is a salary request 40% over the max enough to rescind an offer?

A reader writes:

We recently made an offer to a candidate and I wanted to get your thoughts on what you would have done in this situation.

Throughout the process, the recruiter shared the salary band and that the maximum was not flexible, and the candidate confirmed the amount that worked for them multiple times. Once we made the offer, they said they actually needed 40% more in order to consider leaving their current job. They said they liked the team and role, so wanted to go through the full interview process but had expected that we would be able to increase our offer to that amount after getting to know them. They also said they liked their current job and don’t have a reason to leave. In terms of the offer, compensation apart from base salary gets them about halfway to that amount and benefits are strong for our market, but we had no wiggle room on salary and were transparent throughout.

After that call, the recruiter asked if I wanted to pull the offer, but on principle I felt weird about rescinding because someone tried to negotiate. I decided to email them the written offer because I thought this would give them time to evaluate the offer with benefits and total compensation in mind. We received a written response that was the same (actually on the higher end) of what they said on the phone.

Reflecting on the situation, it felt like they were operating in bad faith and it was a large enough discrepancy that it would have been worth pulling the offer and moving on after the phone call. (We did end up offering the job to our second-choice candidate, who is working out wonderfully.) I was definitely no longer as excited about working with this person after the tone of the call and feeling like they wasted our time—but also recognize that might be a little petty.

What would you have done? Would it have been appropriate to rescind the offer after the initial call?

Yeah, I think you would have been on solid ground in rescinding the offer and moving on.

In fact, it wouldn’t really have been rescinding the offer — it could have just been a natural part of the phone conversation:

You: We’d like to offer you the job at the starting salary we discussed earlier — $X.

Candidate: I’d actually need $Y to consider leaving my job. Is that doable?

You: Oh! I’m surprised to hear that, because we’d been sure to confirm several times during the interview process that $X would work for you.

Candidate: Well, I like the team and the role, and I was hoping that after we got to know each other, you’d be willing to increase the offer.

You: I’m not sure where we crossed signals, but we tried to be very transparent that the salary is $X and that we have no wiggle room on it. It sounds like we’re just too far apart. I’m sorry it won’t work out! I enjoyed getting to know you, and I wish you all the best in whatever comes next for you.

Of course, people don’t always have the presence of mind to do this on the spot! If you didn’t, you could always call back afterwards and have a similar version of this conversation.

But it’s not “we’re pulling the offer.” It’s “we’re clearly too far apart; sorry to hear that.”

If the candidate was just bluffing, at that point they’d have the option of telling you they would consider the offer you’d made after all. If that happened, you could decide how you wanted to handle it. Personally, I’d still be wary — what else are they going to say they’re okay with while secretly assuming they can change your mind? — but there’s no harm in hearing them out with an open mind before you decide how to proceed.

This isn’t penalizing someone for trying to negotiate. If you hadn’t been transparent about the salary throughout and if they hadn’t confirmed multiple times it would work for them (and then admitted they misled you in the hopes that you’d change your mind), this would be a different situation. If you hadn’t already discussed salary during the process and the offer call was the first time they were hearing a number and they said, “I’d need $Y to consider leaving my current job — do you have any wiggle room?” that would be entirely different. And if you pulled the offer over that, without giving them a chance to respond to your “no, the offer is firm,” I’d tell you to reconsider.

But this is someone who misrepresented their position multiple times during your hiring process and now wants a salary far outside the range you’ve been giving them all along. It’s not unfair or unreasonable to just move on to your next candidate.

{ 166 comments… read them below or add one }

    1. NotQuiteAnonForThis*

      Right? On what planet will THIS ever happen? (Note: if anyone has seen something like this, please share as if I’m off base I’ll adjust accordingly!)

      Reply
      1. Bibliovore*

        The only time I’ve ever seen anything like that is when someone interviewing for one position was then flagged for a different, higher-paying position that was about to be listed and was offered that job instead for its commensurately higher wage.

        Reply
        1. NotAnotherManager!*

          I did something similar once because I got a candidate who was overqualified for the position open but turned out to have a relevant skill set that was not part of the advertised position but turned out to be a huge bonus for the hiring team met the criteria for one the next level up. We hired them as the Level II position instead of the Level I and paid them more, based on their specific, relevant experience. I still don’t think it was 40% more, though.

          Reply
          1. Exhausted Trope*

            I’ve seen this also in my work. Applicant gets some kind of certification or license during the process and that bumps them one or more levels up the scale. They end up being offered much more salary and sometimes a higher position together.

            Reply
      2. Admin 4 life*

        I’ve had a company interview me and decide to create a new and higher salary position just to keep me. It was a 35% bump on the salary of the job I originally interviewed for. But they did this to keep the other candidate as they had a history with the firm and I had significantly more experience so I got to pilot the new position. It was still on the low end of what the role could expect to make on average and I left the firm about a year later for an offer that was 35% higher than what I was making at the firm.

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      3. Joan Rivers*

        I was actually impressed and surprised that LW is being this introspective about it, since it seems so clear-cut. It’s nice to know that. And who knows if this would be the only issue they flipflopped on? Because when you’ve told them what the job is, and they continue talking to you about it, w/o saying they can’t do those things, then you consider they would.

        Reply
      4. KHB*

        Well, considering that this exact scenario (the perfect candidate coming along, exceeding all the employer’s wildest dreams, and inspiring them to shell out more money than initially planned) is one of the reasons employers commonly give for not posting their salary ranges publicly, either it has to happen sometimes, or all those employers are full of it. (I personally believe it’s the latter.)

        Even so, it’s pretty darn entitled for any given candidate to assume that they are that perfect candidate who exceeds all the employer’s wildest dreams.

        Reply
      5. Mimi*

        I did have a company increase an offer from $35k to $45k when I said I needed more time — but they hadn’t told me the salary was firm before that (and I don’t even remember how much salary had been discussed earlier). I wasn’t actually trying to negotiate — I had another final round interview and I wanted to see if that job materialized — but it was definitely a lesson in the value of negotiation.

        Reply
      6. Mary Richards*

        Once. But it was a situation where a notable person in the industry expressed interest and that person being on the project was worth the extra expense.

        I have, of course, seen scenarios like LW’s a bunch of times.

        Reply
    2. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I do think there is a significant group that has been trained to see all company’s starting offers as ‘lowballs’ and had it drilled into them that they’re ‘leaving money on the table’ if they don’t push back. So I’d be willing to cut slack, but it might make me a little wary.

      A lot would rest on what sort of role it was, and how experienced they were.

      Reply
      1. D3*

        I do think that’s true in a lot of cases. Negotiating is a good thing.
        But.
        That’s true within the salary range for the position, not for large amounts over the upper range.

        Reply
        1. CmdrShepard4ever*

          I could see a situation where the salary range for a generic llama grooming position appears to be acceptable in the beginning. After going through the interview process, what the hiring company is calling a a llama grooming is really more like a senior llama groomer based on the actual job duties, in this situation I could see a candidate saying I agreed to the original salary range, but based on the job duties, I would actually need 10/15% over the top end of the salary range. That I don’t think would be outrageous, but I do agree asking for 40% over the top end is a lot.

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          1. Aquawoman*

            I was thinking I’d feel differently about the letter if it had been 10-15% — that doesn’t seem like bad faith in the way 40% does.

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            1. Sparrow*

              Totally agree. 40% isn’t reasonable in most cases, and especially not when they’ve repeatedly told the candidate their max. If you feel like you always need to negotiate, fine, but don’t counter with something so absurd it’s laughable!

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            2. Lily Rowan*

              Right — last time I got a job offer, they offered me X on the phone, I said, “Oh, I was thinking more like X*1.2,” they said, “How’s X*1.1,” I said great, and we were done. But I knew that X*1.2 was at least close to their range, not wildly outside of it!

              Reply
          2. Quinalla*

            Yes, I can see this happening too, but if the range had been explicit, I’d take the conversation something like this as the candidate:
            “I know you said you are firm on your range, after getting to know more about the position, the amount of work is just a higher level than the salary you are offering, likely more like X% above the max you quoted. Is that something you can consider or are we too far apart on salary?” Or if the person really didn’t want to leave their job, I might leave out the % and just say we should part ways because salary expectations are no longer aligning. The way the candidate handled this was odd.

            I think the candidate really did not present themselves well here.

            Reply
      2. Khatul Madame*

        The “always negotiate” approach can be valid for situations that do not make the salary [range] known prior to the offer.
        Good on the LW’s team for discussing $$$ throughout the process. As employers become more transparent with regard to compensation, Gumption of this sort will make less and less sense.

        Reply
        1. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

          I’m not disagreeing with that — I’m pointing out that, especially at earlier stages in someone’s career and especially for people who may have not had a ‘white collar’ background — not everyone is aware of these norms.

          That’s something to be aware of, depending on what position you’re interviewing for.

          Reply
        2. Snow globe*

          But even with “always negotiate” mindset, people aren’t generally advised to come back 40% over the initial offer. That is usually a sign that expectations are way off.

          Reply
          1. A Genuine Scientician.*

            And it’s also not like salary is the only thing that can be negotiated.

            For my current position, I knew that negotiating salary wasn’t going to be a reasonable thing. Academia, state school, publicly available salary information; I was offered the same amount that the two people hired for equivalent roles the previous year were being paid. Including the person I’d been the runner up to on one of those applications. It wouldn’t have made sense to argue that I was worth more than she was. And days off aren’t really a thing that’s possible to negotiate in this role.

            BUT, in large part due to Alison’s advice that your strongest negotiating position is once they’ve offered you the job but before you accept it, I thought it over that night and the following morning asked for a pair of things that cost my boss nothing, but which I felt would improve my quality of life (1: there are multiple courses that need to be taught, so I asked to not be assigned the one possible combination I thought would be the hardest to do well. 2: I’d already been teaching a small graduate seminar in another academic unit, and would need my boss’ permission to keep doing that on top of my official duties for him.) He agreed immediately, I accepted the position, and I had a formal letter a few hours later, with the things I had asked for included in the letter.

            I felt good about advocating for myself, which is something I’ve not done as much as I should in previous positions. I get the sense that my boss was happy that I asked for reasonable things, and felt that my explanations for why I wanted them showed that I’d thought things through. The fact that they didn’t cost him anything either probably helped.

            I certainly don’t think you need to negotiate every offer. And particularly if they’ve been clear repeatedly “This is the salary band”, I’d be very hesitant to ask for more. But I’d see nothing wrong with saying something “I know you can’t come up on the salary, but could we discuss working from home two days a week after an initial 3 months?” or something (assuming it’s not a job like receptionist where coverage absolutely matters). They can certainly say no, but there’s value in asking for things you want.

            Reply
      3. ThatGirl*

        When I got my current job, the HR recruiter started by asking me what I was looking for; I gave a 10k range. When I got the offer, they immediately offered me the top of my range, so I saw no reason to negotiate further. But I did find myself wondering if I should have upped my initial range more! (that said, even if I “left money on the table” so to speak, I’m happy with my pay.)

        Reply
        1. Cat Tree*

          I don’t think “negotiation” has to mean specific requests after a formal offer has been extended. You negotiated at the beginning of the process when they directly asked about it. In your particular case it was especially easy, so I can see how it might feel like you should have requested more. And maybe it would have been reasonable to make one request after the official offer if you had some good reasons to back it up. But this is a business transaction and it sounds like both sides came out satisfied.

          Hard-ball haggling over an official offer at the end of the whole process is only one way to negotiate. Ideally it would be an ongoing conversation throughout the process and the actual number offered shouldn’t come as a surprise.

          Reply
          1. ThatGirl*

            Oh, I don’t actually feel like I did anything wrong – clearly we were both happy with the outcome. Just a sort of jokey “well, if they gave me the top of my range, how much more room was in THEIR range?” thought.

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            1. Cat Tree*

              Yeah, I guess I meant that comment more generally and not necessarily as advice to you personally. I’ve definitely been in that position so I can relate, and I imagine plenty of others have felt the same way.

              Reply
    3. Anna*

      Huge caveat: This happens in tech all the time, and you would be remiss to not aggressively negotiate. I once asked for 50% more than what they first offered me, citing a competing offer. Between leveling me up, salary, stock, and signing bonus they met me there. I’m a woman of color and the fear of ‘rescinding an offer’ is always with me, but from then on I always negotiate aggressively and it has paid off dividends since.

      Reply
      1. MBK*

        If you’ve actually got a competing offer, using it to negotiate is perfectly reasonable, even if it’s what would otherwise be an unreasonable counter. But certainly not after agreeing to the existing range throughout the interview process.

        Reply
        1. Anna*

          In tech I honestly would probably still go above the range we agreed to because “I thought you’d like me so much you’d just materialize more money for me!” and because certainly someone will pay me that much more.

          That thought process isn’t crazy to me in my field.

          Reply
          1. SchuylerSeestra*

            Yeah it’s a thing in tech. However the fact that they had continuous conversations throughout the hiring process about comp, had agreed upon a number, the candidate was aware they had a ceiling makes this not a good look. I do agree about negotiating for what your worth, I did so myself!

            I just think it’s also valid for a company to choose to pull an offer, especially if it seems like the candidate is just using them as leverage for a raise or something. Never ever assume you are the only person being considered for the job.

            Reply
            1. A*

              Agree with both commenters here – it’s a thing in tech precisely because candidates are often fortunate enough to be able to walk away from the offer. So you can and should do it, but depending on how the conversation went, do be prepared to actually walk

              Reply
    4. Artemesia*

      If the difference had been 5 or 10%, then trying to negotiate would make perfect sense. Often there is a little wiggle room even when they say there isn’t early in the process. But 40% is so far off, I would have lost confidence in the candidate.

      Still, don’t ‘rescind’; let them remove themselves. That saves you having to hear about how you ‘rescind offers if people negotiate’ at the next conference.

      Reply
  1. KHB*

    “I’d need $X + 40% to consider leaving my current job,” when you’ve been clear that you can’t go over $X, sounds to me like they’re declining your offer.

    Reply
    1. Somebody*

      I had the exact same thought! They didn’t want the job that much.

      They may have said sure and taken it anyway if you actually matched their counter, but they knew you wouldn’t.

      Reply
      1. SimplyTheBest*

        If you don’t want the job, just say you don’t want the job. This makes you look like you operate in bad faith and may burn bridges. There’s not really anything to be gained by this kind of nonsense.

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth West*

          Yeah, I think a better way to put that would be, “I was really excited by the team [etc.], but after further consideration, I’d really need $Y in order to leave my current situation. I wish you luck in finding an amazing candidate.”

          Reply
    2. GothicBee*

      Yeah, it may be that they initially thought they’d want the job for $X amount, but then realized towards the end of the process they really weren’t that interested in the job. Since they ended up getting a job offer, the candidate probably figured they would throw out their ideal salary instead of just declining outright.

      Reply
    3. T. Boone Pickens*

      This scenario reeks of the candidate fishing for a large offer so they can use it to snag a counter offer from their current employer.

      Reply
      1. Nicotene*

        This was my first thought. Why else would you continue after hearing the top of the salary band that won’t work for you – other than because you’re planning to use an offer as leverage in a negotiation at your current role. Also tracks with them saying they like their job now and have no reason to leave. Sadly, some companies make their employees do this. Someone else wants this job at or close to the amount you’re offering, OP!

        Reply
      2. identifying remarks removed*

        Yes – we’ve had that happen before and politely declined to send an offer. Similar scenario and we were clearly miles apart but the candidate kept insisting they wanted a written offer in order to make a decision.

        Reply
  2. Spicy Tuna*

    As someone with very little experience negotiating salaries, this distinction between good-faith negotiation and misrepresenting their position is SO HELPFUL, Alison. This type of nuance is one of the reasons find job hunting and interviewing to be so incredibly stressful.

    Reply
  3. Anonys*

    LW, I don’t see why you are framing this as rescinding an offer. Your offer is being rejected!
    I mean, a job offer is never just “here’s the job it’s yours”, it’s: “will you exchange your labour for this specific salary and benefits package (which might or might not be negotiable” and this person clearly wasn’t willing to exchange his labour on the terms offered, and you weren’t willing to buy his labour on terms that would have been acceptable to him.

    Reply
    1. Dust Bunny*

      Yeah, this. The applicant changed their side of it to something that’s not on the table. This is a “no” from them.

      Reply
    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think the OP is thinking about it as if it’s similar to this:
      OP: We can offer you $X.
      Candidate: Any chance you could go up to $X + $3,000?
      OP: We’re clearly too far apart on salary and this won’t work, goodbye!

      That would be pulling the offer over someone trying to negotiate, and she doesn’t want to do that because it’s crappy. But that’s not what this is, for all the reasons in the post.

      Reply
      1. Letter Writer*

        Yeah, exactly. Had we been a few thousand dollars apart, I would have at least tried to explore options internally because I did really like this candidate (eg perhaps we could swing a signing bonus?). I mentioned in another comment but this was the first time I’d been part of an offer call/been part of direct negotiations with a candidate, so I don’t have a ton of exposure yet. But hearing your POV and the comments is really helpful in knowing that, yep, this is way too far off.

        Reply
        1. goducks*

          So you’re saying that the statement by the recruiter that the maximum wasn’t flexible wasn’t true? You’d have negotiated for additional compensation by calling it a bonus? I agree that this person asking for so much more is unrealistic, but as a person who hires in a company that has strong pay equity analysis due to values and strong state pay equity laws (all differences in comp of even $.01 must be justified by a defined before hire set of criteria, and only certain things can be weighed), this idea that firm isn’t firm makes life so much harder for us when we hire. When we say job pays $X, we mean job pays $X. When we say job pays $X starting with additional $X for A, B, or C qualifications, we mean it.

          Reply
          1. ThatGirl*

            A signing bonus is different than a salary increase or an annual bonus, though. It’s a one-time thing and often has a payback clause if you leave too quickly.

            Reply
          2. Weekend Please*

            I think they are saying that the maximum is in fact inflexible. They likely work at a company with pay bands and really can’t change that. But if they were closer together in numbers, sometimes things like PTO, signing bonuses, relocation costs or other benefits can help make a candidate feel good about a lower salary.

            Reply
            1. goducks*

              Using bonuses as a way to get around salary bands still creates pay inequity. It’s not like calling it a bonus means that it’s any different in the employee’s pocket. It’s still compensation that’s available to this person and not others.

              Reply
              1. Dan*

                Well… it kind of is different. Signing bonuses are a one-time deal. If that’s what it takes to seal the deal, then so be it. So it’s hard to say how much inequity really gets created.

                At my first job out of school, Company A offered me $70k. Company B offered me $65k + a $5k signing bonus. Those were *not* equivalent offers, in subsequent years, Company B will be starting negotiations from $65k, and Company A from $70k.

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              2. Silver Radicand*

                But, being a one-time thing, rather than an every year payment makes a big difference in terms of long-range compensation. Me getting $2,500 once, but not the next four plus years is a much smaller inequity and much more likely to be reasonable one.

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          3. LW*

            In this case I am throwing that idea out here at AAM as an example, because we could not move on salary and a signing bonus is something that I’ve heard other companies do and comes to mind in the general sense—not something I’m sure my company does or that I could secure. I hear you on salary equity…I agree with the commenters below that a one time incentive is different than salary but it’s still money at the end of the day.

            Reply
        2. Dan*

          Well… I think AAM’s exemplar numbers don’t fit the context here. For $3k, especially when positioned as a “soft” ask, everybody plays ball for the song and dance. (I’m not saying you make the offer, just that the conversation be entertained.)

          But… the title of the post says “40% over max.” I have no idea what kind of salary range you were discussing, but $3k is 40% above just $7500, which is obviously a nonsensical number.

          My company routinely makes offers for select positions where $100k is pretty much max for the salary band, and hard to get as the starting salary. If someone says they’re fine with the top end of the likely range multiple times, and then kind of just out of nowhere pulls a “just kidding, add $40k or no dice”, at this point, they’re essentially rejecting your offer, and “I guess it’s no dice then” is an acceptance of the rejection of the offer, and not “punishment.” Now if they said they were looking for $40k over max up front? I think they’re owed a direct conversation about realistic expectations but not a yanked offer.

          One thing though… as a candidate, there are times when the opening “I’m fine with that” statements could have been made in good faith *at the time* but later changed. I live in an HCOL area, and sometimes look at jobs in lower cost areas. Clearly I can take a paycut and still have a net increase in my quality of life. So I’ll take that paycut. How much? It depends on a lot of factors, namely real estate, which I won’t put all that much effort into until we “get serious” about things. (Same is probably true in reverse… moving from low cost to high cost.)

          Second, when I’m on the market, I usually get to entertain multiple offers. The first interviews/offers are hard to do salary wise, because I have *no idea* how that will stack up against other offers I don’t have yet. So if other offers are offering higher salaries, it’s not disingenuous to say, “I know I said X was ok up front, but other offers are offering way more, and I’m wondering if it still makes sense to proceed.” In those cases, the messaging very much does matter.

          Reply
          1. Rusty Shackelford*

            Well… I think AAM’s exemplar numbers don’t fit the context here. For $3k, especially when positioned as a “soft” ask, everybody plays ball for the song and dance. (I’m not saying you make the offer, just that the conversation be entertained.)

            I think you’re missing the point. She’s saying that a $3K difference *would* generally be entertained, but that’s not what happened here.

            Reply
          2. MBK*

            Another thing that seems obvious but apparently isn’t (based on the number of times people get trapped in it) is that getting hired at the top of your band makes it impossible to get a raise without a promotion. Which may be fine in real numbers, but some people seem to like that “I’m making more this year than last year” feeling more than the “I’ve been making more all along” feeling.

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            1. Grades White Collar Homework*

              Yes, MBK! I have always been confused by that phenomenon.

              I was hired in at $4k below the top of the band for my position and am now — one year in with a small merit increase — $2.5K from maxing out. And I am 100% fine with that!

              I will take a few years at the top of my pay band any day over what my previous company said and did. (“No, I can’t possibly offer you any more money because then how could I ever give you any substantial raises?!?).

              I mean, 15% of my base salary goes into my 401k. And 15% of, say, $100K is much more than 15% of $75K. And that $15K invested each year for 3-5 years is muuuch more valuable than $11,250 the first year, $11.8K the 2nd year, $12.4K the 3rd year, and so on. Compound interest is a thing!!

              Reply
    3. Chickaletta*

      I agree. But it’s also annoying that the candidate stated several times during the interview process that they were fine with the salary range when it turns out they weren’t. Negotiations started during the interviews and the candidate pulled a dirty one at the end of it. Makes me wonder if all along they knew they weren’t going to accept $X or if, once they got through the interviews, they realized that there was no way in hell they’d take the job for less than $X + 40%. Either way, probably a good thing it didn’t work out.

      Reply
      1. Observer*

        If it was only at the end that the candidate realized that it would not make sense, that’s ok. But he should have said so! Like “I really thought I would be ok with this, but now that I’m at decision making time, I realize that the salary really is a deal breaker.” It’s not GREAT but, it’s not bad faith, which is what the current excuse sounds like.

        Reply
        1. Dan*

          I think the real issue is whether or not applications from that candidate get entertained in the future (blacklisted, if you will.) And how one responds to a salary negotiation very much matters.

          Bad faith = likely won’t be considered at all in the future. But there are valid reasons to go back on prior statements about salary alignment that I don’t think should be categorized as “not GREAT” but just “life”.

          1. Moving between areas with vastly different cost of living. It’s really hard to know how much money I really need when moving to an area that I’m not familiar with. Sure, there are online calculators that talk about averages, but I find they don’t really work when *I* need to decide whether or not *I* will move.

          2. If I get to entertain multiple offers (and I usually do), I may be fine with Company A’s salary in a vacuum, but if other companies are going to offer better compensation, that’s just life, and shouldn’t be held against me.

          3. Some companies are cagey with what roles are really on the table. I had a place try and bait-and-switch me, and I figured out what was going on. I even said so at the opening negotiation rounds — “you’re pitching the *future* of this position to me, which is worth $Y, but I also hear that the lead role isn’t quite ready, which means as an IC $Z is more appropriate.”

          Reply
          1. Kevin Sours*

            That first one I’d categorize as “not GREAT”. It’s on you to figure out what your expected salary is and that includes doing your homework on cost of living. Screwing that up and finding out late in the process that you need a lot more than you thought to make it work isn’t bad faith. But it’s not great.

            Reply
            1. Dan*

              Eh. It depends. When I got on a “big” job search, I’m looking all over the country. And I have a diverse enough skillset that I can easily find more than a dozen jobs to apply to. Yes I have a general sense that some metro area costs more/less than the one I currently live in. But sometimes jobs are in different enough parts of the metro area that it really matters. Is it in a more expensive area? The posh suburbs can be misleadingly expensive. And then some jobs are actually further out in the cheaper areas. Then we have to get into whether the schools suck and if I need to pay private school tuition or live in a more expensive area. I’m simply not going through that level of calibration until there’s an actual mutual interest.

              That said, I’ll probably have a solid number in mind when I show up for the onsite interview. At that point, there’s a demonstrated level of mutual interest that warrants more effort on my part.

              Also, one thing about jobs requiring physical relocation… this is where employment is really a two way street. If a company wants *me* to move to work for them, they have to make it appealing. If they’re making a lowball offer and they know it, it’s probably a waste of everybody’s time and that’s on them. It’s totally different if I’m looking at a different local job, don’t have to move, can keep my kids in the same school… I might take a lowball offer for the overall convenience.

              Reply
          2. Observer*

            Moving between areas with vastly different cost of living.

            Not in this context, where the applicant had plenty of time to figure this out.

            Some companies are cagey with what roles are really on the table.

            Except that this is not what happened. The guy explicitly said that he was expecting them to change their minds.

            Reply
      2. Sparkles McFadden*

        I think it’s because they think that, if they are offered a position, they now have leverage to push back because the company *really* wants them. Never mind that there are probably other candidates who would do just fine. People like this cannot conceive of a situation where they are not the absolute best choice and the company would be lucky to have them.

        Once upon a time, I had a former coworker ask me to put her name in for an entry-level position in another department. I explained the salary range and that it was non-negotiable and that she would have to be willing to accept that salary since she was essentially starting over in an area of the business where she had no direct experience. She swore up and down that she was ready to start over in this new division because it was “her future.” HR pushed back hard, saying that, in their experience, this never works out. I said that the candidate seemed on the level.

        After a couple of rounds of interviews, former coworker was the top choice, so the department head sent an official offer which includes the salary that this person agreed to during the final interview. The candidate called up and demanded an additional 35% plus a guarantee for overtime hours and a five year raise schedule. The department head called me and asked “What do I do?” I replied “Say you can’t do that and, since you’re too far apart on salary, you’ll need to move on. Then call the next person on your list and send her a job offer.”

        I bought the HR rep a box of candy. She laughed and said “They always say they’re OK with the low salary until the offer shows up. It’s a waste of everyone’s time. Now you know.” That was my good faith-bad faith lesson.

        Oh, and former coworker called everyone she knew in the company to say “I had a great job offer and Sparkles ruined it for me.”

        Reply
    4. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

      Yep. Both in strict terms of contract law and colloquially, you’re not ‘pulling’ or ‘rescinding’ anything.

      Reply
  4. Smithy*

    I just want to shout out the OP for taking more time to feel good about their overall response provided being in an unexpected situation. Overall, I think there’s a lot of romanticism in having the perfect or great response in the moment. This isn’t to take away from the rush of having that snappy or expert response in the moment, but rather to acknowledge giving yourself room to think and coming back with the most thoughtful response possible.

    Reply
    1. Letter Writer*

      Hey, thank you Smithy! I definitely needed a moment to process this and my internal reaction would not have made for a productive, professional conversation. ;)

      Reply
      1. Smithy*

        Exactly! Certainly having our own movie moments where we get to be the expert hero in 3 minutes or less is lovely, but what you did ensured your professionalism and also gave the applicant some grace in case they’d been given just wildly wrong negotiation advice.

        In response to the email, had the candidate come back with a message around “after full review of the benefits, I acknowledge how they represent a significant increase from what I’m currently receiving and as stated before, I really loved the team and am excited to take the role”, then your approach would have made a lot of sense and given everyone the chance to save face.

        Taking time, being slow/thoughtful just isn’t given the props it should be. Especially when we’re in a situation for the first time.

        Reply
  5. LadyByTheLake*

    The other thing that jumps out here is the HUGE disparity between what you’d repeatedly confirmed as a minimum and what their “wouldn’t consider leaving my current job for” salary was. This is not a person acting in good faith.

    Reply
    1. Letter Writer*

      Right? I have always heard that if you’re happy in your current job, but would consider a wow offer, the time to set expectations is in the initial screening with the recruiter. That sets the foundation of what you’re looking for, and of course you can adjust if new info about the role comes up, but it ensure your expectations and the company’s aren’t completely out of sync.

      Reply
      1. LadyByTheLake*

        Exactly — when I’m contacted by recruiters I always say, “I’m happy where I am, but am always willing to chat for the right offer. To make sure this is worth our time, what is the salary range for this position?” And if I wouldn’t consider a move for that, I say so right then and there.

        Reply
      2. Kevin Sours*

        I think it depends on my strategy. If I want to sure the salaries match before taking the time in the interview process then sure. If I think it’s to my advantage to wait and show who I am before mentioning that, then I don’t really owe anybody the information. If it’s important for you to know it’s on you to ask.

        That said. It was. You did. And at that point it’s cards on the table time. You can’t say X is fine and then come back with I need Y without spelling out precisely what new information came to light (I got a raise at work, the job duties don’t really match the job title and X is really underpaying the position, etc).

        Reply
    2. Allypopx*

      I agree with you but something about it reads a little to me less as “acting in bad faith” and more as “acting on really crappy advice about negotiating”. That may be too generous! But we see it all the time and I think the candidate might have just shot himself in the foot trying to be clever/following a bad strategy.

      Reply
    3. Dumpster Fire*

      I completely agree! The comment “I was hoping that after we got to know each other, you’d be willing to increase the offer” indicates that they knew exactly what they were doing.

      Reply
    4. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Yeah, I’m mad at that candidate on OP’s behalf. They wasted everybody’s time.

      I was in this situation once – they asked about my current pay ten minutes into the HR phone screen, and then admitted that they were only going to pay 70% of X for the position. I said that, while I was considering a pay cut, I could not accommodate one that large, we wished each other a good day and ended the call, as it should be.

      Reply
    5. MissDisplaced*

      I think this applicant probably got some BAD salary negotiation advice!
      If you have no idea of the salary (and many companies don’t discuss salary until the offer stage, which is bad), asking for this might be ok, even if 40% is way on the high side (perhaps that is plausible here, but it’s a lot).

      But if you were very clear what the salary range is upfront, this person should’ve opted out sooner.
      Personally, I admire places that give you a range upfront on the first screening call. If they say “Our range is X min to X max,” I’m not going to even think to ask from 40% over X max. You’re either in the same ballpark or you’re not.

      Reply
  6. Observer*

    I agree with the others – I don’t think that this is rescinding the offer, but rather the end of the negotiation. Not a punishment, but something you simply cannot do.

    But, I also think that it would have been ok to rescind the offer, if it came down to it. Sometimes negotiation is appropriate and sometimes it’s not. It’s not ok to negotiate right after you’ve explicitly said multiple times that you are ok with X, unless there is a good reason for it. eg Someone said that they are ok with it before finding out that the jog entails overnight trips 5 time a month.

    Reply
    1. londonedit*

      I agree. This isn’t a case of someone asking for a little more money and OP responding with ‘We don’t negotiate. The offer is no longer on the table’. That would be ‘pulling the offer because someone tried to negotiate’. In this case, the salary range was very clear, the candidate wanted to negotiate, OP said ‘We can’t go to $40K more, here’s our full range of benefits in case that helps you evaluate the package we’re offering’, and the candidate said nope, it’s $40K more or nothing. At that point, the negotiation is over and it’s perfectly fine for OP to say ‘Unfortunately it looks as though we’re too far apart in terms of salary expectations; as we’re unable to make this work, we will now be moving forward with another candidate’. There has to be a hard stop at some point, and if one side won’t budge then there isn’t a lot the other side can do except say OK, it’s a shame but there’s no way we can make this work, end of discussion.

      Reply
      1. Weekend Please*

        If a candidate says that they won’t consider leaving their current job for anything less than 40% over the disclosed maximum, I don’t think even sending the email with benefits is necessary. It is ok to take them at their word and jump right to “As we said before, $X is the maximum we can offer for this position. Since this will not work for you we will now be moving forward with another candidate.”

        Reply
  7. Letter Writer*

    Thank you for taking my question, Alison! This was the first time I’ve actually joined an offer call (usually the recruiting team handles) so I haven’t been actively involved in making the offer or salary negotiations before. Your insight and the comments are great guidance in reframing how this conversation went and better understanding how I could react in the moment going forward.

    The scripts you provide are always extremely helpful. I’ll keep this in my back pocket in case I run into a similar situation in the future…though I hope the discrepancy wouldn’t be so large.

    Reply
  8. madhatter360*

    Out of curiosity would the answer be different if the percentage was different?
    What if the candidate wanted X+10% not X+40%?
    Does that change anything? And if so, what’s the “magic” percentage?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes. I don’t think there’s a magical percentage, but the answer would be different if it was a much smaller amount and if the candidate hadn’t misled them throughout the process when they talked about salary.

      Reply
    2. Detective Amy Santiago*

      For me, I think it would also depend on the other benefits that were being offered.

      I’d look far more favorably on a candidate who said, I understand that your max for this position is $X and I was really hoping for $Y. Since you can’t meet $Y, is there any possibility I could get [extra vacation, WFH, commuter reimbursement, etc]? Alternately, if the candidate said something like “After realizing that you don’t provide A Benefit, I would need $Y as a salary to make up for that. I know you said $X is your max though so if that’s not possible, I don’t think this will work.”

      Those type of things show the candidate is acting in good faith, whereas this one clearly was not.

      Reply
      1. Snow globe*

        Exactly. It’s important to note that even when an employer is being transparent about the salary, there are many other factors that the candidate won’t know about, probably until they get the full offer (most significantly for those in the US is insurance). A candidate might assume other benefits would be similar to what they currently have and, if so, the listed salary would work. But if benefits are really less attractive than what they currently have, they might ask for a higher salary than what they previously said was ok. But +40% is unlikely to be due to that.

        Reply
        1. Kevin Sours*

          That’s very true. But if you reopening negotiations after agreeing in principle to a number you really need acknowledge that’s what you are doing and be at least moderately clear on why. It is fair to say that the health benefits are bad and thus the total compensation package isn’t as strong as I thought it was when I said the salary worked for me.

          “I thought you’d give me more money once you got to know me” isn’t that.

          Reply
        2. EchoGirl*

          I think the particular phrasing is pretty key here though. This isn’t the person saying “I thought I’d be okay with $X but thinking about it more I realized it’s not going to work” or “when I saw your benefits package, I realized I’d have less PTO/be paying more for insurance/etc., and I’d want a higher salary to make up for that”, which would be understandable even if the OP still ultimately had to say they can’t do it. This employee is saying “I knew your range but I was *always* taking that with a huge grain of salt/planning to ask for more”, and I can see why that would rub an employer the wrong way.

          Reply
      2. HarryV*

        Great point. The full benefits package doesn’t come through until well after and may not be available at the point of the offer letter.

        Reply
    3. I'd Rather Be Eating Dumplings*

      I think this would depend so widely on the job, the other benefits/perks and the candidate’s argument.

      “I thought you’d like me so much you’d change your mind” is not especially persuasive but “I thought the role would only involve 10 hours of llama grooming, but now I understand that it involves 100 hours of llama grooming, which is a more valuable skill,” might be more so.

      Reply
    4. Kevin Sours*

      Not really. It’s still bad faith to see the ask for the reasons given. At some point if the ask is small enough and the candidate strong enough pragmatism might kick in and you do it to avoid having to hire again. But I’d have to have some sense that it them bumbling through on some really bad advice on how to negotiate rather than a deep seated character flaw to want to do that.

      Note that it’s a different conversation if it happens the first time salary comes up. It’s still weird to demand +40% and then back off it when told the salary range is firm. But at that stage it’s a lot easier to chock up to bumbling rather than malice. Unless there were other flags or negotiation was one of the critical skills for the role I’d probably shrug that off.

      Reply
    5. Dan*

      It’s also the delivery. “I need 40% over max or pound sand” is positioned as a fairly binary choice, where the employer electing to choose “pound sand” is a good-faith response to the demand.

      If someone says, “How much flexibility is there in the salary? It will be much easier for me to accept an offer the closer we can get to $Y.” A proper response to that is, “There’s none. Do you still wish to proceed?” An outright “pound sand” would be inappropriate.

      And… we can’t forget that the overall dialogue matters too. Feeling comp out in the early stages is appropriate, pretty much no matter what the discrepancies. But waiting until the last minute to make a rather blunt demand that’s way over any previous discussion? Different story.

      Reply
  9. el knife*

    I’d also double check what your recruiter is doing – if it’s an outside recruiter handling the process, this may be a sign the recruiter isn’t being upfront with the candidates or is modulating their language too much because they’re trying to get good candidates in front of you. This is such a huge difference it might be at least worth it to discuss with the recruiter what they’re telling candidates!

    Reply
    1. very anon*

      100% agree with this. You need to have a clear discussion with your recruiter. As an applicant I’ve dealt with so many recruiters who just- aren’t good. I’ve had some tell me the salary range is X, and then in later clarification it turns out the range is actually wildly different. You are assuming the applicant is acting in bad faith here, when there’s at least a chance the recruiter is twisting what you want and the source of the problem. “Oh they say the range is X, but I’ve seen people get 40% more in the past…. there’s always room to negotiate, we can get you up to that number you want – I’m confident about it.”

      Reply
  10. AndersonDarling*

    I’m on the candidate end of this right now, but in my case, we both know that I am considering their awesome job along with the decrease in salary. My current salary is 10% above the top of their pay band, and they were very clear that they can’t offer more. I asked if I could continue in their interview process while I considered the pay, and they agreed that they would like to keep rolling.
    We both laid our cards on the table and are moving forward with transparency. It’s the first time that has ever happened to me in an interview process.

    Reply
    1. OtterB*

      I had this too, with my current employer. When we first talked, what they had intended to offer was substantially less than what I had intended to look for. (I was moving from PT to FT so not directly comparable.) The hiring manager asked me directly if we should continue talking, given that. I asked him to let me think about it, then emailed him back later the same day to say, yes, let’s keep talking. The eventual offer pretty much split the difference between their original intention and mine, plus very good benefits, and I took it. But transparency on both sides.

      Reply
  11. Michelle Smith*

    And PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, continue being open and transparent about the salary band despite this one person’s failure to accept reality! I can’t emphasize enough how many times I’ve looked at job descriptions and gone through interview processes only to be told at the end I’d be looking at a substantial pay cut. It sucks for all involved. I have actually avoided this problem and saved us both time when I’ve read job postings that sound like a good fit, but then at the bottom of the description it states that the salary is $X. If $X is two-thirds or half what I’m currently making, I don’t bother because I know that it’s a bad fit. My current job I took, even though it was initially a pay cut, but I really didn’t like the bait and switch they did of telling me they could offer $X and then coming back after they were considering making an offer and telling me they actually could only do $X-8K. Transparency is so important. (No, I don’t regret taking the pay cut, but yes the employer turned out to be as dysfunctional and disorganized as it sounds and I’m looking for my out after only 2 years here.)

    Reply
    1. Silly goose*

      Agreed. So helpful to have some kind of ballpark… Even if it’s huge. Especially for people who are moving (say, with a spouse) or new to the area, but also for people in general.

      Reply
    2. Annika Hansen*

      I agree so much! It would be also great if benefits were clear. I don’t think that there is a pay increase where I would accept only 2 weeks PTO. At least in the U.S., benefits vary so widely. A pay increase could be wiped out with high health insurance premiums.

      Reply
    3. NotAnotherManager!*

      I think it’s so important to have that conversation first. I don’t even see candidates until they’ve discussed salary with HR. Occasionally, I’ll get a call asking about a particular situation (usually someone with unusual or niche experience), but it saves both the candidate and us time to only move people who are open to the salary forward in the process. I do not need to see the guy who insisted he could not accept an entry-level starting salary of less than $70K when the position paid $45K.

      Reply
  12. Silly goose*

    I would be wary of working with them after that. What else will they say one thing to and be playing wait-and-see? Agree it would be different if there hadn’t been multiple confirmations throughout.

    Reply
  13. Bob*

    They also said they liked their current job and don’t have a reason to leave.

    Then why interview for other positions? Given this line plus the games with being ok with the offered range then admitting they never were ok with it highly suggests they are job hoppers only looking for more money and would soon do the same to you if you had hired them.

    Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      I wonder if they were hoping to use an offer from OP’s company to negotiate for a raise at their current job.

      Reply
    2. Not anti vaxx*

      Everyone has a price :)

      I don’t fault anyone in this situation, including the candidate. It’s very likely that the candidate had feelers out and were either contacted by a recruiter, got a hit on linked in, or found this job listing somewhere and wanted to find out more.

      It’s unlikely they really got hung up on the salary band during the process, but once an offer was made the real question of “What would it really take to get me to take the new job” move out of informational/hypothetical into a real decision.

      Reply
      1. LTL*

        Perhaps but telling OP that they really had no reason to leave their job after all is, at worst, a power move, and at best, incredibly obtuse.

        Reply
    3. Emma Woodhouse*

      I don’t think this is always the case! In my industry it’s relatively common to interview for in house positions when you’re at an agency to see what’s out there. I’ve certainly told recruiters that I’m happy in my current role and would only consider leaving for a significant salary increase. An interview works both ways – they’re vetting me just as I’m betting them to see if it’s an opportunity I’d consider leaving for. Not saying this is true in every industry but it’s the norm in mine.

      Reply
    4. RC Rascal*

      Clearly, they were looking for a lot more money.

      I am wondering if the candidate has unrealistic expectations about what they can command in the market, or if he has some misleading information. Perhaps he has been reading about salaries for his field, not realizing the information is based of HCOL and he is living in a LCOL area.

      Reply
      1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

        To me, it sounded like the applicant had some ego issues, too. It felt like “If you offer the perfect candidate $toprange, I’m obviously so far beyond perfect that I’m worth $toprange+40%.” That attitude would be a huge turn-off.

        Reply
        1. Self Employed*

          “God grant me the confidence of a mediocre white man” was what came to mind when I read about this candidate. I will truly be shocked if they did not turn out to be white, male, and probably straight.

          Reply
    5. Dust Bunny*

      I like my current job and am not exactly looking to leave, but if I saw a listing that looked interesting from a company with a good reputation that might offer me significantly more, I might apply.

      (It would have to be a lot more, though, because honestly leaving the work culture I have here would be really risky.)

      Reply
    6. Cat Tree*

      Eh, I don’t think it’s so weird to have feelers out. Even if I had a dream job that paid $1 million per year, I’d be willing to consider another dream job for $2 million per year. Just talking to the recruiter or going on an interview isn’t a commitment.

      I actually left a job I really liked for a job I love, but I didn’t plan it that way. I graduated into a bad economy, so after years of being at places that ranged from less than ideal to outright toxic, I was basically in constant job search mode. Then I finally landed at a place that I liked reasonably well, my expertise was valued, management was mostly good, and I had clear path for advancement. So I wasn’t actively job searching. But, for 10 years I occasionally browsed the job postings for a company I really wanted to work for, applying for maybe 1 or 2 relevant ones each year. For a decade I rarely got so much as an interview. But while I was at the good job for less than a year, I finally got an interview which eventually led to a job offer. And I accepted that offer. I liked my job at the time and wasn’t actively running away from it, but it really just couldn’t compete with this other opportunity.

      Even now that I’m at my dream job and making a good salary with great bonuses and benefits, I’d be willing to at least listen if something good enough came along. I ignore most recruiter emails because they’re often for temporary contract jobs, require relocation, or are far below my skill level. But there is hypothetically a job out there that would catch my attention and that doesn’t mean I don’t love my current job.

      Reply
    7. NotAnotherManager!*

      I’m happy with my current job, my boss, and my compensation, but I’m not averse to hearing what else is out there. If someone wanted to offer me a job with less of a commute (or FT WFH) for a nominal salary decrease or a position that didn’t require being on call most of the time, I’d have a hard time saying no to that. I’m up-front when people call me about what I would/would not consider, and I think I’ve only pursued one or two opportunities to an interview stage in the past five years.

      I get a lot of recruiter contacts for jobs that pay half of what I make now, sometimes less. I politely decline those as well as the ones where someone won’t give me a ballpark range.

      Reply
      1. Cat Tree*

        Exactly. When I interviewed for my first job at my now current company, I made it very clear that I was satisfied at my then-current company and wasn’t looking to leave for just anything that came along. But I think that actually helped me get the offer because it showed I was more interested in the actual position and less interested in just getting away from something else. As long as there’s no deceit, there’s nothing wrong about hearing them out.

        Reply
  14. TWW*

    The candidate was essentially saying they didn’t want the job. It’s like if you offered me a job shoveling out your chicken coop, and I responded, “I’ll do it for $100/hour.”

    Reply
  15. learnedthehardway*

    There’s negotiating, and then there’s being ridiculous. This is one of the ridiculous cases.

    You were up front about the salary level and that it was not negotiable. If the candidate had looked at the offer and come back with a request for a 5 or even 10% increase, that would have been within reason. After all, perhaps there was some experience or quality of theirs that had been overlooked, or (more commonly) “not negotiable” might have meant “not very negotiable”.

    Let’s say that the candidate is very inexperienced in negotiations, and figures that “If I ask for 40% more, then they’ll settle at 20%”. Well, that’s still well outside the top of your pay band for the role, and is likely to cause issues with pay equity for the rest of the team. It also means the person is likely to be susceptible to being poached out of your organization, should another company come along with a high salary.

    I would simply rescind the offer. Beyond the dollar figure the candidate is asking for, there’s the fact that they lack judgment and relationship management skills, and they don’t listen or pick up on (really obvious) cues in conversations (like that “X is the top of the salary range”).

    Reply
    1. Kevin Sours*

      Most of that I’d shrug off, to be honest. People are bad at negotiating. They get bad advice and apply it unartfully. And there is a lot of bad salary information out there if you aren’t careful with your homework. Moreover, “not negotiable” usually does mean “not very negotiable”. Unless the role requires skill in negotiation I’d not worry about somebody faceplanting when they attempt it.

      The only thing I can’t get around is agreeing to the number in principle and blithely throwing that out at the last minute.

      Reply
  16. cncx*

    Yeah OP this isn’t negotiation, this is someone either operating in bad faith or otherwise not being above board.
    Just like AAM said, if this had been a situation where the salary definitely hadn’t been mentioned or clarified several times, then maybe the 30k counter could be seen in a more charitable light. But as someone who is job searching right now, i’ve noticed a lot of employers are lowballing BUT at the same time they’re being pretty transparent about what that number is, so i think it’s a thing in the pandemic to overcommunicate salary, which makes this all the more weird.
    Also like, if it’s an innocent mistake, it says something about the candidate’s listening skills or soft skills in workplace norms. I personally can’t think of a lot of fields rn (non niche ones) where x and 40k is an acceptable range for negotiation absent a significant skills/demand differental, in the jobs i’ve been looking at the wiggle room is closer to 20k.

    I think it’s so sweet that OP was being considerate about not wanting to be seen as pulling an offer over salary negotiation but like…this isn’t a negotiation and it sucks that the dialogue around this has gotten so skewed.

    Reply
  17. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

    OP: If they don’t fit in your budget, they don’t fit in your budget. That’s not a problem unless every candidate doesn’t fit; then you need a bigger budget or lower standards. Your call.

    I’m actually on the other side of the table; there’s an offer in place, but the benefits are pricey and bad (as in $0 out-of-network benefits and no in-network locations in my state bad). If not for the ACA, I’d be looking at declining them outright. I’m running the numbers and finding that the result is that the offer pays a little less post-withholding despite nominally paying more, and my break-even point is above their (stated) range.

    Do I just walk away?
    Quote a rate that pays for an ACA policy full-price and builds in enough premium for it being a multi-year contract-to-hire?
    Just endure and subsidize the situation for a few years and hope that the package is better as a direct employee someday?

    It’s hourly (with no OT premium), but until I’m in the building (figuratively), who knows if it’s 25 hours/week or 60. Role and spec-wise, it’s a C+ fit.

    Reply
    1. Sara without an H*

      I don’t know — the way you describe it, it doesn’t sound worth pursuing, unless you’re really miserable where you are.

      Reply
      1. CmdrShepard4ever*

        I agree with Sara better the devil you know in this situation. Just because you don’t take this offer does not mean you can’t keep looking and accept an offer down the line from a different position that pays better.

        I have a feeling I might be in your situation once I start looking for a job. My current salary is a bit below average, but the benefits are well above average. A 20k salary increase on paper might seem like a lot, but if the benefits are slightly to significantly worse I could end up with an effective pay cut.

        Reply
        1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

          unless you’re really miserable where you are.

          I am moderately miserable; I’m training up a new coworker and it involves going through basically everything that’s wrong, how to thwart everyone who casually hands you an opportunity to get fired on every project and how to thwart them. It’s all but cataloging every reason to jump ship.

          My current salary is a bit below average, but the benefits are well above average. A 20k salary increase on paper might seem like a lot, but if the benefits are slightly to significantly worse I could end up with an effective pay cut.

          Actually, the benefits where I am are bad and at least the top 3 complaints that management gets when requesting feedback. The only silver lining is that they’re cheap to buy into, but the other place is going from bad to wretched… for 12-36 months (unless I relocate on my own dime for an on-paper remote job; then they’re still pricier but have some benefit).

          I’m also mulling trying to negotiate a shorter contract-to-hire. I could live with rolling the die for having no de facto health insurance for 3 months easier than potentially 3 years.

          Reply
          1. CmdrShepard4ever*

            You may have already done this, but confirm there really are no in-network providers in your area. My insurance benefits are through an insurance company in the state my company is located. When searching for in-network providers the xyz insurance of narnia website does not show any in-network providers in westeros, what I have to do is search xyz insurance of westeros for in-network providers. Even though they only show up as in-network for xyz insurance of westeros they will be covered as in-network by my insurance xyz insurance of narnia. Your situation is likely different and you are proably right there are truly no covered providers in your state, but just wanted to flag it as another possibility.

            Reply
            1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

              Thank you for the suggestion; unfortunately, FuBar Insurance of Myhomelandia produced no results on Google. They’re truly restricted to just Otherlandia.

              I had ~5 minutes of hope, though!

              Reply
    2. Reba*

      Yes, talk to them about it if you are not comfortable just naming a rate that would cover your premium. Especially since you aren’t sure what the hours/take-home would be, having a monthly stipend or reimbursement account for healthcare could work well. The benefits being sucky (substitute professional term) is in bounds for negotiation. Making up for lack of insurance plans is a thing and there are a few ways they could do it. Who knows if they would spring for it, but I definitely think you can ask.

      Reply
      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        Negotiations have gotten far enough that I’m confident they’re going to throw money at the problem until I either accept or exhaust their budget. Then the onus will be upon me to provide that level of value.

        Needless to say, I’m not a big fan of long-term contract to hire.

        Reply
    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      Thank you, Sara, CmdrShepard4ever, and Reba. (And my sincere apologies if I’ve misspelled any of the alias.) I truly appreciate the advice and counsel.

      While trying to figure out my number and ACA compliance, the recruiter for another position I interviewed for and was not hired (not even interviewed in the final round) came back this morning asking if I’d be interested in a different direct placement within that company. The hiring manager even asked for me by name! Here’s hoping that call goes well and the insurance-without-benefits conversation ends up moot!

      Reply
  18. Harvey JobGetter*

    Eh, my wife and I both have jobs where we our starting salary was more than what we were told the max we could get was. I’m glad OP’s company tells candidates the truth about how much they will pay, but this situation is an externality of the fact that many, many companies do not tell the truth about that. Other than their attitude and approach to the issue, I don’t think this candidate acted inappropriately.

    That said, it sounds like this person was totally rude about it and also unwilling to hear “no we really meant that was the max” once he countered. So, because of that aspect of the story, it would be understandable to be unwilling to hire the person even if they accepted the lower salary. But the communication might have been clearer if the employer weren’t so shocked by what is normal behavior in a market where employer’s regularly hid their actual salary range.

    Reply
    1. Ro*

      I said this below before I read the comments. OP is doing the right thing by being transparent but so many employees are used to being messed around and then finding out the max, if they take it is not the true max. Especially if they are a person of colour or female (or both). How many times has a person of colour or a woman complained about a white man getting paid more for doing the same job and they are told “he negotiated better”. The hypothetical white man did nothing wrong by negotiating but if a woman or person of colour can’t do the same thing (there are studies that women or black people asking for the same things as a white guy are seen as being aggressive while the white guy is “assertive”) it is discrimination and it is training the more assertive people from these groups to ask for more early on regardless because they are always being told they need to negotiate better to excuse the pay gap.

      It is possible none of this applies to the candidate but it is a thing that happens.

      Reply
    2. Bernadette*

      Yeah, there’s a lot of complicated dynamics at play here. Maybe the recruiter or someone else gave the candidate the impression that there would be more room to negotiate. Maybe the job pays below market and the offer +40% is actually typical comp for this role. Maybe the candidate has gotten burned before when they were told they were getting the max and then found out their white and/or male colleagues were being paid more.

      I commend the OP for being transparent throughout the process, and I think the right move for the candidate would have been to raise this mismatch earlier (and self-select out if the issue is the salary being below market), but it’s hard to come down too hard on this person.

      Reply
    3. CatCat*

      I’m glad OP’s company tells candidates the truth about how much they will pay, but this situation is an externality of the fact that many, many companies do not tell the truth about that.

      Yes, this. I’ve been burned by this before. Of course, after I found out, I left the organization because F that.

      Reply
  19. Not A Manager*

    I try to walk away from a negotiation when it becomes clear to me that if the person accepted my latest offer without any additional negotiation, I would be disappointed. This tells me that something is off about the deal or about the relationship.

    In the LW’s case, it sounds like after they sent the offer letter a second time, if the candidate had said “haha I was kidding I’m happy to take the job,” they still would have had (understandable) reservations. If that’s true, then the time to “pull the offer” was before re-sending the offer letter. On the other hand, if the LW would have responded to the candidate accepting the job by thinking, “hey, they have moxie, but they know when to back down. I like that!” then re-sending the offer letter was fine.

    Reply
    1. Letter Writer*

      Yeah, this is a good read. After we sent the offer I had second thoughts—because, while the candidate said they wanted to review the offer and think about it, I did have strong reservations. If I ran into this again, I’d use the script Alison provided and just end it there.

      Reply
  20. Rachel*

    I had a similar thing happen to me in January but on the other side.
    I told the prospective new employer what I was looking for and they later came back with an offer that was $10k lower than my amount. During the interview process, they had agreed that my amount was in their range, so it was very strange to me. Kind of a blindside actually.
    When I emailed back to negotiate, they let me know that was the final offer and take it or leave it, so I left it.
    Up until then, the process had been very agreeable on both ends and I thought a good match. After my request for a higher salary, they got very less agreeable very quickly and it did seem that I dodged a bullet.

    Reply
    1. CmdrShepard4ever*

      It depends on the salary we are talking about, if the salary you asked for was 30k and they came in at 20k that is obviously a big difference, but if you asked for 80k and they came in at 70k it might not be that bad.

      A company saying your proposed salary is within our budget, is not that same as we agree to pay you the proposed salary. It could be that once you went through the interview process they saw that you did not match up with everything they wanted, or did not have the skills of someone they would normally pay your requested salary. But they would have been willing to pay the right candidate your requested salary of x.

      The same situation could apply in reverse. You initially agree to their range of 60 to 70 for a general llama groomer. During the interview process you learn that job really is more involved for a llama groomer, the job duties are more of a llama groomer 2, or senior llama groomer so you then realize you would need $80k in order to take the job. Another option is the benefits are worse than your current job, and you would end up having to pay more out of pocket for health insurance, so you need to ask for a higher salary.

      Reply
    2. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, bullet dodged. If they’re acting like this during the initial phase while they’re trying to convince you to work for them, I can only imagine hire they would act when you’re already there and requesting raises, bonuses, and promotions.

      Reply
    3. Vee*

      Yup, in my case a range was posted.

      I was invited to apply by a headhunter to a job and the range was £40,000 to £50,000 with a note new employees started at the bottom of range.

      I sent a note saying I was interested but under two conditions and I understood if they couldn’t meet them but they were non-negotiable for me so if they couldn’t meet them it was best we not waste each others time:

      1) They match my current salary of £47,000 instead of putting me at the bottom of the range.
      2) Flexible working was an option. It is common in my industry for a contract to be for say 40 hours a week and as long as you average that you can do the work when you want. You can literally sleep all day and work at 3am if you want. This is especially important to me due to chronic health issues. In my current role they don’t even keep track of your hours as long as you meet your deadlines (we have to log them but we’re salaried and they only seem to be looked at when someone is falling behind). About 50% of the jobs in my industry are on this basis so it is wise not to assume it will be this way but it often is.

      They said fine and offered me the job… on £40,000 while working 9-5. I went back and reminded them of my conversation and they said they couldn’t swing it. They were shocked when I turned down the job. A job I explicitly said I only wanted under two conditions that they said were OK.

      Reply
    4. An actuary*

      Omg something similar happened to me. What a waste of time!

      I was in a comfortable job and decided I was only willing to leave for a big raise. I live in a state where it is illegal to ask your salary history, so they just ask what your salary expectations are in the initial phone screen. I explained my target range, and we moved to the next round of interviews, so I assumed all was fine. They offered me the job, but they came in something like 15-20% lower than I’d told them my expectations were. It was very slightly higher than my current salary, but I was well aware that I was underpaid for my skill level compared to what I could get. I highly suspect they somehow found out my current salary from a background check or from talking around the industry, or just knowing the typical (low) salaries at the company I was at, but I can’t prove it. Anyway, I had zero interest in taking the job at this salary – wasn’t near worth the risk of leaving a job where I had a good reputation just for essentially the same salary. Plus, the fact that they let me get that far in the interview process when I’d stated my expectations up front really rubbed me the wrong way.

      Fortunately, I simultaneously was interviewing somewhere else, and that company offered me a 50% raise over my old salary (they went above and beyond what I’d listed as my expectations). Had company 1 not been SO far apart, I would have considered at least asking them to match or negotiating, but the lowball offer turned me off so much that I just turned them down outright.

      I was particularly annoyed that I’d taken several days off work to engage in multiple rounds of interviews, all for a job completely unaligned with my salary expectations, and that I would never have accepted at that salary level.

      Reply
  21. Ro*

    I get OP’s position and I would 100% be annoyed in her shoes.

    However, I suspect this is a symptom of the salary negotiation system. A lot of employers are bluffing when they say their max to try and get workers for the lowest possible salary and employees who accept it and find later their colleagues (usually white men) are paid more for the same job they are told “he negotiated better” while certain employees (especially woman and BAME people) do not feel as empowered to negotiate.

    I am not saying OP or her company do this sort thing and it sounds like OP at least is trying to be transparent (which all companies should do) but I can also see why in the current job market an employee would assume the maximum isn’t necessarily the maximum or not be able to tell which company is transparent vs which is trying it on. Some of how clear it is will depend on information I don’t have for example like is what OP is offering in line with market rate if it is it puts it in a different light than if they are offering below market rate which might make a prospective employee think it is a lowball. I know OP says it is competitive but I have also seen really low salaries described that way so is it really? And what the prospective employee is currently paid, like would she have to take a pay cut? Or is she angling for a massive rise on what she already makes?

    Just a rant on the job market which might explain the prospective employee’s thought process. If OP can’t match the employees expectations she is perfectly entitled to say she can’t offer more and that they are too far apart. If the prospective employee won’t leave her job for that sum that is her right, and if she did I would be concerned. If she wants that much more would she job hop first chance she got? OP was fully entitled to pull the offer but I can honestly see both sides and thought processes on this one and don’t think the prospective employee was completely outrageous.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Sours*

      The nuance is the timing. It’s not so much the amount or assuming that the maximum isn’t really the maximum but the bait and switch aspect of negotiating after agreeing to the salary. If the demand comes in response to the initial “Are you okay with salary $x?” or you respond with something like “That’s lower than what I was hoping for but I might be able to swing it for the right role” then it’s a different conversation.

      Reply
      1. Boof*

        I think there are different ways to negotiate without outright lying. I think it’s bad form for ANYONE in this process to lie; for companies to state their max offer that isn’t really a max, or for candidates to say they will or won’t consider something when the opposite is actually true.
        There’s ways of negotiating that aren’t outright saying you’re interested in something when you aren’t but are hoping they will change their mind later
        I agree though it’s currently too common and so worth taking the whole picture if this was a one time bad idea or more of an ingrained habit that might be a terrible culture fit anyway (if the candidate actually goes back and says well yes I was just seeing if you’d go higher I’ll take the current offer)

        Reply
  22. some dude*

    This is interesting because as an applicant I’ve been on the receiving end of this – the position (which had no salary range given) was looking to pay 40% less than seemed reasonable.

    it does sound like they didn’t want the job.

    Reply
    1. Nikki*

      Yep, I saw this recently with a position too. But the employer did everything possible to avoid giving their number first — including saying “I don’t know” when I asked in the interview and then emailing later to ask what my range was! :’)

      Still, when I did give my range and we were about 40% apart, they asked me if I wanted to proceed with interviews and I declined. I think that’s the more reasonable call rather than what this applicant did.

      Negotiating is tough. All in all, I’m glad OP is considering their actions and that their company is transparent about salary in the hiring process!

      Reply
  23. Meh...Working On It*

    We just had someone do this to us recently.

    They previously applied for a position and said they wanted $50k. They weren’t the right fit for that position.
    New position opens up and they apply. During phone screen we let them know that this position has a maximum salary of $62k. They say they understand.

    Moving them forward in the process, they have to fill out a formal application and say they would like a salary of $75k

    HR calls them to review that number and confirm that our maximum hasn’t changed and do they want to continue knowing this. Candidate says they didn’t want to lowball themselves so they’d put a higher number but are okay with our maximum.

    We continue in the process and decide to make them an offer. We offer them $62k.

    Candidate comes back and says they’d like a salary closer to $87k. We say thank you but we will need to stand firm with our original offer as it is the highest we can go and we have been clear about that from the beginning.

    Needless to say, they didn’t join us. I’m still baffled how they went from originally saying they want $50k to then saying $87k and thought that despite everything we said that we would simply jump up to their number.

    Reply
    1. The New Wanderer*

      I once applied to a position and put down something like $45k as my then-desired salary. Didn’t hear anything for a few months, and in the course of that time I finally finished my master’s degree. When I was later contacted by the company, they asked if I was still comfortable with $45k as my target and I explained that no, in the meantime I had gotten the degree and also done some better market rate research by then so would want to ask for at least $60k. It led to interviews and what might have been an offer except for a hiring freeze that summer, so I don’t know what they might have offered.

      A little later, I had two competing offers – one for $60k and one for $72k. I let the first company know about the second company’s offer to see what they could do. Turns out they couldn’t go up on salary (fixed bands) but could offer stock and a signing bonus to offset the difference.

      But I would never have asked for that big a jump without some kind of reason! I mean, I’ve asked “I was hoping for a little more” in the 5-10% range just to ask, and gotten a little bit of a bump that way. New credentials in the field, a surprisingly high competing offer, pointing out that the job requirements command a higher salary via market research, something like that to give it some context.

      Reply
  24. Elizabeth West*

    I just want to say thank you to the Letter Writer for being transparent about salary to begin with. Candidates are often expected to provide a desired salary amount with no idea how a company’s compensation is structured, little to no information about benefits, etc. We run the risk of low-balling or being seen as over-valuing ourselves. This is particularly bad if you’re already underpaid, and it really stinks to go through the whole process only to find out the pay is so low for the market it isn’t enough to keep a mouse alive.

    /mini-rant/ It shouldn’t be seen as bad to ask what the job salary is if they don’t disclose it right away. I’m tired of being judged for that. I need money! To live on! I don’t work for fun! (Also, if I’m coming in with a good deal more experience than your minimum, don’t throw a fit when I ask for the salary toward the top of your range.)
    /mini-rant over/

    I hope your company doesn’t let this candidate change your current practice, LW. It’s better for everyone for employers to be upfront about pay, even when stuff like this happens.

    Reply
  25. Sled dog mama*

    Man I felt ballsy asking for 8% more and a signing bonus (which was used for moving expenses) to be inline with industry standard. But 40%!!!! And presenting “I thought once you got to know me you’d come up” as justification. Yeah, no.

    Reply
  26. Former Retail Lifer*

    There have been plenty of times that I’ve bowed out of consideration when the stated salary range was too far from what I was looking for. While there may be some wiggle room if your maximum is just under my minimum, asking for 40% more than the maximum is just not realistic. I think this person didn’t want to leave their job unless the offer was significantly higher than what they currently make, so they through out a ridiculous number just to see what happened, figuring they didn’t have anything to lose. I’ve had job offers rescinded because I tried to negotiate, but this isn’t the case here. The salary was always clear.

    Reply
  27. lost academic*

    I don’t see this as a question about rescinding the offer. You made the offer and they countered with a number you can’t meet. Fine. You say that and let them decide. Offer stands, they can refuse. Is it frustrating because they secretly hoped you’d be able to do more and kept the conversation going for that reason? Absolutely. But I feel like saying “the offer is rescinded” is a little flouncey and unnecessary because the end result here is they don’t come work for you either way, why go to the trouble to act like you never made the offer?

    Reply
    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      But I feel like saying “the offer is rescinded” is a little flouncey and unnecessary because the end result here is they don’t come work for you either way, why go to the trouble to act like you never made the offer?

      Yep. If you rescind the offer, you just do so silently, and if they come back and try to accept the now-pulled offer, you just reply with a variation on “the position has been filled with someone whose salary needs align with our budgetary constraints.”

      Reply
  28. Boof*

    LW, you don’t even have to formally “pull the offer” so much as just state the offer is firm. Candidate won’t take it if they are being truthful.
    Now, if you want to actually pull the offer because you don’t like the candidate lying (and they are lying, not negotiating at this point – either they were lying about being willing to consider the salary you were very clear about or they’re lying now about not being willing to consider that) – that’s ok too. But it’d be pulled not for negotiating, but for lying in the attempt.

    Reply
  29. staceyizme*

    It would be interesting to know if OP’s salary band is on par with similarly situated positions for the industry and area? Because I can imagine someone coming in and kicking the upper end of the band over if the requested work quality/ quantity/ skillset weren’t aligned with the offer. (Not by 40 percent, in all likelihood!) Maybe you DON”T have room in terms of salary, but is it reasonable for the position in your area?

    Reply
  30. Trout 'Waver*

    Companies low-balling job seekers and saying that salaries are inflexible when they are in fact flexible are so overwhelming common in job seeking that you can’t really fault the applicant for anything in this.

    There’s ton of wasted time on both sides of job hunting, so just take the L and move on to the next prospective candidate.

    Reply
    1. An actuary*

      Completely agree, I just commented something similar. You can’t fault a candidate for assuming this company will act the way many other companies act.

      Reply
  31. Pockey*

    Agreed with the comments that this isn’t rescinding an offer because the offer is being rejected. I honestly wouldn’t be too put off. Even though LW was great in making in clear that the role offers “X” amount with little wiggle room, interview processes take time (unless this was a quick hire) and alot can happen in 3 months so I don’t think it was necessarily bad faith to assume budgets could change and they would be able to negotiate more later on in the process. However I do think expecting to be able to negotiate 40% more is a very big stretch. I wouldn’t be trying to ask for that amount unless the job description had a lot more or different responsibilities than originally listed or due to team dynamics this person would have a lot more responsibility than can accurately be depicted in the description.

    Reply
  32. An actuary*

    I think part of the problem is that many employers *do* have more wiggle room than they indicate during the early part of the interview process. For example, maybe the initial budget is for “Widget Analyst” and that falls into Salary Band 1 which has a range of 50,000-70,000 depending on experience/skills with 70,000 being a hard maximum. But a candidate interviews who has more knowledge and experience than is typical, and once you get to know them, you’re able to discuss with HR and/or senior leaders at the company and get the opening remapped to a “Senior Widget Analyst” which is in Salary Band 2 which has a range of 65,000-100,000. In the initial phone screens etc. the interviewer may not have any intention of remapping the opening to Band 2, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen.

    From the candidate’s perspective, it’s hard to know when companies are being completely honest vs. when they’re being “mostly honest” but not expressing 100% the flexibility there might be. The flexibility might even be beyond the scope of the phone interview’s role/knowledge! Maybe HR *has* mapped it to Band 1 and said they won’t move it, but if the candidate then interviews the CEO, or interviews with a hiring manager who is particularly impressed and goes and appeals the case to the CEO, well, the CEO has the power to override what HR initially planned.

    All that said, I agree being unaligned on salary is a completely valid reason to “rescind the offer” – and like you said, it’s not really rescinding the offer. It’s just saying, this number is our final number, and unfortunately if you can’t accept it we’ll need to move onto other candidates, best of luck in your search.

    Reply
  33. agnes*

    The candidate may have previously interviewed or worked in an environment where lowballing is common. This happens a lot in smaller organizations–especially those that are family owned and/or run. Those organizations often don’t have HR people or much experience hiring, and they do wild and crazy things when they hire people.

    In fact, I never even had anyone tell me a “salary band” for a position until I went to work for a nonprofit that received federal funds. I’ve almost always been pushed to name a figure first. “salary commensurate with experience” is a code phrase for “we want to pay you as little as possible and we hope you don’t know what anybody else like you is making elsewhere.”

    Most of America works in small business, so this is a big issue. Given that and the general reticence we have about discussing what we get paid, it’s a wonder anybody gets paid a fair wage.

    Reply

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