employer required me to agree to a salary during our first conversation

A reader writes:

I was recently interviewing with a nonprofit, and in the screening interview, a brief 15-minute conversation with HR, I was asked my salary requirements. I named a number I thought was reasonable and was told this was over what had been budgeted. HR asked me to confirm, then and there, that I was okay with the salary they provided. When I stalled for time, they said I would need to agree before moving on to the next interview and. in the follow-up email coordinating my visit to the office, requested I confirm I would take the stated salary. I wrote back, “I understand that this the maximum dollar amount that has been budgeted for this position.”

At the time of the screening interview, the HR person could not tell me the specific duties of the position (which, when I interviewed in-person, turned out to be quite different than what was posted). I’m also hesitant to say I’m okay with a specific dollar amount without the chance to negotiate other aspects of the role (such as a flexible work schedule). What put me off most, however, was that the role description asked for “2-5 years of experience” and preferred a master’s degree. I would have gone in with 5 years and a master’s, and the HR person told me straight out they’d budgeted for someone with 2 years of experience. She essentially confirmed they wanted to pay for less experience than they were asking for.

I understand they don’t want to move forward with a candidate who has expectations far misaligned with theirs, but this seemed overly aggressive to me. Was it normal for HR to ask me to commit so firmly to a dollar amount, so early in the process? As a candidate, what is a reasonable level of salary commitment to make before you have a chance to negotiate?

It’s not entirely unusual. On the employer side, the thinking is, “It doesn’t make sense for either of us to invest time in the interview process if the salary we’re able to pay doesn’t work for you. There’s no point in going through the whole process if at the end we’re going to find out we’re not aligned on pay.” And that’s true! It’s absolutely correct that it’s better for everyone to talk about salary early on so candidates can self-select out if the pay doesn’t work for them.

But if this employer is really committed to that viewpoint, they should put the damn salary in the ad. If their motivation is to avoid wasting time, then they should take care of it earlier on — put in the ad what they plan to pay, and problem solved. But they don’t do that because they want you to name a number first. Notice that they asked you your salary expectations before they shared their own number — even though their number is apparently extremely firm, and they didn’t want to move forward without you agreeing to it. It’s reasonable to wonder why, in that case, they didn’t just start with their number … and the reason is almost certainly because they knew there was a chance they could get you for less than the number they eventually named. If they were budgeting $65,000 and you said you were looking for $50,000, it’s very likely they would have said, “Yes, that’s in our ballpark” rather than telling you they were willing to pay more.

(To be fair, that’s not true in every case. Some employers in that situation will say, “Oh, our range is higher,” because they care about internal salary equity and don’t want you paid less than others in your role. But even then, they’ll likely frame it in a way that ensures you view that as the high end of their range, rather than potentially negotiating for more, as you might have done if you hadn’t already named your own number first.)

So while it’s reasonable for an employer to say, “We don’t want to move forward if we’re not aligned on salary,” the specific way this employer is doing it is in bad faith. It’s designed to advantage them and to disadvantage you, and that’s crappy.

But you handled it well! Saying, “I understand that this the maximum dollar amount that has been budgeted for this position” doesn’t say “I commit to accepting this salary at the end of this process, regardless of what else I learn.” I’d still expect that if they do offer you the job and you try to negotiate, you’re going to run into some resistance based on them feeling it was already discussed earlier — but at that point you can point out that you’ve learned much more about the job since then.

It’s still possible they won’t budge, of course. That’s true in any salary negotiation, but there’s more risk of it in a situation like this. That just means you’ve got to decide if you’re willing to go through the interview process knowing that they really might not move on salary at the end of it.

{ 124 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    But if this employer is really committed to that viewpoint, they should put the damn salary in the ad.

    Amen! If I had a nickel for all the wasted time I spent listening to people dance around this when I was looking I wouldn’t need a job.

    1. Wtf academia*

      I’m on a hiring committee currently and the upper administration won’t tell us the pay band. We screen applications, pass them on, someone else contacts them and asks their salary expectations, and tells us very vague “yes, proceed with this person” or “no, X will not move forward”.

      It’s so convoluted and secretive and weird, our upper admin is very against us knowing what each other makes. I tell anyone interested my salary though because eff that.

      1. Pants*

        You are a rare awesome person. (I find a lot of Rare Awesomes hang out in the comments here.)

        I frequently pass up job postings that do not print a salary range, as my experience is that they are nearly always undercutting market value. There is a job search engine (don’t know if I’m allowed to post the name of it but it rhymes with “decreed”) that has a tab showing what the company generally pays for similar positions. That helps me weed out a lot of low-balling as well. I don’t see how withholding the salary info is productive on either end. Let’s not waste one another’s time.

        1. Wtf academia*

          Sadly in my subfield of higher ed it’s really common not to list salaries, even when they’re on par for the market or even competitively above! In some institutions of academia it is public record and others it’s not, but I haven’t even found those to be good predictors of whether or not they’ll share. It seems like it’s decided by a roll of dice and upper admin’s whim.

          1. Artemesia*

            I have hired in academia and it is beyond annoying that this is true. I was hiring for faculty non -tenure track positions which were full time and had great benefits, but our salaries were much lower than our expectations. We wanted people with industry as well as academic experience on top of their PhDs; ideally we were getting retirees who wanted to spend a few years teaching. Our salary while not pathetic was low and yet we were not allowed to advertise it. I would tell those who were strong candidates who asked that we ‘usually pay about X for this position’ If they were VERY strong and I thought I might be able to get another 5 K on top of that, I would tell them we could push for that although I couldn’t guarantee it. This weeded out a lot of very fine candidates but I wasn’t willing to take the process to the end without them knowing it and wasting everyone’s time. I agree we should publish the band in the ads.

          2. Pants*

            Academia is a whooooooooole other galaxy. I applaud anyone who can navigate and thrive in academia–it would drive me straight over a cliff.

          3. Lori*

            FOR REAL. Academia is so super secretive, which is also ridiculous because we have open records laws that allow for salary searches at state institutions.

        2. whoawhoawhoa*

          “I frequently pass up job postings that do not print a salary range, as my experience is that they are nearly always undercutting market value.”

          Yes, this! This right here! It is a huge red flag.

          1. KayDeeAye (formerly Kathleen_A)*

            No doubt with some it is a waving red flag that reads “WE PAY VERY POORLY AND WE’RE HOPING TO TRICK YOU INTO WORKING HERE,” but honestly, a lot of perfectly good companies are weirdly secretive about this for no good reason. It seems to me that they’re secretive just because…they’re just really funny when it comes to talking about money. It’s just a bad habit that they’ve never broken.

        1. Middle School Teacher*

          All of our collective agreements are online. Anyone (any member of the public, any student, anyone) can look them up and see roughly how much a teacher makes. I love it.

        2. Brett*

          Be careful with these, because the earnings are public record, and the pay scales are public record, but these do not add up to actual salaries.
          Earnings, as far as the sunshine law goes, include all sorts of stuff, including coaching stipends, certain types of reimbursements, sometimes expenditures like conference fees or travel paid on behalf of the employee. It can also include any paid out sick time or vacation. (Obviously overtime is not an issue for teachers, but overtime is included too.)

          And pay scales give you some strong guidelines, but they don’t necessarily tell you exactly how experience and education will be converted into a defined scale and step. And they don’t include all the other components of earnings like stipends for extra work and paid training.
          Because of collective bargaining agreements, teachers can have more visibility than other public employees, but there can still be a lot of opacity in a public record.

          1. mark132*

            It probably varies by state, in my state you can look up by name, and it breaks it down salary and benefits to the penny, including any pay for stuff like coaching a team. I don’t know how much is left out, some reimbursements likely(?). And it goes back to 2014.

        3. Clisby*

          That’s how it is in SC. I think the salary of individual employees is public only if they make more than $50,000 a year, but teacher salary schedules are public (and, as far as I know, non-negotiable.) If you have a bachelor’s and zero experience, you’ll make X. If you have a master’s and 5 years experience, you’ll make Y. This differs from school district to school district, but not within the district.

        4. JustaTech*

          When I worked for big State U (as a tech) my salary was public record, along with every other person in the whole university system. It wasn’t easy to search (back in 2007), but if you knew people’s names you could find them.
          But that only covers their salary from the university. If someone has multiple appointments (high-up researchers) at non-state institutions, then you won’t see that.

          And I’m sure this varies state to state.

    2. Just Another Manic Millie*

      Putting the damn salary in the ad isn’t worth a damn if, when you show up at the interview, you’re told that the ad contained a typo, and the salary is actually less than what was shown. This happened to me twice. I did not take either job.

        1. Antilles*

          Also amazing that the typo made the error in their favor, too!
          You’re typing on a number pad and trying to hit 5 as the first digit of the $50,000 salary. IF it’s a true typo and your finger slips, wouldn’t it be equally likely that your finger slipped to the left to hit a 4 as it is for your number to slip to the right and hit a 6? But huh, shock of shocks, the typo led to them getting more qualified candidates rather than fewer qualified candidates!

      1. Artemesia*

        My daughter interviewed a couple of places with the X to Y according to experience and went in with strong experience and was then told — oh we start everyone at X regardless –she did get a signing bonus once in that situation but as a woman bargaining then had to deal with sexist men who hate it when women they hire are assertive about such things.

    3. Wing Leader*

      I once when to a group interview for a (supposed) full-time position. The pay and benefits were good, but at the interview we found out that they were only looking for someone to work one day a week with the “possibility of working more in the future.” That was nowhere in the ad and everyone there came looking for a full-time job. The interviewer was frustrated that everyone said they needed full-time work and wouldn’t be interested in this job. Put it in the damn ad, jeez.

      1. 1234*

        Imagine that, if they put “PT position, looking for someone to work one day a week,” they would get candidates looking for PT work. *eye roll*

        They wasted their own time along with everyone else’s time.

    4. Massmatt*

      I once interviewed for a job years ago that started normally, with an HR phone screen. I was asked what range I was looking for and the HR rep said ok, that is more or less what we are looking for. I take a day off and do an interview, which was a schlepp, involving 2 trains and a long shuttle bus ride.

      At the end of the interview, the hiring manager asked the same question, I gave the same answer and she immediately went “nope nope nope” and wouldn’t even really engage further. Opportunity for advancement? Nope. Flexibility with vacation time? Nope. Uh, ok, bye.

      It was just as well, the office was dimly lit, with boxes of documents piled high along every cube (I actually wondered if they were moving—“no, why?”, and everyone looked pretty demoralized. Oh and the manager made a point of saying “in the summers, I try to have everyone leave at 5 when I can”. As though this was a perk.

      Why ask my salary range and have me come in when that’s not your range? Big waste of time all around.

      1. Third or Nothing!*

        Oh heck no. I’d nope right out of there at the sad dejected people but leaving at 5 like it’s a perk?? HARD PASS. I’ve got a 2 year old. Family time is sacred.

        1. 1234*

          I once interned for a place where the owner was like “We’re leaving early today! It’s a reward for all of your hard work in putting together XYZ project!” We didn’t leave until 7PM that day.

          The owner was a workaholic and even her assistant said “I’d like to get back to MY life.” The assistant quit shortly after my internship was over.

      2. Tan*

        I’m fortunate to have not worked anywhere where overtime was routine and underappreciated, except when I was subcontracted to a bad place. I worked there 3 weeks and was not invited back because “the 9 to 5 attitude has given some of our staff bad ideas. When we paid you to help out for 3 weeks on a 9 to 5 basis we expected you to commit to working at least 9 to 7 to impress us”- I jest not, that was honestly feedback from the client. This was a very poor paying “new” client we were looking to “get in with”, they nickel and dimed the contract negotiations, which in my industry should have been a red flag /made my boss realise it wasn’t worth having them as a a client.

    5. Scaramouche*

      DOUBLE AMEN. Had this exact scenario happen recently, with the added rudeness of cold calling me and then launching into an interview when I answered.

    6. TechWorker*

      We hire for grad roles and have always put the salary front and centre (it’s a grad scheme, it’s pretty non-negotiable, but it’s also a very competitive starting salary and better than most companies that hire for the same experience level). We’ve now been acquired and told we can’t do this because it’s ‘not the policy’ – we’re allowed to tell people verbally at careers events or in an interview, but not put it in the ads… madness.

    7. KayDeeAye (formerly Kathleen_A)*

      I’ve told this story before, but it’s pertinent now, so here it is again. My favorite former supervisor was a guy named Warren (now deceased, alas). When I interviewed for a job with Warren, I was planning on asking about salary, but I thought I’d work up to it gradually, so I asked, “Can you tell me about the benefit package?”

      And Warren said, “Let’s talk about the most important benefit,” and proceeded to tell me the salary range right then and there. It was *great*. No supervisor or potential supervisor before or since has been as upfront about salary.

    8. CoveredInBees*

      Seriously! In non-profits, you often have a very specific amount available for salaries. When I left my last position, I edited my job description and begged my employer to give at least a salary range. This was a position that could be paid anything along a very wide range, depending on the organization. Since this was a social justice-oriented organization, I also mentioned (and linked to studies supporting) how even the act of including salaries in job postings can narrow wage gaps.

      No dice. They kept hoping they could get someone more experienced than they could afford. They didn’t.

  2. Kelly AF*

    I think I would have said something like “that salary isn’t a dealbreaker for me [assuming that’s true], depending on the job duties and the whole compensation package.” I take it she just wanted to make sure the salary wasn’t a definite no for you but went about it oddly.

  3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is exactly why we list pay rate in a job posting. Then we ask the person when they’re on the phone screen their expectations. Most of the people are within the spectrum, some are a little above and that’s fine enough because they’re not absolutes in our case. But if we’re talking ten thousand plus, difference. It’s time to cut the losses for both of us.

    This place is being weirdly prickly and that’s not a good look on them. The power to say “no, that simply won’t do” is still always yours. But good job chasing away candidates with your antics, HR!

    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      I think people can even agree to the salary of $xx, but agreeing to that salary is not the same as agreeing to take the job. It’s fine if that is what they are willing to pay, but once you find out the details you might realize that to you the job is not worth that, but to someone else it might be worth it.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s very true, it’s not all about the money in the end. It’s also about the full package and the job itself!

        1. Clisby*

          Right. What else do they offer? What’s the vacation/sick leave like? Does the employer foot the whole bill for the health insurance premiums (yes, there are companies like that.) Is flex-time available? Does the company offer a 4-day work week with 10-hour days? Does the company have on-site child care? Is the company dog-friendly? Is the company a 10-minute walk from your house? Can you show up in jeans and T-shirt every day, so that you pay almost nothing for work clothes? Does the company provide tuition reimbursement? Different perks will appeal to different people and might or might not offset a lower salary.

  4. mf*

    If an employer wants you to align on a salary number early in the process, then they really need to be transparent about other aspects of the job and compensation at the same time (benefits, PTO, work/balance, schedule and flexibility).

    1. SuperAnon*

      And they should give their recruiters a list of job duties, for crying out loud!

      “…the HR person could not tell me the specific duties of the position”

      1. Librarian of SHIELD*

        That’s the weirdest piece to me. They want their applicants to agree up front to a specific salary without telling them exactly what they’ll be expected to do in exchange for that salary.

        That’s like going to the mechanic and having them try to make you commit to paying a specific dollar amount without knowing what work they’ll be doing on your car. It’s shady as hell and straight up bananas.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          I think it’s kind of the inverse.
          “There’s a problem with my car. You will fix it. I will pay you X amount.”
          “Well, I need to look at the car first.”
          “Well, can you tell me what kinds of problems you are having with it? On the phone you said it’s stalling.”
          “It’s not stalling. The problem is like stalling, but something else.”

        2. juliebulie*

          It’s weird, but it’s frustratingly not rare. I interviewed with a major employer in Other State Capital City; before the interview, HR wanted my salary requirement but provided only vague info about benefits. I still didn’t have a clue about the job duties beyond the job title. So I gave them a number and said that it was contingent on the specific duties which hadn’t been revealed yet.

          There were so many other things wrong with that interview that the salary ended up not mattering. By the time I went home, it was snowing, I had a migraine (unrelated, but unpleasant), and I was learning that driving around Other State Capital City sucks. I wished I had stayed home, and was not at all sad when I was rejected.

          So as much as the salary thing rubbed me the wrong way, what really bugged me was that they waited until I was there in person to spring it on me. If we could have covered that over email or in our phone conversation, I could have spent that snowy crappy migraine day in my nice cozy bed.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      This. The rest of the compensation package can offset a meh salary, especially if flex time is involved and WFH options.

    3. MeanieNini*

      Exactly what I was going to say. For me, and for a lot of other candidates, there is more to whether they will take the job than just salary. The salary can be great and high, but if the rest of the benefits are subpar, then I might still say no. It really is about the whole package, which includes duties of the role and the entire package. Salary is only one piece of that puzzle. It is still shocking to me that employers have not figured that out yet.

  5. Bunny*

    Honestly figuring out payscale in the non-profit world is so confusing, especially in social services. If you go into say homeless outreach you know you are going to make less than with a similar skill set in the private sector, that’s just a fact that you have to deal with.

    Knowing you are going to make less than you are worth is part of the deal, almost every organization that I have seen is very secretive about their payscale, the fact that I’m in a DINK household with very little debt means I am willing to take less for a job that I am passionate about but don’t ask me what I am worth, I know it is more than what you are able to pay.

    1. Wednesday of this week*

      I’m in the same boat, but your comment really speaks to lower pay expectations for everyone in the field en masse. It doesn’t explain why someone with 5 years of experience and a masters in this field would make the same salary as someone with 2 years of experience and no masters in the same field.

      1. Another worker bee*

        To quote a commenter from a previous post, because the organization has “champagne tastes on a tap water budget”

    2. Pants*

      I hate to say it, but I just assume non-profits will be a good $10-$20k below market value. It’s what I’ve found. I recently withdrew an application from a non-profit that I donate to, volunteer for, and am incredibly passionate about because the proposed salary was offensively low. It broke my heart, as I’d be so proud to be part of the organization, but my landlord does not accept pride as a rent payment.

      1. Allypopx*

        “my landlord does not accept pride as a rent payment.”

        God this. I’m negotiating an offer under similar circumstances and I’m trying to be so understanding about the limits of the organization but I can’t pretend I’m not being pitched what I was worth 8 years and two degrees ago.

    3. Mynona*

      Nonprofit salaries are lower than comparable positions in for-profit because overqualified candidates who can afford to earn less (eg dual-income) will take the lower salaries.

  6. LadyByTheLake*

    I’m fine with a company being upfront and saying at the outset, “the highest we can go is $X; are you still interested in proceeding” especially if it looks likely that my experience indicates that I am likely to want more. This is especially true if, as here, they budgeted for the lowest possible qualified person or are aware that they are paying under market. But they way they did this was weird.

    1. Sharikacat*

      I’d then also worry about them not budgeting properly (or at all) for raises. If that was truly the “maximum” amount, I can’t see them offering anything more next year.

      1. pamplemousse*

        In my experience, this isn’t a concern you need to have — your raises don’t come from money leftover from your hire. Obviously money is fungible to an extent, but if our total payroll is $600,000 and we’re budgeted $125,000 to hire two additional people, and we hire one for $65,000 and one for $60,000, our raise budget for the next year is 3.5 percent (or whatever the company has decided the raises should average out to) of $725,000. If we budget $125,000 and spend $110,000, we don’t get to keep the extra $15,000; our raise budget the next year is 3.5 percent (or whatever) of $710,000.

      2. MCMonkeyBean*

        That doesn’t make any sense, having a range with a maximum seems like that would be a pretty standard part of budgeting. It’s the maximum of what they can offer you as a starting salary. Not necessarily the maximum of what they can ever pay you ever.

        1. not really a lurker anymore*

          I work for local gov’t. I started in one dept and then moved to a different role in a different dept. I started at the top of the pay scale for my new role. At that time, our contract had us getting ‘step raises’ every Jan. Since I started at the top of the pay scale, there were no steps for me. The only raises I got were the COL ones that were occasionally given to everyone. But I knew this when I made the dept. shift.

          I’ve since been reclassified and have steps again. But they are no longer automatic every year.

  7. Kara*

    When I answer the salary question during an interview I make it clear that I look at the total compensation package. I note that I am flexible on salary if there are other elements to the compensation that are appealing – telecommute options, health insurance, additional time off, etc. I try not to agree to a final salary/total comp until the final stages of the interview process. I also understand the business’s side of the conversation and the need to be mutually aligned on compensation.

    I think the OP could have agreed to the salary but not committed to the entire total comp until later in the process, understanding the organization’s budget constraints while still advocating for what they deserve. “Yes, I understand that is the salary budgeted for this position; let’s talk about the additional elements of compensation.”

    1. blink14*

      Agree with this – when I took my current job, the salary itself wasn’t significantly higher than my previous job, but the benefits, particularly PTO and health insurance, were a million times better than at my old job and were worth the similar salary. I went from 2 weeks vacation, 7 sick/personal days, minimal holidays, and pretty crappy health insurance ( especially for the cost I was paying), to 3 weeks vacation, 20+ sick/personal days, pretty much every holiday off and fantastic health insurance at a similar rate. Plus reasonably scaled employment times to bump up vacation and sick – I’m now at 4 weeks vacation and 40+ sick days per year. I would’ve taken my current job even if the salary was slightly less, because the total compensation package is so much higher.

  8. Anonymous Educator*

    I think sometimes hiring managers or HR departments tell themselves a story that if they list a budgeted range, every candidate is going to think she deserves the top of the range. And they need to start telling themselves the story that if they have a range, they should be able to clearly explain to candidates what qualifications or experience would merit the bottom of the range, the middle of the range, and the top part of the range. I’m not going to be bitter if you don’t offer me the top of your range if you can clearly explain ahead of time what warrants that part of the range, but am I going to be bitter if you just low-balled me because you could get away with it. Transparency—what a concept!

    1. Detective Right-All-The-Time*

      I’m going to start out by saying that I agree with you – in principle. But in practice, it is more complicated than “well just explain it”. When I have 8 phone interviews scheduled in a day, I simply don’t have the time to get into a really in-depth conversation of payscale and experience levels with every single candidate. Instead I’m going to say “for your level of experience, this is how much we would be looking to offer – does that work for you?” and when/if they get to the offer stage, then I can go into more depth about the why behind it.

      Also, most candidates aren’t nearly as reasonable and level-headed as you. I think job hunting is a deeply personal and vulnerable position to be in, and it can be really hard to hear “this is how much you are WORTH to us.” That’s not an easy message to hear, even for very reasonable and level-headed people.

      1. Anonymous Educator*

        Former teacher here. I get it. I had kids grade-grubbing all the time, and it was exhausting, but that doesn’t mean the right thing for me to do would be to say “I can’t tell you the highest grade you could on this assessment, because then you’ll all think you deserve the highest grade.”

        Hopefully, there’s only one candidate (maybe two) that you make actual offers to, in which case, hopefully you have the bandwidth to explain to those candidates why you offered what you offer.

      2. MeanieNini*

        This is very fair. When a range is listed my experience in hiring has been, every person who doesn’t get offered the high end of the range, gets upset. We have had a few people not take the job because of they did not get offered the high end. We can explain all day long what the experience, skills, education, etc. were that would lead to the high end of the scale, but it doesn’t change candidates minds that they all deserve the high end of the scale.

    2. Diahann Carroll*

      Agreed with all of this. Unfortunately, I’ve spoken with a lot of hiring managers who can’t articulate why they make offers at certain points in the range. And honestly, in my current role/company, I’m at the tippy top of the band they originally budgeted for this role and that’s only because another company was going to pay me $10k more than where I am now to come work for them instead (I liked my current employer better, so that’s why I didn’t go for the higher paying gig). If my counterpart is making less than me, if she ever found out and challenged them on it, I don’t know if they would be able to explain this disparity to her in a way that seemed fair (especially since she has 12 more years of experience than I do in this field).

      1. Jill March*

        If you were asked to explain the pay disparity (say, she found out somehow), what would you say? Is it just that you negotiated more? Was there more demand for your type of role at the time you were hired? Or are you more qualified than your co-worker in ways other than years of experience? If you truly are equal, do you think it’s fair that your counterpart earns less than you do? Would you ever consider telling her she could ask for more?

  9. LawBee*

    I had a recent job interview where they asked me for my salary expectations. I told them I thought that was an unfair question because I didn’t know what their scale was, so I had nothing to form expectations on. They hemmed and hawed for a bit (I was interviewing with the CFO) and finally gave me a range. I said that I would definitely be interested in continuing the conversation.

    Got a job offer today, with a salary at the high end of what I was expecting, so pushing back on that question can work.

    1. Public Sector Manager*

      I love this comment for several reasons:

      1. Pushing back doesn’t mean you won’t get the job.
      2. Polite and civil people can have a polite and civil discussion.
      3. It pays not to negotiate against yourself!

      Way to go!

  10. Kes*

    Sounds like a few red flags to me, to be honest. Wanting to not continue if the salary is going to be a dealbreaker isn’t unreasonable, but budgeting for the bottom of the experience range they’re asking for, apparently without any flexibility for the rest of the range they listed, is not great, especially when they don’t seem to have a full handle/be in alignment on the job duties, and demanding you accept or reject their salary right there and then in the interview is also unreasonable. I would think twice about whether this is simply a disconnect between HR and the hiring manager/team or symptomatic of their organization in general, and whether you are willing to take a role where you already know you’ll be underpaid.

    1. Massmatt*

      A host of red flags here, they were oddly inflexible with demanding an acceptance of salary up front in the very first conversation, the recruiter was unable to answer many questions, the job duties were very different than posted, and the OP says they want 2-5 years experience and a degree yet their budget lowballs that. I doubt recruitment is an anomaly, I bet this is the way the company is.

  11. Jamie*

    For me there are three salary data points: My bottom line ‘need to maintain my life number’, my ‘assuming all else is good I won’t look elsewhere’ number, and what I consider fair for a particular job.

    The first is non-negotiable, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be insulted if it’s below market for the position. Even if I take it out of necessity, I won’t be happy. That’s where #3 comes into play…if I take a job at $X and it’s market and is a good fit I could be happy. If I take a job at $X + 10k but it’s below market and I feel like a bargain I’ll resent it until I leave.

  12. Goliath Corp.*

    Do you think it’s okay to try to negotiate the salary once you get an offer, if they’ve already told you their cap? Or is that in bad faith?

    I did that when I was offered a job a few years ago. I thought that I could make a case for the experience I’d be bringing to the role in comparison to other candidates, but was firmly told that there was no room for negotiation in any respect (salary, title, or vacation). I ended up accepting what they offered, but felt that I started off on a bad foot with my managers.

    1. Manchmal*

      Um, I think the only time to negotiate is once you get an offer. Prior to that, what do you have to respond to? I can understand places having a “no negotiation” rule, but I can’t understand being upset when people try to negotiate–it’s so common!

      1. TootsNYC*

        I’m in for-profit; every time I’ve said to someone, “my salary is firm,” it has been firm.

        There have been times when I’ve made an offer and said, “I am giving you the top of my range, because I really want you to come work here, and I want you to start out with the best I can offer, and I want you to know that I will go to bat for you. In this case, I’ve gone to bat for you before you even asked. That means I can’t negotiate now. There isn’t any more money for me to ask for.”

        So yeah, it would look bad if you then asked me for more money. You could perhaps ask for more flexible work hours, or the ability to work from home. I might not be able to grant much, but I wouldn’t think less of you for asking that. If you asked for more money in all of my situations, I’d wonder about your attention span or your hearing ability. Or what kind of games you think I play.

        1. whoawhoawhoa*

          “I am giving you the top of my range, because I really want you to come work here, and I want you to start out with the best I can offer, and I want you to know that I will go to bat for you. In this case, I’ve gone to bat for you before you even asked. That means I can’t negotiate now. There isn’t any more money for me to ask for.”

          If someone said that to me (and the salary was way too low) I wouldn’t believe them. I would think that this what they want to pay, period, and they are more concerned with getting someone as cheaply as possible than with doing the best they can for a strong candidate. If you get treated with contempt on a first date why wouldn’t you expect the subsequent relationship to be more of the same?

          If it was a reasonable salary with some nice perks I’d feel differently, but a crappy offer followed by “take it or leave it” would make me… leave it. And feel like I wasted my time with the whole process.

          1. Anonymous - Philadelphia*

            Why would you possibly think this answer is treating someone with contempt?! I don’t use these exact words but I have had conversations with candidates where I’ve said something to the effect of, “I want to be clear that $xxk is the absolute most we can offer you for this position given internal equity. Are you still interested in proceeding with the process?” It’s true and I wouldn’t do it if that wasn’t true; not all hiring managers/recruiters are operating in bad faith.

            Now, I wouldn’t be offended if that person tried to negotiate later on. I would just say that the number I gave before was firm and it’s truly the highest we can go, which we’re willing to do for the perfect candidate. It’s up to them at that point to accept or decline.

    2. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      If they’ve given you a cap, I’m not sure it makes sense to negotiate salary directly, but you can use it as a jumping-off point to negotiate other benefits, like WFH, extra vacation time, etc.

      1. Not a Blossom*

        I was able to negotiate above the cap at my current position. I made the case for my experience and specific skill set and asked if they could come up at all. In this case, 1) they were below my salary at the time and 2) they were having a hard time filling the position. In the end, they came up a little, and although they were still under my salary at the time, the benefits made up for it to me.

  13. two cents*

    “But if this employer is really committed to that viewpoint, they should put the damn salary in the ad.”

    Hey job seeker websites: why not make listing salary ranges* a requirement when posting an ad? Stop putting candidates through this twisted procedure of trying to divine the salary range from the job listing (impossible when 2 jobs listing the same 10 tasks will be thousands of $ apart). Stop making candidates put hours of work, thought and hope into a cover letter and resume for a position that they won’t/can’t accept.

    Oh and companies who object to putting a salary range? Look hard at yourselves. If your salaries are so crappy you’re scared to put them out there, well, that’s a You problem to solve isn’t it? Don’t make us grovel and then reveal you don’t even pretend to pay a living wage.

    *I’m talking real salary ranges not BS like the $40k to $150k ranges I’ve seen in ads. (Yeah I don’t apply to those because it tells me they don’t know who or what they’re hiring for which is insane.)

    1. Mid*

      I also feel like putting salary ranges on postings will offer more clarity about roles (at good companies at least) because I’m in that weird place where I’m not entry level and I’m not senior, I’m just there. And some jobs say they want 2-5 years experience but really mean they want 5, and some are looking for someone at 2 years—barely above entry level. When a job is listed for $165k, even though it looks like I have all the qualifications listed in the job, I know I’m not actually qualified for the position.

    2. Massmatt*

      I once looked into a job with a BS “range”. The hiring manager would only say “it’s grade 12” which meant nothing to me. I had to call HR to find out what this meant, initially i was told “we don’t USE salary grades” which seemed off. Finally I am told the range was something absurd like $24k-79k. Umm, what am I to do with this? And this was an internal posting! The company acted as though if you even wanted to know the salary you were not the “go getter” they were looking for.

      1. Thatoneoverthere*

        I have seen a lot of those drastic ranges and always assumed they were commissioned sales positions. Out of curiosity was it for sales?

      2. Filosofickle*

        That’s ridiculous. Similarly, I recently saw a range listed as ~$25-75/hour. Those highs and lows apply to very, very different people and roles. I can’t even take a listing like that seriously. (And no, not sales! I think it was a communications / writing gig.)

        I’ve always struggled to come up with target numbers or industry benchmarks. In my niche field, salary for equivalent positions doesn’t vary by a matter of a few thousand or even tens of thousands… it’s a multiple! Jobs that might be pitched at me easily span x-2.5x. Largely depending on size of firm, location, and type of clients. And there just aren’t enough firms in any one type to provide good data.

    3. Marny*

      Yes! And the number of job listings that only put “Competitive salary” drives me nuts. Those words are meaningless.

      1. ArtK*

        “Because this is a commissioned sales position, you’ll be competing against your colleagues for every dollar.”

    4. Antilles*

      Assuming it’s not sales or some other commission-related position, I would mentally split their massive range in half and figure that’s their *actual* expectation on salary. So the $40k-$150k is effectively around $95k or so. Maybe less, but probably not much more and almost certainly not all the way up to the tops of that range.
      Why? Because if they honestly and truly had the budget to drop $150k on the position, they’d have upped the salary floor to attract a candidate who justifies that salary range.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Job boards will never look out for the employees, they make their money through the revenue generated by the employers. So until it’s some kind of law to require a salary range, the job boards have no desire to force the hand of job posters.

  14. Tow the line*

    Yes to all of this! I’m in an interview process that hasn’t talked salary yet and I’m afraid it will be well below what I am looking for.

  15. ZS*

    I’ve applied to a lot of non-profit jobs and they have almost never listed the salary, or even a range. It’s just not the standard in bot metro areas I have lived.

    I just switched to a government job which posted a salary range of $X – $Y (X = salary at old nonprofit job, Y = +$1k what I now make in new job). It was refreshing to know the hiring range.

  16. wayward*

    Would an employer really want to hire someone who just takes the job until they can find something else that offers the salary they’re looking for?

    1. Massmatt*

      This is why being asked your salary requirements is such a no-win situation for applicants. If you say something lower than what they budget then they will pay you what you ask for (or even a little less, figuring you gave a higher number than what you’d walk away over) and save the difference, and if you name a higher figure they will reject you before even getting to an interview stage.

      Online application forms are often terrible for this, they force salary history questions to be answered and make the first cut to the applications before a human even looks at them.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Ignorance is bliss. Lots of people enjoy being in the dark about this kind of thing, so they’re not thinking this far ahead sadly.

      That and lots of people will accept a lower salary and depending on the job market in the area or the competitive market, they really won’t leave that quickly. They’re banking on it being a hassle for the employee to find another job once they accept their offer, which is silly to think of but not completely out of step with how things work in a lot of ways =(

      In the end, we here on this forum are more in tune with realities than a lot of these inept hiring managers and their choices.

  17. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

    I went to one interview where the interviewer (this was a partner at a law firm) asked how much I wanted. I had already ascertained that the position was open because someone had left, so I figured they certainly knew what they were going to pay for this role. When I said that we needed to talk further, but I was sure we could come to an agreement on salary, she started screaming at me! Right after the interview I pulled out my cell phone, called my recruiter and told her about the screaming. I said, “I wouldn’t work for this crazy bitch for a salary of fifty million dollars.” My recruiter terminated the recruiting relationship.

  18. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw*

    I love working in law, because their salary ranges are typically extremely transparent, as are benefits. I only had one job I applied to that asked me to offer a salary range, and I still have no idea if my estimate was reasonable or not.

  19. Thatoneoverthere*

    I had a couple of phone interviews like this. I had an interview that said the rate of pay (which was low) and I said I had to think about it. I was really desperate for a new job at the time. So I considered taking an almost 50% pay cut just to get out. When my partner and I decided we couldn’t I called her back. She was so mad, and was very snippy with me. This was the HR dept for a very large banking institution. You also couldn’t request any days off in the first 90 you were there, or call off sick once. With 3 little kids, I was afraid it just wasn’t possible.

  20. TootsNYC*

    Or you say, “This is the salary, and unfortunately we have no wiggle room at all. Let us know if you want to continue.”

    But you don’t say, “you have to agree to this salary”; that’s just annoying and bossy wording.

  21. GreenDoor*

    While the salary issue might be reasonable, I believe there are other red flags with this particular employer. The fact that the actual job duties varied significantly from what was in the job description is one. The OP really needs to flush out what the job entails and study the market to make sure that the pay is in line with the duties. But more importantly is that they basically admitted they are underpaying for the level of experience they want. That’s a sign that these people are shady.

    1. Yarrow*

      This is so common, too. My last job was described as an entry-level, no Master’s degree required job that paid accordingly. After a year, it had transmuted into the kind of job that most places would require a degree and some experience for. When I left for a very similar job at their competitor, I was offered almost twice as much (once I got the degree they asked for). On one hand, I was grateful for the chance to get into that job without the credentials because it’s hard to break into. And the job allowed me to get the credentials. But when it was clear they’d never pay me anything close to market rate, I was gone.

  22. TimeTravlR*

    I was active duty military for a long time. The first job I got after I left the service was in a professional office. I really wasn’t sure what to name in a salary range, so I asked some friends in a similar field. Based on their numbers and my experience, I threw out a range. I was very pleased when the offer came in over my top number. It showed me what kind of place I was dealing with (and it was a good place).

  23. Laurelma_01!*

    In the past if we had a salary max that wasn’t exactly competative I would call and inform the prospective interviewee and tell them what the max pay was, and ask if they would still be interested in interviewing. With the state we would know what their current pay is. Most of the time they wouldn’t be interested if it was lower than what they were currently receiving or would be a lateral move, no raise at all.

  24. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    2 things stood out to me as red flags – the game they’re playing with the back and forth on salary, and the fact that they couldn’t describe the specific duties of the position. I would run far far away from this potential opportunity. I understand if the company is set on salary, but you’re wasting people’s time by falsifying your job postings to get them in the door.

  25. whoawhoawhoa*

    Truthfully, I’d run. They are basically telling you that they will take advantage of you and bully you every chance they get. This is just a taste of what it will be like to work there. No thanks!

  26. MCMonkeyBean*

    This didn’t seem unusual to me. I agree that people should be more up front about what their salary is, but it didn’t seem like they were demanding you agree to preemptively accept the job at that salary if they make you an offer, they were just making sure that it wasn’t a dealbreaker before moving forward. If your answer is “no, I would never accept a job at that salary” then why would you want to go in and interview in person if you know that’s the most they’ll pay? And if your answer is “I might be willing to accept the job at that salary depending on what else I learn as we move forward” then I don’t know why you would be hesitant to agree.

    And I was a little confused about this part where you say “I’m also hesitant to say I’m okay with a specific dollar amount without the chance to negotiate other aspects of the role (such as a flexible work schedule).” Why would this preclude other negotiations later? It seems like you could still get the offer and negotiate on other things like schedule and PTO at that time just like you normally would.

  27. Elise*

    This is one benefit to working in the public sector. I always know the ranges and whether I’m likely to start at the bottom or middle. Where I currently work, it isn’t just a matter of what you’re worth, but how your pay is compared to your prospective colleagues. The org has been trying to address vertical and horizontal compression so if starting higher in the ranges causes compression, HR won’t even consider it outside of executive level positions. It can feel frustrating as a hiring manager, but it is one way to ensure equal pay.

  28. Larissa*

    I’m currently under consideration for a job that is essentially a lateral move for me (with the same agency I’m with now, but in a different company). In the application I was asked for my salary expectation, and I gave a number which would essentially be the same pay as I’m getting in my current position, which I know for a fact is covered in the range of this pay grade. I was surprised, pleasantly I guess, when the hiring manager reached out to me before a formal interview was even scheduled, and asked me if I was firm on that figure and admitted that the job had been budgeted for lower (too low for me even at the high end of the range), but also she said that my figure was in the grade’s range and probably wasn’t un-doable. I’m not taking that as a “yes I’ll get that amount if offered the job,” which is a little nerveracking because I did say I was firm. (although, now that I’ve learned more about the job and team and working environment, I would actually consider taking a wee bit less… they made a favorable impression on me).

    I’m hoping that my earlier statement of being firm doesn’t work against me at decision time for them. I guess I’d like to signal somehow that, yeah, I do have a little bit of wiggle room. I feel like I am a strong candidate and that’s why they’d even give me the time of day knowing my stated salary expectation which is higher than their initial budget for the position.

    I guess we’ll see… although they may not offer me the job and I may never know if it was salary related.

    1. Sloan Kittering*

      I’d say the fact that they are still talking to you means that they consider what you named to be acceptable, so don’t undercut yourself now!! Perhaps you helped them realize they were slightly under market on their offer.

  29. Old Cynic*

    I see it like this:

    The person leaving is being paid 48k but a normal range for the job is 60-70 (hence the vacancy). The company doesn’t want to name a range because they’re hoping to get some desperate schlub who, when asked, will state a desired range of 40-44. The offer will be 41.5

  30. Atlantis*

    Agreed on Alison’s point that this is bad faith on the employers part. There have been two jobs where I was asked to interview that when they sent the email about the interview, they noted very clearly that they had a specific salary for the job, and that it was non-negotiable. It was the same salary as the original job posting I applied to. I was happy with that salary, so that was cool with me. Granted, both those positions were government jobs, so different ballgame than a private company in hiring practices, but it was still nice that I wouldn’t have to try and not undershoot/overshoot myself as an graduating student entering the field for the first time. They were clear and upfront about their salary, and it saved us all time on that end.

  31. Door Guy*

    If I hadn’t actually had it happen to me, I’d have thought Allison was pulling our legs when she mentioned interviewers saying their range was higher.

    I was asked the salary expectation question and I answered it honestly because if wasn’t going to work on either end for salary I’d rather know now and focus my efforts elsewhere.

    He thought for a moment, then said “That’s right in our range. In fact, our range might even be a little higher.”

    When I got my offer, it was 7.5k over the top of my provided range.

  32. Marley*

    I work in NPO and unfortunately this tends to be more common than not. They also prefer not to list salary ranges on job posts–which is infuriating. Fortunately with government jobs they are required to post salary ranges.

  33. Flash Bristow*

    Agree with Alison that they might go to 65, you say 50, they say ok! But that they might even offer more if that’s how their range works and everyone should be in the same region.

    My first full-time job out of uni, I was taken on for £14k. No experience but I loved it, worked hard, progressed.

    Six months later we all had reviews, I was told I’d done well and would get a raise. I wasn’t expecting to go up to £18.5k! But when I did a little bit of research behind the scenes, I realised that 18 was actually the bottom of their range… Seemed like the earth to me; probably seemed like a bargain to them!

    So yeah, be careful what you disclose when negotiating salary!

  34. tace*

    This secrecy around pay is so weird to me. Here in the Uk, people can still be quiet about their particular pay and perks in conversations, but most companies list the hourly rate or salary range in their job ads. Now I’m curious about how this varies around the world, or in different industries.

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