extra $$ it is probably worth the risk.

    1. D. Llama*

      Yeah, it’s definitely a risk. Is the extra money a want or a need? How long have you been out of work? How prevalent are possible jobs? Unfortunately, these questions matter.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      If HR interprets OP’s counter as a rejection/declination, however, then that’s a major red flag. It’s so beyond most norms of employment negotiation that it will look like bad faith bargaining.

    3. MicroManagered*

      I think I’d combine the two responses… Lead with “I’m very interested in the offer and just hoping to work out its details.” then “I’m awesome in these specific ways, your team thinks I’m awesome in these specific ways, I’m excited to do this job, and what I’m asking for is in line with market rates.”

      And then, there’s the piece where OP is unemployed and doesn’t want to lose the job offer. The fact is, if it’s *that* risky, maybe it’s not worth pushing on the negotiation in this instance? Only OP would really know that though.

  10. Dan*


    I think you already have your answer — you asked the softball, “hey, is this the best that you can do?” HR’s response was basically, “Yup, unless you’re serious about walking away. But even if you do, there’s no guarantee that we’d come back with a better offer.” I think this is a high stakes gamble that has minimal upside and significant downside risk for you, I would accept the offer as is.

    A few years ago, when I was laid off, I got a rather lowball offer from a company. When they called me to feel me out, I simply asked, “is that the best you can do?” They upped it by $2k (this is for a job that pays right around six figures, so hardly moves the needle.”) I told them I couldn’t accept on the spot, and needed a week to entertain other offers. At the end of the week, I called and declined.

    At the job I did accept, when I called to negotiate, they basically said take it or leave it. I took it. Here’s the thing — I turned down a job paying $90k for a job paying $100k, so when the $100k job said take it or leave it, I couldn’t even leverage a better existing offer. And for the job I turned down? They would have had to beat the offer I accepted by about $10k for me to really think about it. If these guys only were willing to offer me $90k, there’s no way I was getting $110k.

    TL;DR: I think you already asked the softball “can you do better”, and I think you have a lot to lose if you play this wrong, The safe bet is to accept the offer. I’d only proceed through negotiations on a position of strength — that you have backup offers AND they materially under-evaluated your skills. I don’t think you’re in that position, sorry.

    1. Darury*

      I agree with Dan here. Unless you are expecting a second offer from another job, you’ve done as much as you can with the leverage you have. Speaking from experience, being unemployed really does suck from the negotiating perspective.

    2. Seriously?*

      I would agree. They have indicated (rudely) that they are not willing to negotiate. Unless there is something major that they haven’t taken into account, I don’t think negotiating will be successful.

      1. Luna*

        Except then the email from HR ended with instructions on what information to send and said “looking forward to your email”- so now it’s all even more confusing.

        1. Seriously?*

          That came across as snarky to me, but I could be wrong. Kind of like a “We gave you an appropriate offer but by all means prove us wrong” type of thing.

          1. Steve*

            Maybe I’m crazy I read it as the HR person trying to retroactively soften the email.

            1. Specialk9*

              I read it as that thing passive aggressive people do when they know they might have to show it to someone else (esp if that person is bad with subtle social skills).

              “Well she was being friendly with all those exclamation points, and that she was looking forward to the email.”

    3. BRR*

      I completely overlooked this but agree with all of it. The response back you got was “No, unless you can change my mind.” Dan put it best when he says it’s a high stakes gamble.

      OP, you did everything right. This is HIGHLY unusual. Not only is it unusual to formally decline an offer to negotiate, the HR rep used awful wording (to put it mildly).

    4. CM*

      This is a really good point. It sounds like the OP needs a job and would be OK, not thrilled, with this salary.

  11. Mbarr*

    What would you guys do if a company sent an offer and told you, “This is the highest we can go for the salary.”

    For context, I asked for $5k more than I wanted. They met me with $3k. (This actually gave me a raise of $8k over my existing salary, so I was already ecstatic.) But I didn’t know if I should have pressed for a higher salary. I’m in Ontario, Canada, and I work for a huge international tech company that has standard defined benefits and whatnot, so I don’t even know what/if I could have bargained for anything else.

    1. Darury*

      Unless you know that the job typically pays signficantly more than what you asked for, everyone is going to wonder “well, should I have asked for $10k more?”. While you want to get the most you can, you also don’t want to seem unrealistic on your requests.

    2. Parcae*

      That’s a pretty straight-forward statement by the company, and I’d believe them. Depending on my reaction to the overall offer, I might accept, decline, or attempt to negotiate benefits/perks. The one thing I *wouldn’t* do in that situation is try to negotiate salary.

    3. Kyrielle*

      I’d take it or leave it. Pushing back again would be equivalent to leaving it, I think, and also would come across oddly. If I liked the job at those terms or needed it, I’d accept; otherwise I’d sadly acknowledge that it sounded like we were too far apart on salary.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        Agreed. Usually in a negotiation, you want to get to a point where both sides feel ok about the process. Ideally $5K was not your actual goal, Mbarr. At this point, you have to decide if the salary they’re offering is in line with market rates and your experience.

    4. Meredith*

      If they actually put “for salary” you can see if they can negotiate on other terms. Often they can’t as they believe things like a higher contribution towards your health insurance or more PTO days off the bat might put them in legal jeopardy for other employees at your level, but it doesn’t hurt to ask if there’s something else you might want and that they may be able to accommodate. More work from home days, for example, or more flexible hours.

    5. SarahKay*

      I would say if you like the job, you’re genuinely happy with the offer (sounds like that one’s a yes), and you think it’s at market value, then go for it.
      Don’t push for more ‘just because’, whether the ‘just because’ is that everyone else does (or says they do) or everyone is telling you to, etc.
      There’s nothing wrong with looking at a deal and saying ‘Yes, that works for me’.

      1. SarahKay*

        Sorry, by ‘go for it’, I meant ‘accept the offer as it stands’, not ‘keep negotiating’.

        1. Ralph Wiggum*

          Fun non-sequitur story.

          During the NASA Apollo space program, the missions were highly scripted with specific technical criteria for the mission to continue to the next phase. These were called go/no-go decisions.

          On the lunar module’s approach to the moon and after its landing, a “go” decision meant stay there and a “no-go” decision meant a rapid abort back to lunar orbit. To avoid confusion, these were renamed stay/no-stay decisions for that portion of the mission. Source: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B000FC0O7M/

          Now back to your regularly scheduled management blog.

    6. Seriously?*

      If they explicitly say that it is as high as they can go, take them at their word, especially if it is a salary you are happy with.

      1. BRR*

        Yup. I don’t quite understand why you would feel the need to negotiate given those two factors, it’s very likely to be off putting. Not sure if negotiation is different in Canada though.

    7. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

      Idk if this was really a good route – but it’s the first time I’ve “negotiated” additional salary into an offer so I was pretty proud of myself…

      I was interviewing with a company. They made an offer with the caveat that “this was the highest we can go”. It was 5k below what I wanted (the number itself was reasonable based on my past titles/length of specific experience, but a little low based on the actual responsibilities I’d be taking on). This was all through an external recruiter. I responded saying it was lower than I was hoping. Recruiter said they had sounded firm. So I told external recruiter – ok, I could accept the number, but I want, in writing, that we’ll do a salary review at 6-months in”. External recruiter got back to me the next day that the firm upped the offer by 2.5k.

      Normally I wouldn’t recommend going with the “salary review down the line” route, but it seemed like the only option to push back against a “our offer is firm” without being obnoxious.

    8. Specialk9*

      I have had that conversation. “I’m sorry, the salary is actually pretty firm.” And my response was completely unruffled to that. When people are just being professional and matter-of-fact, it’s just a negotiation.

      When weird emotions and power struggles get introduced, that’s what it’s stressful and feels disrespectful.

  12. Inspector Spacetime*

    I feel like this is either a clueless HR person or a weird quirk of this particular business. I feel like it could be clueless instead of hostile. I would proceed cautiously, but it might still turn out okay. Good luck, OP!

  13. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

    This is similar to what happened to me when I negotiated my salary at my current job. My boss wasn’t combative at all, but he relayed the same message: give me an argument that I can take to HR. It was successful for me; I negotiated a 25% increase.

    The initial offer was shockingly low. The salary range was public, and while I far overshot the skill and experience requirements they offered me the very bottom of the range. I would not have accepted the salary they offered.

    Here’s what I wrote, following a brief phone call in which he made the offer and I said, frankly, that I was surprised by the offer and would need a substantial increase to consider accepting:

    “Hi [Boss],

    Thank you for calling this afternoon. I’m glad we had a chance to touch base.

    As we discussed, I was hoping the salary offer would be higher. Given my experience, the number I had in mind is $X.

    I bring to this role 10 years of experience in [my profession]. Additionally, my experience [developing the kind of programming this role was created to manage] will allow me to jump right in to the core work of this role – [description of what I saw as the core work of the role].

    Let me know if you (or your HR team) have any questions or want to talk through this more. Let’s keep the conversation going!



    1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

      Three years into this job, I can now see what was behind this offer and negotiation (clues to what my experience here would be like): My boss doesn’t feel empowered to push HR on its decisions; he thinks of them as the final say on personnel issues. This means that he’s not a great advocate for employees who deserve a promotion, whose work has evolved so their job description (and therefore salary) should be updated, etc. He has a lot of great qualities as a boss, but this is an important weak area.

    2. Kathlynn*

      The difference is that you could see the range available, and we’re able to compare it to the market value. The LW is being expected to not only compare themselves to the job doscriptions, but unknown coworkers, with unknown concerns.

  14. Meredith*

    I tried to negotiate one job offer a few years ago and got a “do you even WANT this job?” kind of response. Negotiation isn’t going to be successful in all circumstances. However, that response was from an executive who later became my boss, and absolutely should have been my first (well, okay, my second or third, after the personality test, homework, 5 hour interview process…) sign to run in the other direction.

    1. Steve*

      That happened to me once when I had the gall to both attempt to negotiate the amount of vacation time and asked about the work from home policy. “It seems like you’re more interested in working here than not working here.”

    2. Double A*

      There are some bosses who are weirdly offended when people try to negotiate salary.

      These Bosses should be run from.

  15. Sarah*

    That’s a weirdly contracts law thing to say. In contract law the very act of counteroffering rejects the initial offer and you can’t reopen it after you make that counteroffer

    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      But that’s not the case in U.S. at-will employment negotiations. HR may be erroneously using contract law principles in an overly formal way (and who knows why!).

  16. Gotham Bus Company*

    The HR rep wants to be able to say, “There’s nothing to negotiate now because you declined our offer.”

    1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain*

      That’s my first thought too. HR wants a formal decline email so she can go back to the hiring team and say, “They declined, shall I call up the second choice?”

    2. JM in England*

      I also think that the employer is exploiting the OP’s unemployed status and hopes that they will cave, thus accepting the low salary offered

  17. LilyP*

    If you do end up accept the job, you might consider bringing this up to your new manager (esp if you’re asked for feedback on the hiring process). Playing hardball like this is going to turn off strong candidates who do have other options and make the candidates who do accept feel undervalued or like the company will always try to low-ball them. It’s not a good hiring strategy long-term.

  18. Jennifer*

    Oy. Good luck with this. I think with that reaction I might back down too. It’s not a super sane or reasonable response.

    In other news though, a friend of mine negotiated with Big Name Tech Company You Definitely Know Of and got a big ol’ bump in the contract salary, so good for her there! I don’t know how you do it though…but I’m in an industry where I can’t negotiate, so oh well.

  19. disconnect*

    I actually think that’s a good response. You were told that there was room to negotiate, the specific information required, and the path forward. I don’t read the response email as hostile, but brief and to the point. I also have never heard of the “turn down this job offer first” bit, but the way it was presented seems matter-of-fact, not combative.

  20. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

    Ok so – please don’t be too harsh on me… Just offering a different (personal) perspective here…

    I didn’t find the HR rep’s response all that hostile or combative. The only thing pinged as slightly off to me was “write me an email with your declination of the current offer”. To me, that seemed more like a mistake in the understanding of how these processes typically work, not necessarily maliciousness/hostility/rudeness, etc.

    In all honestly, (and not to knock the OP, just providing a rando uninvolved person’s intital reaction to the situation), I was a tadbit off put by the OP’s vagueness in their request for room to negotiate. To me, asking “if there is any room to increase the salary offer”, with no actual meaningful numbers and/or reasons included strikes me as someone who is fishing for more money just for the sake of it (and would ask this of any and every offer), rather than as someone who has a good understanding of market value for this type of work and how they measure up to it (and thereby has a legitimate reason, or is trying to come up with a legitimate reason, to request more of the offer).

    1. Jennifer Thneed*

      Have you negotiated? If you haven’t, your reaction to specific word choice is less useful.

        1. Jennifer Thneed*

          It was just trying to be brief, honest, and avoid a lot of if/then construction.

          If you *haven’t* negotiated salary in your working history, then your response to things is very theoretical, and humans are notoriously good at thinking the best of ourselves. If you *have* negotiated salary, then you have real-world experience that is useful in this conversation.

          Myself, I’ve only done it a few times, and only once in an actual employment situation. In that case, I was too nervous to name a number but I had gotten advice to say “I’m comfortable with the mid-point of the salary range” and that worked fine. Other times it’s been recruiters for contracts, and I just tell them their number is too low for the commute I’ll have to endure and see what they say.

          I will up-front admit that I don’t have much negotiating experience, but I disagree with you that the LW was vague. A statement like “Is there room for negotiation” or “I am wondering if there is any room to increase the salary offer” – those are both soft statements that the speaker would like to negotiate, but is being polite about not launching right into things.

          1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

            Are you questioning the experience of every other commentor who offers an opinion?

            Immediately jumping to discrediting an opinion you disagree with IS pretty hostile (and shitty in general).

          2. Close Bracket*

            “It was just trying to be brief, honest, and avoid a lot of if/then construction”

            Maybe that’s with the HR rep above was going for too.

    2. Pollygrammer*

      If you try reading it out loud, there’s basically no way that “so no, there isn’t room for an increase” and “sound good?” won’t seem pretty rude/sarcastic. Combined with the fact that she wants LW to jump through some very arbitrary hoops and suggesting that the offer will be at risk full stop, this is pretty hostile.

      Although they can, people aren’t required to name a number when they’re negotiating right off the bat. A normal exchange would be “is there any room for negotiation” “I can check, what are you thinking” “I’m hoping for [X salary], because [X reasons].”

      But also, a totally reasonable HR response is “I’m sorry, there isn’t any way we can go higher.” This letter is not a reasonable HR response.

      1. BRR*

        Echoing this all. It’s definitely acceptable for someone to just ask if there’s room. I don’t think you have to (or should) negotiate every offer but the thought is the offer stage is the best time to try and get a bump because it’s when you have some leverage.

        1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

          Oh totally agreed – that the offer stage is the best time to try and get a bump – go ahead, ask away. I just think its slightly better to ask for a specific number/per centage with some sort of reasoning/justification for it (even if you pull that justification out of your ass).

          Do want to be extra clear – I said “slightly better” and originally wrote that I was a “tadbit offput”. I’m in no way saying no one should ever, ever, ever ask for an increase with no specific number or that I would consider it a deal breaker in the offer negotiation and that anyone who does this should have their offer yanked. All I’m saying is that between two viable options (a.) asking for increase with a specific number/reason and b.) asking without a specific number/reason) that b is a slightly better option.

      2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

        I don’t know – I’m just not hearing the definite rudeness/sarcasm in the two specific phrase you mention “so no” and “sound good”. I can totally see how they *could* be sarcastic/rude – 100% agree that they could be very snotty. I just can hear them in ways that aren’t sarcastic/rude as well. Think of a person very apologetically and regretfully saying “We did the best we could, so no (in direct response to the question posed – can we do x, no we can’t) – there’s nothing more that can be done”. The “sound good” actually came across kind of nicely on my first read. I took it as a genuine question and effort to make the OP feel like they had a voice in this – like they could object to the process proposed by the HR person if they felt the need to.

        Not trying to say that my read of it is the *correct* one or convince you to see it as non-hostile – just explaining where I differ.

        1. Specialk9*

          I could also re-read and give the HR person the benefit of the doubt, except that the HR person *also* gave a bizarre instruction that any attempt to negotiate would require they decline the job first. It’s hard not to see that as an unsubtle threat to pull the whole offer. With a nuclear warhead at the end, the benefit of the doubt evaporates.

          1. Pollygrammer*

            Also, the repetition of “me”–“help me understand” “write me an email” “explain your counter to me.” HR isn’t really a ‘me’ kind of game, and LW wouldn’t actually be working for this person, so I get a pretty clear sense of an ego-driven power trip.

            1. SophieK*

              I use phrases like this all the time. It’s not a power trip on my part at all. But it IS a way of putting someone who is getting combative and demanding with me in their place.

              As with many letters, I am hugely skeptical that we have all the information. I think what we are seeing is the HR rep responding to the OP pushing and pushing and pushing with no business case being made. I think the HR Lady *was* telling the OP that they are now out of the running. Salary should have been discussed at the interview stage. This tactic of accepting and immediately pushing for more would leave a bad taste in my mouth so Id be doing the same.

              Whatever happened to just accepting a job, proving one’s self, and then asking for more? This letter (and negotiation in general) is coming across like one of those people who try to convince you on the very first date that they are perfect for you and have already named all your future children. That is all red flag territory right? Why are these not red flags during the hiring procrss? How about letting the other person have a say too?

              1. Someone else*

                I don’t see anything to suggest they “accepted and then immediately pushed for more”. In my experience it’s completely normal to negotiate. You discuss ranges in the interview stage to make sure you’re not miles apart, not a literal exact number. What the OP was trying to do is neither accept nor decline while working out the details. This is absolutely normal. You seem to be coming from a standpoint of whatever number the company offered must have been great/reasonable/appealing to ANY candidate and the person is asking for more justfor the sake of asking for more? “More” is not a finite construct. This person is an individual with specific skills, some of which may may her worth more than another candidate, still a good match, but whatever number they had in mind first may not be worth it to her to take. There are also numerous studies out there showing that starting lower and asking for more later, in the form of raises, pretty much permanently lowers your earning capacity in that role. So the person who asks for what they think they’re worth at the start, and in many cases gets it or at least gets more than the initial offer, will still be able to prove themselves and get even more later. The person who doesn’t is still a step behind. Certainly there are some employers who have a very rigid offer in mind and whatever they offer, that’s it. But that is not always the case. I’d argue it’s not even the majority. How is a candidate supposed to know going in if they’re talking to someone who expects to negotiate vs someone who has absolutely no wiggle room (or who simply is offended at the concept of negotiating) without asking? The OP asked and that’s reasonable.”No” can also be a reasonable answer, but the no they got in this case was needlessly condescending.

              2. rldk*

                “But it IS a way of putting someone who is getting combative and demanding with me in their place”
                This right here shows that it is in fact a manipulation of power, if not a ‘power trip.’ You use that phrasing to put someone in their place, ie, in their place in a hierarchy of power.

                This seems like a very ungenerous reading of the information we do have. OP wasn’t able to discuss the offer in detail with an HR rep over the phone, and most job processes don’t name a specific salary until the offer. There’s no reason to assume bad faith on OP’s part.

              3. AMPG*

                The commenting rules specifically ask that we try to take letter-writers at their word. Your refusal to do that, combined with your choice to spin your own version of events based on no actual facts makes this comment extremely unhelpful.

            2. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

              For this I just have to agree to disagree – I, personally, don’t see the repetition of me as an indicator of anything. That stuff just reads to me as clear instructions – all of which go back to the HR person, because they appear to be the OP’s point of contact at this point.

          2. aNon*

            As an HR person, let me just say it’s my company’s policy that candidates decline an offer in writing before we can negotiate a higher salary for them. That’s just how our comp team does it so if we get audited, we have paper trails for why people end up where they do in a pay band. It’s not necessarily a ‘nuclear warhead’.

            1. rldk*

              But that isn’t at all a common policy, and if OP isn’t applying to a government job, it should be explained. For an at-will position, it very much comes off as a warhead.

              1. aNon*

                I work for an at-will company and not for the government. Some other companies do have that policy. It’s not common and it should be explained but I think it’s good for OP to hear that this isn’t necessarily the HR person trying to play some game but could have a fairly benign explanation.

          3. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

            I can definitely see this – that the words themselves could go either way, but the instruction to decline first seems to tip it towards rude/sarcastic.

        2. Indie*

          It is possible to read it with a generous interpretation, but it requires squinting, crossing out half the words and lots of improv.

      3. Dan*

        The trouble I have is that the OP mentions she already took the first step of asking if there is any room for negotiation. She got back a very clear “no, unless you have some really solid evidence to support your request.” I don’t see the rudeness or the sarcasm in the HR response that some do –but that’s in part because the written word can come across very different than the spoken word. I fully acknowledge that soliciting a written declination is very strange, but that’s the only odd thing that really sticks out. And it’s not quirky per se — the way I read it, HR is telling the OP that they must be willing to walk away from the offer in order to get the company to negotiate, and in addition, OP must bring some really solid support. OP isn’t willing to walk away, so I don’t see any maneuvering room here.

        As an aside, with the more experience I get, the more I dislike using the word “hope” in salary negotiations. It seems like it’s almost a give-away that the candidate will take the initial offer, and that they are truly just “hoping” that more money could be offered. If that’s the case, the employer has no reason to budge.

        So how should one negotiate salary? With the quantitative support that’s been discussed — other offers, market surveys, that kind of thing. And yes, I fully acknowledge that a job candidate generally doesn’t negotiate from a position of strength.

        1. Sunshine on a Cloudy Day*

          Oh – I really like your point about using “hope”. I think it’s something that I have used in the past when negotiating, but I do think different wording would be better. Putting this in my back pocket for the future.

          I think you also hit on something else – I’m a very quantitative person. Ex: I would never say “A bunch of our teapot spouts are missing their final approval check. This is a problem”. I would immediately (if at all possible) try to calculate a number, exact would be best, but approximate would be better than “a bunch” and go to my manager with “about 25% of our teapot spouts are missing their final approval check. This is problematic because reasons.” That could explain why the vague negotiation attempt *slightly* rubs me the wrong way.

    3. Indie*

      The OP used Alison’s advice word-for-word. You don’t start negotiating with specifics before being invited to do so. All the recruiter had to say was yes/no/maybe. It’s not vague, it’s just letting them know they haven’t quite hit the target.

  21. Phoenix Programmer*

    Is this not how HR always works? Been my experience at each job I have worked at.

    1. Other Opponent*

      I would be stressed out beyond belief if I had to formally decline an offer in writing just to negotiate salary. If that was how it always worked, I can’t believe anyone would ever negotiate at all unless they truly didn’t care whether they got the job or not!

  22. Anon in Cali*

    This sounds like the MO of a job with the state of California. Literally, this is a policy for hiring above the minimum (or HAM).

    1. Anon in Cali*

      It used to be that you had to turn it down, cite the salary being too low, and provide your current higher salary or a competing offer. Now that the state has recently prohibited asking about salary history, the procedure may have changed a bit.

      Yes, it was such a dumb process and I’d be shocked if the process is still dumb (and something like the OP describes).

  23. Kat in VA*

    Negotiation is so difficult. Especially in a field like mine (Executive Assistant) where I’ve seen pay ranges anywhere from $32k to literally $120k dependent on location and experience. It’s even more difficult with the recruiter or rep has no idea what market rate is for the area, experience, and expertise.

    I’ve got over 20 years under my belt in this type of work, so when I’m asked what my salary expectations are, I’ve learned to reply with, “May I ask what the salary range is?” I’m aiming for the $50k to $70k market, simply because other than a short term contract and a stint of at-home transcription work, I’ve been off the market for several years.

    The first time I stated baldly, “$65k to $75k” the recruiter actually laughed at me and implied me I was full of myself. THIS IS AN ENTRY-LEVEL POSITION AND PAYS $35K A YEAR.

    I countered with the notion that requiring 10-15 years of experience, acting as an EA to the CEO of the company (along with a plethora of job skills that most, say, new college grads aren’t likely to have) is most certainly *not* entry-level, and attempted to give some examples of my experience.

    She listened for a few seconds…and then interrupted with, “Well, that’s what this job is paying.” I politely thanked her and worked my way out of the call – and strongly resisted the urge to tell her that she was never going to get her purple unicorn for that low of a salary.

    They’re still posting for the job, three months later. I wonder why?

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      … 10-15 years experience is not ENTRY level jfc what is wrong with people

    2. Specialk9*

      They wanted an entry level person supporting their CEO?! Was this a deliberate plot to undermine the CEO?!

      But also, 10 – 15 years isn’t entry level. That’s ridiculous.

      1. AnonymousInfinity*

        It sounds like a recruiter or company that doesn’t value its admin staff and thinks admin work, by nature, is somewhere vaguely below entry-level.

  24. The Friendly Comp Manager*

    “Like we discussed in our call, we compare or candidates to our internal incumbents to make a fair and equitable offer.”

    No market comparison?! Perhaps she skipped that part, but only making offers compared to internals is a recipe for disaster. Will there be compression of pay for new people and those with some time with the company? Yes. But if they are not looking externally at all, that is not good news. Even if it’s one of several factors to determine pay (internal, external, and budget are the three most common for companies that don’t have set starting rates), it should still be mentioned and considered.

  25. Horrified*

    Was their offer acceptable? You don’t mention if it was, you just said you “gave it a shot” by asking for more. Do you really want this job? If you do, then I would respond to the original offer (before you sent the email asking if they could do any better).

    Just reply to the offer email/letter directly stating “I’m happy to accept your offer dated May 29, 2018 and am thrilled to be joining the team at ABCorp.” You will be essentially ignoring the brief back and forth that just happened regarding bumping the salary. If you are asked by HR about the intervening email, just say that you are confident that your contributions will be valuable to the company and are willing to wait until your review to discuss a potential increase.

    If the original offer was by phone, then a) that’s weird and a bit flaky and b) why wouldn’t the HR person be available to speak to you until mid-next-week? Odd. Anyway, if the offer was by phone, write an email accepting the offer and itemizing the terms they discussed on the phone.

    I have a feeling this is might be an HR person who is still learning how to conduct themselves professionally (“sound good?” sounds a bit young-and-condescending to me). Hopefully she’s not indicative of the organization as a whole.

    1. Scott Brown*

      Look at ABCorp on Glassdoor and you will see that the company is struggling with sales, and employees. As a former employee, I would suggest you do lots of research before saying yes at ABCorp, and anywhere else. best regards,

  26. CCM Ltd*

    It reads to me more inexperienced than malicious (still definitely rude). The feeling I get is that of someone who hasn’t encountered this before, asked someone more senior about it, and then repeated what they said in a very formal way (due to a lack of understanding of the actual situation and nuances). I work adjacent to an HR group, and I could see some of our more junior HR reps saying something like this (especially if she is out of the office and only had a brief exchange by email with someone more senior to try to figure out a path forward – she may have asked for it written out so specifically so she could forward it to a coworker to take care of while she’s out of the office). Granted, that’s a LOT of narrative on my part, so I may be reading way too much into it.

    Just my $.02! I think the advice on this thread is spot on; if it were me, I’d think on this email in the context of my experiences with this HR person (has she seemed pretty new in previous conversations? Is her title indicative of someone newer to the job?) and decide from there how to approach the response.

  27. Triple Anon*

    OP, if you can, CC the hiring manager on your reply. Regardless of the specifics, it’s keeping her in the loop is a helpful thing to do. And if things are weird (as they seem to be here), she has an opportunity to step in. Even if she’s not checking email for a week, she could address it when she returns, or at least be aware of what happened.

    I think Allison’s advice is good. Give her what she asked for except for the part where you decline the offer. Ideally, if you can CC the hiring manager or someone else you’d be working with, they’ll see that and be able to support you, whether the company can negotiate or not.

    Also, is it just me or are companies getting more rigid about not negotiating? I’ve been seeing more of, “This is what we offer. It’s based on good research and non-negotiable,” and there’s a fairness argument to go with it – that way salaries are based on data and not negotiation skills. If so, it seems like a good thing overall, although there would be a lot of room for error with more niche positions and skill sets.

  28. Kay*

    Saying that the OP should decline the job is weird, but in my experience (and maybe it’s because in my sector you start in a graduate program) an entry level job does not have a lot of room to move salary wise. Also lowballing the salary and not doing research puts the OP in a weak position from the outset even if there WAS room to manoeuvre.

  29. Properlike*

    Without knowing the HR person, I kind of agree that this is a person who might be new and not clear on things, but I also get the sense that she’s trying to make herself seem far more important and power hungry with the way she uses her language. “Send us your declination” is a very odd way to say, “Decline our offer and…” I distrust any professional who resorts to jargonizing to intimidate others, and I don’t fall for it either.

  30. Trillion*

    I’m kind of a crappy person. I’d ultimately accept the offer then continue looking for other work unless the place turns out to be better than what this process is indicating.

  31. AnonyMouse*

    Ooof! I also recently had a bad experience negotiating (I wrote about it on an open thread a few weeks back), so this brings back memories for me. I’ve always been told that negotiating salary is simply asking a question of what is possible, so you shouldn’t have to decline an offer to ask the question. That to me is a red flag, and also risky because who knows what will happen once you decline the original offer. They might end the conversation there.

    It’s frustrating that shady s*** happens like this when potential employees try to look out for their best interests. I understand that the hiring manager wants to get the best talent for the cheapest price, but why can’t they just say “No, the original offer stands”? Why do they have to add on additional commentary about “undervaluing experience” or (in my case) “concerns about fit”?

    Sorry, I’ve been having trouble moving on after something similar happened to me. I feel for the LW because I understand how they’re probably feeling right now.

  32. mrs_helm*

    Reminds me of:
    Car salesman: We have such great value, we don’t negotiate on prices!
    Me: Guess I’ll be buying from OtherGuy, who is willing to meet my budget, with a car I like just as much.
    (True Story, and I still have that car 10+ yrs later.)

    1. Epiphyta*

      I miss Saturn – “This is the price of the car.” Mine turned 19 in April, is just shy of 200k and is still on the original transmission.

  33. persona en Cali*

    Just wanted to add from an HR perspective, some companies require a written declination of an offer before they can negotiate higher salary. It doesn’t make it a good policy but it is policy nonetheless.

    While the phrasing could use some work, I’m not reading the HR person as hostile but trying to be friendly and coming across poorly in written word, especially when combined with the request for the candidate to decline the offer. Ideally, they would phrase it better and cite that it is company policy to have people decline offers prior to being able to negotiate but this is likely not the only the thing the HR person is working on and they might have just sent the email too quickly and not read it through to check tone. Keep in mind that while this is one of the highest things on your priority list, it isn’t likely to be the highest on HR’s list. Recruitment is my favorite part of HR but it takes a backseat to a lot of the other stuff.

  34. Kelly Swift*

    this sounds to me like a contract recruiter. companies do use them and sometimes don’t make that clear to the candidate. It would explain why she isn’t available until next week–she may only work part time for this employer and may not have the professional level HR skills that one would expect from internal company staff. A lot of recruiting is outsourced.

  35. Close Bracket*

    About the parts of the response besides asking her to decline the offer: they don’t have to give you more money just because you ask. Would you ever go into a salary raise negotiation expecting to get more money just because you said, “hey can you pay me more?” You have to provide reasons why you bring more value to justify the increase to pay. Negotiations for salary are not really different. I wouldn’t get my back up at this answer. I would accept the invitation to provide a rationale.
    For people who are taking the tone as combative and implying that the HR rep is asking OP, to prove that she (HR) did her job wrong, keep in mind that the HR rep could have read OPs request for more money as an implication that the HR rep did in fact do her job wrong and could be responding to that. Give a little benefit of doubt on all sides.

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