why ask my salary expectations if you’re not going to meet them?

A reader writes:

I had a recent situation that left me pretty frustrated, but now I’m wondering if I was just completely unrealistic in my expectations of how salary conversations go.

Backstory: I applied for a role, which stated the salary range in the job listing (required by law in my state). The range had a $40,000 difference, for example, $60,000 to $100,000. During the initial HR phone screen, the recruiter asked what my salary expectations were. I gave them my floor, which was $90,000, about $10,000 under the top of their stated range. I even acknowledged that and said something along the lines of, “I know that’s right up to the top of the range.”

Fast forward two months and four more interviews (this was for an individual contributor role, not a manager), and I get a job offer. I’m thrilled … except the offer is for $80,000, which is $10,000 less than what I told the recruiter was my floor. I was polite on the phone, but asked if there was any wiggle room on the salary. The recruiter acknowledged that she’d told the hiring manager my salary expectations, but that they wanted to go with this offer instead because it was the middle of the range. She said there wasn’t wiggle room but that I would be eligible for a raise soon.

I politely declined the offer, citing salary reasons. The recruiter then emailed me to ask how far off we were on the salary. I’m baffled, because shouldn’t they know given our earlier conversations about salary expectations? In the end, I got an offer from a different company and accepted that, but I’m wondering if this whole salary negotiation situation is normal?

Do companies assume our stated salary expectations aren’t real? I understand equity considerations, but then why even post a range if you’re not willing to negotiate within that range? Or do you think there was another candidate who they felt would accept their offer … but then why waste my time?

Yeah, it’s BS.

And believe me, if the roles were reversed — if they told you up-front that the salary was $X and you went through the whole interview process, only to say at the end that $X was a deal-breaker for you — they wouldn’t be happy. [To be fair, there’s some nuance there; it would be different if you said, “After learning more about the role, I’d be looking for $Y because (reasons).” Just as it would also be different here if they’d given you some explanation of why they were coming in lower than the salary you’d named as your minimum.]

But yet this is a thing that happens. Sometimes it’s because they’re assuming that what you say is your floor isn’t really your floor, or that you’ll be more flexible if their benefits are good. Sometimes they were open to the number you named but after fully evaluating your candidacy, they genuinely believe $X is a fair offer that positions you correctly within their salary structure, even though they’re aware you might not accept it. Sometimes the recruiter isn’t even passing along your salary expectations at the beginning or not flagging it enough or at the right time. Sometimes they just suck at handling salary discussions.

Ultimately, the thing to remember is that when you name a number early on, the fact that the employer moves you forward doesn’t mean they’re agreeing to meet that number. They’ll probably flag it if you’re wildly out of their ballpark, but otherwise they may be assuming your number comes with an implicit “somewhere around here, give or take.”

{ 283 comments… read them below }

  1. The Original K.*

    This happened to me a few years ago – I’d been asked to select a range as part of the application, so everyone I spoke with knew what I was after. When they made me the offer it was $10K under the bottom of the range I’d selected. I turned them down. When I spoke with a former HR colleague afterward she said it was “bad HR” on the org’s part.

    1. Wilbur*

      This is all part of the problem. You can’t give them your real floor, because they’ll always offer a bit under that. They know this, and will thus always offer a bit less than the floor.

  2. Chairman of the Bored*

    I prefer the phrasing of “Well, I’ve turned down other offers for $90,000” or whatever your floor is.

    This sets your expectation as the *actual minimum* you will accept, but doesn’t rule out the possibility of that number being higher after you learn more.

    1. Anonys*

      But that implies that OP would turn down an offer at 90,000, which is not the case (I understood they would accept at 90,000 min) and it also doesn’t give any indication of what OP WOULD find acceptable. If someone says to be “Ive turned down other offers for 90,000”, i would be likely to assume that say, 92,000 would also be too little for them (since moa lot of people don’t reject offers over 2k).

      This phrasing is just not really useful info and I also think saying “I’ve turned down as other offers” comes across a bit – arrogant/show-offish? Best to be straightforward and say: “I wouldn’t accept an offer for less than 90,000”. Or “Looking at your range, I would need at the top end of your range (90,000 to 100,000) to consider an offer – does it make sense to keep talking?”

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Agreed. “I’ve turned down other offers” has an evil boss-type ring to it. A la “I’ve turned down other employees who asked for half of what you are asking!” or “I’ve turned down contracts that pay three times this amount!” I can’t think of an occasion when one might use the phrase in a positive way or in a way that could be interpreted as positive.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Yeah I actually don’t like that OP named their absolute floor there. I don’t think that was the right move. Give the number you *want* and keep your floor private so you know when to walk away.

        1. ferrina*

          Yeah, this is what I’ve had best luck with. I say I’m looking for “around $X”t, but I give myself wiggle room (I would be fine with 5k less). I’ve also found that if you tell a company “the least I would accept is $X”, most of them will offer $X. I’ve only ever had one company come back and offer me more than the number I named.

        2. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

          And the company may have assumed that was what she did and that’s why they offered $80.

        3. BubbleTea*

          This kind of nonsense is one reason I’m glad I’ve always worked in sectors where salaries are fixed, included in the advert, and not negotiable. If you ask me a question, I’ll answer it honestly. I’m not playing mind games and trying to second guess what you’ll assume I really meant, it’s not how my brain works.

          1. Vg*

            Ok but a lot of people DO behave more strategically. How is a firm to know that you’re being honest and not strategic?

            1. Flower*

              maybe if we all just assume that people say what they mean, the expectation will shift and people will just say exactly what they mean.

              I dunno, I’m with BubbleTea. playing guessing games isn’t how I want to be or am comfortable communicating.

      3. New Mom (of 1 7/9)*

        Yes, if the salary really is a line in the sand, I think the two phrasings that Anonys suggested make a lot more sense. I find the “I’ve turned down offers in the past” phrasing confusing.

      4. JAnon*

        Agree. I tend to tell recruiters “I would be looking for at least X to make a move.” I feel like it gives me room to negotiate based on benefits and what I learn about the role, but also gives a bottom number so that they can tell me if that is prohibitive. I did that for my current role, the recruiter gave the company a range and they came in at the middle of the range which was slightly higher than my ‘bottom.’ When I asked to see benefit details and costs, I negotiated to the top of the range she gave to make up for a higher insurance premium. It doesn’t always work like that, but I think making it more flexible in the beginning does help.

        1. Nica*

          Yes, I used to work in an industry where “poaching” by recruiters was pretty common, so I’d get a lot of calls. Generally before they finished their first sentence, I’d say “I’m wouldn’t consider a move unless the position paid at least $XX per year.” That stopped about 90% of them in their tracks. No one wanted to waste time if the salary offered and the salary required were disparate.

          1. SJ Coffee Adict*

            I always do this. If I am happy at my job, and someone is trying to recruit me, I make it clear that I won’t move for less than a 15% bump in pay. That is not a negotiating tactic, that is actually my bottom line. It’s hard to leave a place where your work product is known and you’ve already proven yourself a worthy employee.

      5. OP*

        OP here! I didn’t go into too much detail in my letter to Alison, but I will just note that I did very much say something along the lines of, “I need to be between 90,000 to 100,000, with 90,000 as my floor. I understand that’s near the top of your range.” when I spoke to the recruiter. I felt I was pretty clear, but I guess not?

        1. Nobby Nobbs*

          No, that’s pretty clear. You just ran into the classic problem of dealing with other people: you can be as clear as humanly possible, and they can still choose to misunderstand.

          1. No Longer Gig-less Data Analyst*

            “you can be as clear as humanly possible, and they can still choose to misunderstand:

            I need this needlepointed on a throw pillow.

            1. Seeking Second Childhood*

              That just threw me into a rabbit hole looking for a months-old tweet from Dani Donovan (ADHD Comics):
              “the neurodivergent urge to over-explain things in an attempt to avoid any potential miscommunication because you’ve felt misunderstood your entire life so now it’s really important to you that everyone knows exactly where you’re coming from at all times and even if you know you’re repeating yourself and got to the point a long time ago you can’t help but reiterate everything because you’ve had so many bad past experiences that you will do whatever your brain deems necessary to avoid the possibility of someone misinterpreting what you were actually trying to say”

        2. House On The Rock*

          You were more than clear. I’ve screened/interviewed/hired a number of people at a public sector organization that has somewhat depressed salaries. If a candidate said that to me and I knew HR would likely come in under $90k I’d set that expectation and see if they wanted to move forward.

        3. Also-ADHD*

          It’s very clear. I just went through a job search (and similar range, actually) and said basically the same thing and was offered above my range in both of my offers. (And yes, some processes ended at that discussion early on, at the first call, which is fine.)

          As Alison says, there are reasons they might counter later they don’t offer your range (even if it’s in the budget) just like a candidate may want more based on what they learn, but it doesn’t sound like any of that fits here, you were vague, etc. They were just hoping to hook you lower than you stated.

        4. SJ Coffee Adict*

          I don’t think you could have been any clearer. That was a them problem, not a you problem. So sorry they wasted your time in interviews after you told them that, what a PITA.

      6. Inkognyto*

        I agree you need to use no ambiguity, just firm facts. You don’t want it get into an emotional show.

        I’ve had them tell me they don’t bring anyone in above mid range in the salary band, and I needed higher. I then tell them thanks for the offer but also you should look to change your wording to “starting salaries are $65k to $80k.

        I also had a frank conversation recently with an internal recruiter that just was clueless on the market for the skillset needed. Salary was brought up at the end of the phone screen, and then I said I didn’t want to go further. They seemed shocked, and asked why. I told them.

        This requires a certification that sets the min salary around this band, and then add in a 10+ year experience requirement and you are offering a salary as if I’m a recent graduate with no cert or experience. Also it’s remote work and companies are paying from across the U.S. for similar skillsets for twice as much on average.

        I then replied that this job has been un-filled for a year because of that. Wished them good luck.

    2. Person from the Resume*

      But if you haven’t turned down any other offers for $90K, you’re lying.

      Plus not every role/position is equal. A person can reasonably can turn down $200K offer because it would have required 75 hour work weeks and being on call all the time, but would accept a $75K role that was a strict 40 – 45 hour week with no on call.

      A person’s salary limitations are dependent on the job they applying for.

  3. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    One thing that stands out to me – OP’s salary expectation was given to the recruiter during a phone screen. So the recruiter could have not written it down, or written it down incorrectly, or lost it, or not passed it along. Maybe they were just listening for a number inside their range, and never intended to use that during the offer process.

    1. The Terrible Tom*

      Yes, but there’s the problem.

      I figured offering 80k, even though it was below the floor, that actually seems okay to me. (Although that’s a grey area, because offering 60k, or even 70k, I would look askance at. And others might have a different take on what’s the okay lowest offer here.) But then to ask, “How much too low is it?” when they should already know, that’s when it gets to be like, “You guys really need to keep better notes and share them amongst yourselves throughout the process, otherwise what are you doing?”

      1. Czhorat*

        $10K below the floor – jsut about 11% in this case – is a lot. It can be the difference between being able to afford to pay your mortgage or not.

        Also, if they aren’t willing to pay more than the “middle” of the range then the range isn’t really 60-100 but is effectively 60 to 80

        1. Fikly*

          And that 80k is based on a theoretical raise they may be eligible for that 100% will not actually happen. It’s all lies.

          1. CommanderBanana*

            Ahhh yes the old “you’ll be eligible for a raise soon*” gambit.

            *unless the budget changes, our sales projections fall, your manager changes, your manager’s manager changes, HR changes, we put off reviews for a year, we pretend we never told you that…….blah blah blah. Also, “eligible for a raise” doesn’t mean you’ll get any raises you’re eligible for.

            Honestly, for me it would not even be that the number was too low, it’s that they thought I was naïve enough to take “eligible for a raise” as anything other than the bullshit it is.

            1. Dasein9 (he/him)*

              Right? Why would anyone take a job where they’re not eligible for a raise in the future? That seems like the very lowest of bars.

              1. MigraineMonth*

                I had the weirdest conversation with my hiring manager before I started where he said I was qualified for the senior-level position, but he’d have to fill out more paperwork, so tried to sell me on the benefits of the junior position. Specifically, that I’d be eligible for a raise within six months of starting, and maybe even a promotion… to the senior position.

                I asked him to please start the paperwork for the senior position.

            2. Distracted Procrastinator*

              It would also be rare for that raise to be enough to make that $10k difference. Usually 5% is a good raise and that wouldn’t have put them at $90k.

              1. Orora*

                I was just gonna say this. OP would need to get a 13% raise to get them to $90k. That is highly unlikely.

          2. Salty Caramel*

            Either that raise or they dangle a potential performance bonus in front of you when it’s almost impossible to get it.

        2. amoeba*

          Eh, I mean, they might be willing to pay more for a different candidate, that’s why there’s a range in the first place!

          1. Sloanicota*

            This is always the wildcard question. Would they *really* have been willing to pay more for an actual breathing candidate, or is that the price they would imaginarily offer some sort of living demigod with a degree in accounting, but never offer anyone who applied? OP can’t answer that, the company would have to do some soul searching that they have no real incentive to do. If they had actual objections to OP’s expertise, that’s fair (and simply means OP made the right call stepping away) – but it doesn’t sound like they raised that at all.

            1. ferrina*

              Yes, this!

              I have worked under certain executives who had this kind of thinking- they imagined they would offer top of range to someone, but they magically found reasons not to offer it to actual candidates. Slightly wrong expertise, not sure if the person will stay, etc. The only person that I ever saw get the top of range was a personal friend of the VP.

              1. CommanderBanana*

                “not sure if the person will stay”

                So we’ll underpay them and that will make them…not leave?

                I really wonder about the interior of C-level brains sometimes.

            2. Camelid coordinator*

              I was once hiring an associate director when I was the director, and the HR folks mentioned how high they could go for an extraordinary candidate. I politely pointed out this number was higher than my salary. To her credit my boss was going to tackle how low my salary was but then COVID came and I left a couple years later.

            3. OP*

              OP here! Just adding some details that I didn’t include in the letter.

              I did very much say something along the lines of, “I need to be between 90,000 to 100,000, with 90,000 as my floor. I understand that’s near the top of your range.” when I spoke to the recruiter.

              And my previous role was a director level, so the context of our salary convos was along the lines of “will the posted salary range be acceptable to you?” considering I was earning more. Hence my reply about range and my floor.

          2. LCH*

            Maybe, unless this was the full range for the position and not the range for the starting salary. I’ve applied to places that have a large range, but will never hire someone new above the midpoint. Usually university staff positions.

            1. bamcheeks*

              Yeah, I do think it’s a significant problem with ranges that some people read them to mean “we’ll pay a starting salary o between £X-Y based on what you’re bringing to the role” and some people read them to mean “this is what we’ll pay for the position, we have some flexibility depending on what you’re bringing but you’ll max out at £Y+CoL”.

            2. Anonymous For This One*

              Universities are famous for this. It’s largely because you don’t generally get a merit raise, and if they bring you in at the very top of the salary, you’re not going to get more than 1-3% as you’re at the ceiling for that position. The crappy part about the large range is that it looks like there’s opportunity at the top end, when as you say, it’s really the midpoint that’s the cap.

            3. TME*

              I came here to say this. I was in this position as a hiring manager. HR screened the candidate and the salary ask was w/in our budget and range. When the offer went to compensation, they came back low and wouldn’t budge. There was nothing I could do.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          I went on one interview arranged by a recruiter because the recruiter really pushed me to give the company a chance. Even though I pointed out we weren’t aligned on salary, they wanted on-call coverage, and it honestly seemed like a bad fit. So I prepared for the interview, did my research on the company, and asked the least-magical of all interview questions: “What have you changed about sales practices since the State of California found you liable for fraud and racial discrimination three years ago? Nothing? Bold choice.”

          I was genuinely surprised they came through with an offer. My recruiter seemed genuinely surprised that I turned it down, even though it was $10k below my floor and I’d said it seemed like a terrible fit (even before I found out it was basically head office for an MLM).

          …and that was the last time I worked with a recruiter.

        4. Also-ADHD*

          Also it starts the hiring relationship off somewhat sour in many cases. I’m sure it depends, but it’s not ideal to offer someone a salary they take begrudgingly. So someone in LW’s salary range, if that indicates they’re specialized, you probably don’t want coming on board with that hanging over it. That’s my take, but I guess I also work in an area connected to employee experience essentially so I’m likely a bit biased.

        5. Miette*

          OMG THIS! Salary bands do not equate to the salary range you’re hiring within. I worked somewhere that just could not understand this from a candidate’s pov and we lost out on some very good people. If your goal is to hire in the middle of the band, then advertise that as the salary, not the entire spectrum.

      2. Salty Caramel*

        $10K below the stated floor isn’t okay. The LW clearly stated what the floor was. They didn’t say, “I can work within the $80 – $100K range,” implying that $80 would be acceptable.

        The recruiter should have had their shit together .

        1. The Meat Embezzler*

          You assume that recruiters are responsible for making the offers, they aren’t. The hiring manager is. The recruiter could’ve passed along OP’s salary information to the HM and this is still what the HM still decided to offer. We’ll never know.

          1. Salty Caramel*

            Your assumption about my assumption is incorrect. While the hiring manager decides what to offer, it’s up the recruiter to communicate the numbers AND the context.

            In my opinion, the conversation should have gone something like this: “I know you asked for $90K, but they can only offer $80K is there any way you can consider that?”

          2. MigraineMonth*

            It’s the recruiter’s response (“How far off are we on salary?”) that makes it seem like the recruiter isn’t on the ball. If they’d passed on the exact same offer while acknowledging the context that it was $10k below LW’s stated floor, they wouldn’t have seemed clueless.

          3. Also-ADHD*

            It’s not necessarily the recruiter or the HM honestly. They may both be involved, but neither usually sets the number.

    2. darlingpants*

      This is reminding me of a job I’m glad I didn’t get, where the recruiter and I did a prep where she got me to agree to ask for $75k, in the day between that and the hiring manager interview I did some more research and decided I should ask for $85k, so I did and then both of them got mad at me for bumping the salary ask. If you wanted me to say the exact same thing to both people, then why ask me again?

  4. vox*

    on the salary expectations. i think a lot of people think of expectations as a guideline not an absolute minimum. as in “i expect to make $90k…” so it’s reasonable to continue to discussion if that’s in the ball park. then when they decide to make an offer it should be “we’ve discussed it, and with x benefits we offer and x flexibility or whatever and x experience you have, we’re offering 80k”. if you’d expressed it as a minimum salary i bet they wouldn’t have made an offer. and i also think that most people when asked what the expect to make choose a number higher than their absolute minimum in the hopes they’ll get it, and would be upset to know if the amount offered wasn’t exactly that or higher they’d be dropped from consideration. salary expectation is setting a goal, not defining a boundary, in my opinion. they’re making a job offer – that’s the opening bid in a negotiation. so dont be super upset if it’s not under what you declared as a preference. counter.

    1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      “if you’d expressed it as a minimum salary i bet they wouldn’t have made an offer.”
      But the OP did. They said $90k was their “floor” which IS a minimum salary.

      1. Sloanicota*

        My guess is that subtlety got lost in the later discussion, they just remembered OP was good at about 90K. My suggestion for future would be not to name your floor, name your median acceptable wage and say “about 100K is what I’m looking for” because of the stickiness of the first number given.

    2. K*

      I think you’re misunderstanding OP’s complaint. He’s annoyed that the recruiter asked him how far off they were after he’d already told them. He’s annoyed about not being listened to.

    3. OP*

      OP here! Just want to clarify that I did very much say my range was $90k-$100k, and that $90k was my floor. And when I received the verbal offer over the phone, I asked if there was room to negotiate (acknowledgment that the offer was below my floor) and was told no, but that a raise would be offered later.

  5. Falling Diphthong*

    They wanted to go with this offer instead because it was the middle of the range.
    This is an objectively funny mode of settling on salary, and certainly to share with the person being offered the salary. “This number is just… it’s so middle! We like middles.”

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Yeah, they ~technically~ followed the “it would also be different here if they’d given you some explanation of why they were coming in lower than the salary you’d named as your minimum” rule, but their explanation was laughably bad.

      An explanation along the lines of “we generally offer $90k and up to candidates with XYZ experience (that the letter-writer doesn’t have)” would have been much better.

      1. Czhorat*

        And that would make sense.

        I could see if I didn’t get a higher salary because I lack a particular skillset that the employer needed me to have. That’s reasonable, even if didappointing.

        “We’d rather be in the middle” is nonsense-speak.

      2. Sloanicota*

        Right. They presumably didn’t say “OP is a middle-of-the-range candidate, so that’s why we feel the middle of the range salary is right.” Ideally they’d set the range based on the actual candidates under consideration – and most companies don’t offer jobs to their middle candidate – but I’m guessing it was a scale where the top of the range was an ideal beyond what any candidate offered.

    2. Chairman of the Bored*

      However, I bet if the applicant asks if they are want somebody who will just do average work the company will say they expect excellence for that deliberately middle-of-the-road salary.

    3. Pizza Rat*

      I’ve been told by an HR team that they never start anyone’s pay above the midpoint of a posted range.

      My answer to that is, “Post the actual range you’re willing to pay.”

      1. Sloanicota*

        That drives me nuts as a philosophy. Why list the bigger end of the range at all, other than because you’re hoping (as in this case) to lure someone in and then counting on the sunk cost fallacy to kick in and have them accept this job at the end of a long process.

        1. Robert in SF*

          I agree, that is so frustrating and manipulative, as well as dishonest.

          I once briefly discussed this topic with an HR person on social media who has posted a video about salary ranges, comp ratios and what they mean, and offers and merit increases.

          Specifically, I brought up companies determining the ranges for a position, especially for those posting some huge range (80K-140K, for example). I asked if anyone had ever been offered or had *ever* attained that high end, and he laughingly replied that no, no one ever got that amount, but that no one ever got the low end either!

          I laughed myself and gave up discussing that topic with him considering how out of touch he must be if he thinks that no one gets the bottom of the range. And that somehow that balances out that no one would ever get near the top either…so it must be OK if the published range isn’t accurate at all. :(

          I just don’t understand setting a range that no one *will* ever attain, since the company/HR/Finance/whoever would refuse to even entertain giving someone that much salary no matter how good they are.

          1. Generic Name*

            I feel like companies that post absurdly large ranges like that are doing that because they must comply with the letter of the law in states like Colorado that require salary ranges. It’s a way to “comply” without actually revealing what the job pays.

            1. Ashley*

              We have posted large ranges because my boss is flexible on the role and will take someone with 2 years of experience and the role will look completely different then if you have 15 years of experience. I don’t love it, but I do get it in some instances. I try to include the nuance in the posting though, and one of the crazy range postings is still up after several months with very few viable candidates applying because it really is a tough to fill position.

              1. Also-ADHD*

                This happens commonly in my field, because the ideal skillset people want is a bit unicorn. But it’s usually clay that’s what’s happening, from my perspective. Of course there’s also the companies posting ads for unicorns at half market rate.

        2. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

          Sometimes its pressure to post the full range “just in case” there’s a candidate that they’d be willing to pay at the high end (to which I’ve said, we can cross that bridge IF we get there). I’ve also gotten pushback from current employees when they see their title posted and are like, “but my salary is higher than that, am I being demoted?” (Yes, I’m serious.) (The answer was, no, you aren’t, you make more because you’ve been here since X and we are recognizing internal organization experience!)

        3. Rose*

          Which is insanely stupid, because people often have other jobs/offers in the range they state, or know they can get them. Some people love to waste other people’s time.

      2. Watry*

        I imagine they’d only be willing to pay at the midpoint of that, like some sort of salary Zeno’s paradox.

    4. Cat Tree*

      A lot of people weirdly think that the middle is better so you have room for raises down the road. I don’t know if the employers just fundamentally misunderstand math, or they’re trying to be tricky and hope that candidate misunderstands math. But it’s weirdly common.

      I will say that having little room for future raises *would* give me pause about accepting an offer. But starting at a too-low salary would definitely make me turn down the offer.

      1. Peter the Bubblehead*

        If I were to see a job listing stating, “Starting salary $60k to $80k,” it would never occur to me that if I stayed in that job long enough I would never see above $80k with raises.
        “Starting salary” is just that… where you are starting. If I started at $78k, I would have a conniption if my company told me two years later, “You’ve reached $80k. You can never get a raise here ever again no matter how long you work for us.”

        1. Orv*

          You do run into this in the public sector where jobs have defined salary bands. It’s possible to get “capped out” and not be eligable for anything but cost-of-living raises unless you switch jobs or the position is reclassified.

          1. Peter the Bubblehead*

            That’s just it though. A salary band in a public sector (or in my case government contractor) job is a salary band. It isn’t advertised as “starting salary.” When you go into the interview they will say, “If you are hired you will be brought aboard as a Tech III. A Tech III earns between $20 and $25 an hour depending on qualifications and experience.” You know if you accept the job and NEVER get a promotion, you will never make above $25 an hour. However, those positions are also often multiple levels. “We’ll hire you as a Tech III. If your work is good, you can expect to be promoted to Tech IV within your first year – where the pay band is $24 to $29 an hour – and perhaps even a Tech V within five years – where the pay band if $28 to $38 an hour.”

      2. Rose*

        I don’t think there is actually any math to understand here. Companies are just hoping you won’t think about your salary too hard.

    5. House On The Rock*

      This could also be a bad explanation of how they determine salaries. My organization has frustratingly wide salary bands and also guidelines about offering within X% of the midpoint of that range based on a number of factors (candidate’s qualifications, salaries within a department for that role, etc.). I can see a recruiter garbling this and saying something nonsensical about “it’s the middle, they decided on the middle!”.

    6. Morgen*

      Exactly! So the hiring manager has limited critical thinking skills (it’s just in the middle, so let’s pick that!), isn’t up front about their expectations (this role was for $80k, it was never for 60-100k), isn’t able to comprehend relevant factors or adjust to the actual situation in front of them (experience, knowledge, and fit of the candidate should impact the offer, as well as their clearly stated salary expectation), and won’t accept input from people in their organization with more subject matter expertise than them (the recruiter reminding them of the candidates floor). I don’t want to work for that person anyway!

  6. CR*

    I wouldn’t have gone through all the interviews without asking what the salary was actually going to be. Especially for a job with such a big range.

    1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

      This is hard, though! Having that salary info up front is very new. I feel like there’s still a lot of coyness in the actual interviewing process about basics like money, benefits, PTO, etc. I do think candidates are dinged for asking about it too early, but if you leave it to late nobody is happy, either. I feel like we are culturally stuck in this fiction of gentlemen looking for work that is worthy of their time and intellect, with the money being a plebian and secondary concern.

      1. Sloanicota*

        It’s a big range, but I’ve seen worse. In states where naming the range has become the law, I’ve seen jobs post things like “40K-150K” for all their jobs. (To be fair, I guess that’s still more information than job seekers had before the law passed, but it’s obviously not in the spirit of the legislation).

      2. Pizza Rat*

        There is definitely a lot of coyness and it’s frustrating as all hell. I took a job once that had a decent salary but the insurance costs were so high I didn’t have much left over for saving or fun after all the bills were paid.

        Some places seem to get offended if you ask to see the insurance benefits and costs before you decide on an offer, and more are unwilling to share them. That’s a problem for anyone with chronic conditions, at high risk for cancer, or needs drugs from a specialty pharmacy.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I have experienced this. They’ll say “we offer good insurance!” you ask for information on the insurance and then send you something, usually a one-pager, but it’s not really the nitty gritty details you would need to make a decision in your specific case. You go back to them and ask for a more complete documentation and they start getting weird that you’re still hedging and haven’t answered their offer yet. They thought you’d be excited to accept and were hoping you could start right away, etc. It’s weird because the differences can be huge in terms of your final take home pay. I hate that our system is set up this way – salary numbers are so confusing that only when I look at my first paycheck do I actually understand what I make (and even then, not until after the year’s tax return is filed, really).

          1. Coverage Associate*

            Agreed. I had a whole spreadsheet of all my offers, considering all benefits, during my last job search. Besides the health insurance plans offered by the employers, I also crunched the numbers on the insurance costs if we did an exchange plan for my husband, rather than employer sponsored. (Exchange was always more expensive.) I had the dubious benefit of being confident we would meet almost any deductible, but it would have been impossible if I couldn’t predict our healthcare costs.

            Because of our high healthcare costs, we itemize, and I was nevertheless getting nervous we would owe taxes for the first time ever as I reviewed the 1099s in addition to the W2s. My pay stubs still show my HSA contributions on 3 lines. They take it out of my gross pay and add it in and take it out again. And we are still in a cash crunch as we await the first 3 paycheck month and meeting the deductible. (Next year, we will plan for the higher out of pocket healthcare costs in the early part of the year.)

          2. Garblesnark*

            Yes! Multiple times I’ve responded to “we have good insurance!” with “what is the premium, deductible, and out of pocket max?” or “how can I access the formulary?” and it turned out that “good” was …all the information available. Or they weren’t sure they couldn’t tell me any of that. But someone once told them it was good!

        2. No Longer Looking*

          It doesn’t help that many companies just randomly change their insurance provider and plan every year. I finally found a doctor I didn’t hate who works for a large provider group, and as of January the entire provider group (a major player in my area, no less) is no longer covered by my new insurance.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      Right but if you say $90k and they decide to proceed, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to assume they were fine with that number.

      They also may not know what the number is at the phone screen stage. Allison gave the example of a candidate coming back with a different number after hearing what the job actually entails at the interview, and we’ve also seen examples of employers offering more/less once someone’s experience is actually fleshed out beyond what’s on the resume.

      1. Umami*

        This was my thought. Someone cans ask for a higher number, but once it goes to compensation and their credentials are evaluated, the number might come out lower (e.g. candidate has the required qualifications but missing some preferred ones like a higher degree or additional experience that would garner them a higher salary). As a hiring manager, I know what the range is and can usually eyeball where compensation will land, but until they do the evaluation, I can’t guarantee the candidate will get their desired salary. But I personally would rather get an offer and see if there’s wiggle room if it’s too low than to not be considered at all.

    3. Adam*

      Though often they’ll just give you back the range in the job ad, or maybe a narrower range. I know that at my company, the offer is based partially on how well you did in the interviews, so we don’t know at the start how much an offer would be at the beginning of the process.

    4. Peter the Bubblehead*

      I work a job that is part of a Federal SCA contract. SCA employees by law must be paid a minimum amount – based on job title and location – which is published county by county. There is a band range of salary (just as an example: $29.75 to 34.77 per hour), but since we’re under a federal contract, awarded pretty much always to the lowest bidder, everyone’s salary is at the low end of that range, and we never get raises unless the SCA band gets raised. The band in the county where I work has not been raised in the last five years which means – with current inflation rates – my actual paycheck value has decreased 10 to 20%.

    5. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      I think this is probably what people should do, or (if it’s a large company) ask how many people in the position make $100k and/or what the criteria are. Not just “if we think you’re great” but what they’re looking for specifically in terms of experience, etc.

    6. Beth*

      When you’ve been given a salary range for the position, and already explicitly discussed that your floor is at the top of that range, I do feel like that counts as talking about salary. They’re not going to tell you exactly what they’d offer you personally until they’re ready to actually make an offer.

  7. Czhorat*

    I’ve been offered a job at literally over $20K less than I’d asked, with zero indication or acknowledgement that it was so far below my range as to be impossible.

    I don’t understand it either – at least in OP’s case they were within the range and there *should* have been room to negotiate. In mine it was “this is our absolute ceiling because we’re in a much lower cost-of-living area and you’d be working remotely from a more expensive metropolitan area”.

    Sometimes potential employers have to realize that an offer too far out of range is the same as no-offer, the same way you’d not ask $200K for a position that pays half that on average.

    1. Czhorat*

      I’ve also had other prospective employers hear my salary expectations and tell me that they were sorry but it wouldn’t be a match. Sometimes it’s for a role that wants a shade of different experience from mine, sometimes a remote thing, and once because I needed more cash to make up for a really weak benefits package. All of those things happen, and my feelings aren’t hurt by them.

      It’s fine and normal to be up front.

      1. ferrina*

        Yes! I had one recruiter call me for a screening interview and immediately say “I want to be up front with you- the range for this job is $X-$Y. You put $Y+15k as your preferred salary. With that in mind, does it make sense for us to talk?”

        I was so flattered! I was so happy that they were being direct and operating in good faith. I did remove myself as a candidate, but it left such a good impression on me.

        1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I’ve learned from AAM to say pretty early on in the process, “With my level of skill and experience I’m only interested in positions offering $55k+ and preferably $65k+. Does this fit with your expectations?”

          It’s a really useful first filter on both sides because in my field the salary is what tells you what kind of position is vacant – everybody is called Llama Groomer whether they are a new starter or have twenty years’ experience, so the salary explains if you’re looking for a $45k Llama Groomer or a $65k Llama Groomer.

          When companies are looking to expand generally, a wide range isn’t ridiculous. They would be equally happy to find either extreme of experience, and will pay accordingly. But more usually they know the minimum competency and experience they need for the team, and budget for that and no more.

        2. Garblesnark*

          Yes! When that happens, I save the recruiter’s number and let them know if they have something in the future that’s a fit, I will absolutely take their call/pass it to my network/hear them out.

    2. HSE Compliance*

      “Sometimes potential employers have to realize that an offer too far out of range is the same as no-offer, the same way you’d not ask $200K for a position that pays half that on average.”

      Exactly!! I once had an in-house recruiter contact me and really talk up this job, give me a range (to which I would have been on the higher side, but definitely within range), etc. etc. We discussed what my salary expectation would be. Went through a phone interview with the company. Then the recruiter contacted me again and told me that the salary range was something totally different from our previous discussion – like 40+k lower – and really out of line for the area standard for that type of position. I pulled out of the process and the recruiter came back to me asking what happened, very confused and sounding slightly offended. Um, a significant pay cut and way different salary than what we had discussed??

      1. Czhorat*

        In my case the ranges didn’t even match. On a video interview I saw a raised eyebrow when I gave my range, but they said they wanted to keep talking to make it work.

        And it was THAT far apart. I think I was asking 110-120, and they were offering 70-90. They gave me the top of their range, but there’s NO WAY to negotiate from 90K to even a barely-tolerable $110.

        That also gets into the discussion we have here sometimes about future raises and advancement; if you’re hired above the top of a range then your future increases will likely suffer.

        1. HSE Compliance*

          I had that recently as well. A recruiter reached out to me for a global/corporate role (like, director level) and told me the max salary was 95k…. after I had stated my minimum to move was $140k. They did follow it up with “but the bonuses!” which really didn’t help their case.

          And yes to the advancement and raises! If you hire me in at Top Possible Range, I’m going to expect to not be able to go anywhere past that.

  8. Parenthesis Guy*

    I think the question is after four interviews, would you rather get an offer that’s below what you want or would you rather them just reject you outright? I think it’s better to give you the choice at least.

    It’s hard to tell someone that they’re only worth $80k when that person thinks they’re worth $90k. It can be seen as disrespecting their skillset especially when the reason for the difference is subjective instead of objective. I can see how someone may want to say that we only wanted to offer the middle of our range to avoid making that.

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think after four interviews, I’d rather they acknowledge what I said was my minimum salary requirement that they had asked for.
      I get looking on the bright side. But they could say, “we understand you want $90k, but we feel you are at the $80k level for us.”
      (or they could be honest, “we put a range because if we put $80, we will have to pay $80. This way, we can pay $70 and people will feel that we value them. But we are never going to hire in anyone over $80.” But I’m not feeling very glass half full about this letter.

    2. Sloanicota*

      To be fair, in as much as such things can be proven, OP has demonstrated they’re worth exactly what they thought, by getting another job offer that paid them what they’re expecting. So in this case I’m not sure we can conclude that OP is overvaluing their experience, although in some cases that’s certainly true (which the company should be able to explain transparently).

    3. Peter the Bubblehead*

      If I stated I expected $90k at the start of the interview process and the company after the first or second interview knew they were unwilling to pay over $80k, I would rather they be up front with the admission than waste my time on two more pointless interviews.
      Ideally, the hiring manager at the conclusion of the second interview should have said, “While we are advertising this position with a salary range of $60k-$100k, we feel unable to offer more than $80k with your skillset. Knowing this, does it make sense to continue the interview process?” Then let me decide if I am willing to lose out on an expected $10k or not waste my time.

      1. Parenthesis Guy*

        If that’s the case, then absolutely. But usually how these things work is that the last interview is with the bosses’ boss or someone influential who actually has the power to impact salary. I mean, the most important person usually isn’t going to be the first one to interview.

        Which means the hiring manager won’t know by the end of the second interview that they can’t go past $80k. They won’t know that until the fourth interview when the bosses’ boss says “$80k max for this candidate.”

        1. Peter the Bubblehead*

          But that still sounds like they wasted the OP’s time. You don’t wait for the fourth interview for the Boss’ Boss’ Boss to say, “We like middle, so we’re only offering $80k.”
          Somewhere along the line someone knew the OP did not have every skill the company was looking for and could have said, “We pay $90k to $100k for people with skills X, Y, and Z. You only have experience in Y. Does it make sense to continue the interview process?”
          If OP has every skill and experience the company is looking for, asked for the OP’s bare minimum salary expectation, was told, “No less than $90k,” and then after four interviews said, “We like middle, we’re offering you $80k” then I would be pissed off too!

          1. Also-ADHD*

            To be fair, that is an insane reason so it can’t be the whole story (unless it means “we always offer this and we’re never transparent” which is bad news but not the only possible explanation). But it could be that they feel OP is mid for them and don’t know how to actually say that properly. Or it could be the upper range never really existed. Or it’s just the second choice candidate is way cheaper and it moved the offer down because it wasn’t worth it to ensure OP said yes. The real why isn’t as egregious as not remembering OP’s floor and being surprised that they stuck to it.

    4. Beth*

      It’s better to tell someone that their skill set puts them in the middle of the band for your position and therefore you can only offer $80k, than to tell them that you put them through 4 interviews knowing they had a floor of $90k but aren’t prepared to offer that for no clear reason.

      If it’s a case where you really do hire people at $90k sometimes but the candidate doesn’t have the qualifications for that, then explaining that shows that this offer is thoughtfully made based on the interview process, and also may help them align their expectations with the market (assuming you’re paying market rate). If you put a candidate through a long interview process knowing their salary needs, and then act like you just don’t offer that salary when it gets to the offer stage, it looks like you have no respect for their time.

    5. OP*

      OP here! I did consider the fact that they thought my expertise was only worth $80k and not $90k, but the HR person told me it was down to me and one other person, and they preferred me. Not sure how accurate that was but I don’t necessarily think I was their last choice on a list of 10 or anything like that.

      I’ll also add that my former position was at a director level, so I was asked a lot in the interview process about taking “a step down” for this position and why I was doing it. I recognize skills in one job don’t translate to skills in another like that, but (not to sound conceited) I also don’t think I was necessarily overvaluing what I offered as a candidate.

      1. Also-ADHD*

        If you were taking a step down, and they have a second choice, I’d put my money on that person being significantly cheaper to the point it set a ceiling for you. Someone higher up probably wasn’t keen on spending so much more but you were still preferred—maybe even strongly by the HM or other folks most directly impacted by the expertise you would bring.

  9. Antilles*

    Sometimes it’s because they’re assuming that what you say is your floor isn’t really your floor, or that you’ll be more flexible if their benefits are good.
    I’m rolling my eyes at this assumption, because almost every company thinks they provide “good benefits” – and also that we need to be talking about best-in-industry caliber benefits to make up a $10k difference in salary; that’s not simply “oh we offer 401k matching up to 6% whereas industry norm is 4%” or a slightly cheaper health-care premium.

    1. Czhorat*

      I actually HAVE seen companies with benefits that make this big a difference, particularly in health insurance.

      As recently as 10 years ago, one firm in my field offered family health insurance with NO employee contribution. That can be a 10K/year swing.

      I’ve had some with really bad plans that would both cost more out of pocket (higher deductible/copay/out of pocket limit) at a higher cost. Depending on your situation that could also be a heavy hit.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I’ve seen it, but when it happens the company generally pushes it up front in their offer. “We’re offering you 80K but we have a completely vested, unmatched 401K program at 7% of your salary.” Where it gets funnier (darkly funny at least) is when they’re offering something that’s not great, like “unlimited vacation” (not falling for that) or “a more affordable alternate christian health insurance plan” (yikes).

        1. Czhorat*

          I was literally told “free cookies in the break room every Friday” as a perk.

          I’m not making this up.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Ha I suspect Alison could do a whole post on “weirdest perks companies have tried to offer as if they’re as good as salary.”

            1. So Tired*

              I’d actually love to have her do a thread of that! I’m sure there are plenty of wild “perks” people have been offered.

          2. ferrina*

            How many cookies would I need to eat to make up a difference in salary? And does their dental plan cover the extra work I’ll need from eating all that sugar?

            1. ViridianGreen*

              At my local grocery store, cookies are kind of expensive, in that they’re around $5 for 12 for the bakery ones. That’s $0.41 / cookie. We’ll round up and say 50 cents.

              So to make up $10,000 in cookies, you’d need to eat 20,000 cookies per year. Assume one week of vacation (again, erring on the side of caution for this math), and that’s 392 cookies per week, or 78 cookies per working day, which is just under 10 cookies per hour assuming a normal 9-5. All day. Every day. cookies.

              1. ViridianGreen*

                EDIT: Just saw someone mention macarons below & got curious, and reran the math with the cheapest gift box on the Estee Lauder website. That acutally comes in shockingly reasonable, with slightly over a macaron per hour. I think I could actually hit that.

            2. Distracted Procrastinator*

              Well . . . if they were offering high quality, bakery cookies, such as something priced in the neighborhood of a Crumble cookie, i.e. $4/each and the employee only took 2 weeks of vacation each year, they would have to eat 50 cookies each Friday to make up for a $10k lower salary.

              That’s a lot of cookies.

          3. Anon for this*

            I mean, what kind of cookies. I don’t think I’d be willing to give up 10k in salary for macarons every Friday, but I would certainly be willing to commute into work for macarons every Friday.

          4. Le Sigh*

            Cookies no. But if we’re talking Bagel Mondays and they’re the real, honest-to-god good bagels with the full spread, now I’m back at the table.

            Said with only mild sarcasm.

    2. The Other Evil HR Lady*

      Although, if a company were to pay for my family’s benefits at 100% and offered me $10K below my “floor,” I’d probably take it! But I don’t know of any company (or government agency) that’s willing to do that (in the US, of course).

      1. Czhorat*

        “”Although, if a company were to pay for my family’s benefits at 100% and offered me $10K below my “floor,” I’d probably take it!””

        I’ve literally gotten this, and it’s fine. Good even. They’re compensating you, one way or the other.

        In recent years I’ve found that compensation packages are less and less generous. I’ve taken to asking to see the pay-in rates for a family plan and a summary of benefits sheet along with salary discussions, because one has become meaningless without the other. If you’re getting paid $5K more but will pay it back in higher premiums and then pay it back more in higher co-pays to doctors you aren’t doing any better.

        1. Sloanicota*

          I would like to see laws standardizing health insurance offerings. They are so complicated that I have cried on the phone with my dad trying to compare two job offers knowing that a mistake in my understanding of the actual consequence of the benefits will be devastating to me financially.

          1. Czhorat*

            Especially if you end up needing it!

            There’s so much. What you pay for it.

            Individual out of pocket maximum
            Family out of pocket maximum.

            Then which doctors are in or out of network. And that isn’t always consistent. One of the largest health insurers in the country *just* reached an agreement with one of the largest hospital systems in the region to avoid kicking LOTS of people’s doctors out of the network. If they hadn’t then lots of people would have had to shop for new doctors and hospitals.

          2. Generic Name*

            Seriously. My last company had someone come in to discuss the new insurance plans. I think they were from an insurance broker company? They kept saying things like “be a good healthcare consumer”, as if choosing between hospitals, for example, is a decision that we all have the luxury of time and accessibility to make. I kept asking pointed questions about coverage and how could we tell if a lab or a doctor who saw us for 30 seconds in a hospital was in-network. Fortunately, a lot of those issues have been dealt with in recent legislation in my state, but I was very pissed to sit there and have someone tell me I need to “do my research” in order to not get screwed over when “doing research” was at that time impossible.

          3. HSE Compliance*

            Very much so.

            I once rejected a job offer because the company presented their insurance backwards – what they’d pay vs what I’d pay; i.e. plan covers 80% of ER visit (they said verbally) but then the paperwork says 20% coverage – and then doubled down on that what they have presented is correct and this is what the benefits are.

            Uh, yeah, no.

        2. urguncle*

          Did this for a job and it was AWFUL. I was getting $15k more, but insuring myself and my partner ate up almost the entire differential, plus it was a lesser-known company, so we had to change everything from our PCP to the pharmacy we used. Lots of things were terrible about that job, but never will I ever take a job without having them provide me the FULL breakdown of their insurance offerings before I accept.

        3. Le Sigh*

          See also: high-deductable plans where the benefits don’t kick in until you hit a pretty high dollar figure. I have worked in some places where they structured it so it’s not as expensive as it could be, but even then it’s so much paperwork (which is awesome if you struggle with executive functions) and still more expensive.

      2. Peter the Bubblehead*

        When I first started working the federal contract I have been employed under in 2008, the company that employed me covered health benefits 100%. It was great!
        Then Obamacare passed in 2010. The next renewal period, the company could not afford to pay 100% anymore for the same coverage and employees were expected to contribute 25%. As the years passed (under several different contractors), every renewal year my personal percentage increased and the coverage became worse and worse with higher deductibles, higher co-pays, more out of pocket expenses. One year I was involuntarily moved to a sub-contractor and expected to cover 100% of my own health insurance costs and – thankfully – that contractor only lasted about 9 months because I literally could not afford to work for them!
        Our most recent renewal of “benefits” under the current contractor offered literally one health plan that would cost $2000 per month to cover myself and my wife only, require a $5000 deductible, and cease benefits if $10k were paid out in a given calendar year combined between my spouse and I. I had to drop the employer-provided coverage and go with a government plan just to be able to afford – and even that’s by the skin of my teeth!

        1. Parenthesis Guy*

          “and cease benefits if $10k were paid out in a given calendar year combined between my spouse and I.”

          The ACA banned maximum coverage caps. This doesn’t sound legal unless it wasn’t insurance but rather “insurance”.

          1. Peter the Bubblehead*

            Since I couldn’t afford it, I can’t even tell you what company was behind it. I just turned it down and looked elsewhere.
            The trouble I realized too late was, under the company insurance, my “benefits” were coming out of pre-tax dollars, so when I signed up for the government plan I was expecting I would be saving $400/month over my previous year’s cost and nearly $600/month compared to the 2024 costs. But now I have more tax taken out of my gross paycheck and that ate into more than 50% of what I had expected to save and take home to apply toward the new insurance. In essence I’m seeing less than $200 more in my take home pay (above and beyond what I have to put toward my monthly premium).

            1. Parenthesis Guy*

              You may want to look into it. The ACA requires large employers (50+ employees) to offer actual insurance and potentially provides subsidies to people employed at small employers that don’t have actual insurance.

              In addition, the ACA also requires that employers provide affordable coverage. If your portion of the coverage costs more than a percent of your household income, it may not be deemed affordable and you may be eligible for subsidies on the marketplace.

              1. Peter the Bubblehead*

                I work for a “small business.” Was a requirement to qualify to bid on the government contract.

    3. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Right. Now, if it were offering health care that actually covered my medical expenses, I’d be all-in even if they offered $10k less than what I had asked. But otherwise…no.

      (Sorry, I didn’t mean to derail on the terrible state of health care in the US, but….I couldn’t resist.)

    4. urguncle*

      Yes! The benefits have to *put money in my pocket.* Below my range but you have free/heavily subsidized on-site daycare? Yes. Below my range but you’ll pay 90-100% of my insurance premiums? Sure. Below my range but I get an extra week of vacation (that I can’t afford to go anywhere with), meh.

    5. Cat Tree*

      I work at a company that has genuinely great benefits. But they also pay well! Anyone using it as an excuse to underpay probably doesn’t have great benefits after all.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        Yeah good benefits are expensive and less likely to boost retention/recruitment than direct salary increases (not that they don’t matter, they’re just not the same ROI). So “bad salary good benefits” is usually not a realistic combo platter.

    6. Coverage Associate*

      I so feel for people making health insurance decisions without knowing the minimum in health care costs that they will have that year. I can be confident that ours will be enough to meet almost any deductible and make it worthwhile to itemize, but even then factoring in all the tax issues to get to a true take home pay number is impossible.

      I took the lowest salary offer in my last job search. While the excellent benefits didn’t completely make up the difference, I knew that we could lower our regular spending to adjust, and the HSA and 401k matches meant that we would have a higher net worth with the lower salary and higher investment rate. It’s not homo economicus behavior, but look how popular debt snowballs are.

    7. Garblesnark*

      Right, like I need a benefits plan competitive in both Europe and South Korea to consider that competitive.

      (In South Korea, most big employers cater at least two meals a day and offer other onsite concierge services, and in Europe, well, we’ve heard about the PTO laws.)

    8. My back hurts*

      I also think that people in management are wildly out of touch with what “good” benefits are. I worked for a company that had what I think of as at best ok benefits, partially employer covered healthcare (premiums were fine if you were single, but rough if you needed family coverage), partial match on 401k, way below standard PTO, and what I now know was a joke of a Christmas bonus, but then there were the “fringe” benefits, like the fact that they’d give you a turkey at Thanksgiving or that there’d be some free company swag like T-shirts a couple of times a year.

      My boss used to try to use those fringe benefits to say “yes, but see how the company takes care of you,” whenever I’d come to him with a complaint about an ask or policy (like being asked to travel on a Sunday multiple times a year). He stopped when I reminded him that I, a person in their early 20s, would be going to my parents house for Thanksgiving and therefore had no use for a turkey, and that I literally couldn’t wear the t-shirt to work as it was against the dress code.

      1. Antigone Funn*

        “Can’t wear the company swag to work” is almost as bad as “required to wear the company swag, and you have to pay for it yourself.”

        And the turkey just makes me think of J. Jonah Jameson: “Meat! I’ll send ya a nice box of Christmas meat. Now get outta here!” That guy was not supposed to be a model boss, lol

    9. GoodBenefits*

      Yeah, my company is a non profit (well – half of it is) and their pay is often not comparable to competitors (though they are actively working to rectify that). However, being a pediatric healthcare provider – they now offer their VERY extensive services at almost 100% coverage to dependents. For many people that’s a HUGE benefit and worth less pay. Including me right now (though I’m actually well-compensated).

  10. Caramel & Cheddar*

    I guessing a lot of employers assume that applicants are fudging their numbers so that it leaves room to negotiate down, i.e. asking for $90k when you’ll be happy with $80k, etc. Obviously not everyone does this so it’s a bad assumption to make, but I can see why this happens even if you’re clear that $90k is the bottom of the range you’re looking for.

    1. Brain the Brian*

      Yeah, I agree with this — especially if the salary discussion has all been filtered through a recruiter until this point. $80k is not an unreasonable counter to an applicant’s initial $90k offer.

      What’s unreasonable is their (apparent) unwillingness to be flexible. If they want to offer a candidate less than the candidate’s stated number and won’t budge above the middle of their range, they should at least be willing to provide feedback about what makes this candidate unsuitable for the top half of the range.

      1. Sloanicota*

        I think OP also erred in listing their “floor” salary number. Even in this discussion I see people take that 90K as the number OP is looking for, but in fact it’s the lowest possible number they’re willing to accept, which is not the first number I would name in this situation.

        1. amoeba*

          Yup. I also wonder whether she explicitly said “absolutely not below this number”. Especially as it was in a call, even if she mentioned the word “floor”, that’s somehow easily overheard/forgotten later!
          And that’s also… not really the number they asked for? I’d always give one I’d actually be happy with plus a few percent for negotiation… probably they’re also used to other candidates handling it like that?

          1. Brain the Brian*

            Yep. Agreed with both of these comments. The OP could have done a better job in naming their price (and / or the recruiter could have done a better job in passing it along as such). No intentional fault, of course!

            1. OP*

              OP here! Just adding some details that I didn’t include in the letter.

              I did very much say something along the lines of, “I need to be between $90,000 to $100,000, with $90,000 as my floor. I understand that’s near the top of your range.” when I spoke to the recruiter.

              And my previous role was a director level, so the context of our salary convo was along the lines of them asking me “will the posted salary range be acceptable to you?” considering I had been earning more. Hence my reply about range and my floor.

                1. OP*

                  HR said they told the hiring manager my floor, but that the manager wanted to go with the middle number. I have no idea if that’s true!

  11. I should really pick a name*

    but then why even post a range if you’re not willing to negotiate within that range?

    The range doesn’t necessarily mean room for negotiation. Sometimes the higher range is reserved for people with X years of experience, or specific skills.
    That being said, if that was the case, they should have said so when you named a salary in the upper range. And if they didn’t say it then, they should have been able to figure out if you fit in that category in fewer than 4 interviews.

    1. atalanta0jess*

      Yep, this is how it is at my place of work. You fall somewhere in the range based on your experience. There’s room for negotiation in so much as you can argue that X job should count towards your experience, but once you’ve agreed upon your years of experience, the offer is the offer.

  12. MI Dawn*

    We actually offered a person above range, to what they requested, because they were a really good fit for the position, expressed a lot of interest, but refused anything lower. They walked out the first day, saying that they decided they’d rather retire.

    Fool me once, shame on you. I never got fooled twice in that position.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Wait so you’re saying because one person flaked on you that you’ll never pay premium for a top-tier candidate again? That’s not great business savvy.

    2. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Whoa. Did you pay the person for the five minutes or however long it was they actually worked there?

    3. LawBee*

      Sounds like that’s more of an employer problem than an employee problem. If someone can’t last even a full day on their FIRST day, then I done think the issue was their pay.

      1. Parenthesis Guy*

        I don’t know, I worked with someone who left after a day. The employee had some interesting opinions about how things should work and really wanted to be somewhere else.

        This employee may just have decided he was done once he got there.

      2. Peanut Hamper*

        Yeah, I’m thinking we don’t have the entire picture here. But FWIW, the employer may not have known what was going on in the new hire’s head. The retirement remark is a really odd one.

      3. Bee*

        I don’t know, if you’re near retirement and your interest in your job is flagging, I can see deciding to try something new in hopes of feeling re-energized, then walking in the first day and feeling like you’d rather set yourself on fire than try to get up to speed with a new job. Sometimes the change of scenery just makes you realize you’re really actually Done.

    4. ferrina*

      I got offered a salary way above my asked number.

      I’m still at that job several years later and with no plans to leave. My boss is extremely happy with my work and I get great feedback.

      So maybe the foolishness is assuming that all people and circumstances are the same?

      1. Cj*

        I got a new job last summer. I told the recruiting my range for 65 to 75,000, and I was offered $85,000. there is a shortage of people in my industry, especially experience people.

    5. MI Dawn*

      And, I want to add, they totally ghosted us. They took the ID badge (fortunately hadn’t been given a computer/laptop yet). I don’t know if they were paid for that day or not – they didn’t even stay the full 8 hours.

      1. MI Dawn*

        They had retired recently from a job with the state, and the compensation we offered matched their final salary at their request. They had very specialized skills in dealing with state regulations that no one else on the team had, so we were willing to give them what they asked for.

        Not sure why they left. They never even made it out of the orientation to fill out benefits. And they knew what we had to offer – they had several mutual friends both at our location and in the state.

      2. I should really pick a name*

        That seems to be just because of who the person was, not because you offered them above range.

    6. learnedthehardway*

      That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me as a reason to not offer a competitive salary to a great potential hire.

      It does make sense, though, to make sure that your amazing potential hire isn’t over-qualified for the role, and likely to be bored in the position. Sometimes, people are worth every penny, but the role just doesn’t have enough in it for them to be motivated.

  13. Overit*

    As a retiree, my hard-learned advice is to never proceed past Interview #1 without having a conversation about compensation. Not only do you NEED that info, the way the potential employer talks about it is also critical.
    Also –I do not know who needs to hear this advice but, here goes –never ever NEVER trust a verbal promise/offer of future raises that will bring a low salary up.

    1. Mid*

      But the LW did have a talk about compensation *before* the first interview. And, unfortunately, many employers will still punish people for asking about salary “too early” in the process, especially for more entry level roles. That’s what salary transparency laws are trying to counteract.

    2. Antigone Funn*

      Also –I do not know who needs to hear this advice but, here goes –never ever NEVER trust a verbal promise/offer of future raises that will bring a low salary up.

      ^^^^^^^^^^ 100% this right here ^^^^^^^^^^

    3. Rosacolleti*

      Really? We often offer a salary review after 6 months and have given good rises then or earlier if the new employee deserves it.

  14. Just me.*

    I’ve found a significant amount of bait and switch along these lines, which in today’s climate must work enough of the time that companies keep doing it. My experience: advertised salary range X-Y. Lengthy application that won’t allow me to proceed/submit unless I select a desired range. But the range given is less than the advertised range.
    Given that I hit all the requirements and have 20 years experience in the industry I select the highest available range. Immediate (milliseconds) rejection in my inbox stating they are unable to meet that salary.
    Try again with lower salary, laughable options, same results.
    These are large, known corporations too.

  15. Ari*

    I worked for a long time at a place where each title had a salary range and the top end couldn’t be exceeded. You had to move to a different role to increase your salary beyond that. So if you started too close to the top then you were limited in how much of a raise you would receive going forward. That may not be what’s happening here, but it’s one possible scenario.

    1. Evil Queen of Dysfunction*

      I am good with that. Why have a top range for a role and not let anyone be at top range? At least there is a clear path to an increase. Its like why have an evaluation scale of 1-5 but “No one gets a 5.”

      1. Ari*

        In theory, people could eventually get to the top range through annual raises, but that rarely happened in practice because the ranges changed over time. When I was a manager I did have one very close to the top. It limited both their raise AND their bonus amount at that time. They altered the bonus structure later on so it wasn’t affected by the salary range, but that person was a top performer and I could barely reward them for their extra work because of the salary cap rules.

    2. Lab Boss*

      Just from the math, that doesn’t make sense:

      Candidate A gets offered the 100K maximum for the job, but that makes her ineligible for raises. In five years she has had no raises, is still making 100K, and has made 500K.

      Candidate B gets offered 80K so they don’t start too close to the top end. They get a 5-ish % range annually. In five years they have had 5 raises and are making 100K just like Candidate A- but have only made ~442K in that time.

      Given the choice between “start making the top salary right now and end up with more” vs “get a raise every year only to MAYBE end up at the top salary and end up with less overall money,” the employee is better off with a high offer and limited raises. Granted, not every candidate will think that way, and may resent the “lost” raises even though they’re better off.

      1. learnedthehardway*

        Yeah – with you on that. As a recruiter, it makes absolutely ZERO sense to me when HR or hiring managers say, “We can’t give the candidate the top of the range, because then we would have no room to increase their salary later.” Tell me how that is in any way motivating for a candidate to take the job?!!?

        I mean, come on – a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush. You don’t even need any finance education to know that.

      2. Ari*

        I’m not saying their way made sense. It’s just an example of why some companies might not offer the top of the range.

      3. 2e asteroid*

        Agreed, but the employee is even better off finding a different job where their desired salary isn’t maxing out the pay band!

        If the LW has a hard salary floor of 90K, I would assume that this floor would come with the expectation of standard raises thenceforth. The “we’ll hire you at this number but you’re never going to see any more money than that” salary needs to be higher than that floor.

  16. Yup*

    Somehow companies still think workers are less interested in salary, time off, and benefits than feeling blessed by working for them.

    Show us the money, etc.

  17. Sneaky Squirrel*

    (Putting this out there that I’m not a recruiter and don’t have any involvement in making offers, but I use the data between requirements and acceptances/rejections).

    Here’s the thing – it works sometimes… I’ve seen enough salary offers where the candidate states their “floor” is at the 90,000 of the range and yet.. still accepting that offer of 80,000. And I’ve seen candidates who say their floor is 90,000 and then it turns out their actual floor was really 120,000. Recruiters ask for salary requirements because they don’t want to waste their time if you’re not even talking ranges in the same ballpark, but 80k to 90k isn’t that far off that they’re willing to take the chance.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      This is correct. But I can see why that’s so frustrating for someone like LW who just wants to have a direct conversation where each party negotiates in good faith and they reach a mutually beneficial agreement. The game playing is really exhausting, for both sides.

      1. Lab Boss*

        Agreed. I understand that the current culture around work dictates candidates and employees should act a certain way to optimize outcomes for themselves- but as someone who prides myself on acting in good faith it can be so frustrating when someone acts in a way designed to counteract some bad-faith maneuver I wasn’t going to do in the first place.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Yeaah I think OP made a mistake in naming their honest-to-God floor number. Why put that number out there if it’s not even the number they would actually be happy with? It’s more common for everyone to list a median type number and then negotiate around that.

      1. Czhorat*

        I was thinking this as well. Even if 90 was my floor, I’d more likely say, “I’d like to be between 95 and 100” and expect a chance that they’d negotiate downward.

        Then there’s a chance that they offer 90K and I can live with it. Or that they offer 85 and we can meet in the middle at 90. Or even offer 80 and I see if both sides can live with the high 80s.

        Or that the employer realizes that they don’t think I’m a 95 or even 90K candidate and they move on, which is pretty much what happened here.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Is it annoying to play these games, yes, but that seems to be the most standard way to approach it, and might have avoided some of the confusion here.

      2. WriterDrone*

        OP said in a comment that they gave their range as $90k-100k. They did say $90k was their floor.

        1. Sloanicota*

          Yeah I change my opinion based on that update. It seems very reasonable to phrase it the way they did.

    3. OtterB*

      (sorry if this is a duplicate comment; I started writing it earlier but don’t see it posted)

      Benefits can make a difference too. Our salaries tend low, but my organization pays the full insurance premium for family coverage on a good plan, and that can be worth a lot financially (unless, of course, the candidate is already covered under a spouse’s similar plan…) We also have generous contributions to a tax-deferred retirement plan, some matching and some outright contributions. A candidate might not choose to make the tradeoff between our salary offer with those benefits, and a competitor’s offer $10K higher with lower benefits. But I don’t think it’s unreasonable to make the offer.

      But we *would* have kept track of salary discussions and be able to say that we understand this is a somewhat lower offer than the previously discussed floor, but we think it’s competitive because xyz.

    4. K in Boston*

      There are times in my life when minimum salary has meant different things, depending on whatever was important to me at the time:

      – Particularly when I was newer to the workforce and didn’t have as much confidence that I could just “get another job,” I was much more willing to take under whatever I’d originally stated as my minimum out of desperation to just get hired and/or have some stability and money after job-searching while unemployed for awhile. That way I could at least make SOME money and keep job-searching in the meantime. It’s likely that I did believe at the beginning that whatever I said was the minimum was my minimum…but some financial panic can warp that number.

      – At times, the minimum salary has meant the minimum I would consider necessary to pay rent/mortgage and I felt reasonably confident that I could find a job that would pay that. In those cases, when I said minimum salary, I truly meant minimum salary in black and white, exactly what OP is talking about here.

      – At times, the minimum salary has meant the minimum I would consider necessary to maintain a certain quality of life based on money alone, but I might be willing to take a lower number if it ultimately balanced out somewhere else in my personal “quality of life” equation. For example, I work for a company that provides a pension AND a 403b (non-profit 401k). At 22 I didn’t care so much about that, but as I’ve gotten older and seen how fast inflation can rise…well, if I’d said $90k was my minimum salary before I’d found that out, it’s possible I might accept $80k later. And then of course there are all the other “quality of life” factors one might negotiate against a slightly lower number — WFH, flexible schedules, more time off, etc.

      – And at other times, the money hasn’t really mattered — which isn’t to say that I’m independently wealthy (LOL I WISH), but that, occasionally, people work for things other than just money, so the numbers are a little more arbitrary. I have two jobs: my full-time “I need to earn money” job, and a part-time job that I do because (among many other reasons) it has much better health insurance. Because of that, I accepted under my minimum-stated salary for my part-time job — My other job was the money job, and I needed access to better health insurance, so salary just wasn’t my primary motivating factor in that very specific case.

      Such things certainly wouldn’t be part of everyone’s equation! But I don’t think it’s outrageous to say that it could be part of SOME people’s.

      Anyway, all that is to say that I can understand why hiring managers might not be sure which version of me they’re going to get, because they don’t know my life like that, so they put the number out there anyway to let me accept or reject. Now, something like $50,000 less, no way — but $10k? Maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaybe, depending on which season of my life I’m in.

      It’s strange that no one in the hiring process acknowledged OP’s salary discrepancy, though. I’d think that one might at least say something like, “I know this is a little lower than you asked for, but we’re hoping we can make up for it with our great health insurance/commuter discounts/etc.”

  18. merida*

    Maybe hiring managers watch too much HGTV and are accustomed to believing that the floor isn’t the floor – on those house hunting shows, so often the couple says their budget is absolutely firm at 1 million or whatever, but they end up settling on a house that’s “just a little over budget” at 5 million (confuses me every single time). Real life is quite different from HGTV :)

    1. Sloanicota*

      Haha this is so predictable and I would get so mad in real life if a real estate agent kept showing me properties over my budget – I don’t want to fall in love with a house I can’t afford, don’t show it to me! Obviously it’s going to be a lot more desirable than this shack in the hills that my budget will cover, but just show me the shacks!!

      1. ferrina*

        My agent had a great practice for that- he showed me a house that was just a little bit over budget to see if it was something I was open to. I enjoyed the house, but declined to make an offer because it was out of my range. After that he stuck to my stated budget.

        I wasn’t mad that he went a bit beyond my stated budget. I think he runs into some clients where there stated budget is the real budget, and plenty of clients where the stated budget is actually flexible.

        1. Bee*

          That does make sense! Sometimes you need to see what your budget looks like in context. When I was looking to move out of my roommate situation into my own place, I was looking for apartments at $1400 and found they were all crappy and there was an extremely limited supply, but if I stretched up a little to $1500 suddenly a whole range of options opened up. Seeing what else was out there made it worthwhile to reevaluate my budget – and seeing that at $1600 there were a lot more options but they weren’t any better than $1500 made it easy to stick there, since I wasn’t in a rush.

    2. Seashell*

      It also makes me think of Shark Tank. People come in asking for $500K for 5% equity in their company and claim they don’t want to give up more equity, but often wind up meeting in the middle from the shark’s offer of $500K for 20%.

  19. Over It*

    Government employee here, with an additional explanation to add. My government (US but not federal) requires us to provide the salary range for the grade the position is, even if the position isn’t budgeted for the top of the range or the applicant isn’t eligible for the top. So I hired a grade 9, and HR listed the position as 58-74K, even though we had budgeted a maximum of 66K for the position. And then we had to offer our top candidate 58K, because our HR automatically offers people the bottom, but will negotiate up to 10% more than the person’s currently making so long as it doesn’t fall above the budget. Our candidate was able to negotiate a step increase to 60K with HR (managers can’t be involved in pay negotiations), but that’s pretty far from the 74K listed. It’s such a terrible system and I hate it! But maybe some companies list the pay band for everyone at that level, even if the only people at the top of the pay band are people with long tenures who have gotten annual COLAs and merit increases, and they never intend to hire at the top of the pay band.

    1. learnedthehardway*

      I deal with this with some private sector clients as well – the range is $80-120K in the salary band, but the actual range that the hiring manager is willing to pay is going to likely be $90-100K, based on what they know of the market value of the qualifications/experience they want, internal equity, etc. etc.

    2. TX_Trucker*

      Our local government also lists these wide salary bands. I appreciate they also include a line in their job posting that says: “Most positions have a starting salary between the minimum plus 15%.”

      1. Over It*

        That’s a great way to manage candidate expectations around salary, and I wish our agency did that! Unfortunately our HR has trouble with walking and chewing gum at the same time it seems…

  20. Busy Middle Manager*

    The issue in these sort of discussions is always that people talk about jobs like they are these static things, like we have schedules of exactly what a person will do and accomplish, and know exactly what type of person is going to apply.

    In reality, so much is up in the air. I wrote out a longer comment but the gist of all of the cases I’ve seen boil down to, the candidate and job/needs end up meeting in the middle because the candidate is good but not bringing enough specific experience/know-how to warrant the big bucks.

    Someone looked great on paper and did well in phone screen, but as the process progresses, you realize that the fact that they worked for a much larger competitor is actually a hindrance because they were siloed off doing a small number of tasks more often, so their experience isn’t as impressive as it seemed at first. You realize their resume bullet points are literally all there is, and they haven’t given thought into whether they can or want to handle other adjacent areas. Do you just reject them for being “mid?” Or do you give them a chance, which means you can’t offer them the high salary they requested because you can’t make a case for it to upper management, and their to-be coworkers would be mad we offered so much to someone externally when they have less company-related knowledge?

    IMO the bigger issue is that taxes are too high and salaries aren’t keeping up with the cost of living, people can’t afford to take anything less than what sounds like the high end of any range

    1. Emily (Not a Bot)*

      As soon in the interview process as you realize there’s a mismatch, you tell them this, explain to them the issue, and ask if they want to proceed with the interview process. This way, you’re being transparent and wasting less of their time.

  21. JP*

    The salary shadiness is so frustrating. There was a place I was really interested in working, they were dodgy about the salary range, I interviewed anyway. They admitted in the interview that they didn’t disclose the salary until they met in person because it was so low, but they thought the benefits were great (they weren’t) and that once they got people in the room that they could convince them that it was a good tradeoff. It was very irritating to be jerked around like that.

    1. Czhorat*

      This is what I think of as a one-move chess player; they’re playing chess, but don’t think of what you’ll do next after their one move. A half-moments thought would have them realizing that they will eventually have to tell you the salary number. If it’s out of your range then it’s out of your range and no amount of extra PTO is going to make up for the fact that you can’t pay the heating bill, mortgage, and groceries without more money.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        “A half-moments thought would have them realizing that they will eventually have to tell you the salary number”

        This is the part that always gets me. If it’s so bad you’re hiding it, it’s not going to sound better after you’ve built anticipation.

        1. Sloanicota*

          To be fair, this probably does “work” sometimes – someone’s desperate, they’ve been out of work for a while and you’ve been stringing them along through the interview process (five interviews and an unpaid assignment, of course!) and they’ve got nothing else coming up. So finally you get to the part where you tell them the pay is just a bag of potatoes every other week, and you’re hoping they’re so frantic having spent all this time and effort getting the potato-offer that they’ll take it just to stop looking. Of course, if the person was smart, they’d start looking again immediately and be gone pretty quickly, but inertia is powerful, and people make choices that go against their own self-interest all the time (and job searching really is pretty awful) …

      2. Lab Boss*

        I love the term “one-move chess player,” and will be borrowing it. Our HR are experts at it- every time they roll out some new policy or program in glowing terms, the first person who asks a question gets met with a wide-eyed stare as they realize they didn’t think about how things would really work.

      1. Mark This Confidential And Leave It Laying Around*

        Was it Monday we all freaked out about Glassdoor? I signed in with an alias and gave a fake employer and deactivated my account. I could not delete it fully.

  22. mreasy*

    This happened to me, where they came in $20k under because if bonuses were maxed my overall comp would match my expectation. I told them I needed a higher baseline and we met in the middle. This almost made sense to me – because they’re looking at potential comp – but given it wasn’t guaranteed I thought it made sense to ask for flexibility. I got the job but apparently HR griped a lot that I negotiated!

  23. Eng Girl*

    At this point I consider any job that gives a really broad range to be a red flag. I applied for a job that had a similar range to the LW 65-110k. At that point in my career I was targeting about 95k and I met or exceeded all of the job requirements as well as the bulk of the “preferred” stuff.

    I went in for an interview, which went really well. The person who would be my manager told me he thought I was a great fit and that he was anxious to move me on to the next phase, which was an interview with his boss. I said great and then waited for the info to set up that call. We also talked about salary a bit and I said in the interest of transparency I’d be targeting the upper end of the range and I think I said I had a 90k minimum.

    When HR sent me the email for the second interview they also said they had evaluated my application further and based on my experience level (which was 3 years and an advanced degree higher than the “preferred” qualification), that the salary I’d be eligible for was 78-83k, which would have been a pay cut, and I told them as much. I was super annoyed and felt like they had wasted my time. It made me wonder what kind of candidate you’d have to be to get the top of the range.

    For a while I thought maybe I had just overestimated my own worth but then like 6 months later a recruiter reached out to me for the same job as they still hadn’t been able to fill it. During our initial call we talked about salary and she said that I should easily be able to get 100k in the position she was recruiting for. Then she sent me the details and I had to let her know I’d already been considered for that position and had passed due to low salary. She thanked me and said that I had confirmed for her that they weren’t being transparent about the salary which she had already started to suspect.

    1. Ama*

      I think your last paragraph matches experiences I have had (both as a candidate and as a hiring manager), where the recruiter or hiring manager is told X is the range and proceeds to operate with the candidate in good faith and then when it comes time to make the job offer the person who approves the actual salary number comes in and says, no we’re going to offer X-10K. (I’ve been the hiring manager in this situation and protested that I was told something different previously and basically been brushed off).

  24. learnedthehardway*

    As a recruiter, I have to make sure that candidates are within the salary band, and I ask what people’s expectations are. I don’t want to waste their time, mine, or the hiring manager’s, if expectations aren’t aligned.

    Sometimes, you do get to an offer and the hiring manager (or HR manager) decides to offer lower than what the candidate asked. There’s nothing I as the recruiter can do to prevent that, but I do warn the hiring manager that the offer may be rejected. I have, on occasion, refused to present an offer that I thought was insultingly low.

    So, why does this happen? Well, sometimes it comes down to the level of the person’s qualifications and experience, relative to the role requirements (ie. sometimes people over-estimate their qualifications/experience). Sometimes, it’s that the company has under-market compensation structures and is expecting too much value for what they want to pay. Sometimes, managers will offer less than they are willing to pay because they expect the person is going to negotiate. Sometimes, it’s an “internal equity” issue – ie. other people in the department aren’t paid at this level but have the same level of skills/experience – so the hiring manager doesn’t want to upset the applecart by paying one person over the level of the team.

    1. Pretty as a Princess*

      Internal equity is a pretty big deal though – I would not frame that as being afraid to “upset the apple cart.” We see people here all the time with stories that their salaries are compressed by those of new hires paid more than comparable current employees.

      Internal equity analysis is intended to prevent that. I do my own analysis every time we post a position, and our HR team also runs the “official” analysis when we talk offer figures. Whether I like it or not, there are constraints on what I can afford to pay at a certain “level” and experience. I can’t in good faith make offers to external candidates at salary levels that I am not able to pay people who are internally already in those positions with comparable skill, experience, expertise.

      Now, I partner well with my recruiters and when there is a candidate salary expectation it is communicated to me. I review that with my team leads, along with candidate resume and the recruiter’s screening notes, to verify if the candidate’s expectation/range is in line with the position I have available. If it’s out of line from the start, I pass and notify the recruiter that the candidate is too expensive. I won’t waste someone’s time.

      But I have also been in the situation you describe where the candidate had significantly more confidence that they met our qualifications than they actually did (and was weaker in certain areas than a read of the resume would indicate), and have had to have a recruiter go back after interviews and say “We’re looking for X, Y, and Z. We know your expected range and value your experience in Y and Z and we can offer $ABC based on needing to develop your experience in X.” I’d pursued the interview knowing the candidate’s expected range for their stated experience was in my range, and made the offer in good faith with clear reasoning when they did not have all the qualifications I was after, and let the chips fall.

    2. I AM a Lawyer*

      “Sometimes, managers will offer less than they are willing to pay because they expect the person is going to negotiate.”

      We’re running into this a lot because almost every candidate negotiates now. My strategy would be to offer top of budget and if they negotiate and we can’t make it work, tell them we offered a top of budget and can’t go any higher. But, we get a lot of push back on that.

    3. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

      Instead of asking the candidate for the range, why don’t you pro-actively share what the range is that the company is willing to pay? I’ve never understood why that isn’t the standard.

      If a recruiter approaches me without that information up front, I am likely to give them a pass.

      1. Pretty as a Princess*

        Even when my recruiter says “the range we have is XYZ” that range is still likely to be 50 or 60K wide because there’s a range & combination of skills/experience/expertise that we can work in a position, and we peg to 2 different kinds of market data. Even if a candidate’s target salary is somewhere in my range, I might not be able to meet their target salary depending on what they bring to the table.

  25. MistOrMister*

    I have heard that some places are deliberately posting salary with upper ranges that they have no intention of hitting in order to get around the new laws saying salary has to be posted. So in OPs case, the budget for the position is actually 60-80k but they list it as up to 100k (or more) to lure people in, knowing a lot of people wont like that 80k cap. Which is a ridiculous way to do business. Some of these places are listing salary ranges from 40k-200k. Who in the world is applying for jobs with that big a range? I would take one look and assume they’ve done that deliberately to hide that the pay is much lower than it should be and would not bother applying.

  26. Yes And*

    I had a bizarre interaction in my last job search. I applied to a job I seemed to be a perfect fit for, but that didn’t advertise a salary range. (This was right before salary disclosure laws went into effect in my area.) When they invited me to interview, they said something to the effect of, just so you know, our salary ceiling is $X.

    I wrote back that I appreciated their candor, but my floor was $20K more than $X, so I would have to respectfully decline the invitation to interview.

    Here is where it gets weird: Without budging one penny over their stated ceiling, and explicitly acknowledging that they couldn’t meet my floor, they proceeded to email me three more times, practically begging me to take the interview anyway. I politely declined on the grounds that it would not be a good use of their or my time.

    I’ve always wondered what they expected to come from that interview, or what their endgame was.

    1. Eng Girl*

      They may have had a quota for candidates they needed to interview before making an offer to the person they actually wanted. Sometimes you find the perfect person on the first go, but the higher ups want to make sure there’s nothing better out there so they say “ok, but you need to interview two more people”

      Alternatively some people thing their workplace is just so star spangled awesome that you’ll walk in the door and be wooed by the fact that there’s a free snack room and pizza Fridays so of course if you just come in and see it you’ll realize that you don’t need the 20k.

  27. Coffee Protein Drink*

    As salary transparency is slowly becoming the law in the US–last I checked 10 states have laws about it now and more are considering–employers are finding all kinds of ways to get around it and lowball their candidates.

    If I see an ad with a salary range of $40,000 to $140,000 I give it a hard pass. Someone above mentioned bait & switch as well. It’s infuriating because wages haven’t kept up with inflation since the Reagan years.

  28. el l*

    I think it’s clear there was a serious lack of coordination somewhere between the recruiter and the hiring manager.

    If I had to guess the specific scenario, would say the recruiter didn’t communicate that $90K was the floor rather than the wish, and that manager got stubborn and was never intending to ever offer more than $80K.

    Either way – yes, it happens. But no, OP is not responsible for that.

  29. Fishsticks*

    The companies that think you’ll take a pay cut because “the benefits are so good!” have, in my experience, not had remotely good benefits and seemed to just all be laboring under a collection delusion.

  30. HonorBox*

    This sucks, and I’m sorry OP. The thing that jumped out to me was that the explanation for the offer of $80K was that it was the middle of the range. Not based on something related to the job or your experience or anything. It was much more arbitrary. Maybe the company didn’t divulge more information to the recruiter about how the offer came to be, but that’s also a problem.

  31. OP*

    OP here! Thanks to Alison for answering my question, and to everyone else for chiming in here in the comments. (I’m a longtime reader/lurker so being on the other side is interesting!)

    Some additional details I didn’t include in my letter:

    1. My previous role was at a director level, so HR’s asking my salary expectations was framed as “will this salary range be acceptable to you?” considering that I was earning more. That’s when I said, “yes, but this is my floor.” Perhaps foolish of me to assume that the context of that convo was then conveyed down the line.

    2. When I received the offer, the HR person told me that it was down to me and one other person, but that I was the preferred candidate. I’m assuming the unwillingness to negotiate was because someone else was waiting in the wings.

    3. After I declined the offer, the HR person asked me how far off we were on salary. I responded truthfully (10-20k; my floor-top of range), and they said they’d go back to the hiring manager to ask if they would be willing to negotiate, which was confusing to me because I felt like that should have been done before I declined. But I don’t know! I received the other offer before I heard back from them.

    1. Eng Girl*

      I’m wondering if they expected you to negotiate rather than decline outright. Like if you had said “as we discussed early on in this process I need to have a minimum of 90k and after hearing more about the position, I’ll be honest I’m closer to 95k” instead of declining if they would have said, “ok let me see if there’s room for negotiation”

      I do think the other person being waiting in the wings had an impact. Seeing if there’s room for negotiation in this case could have meant “let me make an offer to Joe and see if he takes it” lol

      1. OP*

        Yeah, I wonder how this would have gone if there hadn’t been another candidate! The mysteries of the universe…

    2. Kevin Sours*

      This feels like a hard ball negotiation tactic. They weren’t willing to get serious until you demonstrated that you were willing to walk.

  32. MicroManagered*

    Ugh I’m kind of in this boat right now. My employer requires me to post the entire allowable pay band for an open position, for reasons that don’t make sense to me. So say the posting shows 60 – 90k. That just means they’ll continue giving annual increases to anyone within that range, but realistically, nobody doing the job is over 70k so you will absolutely not get 80-90k no matter how qualified you are. It puts me in an awkward position as a hiring manager but is also beyond my control, aside from telling you about that as soon as we talk.

    1. M2*

      Then tell the person in the interview. I have bands but as a hiring manager I know what will be paid for the role (even though HR deals with it). I am very clear with someone and will say ” the band is $60K-$90K but they will not pay more than $75K for the role.” Sometimes people push back and I tell them, I have been to this rodeo I know the initial salary and they won’t go above it (equity and parity).

      I have say over promotions, bonuses, merit increases, etc and the organization has a bit more wiggle room, but for initial salary they won’t hire someone in a role at $75K and someone else at $85K, they won’t. If someone ends up being a rock star then sure, we can promote them and give them more, but I don’t want anyone having some kind of false hope. I empower my team and everyone on my current team has had at least 1 promotion (and deserved/earned), but I won’t promote someone who doesn’t deserve it.

      I am dealing with this right now, looking to leave. I have an initial interview somewhere that is more senior to my current role. There is no salary band… anywhere! I have looked online and tried to figure out a range and no success. I get paid probably above market rate for what I do now (because I hit constant homeruns) and won’t leave my current role, even though the newer one is more senior, unless I am paid a higher salary. It is a bit frustrating because even with a range I would have an idea (and assume it would be middle of the range) and then could decide if it is with my time…

      1. MicroManagered*

        beyond my control, aside from telling you about that as soon as we talk.

        I DO tell them in the interview. That is what these words mean.

  33. Anony Mas*

    I’ll say this: I’ve had applicants make an overly aggressive salary ask, given their experience level, the market, etc. You have to respect the hustle, but just because you’re giving them an offer that’s lower than they’re asking for doesn’t mean they’ll say no.

    I mean, it’s true that many companies underpay, but I think we underestimate applicants’ understanding of paybands in their own industry.

    1. Pita Chips*

      It’s pretty much necessary to do that because candidates know that companies are going to pay them as little as they can get away with.

      I wouldn’t bet on not understanding paybands if someone has been in the workforce for a while. It’s easy to look up the range and the median salary for your market.

      1. Anony Mas*

        That kind of data is imprecise in the media industry. A particular title might apply to a wide range of experience levels. Salaries also range by type of outlet and coverage area. So that kind of data is a bad measure.

      2. Fishsticks*

        Yep. Since companies by definition are going to lowball you 95% of the time on the offer, you are advised to ask for more than you are willing to accept and then negotiate down to what you really wanted. I’ve never met a job applicant who trusted a company to offer a fair rate, and their mistrust is by and large very warranted.

    2. Eng Girl*

      I think you’re right to a point, like I’ve had people come in and ask for more than I made and I’d be their boss. But I’ve found that that’s usually centered around candidates who are newer to the job market. Like you sometimes see someone with extra skills that they think will get them a salary bump, but that aren’t relevant to the job (shout out to that one guy I interviewed who was fluent in Mandarin, and kept mentioning it to me as a selling point despite me explaining that I was looking for someone fluent in Spanish and that Mandarin wouldn’t be useful at this company).

      That being said I also think companies should do a better job of making sure their requirements match up with the salary range. If the requirement is for a degree in llama grooming and as a candidate I have a degree in llama grooming as well as 2 years of practical llama grooming experience, I’m assuming that will bump up my salary. I’m assuming the bottom of the range is for someone who meets the minimum asks of the job. If I exceed those I’m asking for more money.

    3. Emily (Not a Bot)*

      That’s fine, but then you clarify this for them as early in the interview process as possible. There’s no reason to wait until the offer stage for “surprise! you’re not what you asked for.”

    4. ferrina*

      I’ve seen this flow both ways. I’ve met plenty of candidates who don’t know the paybands for the industry/role, and plenty of companies who also don’t understand it. Or they want someone who can do “a little design on the side, not much” by which they mean an experienced graphic designer but they want to pay entry-level salary (and provide basic software, not specialized).

      Easiest way to avoid this- be transparent about the salary range and explain why it is where it is. Negotiate in good faith- the people that will repay the same to you are the employees that you want to attract and keep.

  34. A. Nony Mouse*

    I suspect that the upper part of bands don’t actually exist, that employers think that we should find the concept of “middle” acceptable, regardless of the actual number attached.

    I’ve been told, when asking for a raise, that people in my position typically are paid the middle of our salary band, and that if we’re ready for the upper end, then instead we should be ramping up for a promotion to the next level (i.e. if you do qualify for the higher end of the band, they won’t give it to you, they just tell you to work towards promotion to the next salary band instead). When I pointed out to my supervisor that that implied that the bands were deceptive, if there is an actual policy to never pay anyone above the middle of the band, he seemed genuinely confused.

  35. General von Klinkerhoffen*

    I would like to have the gumption to be able to ask, “So this 60-100 quoted salary range: is that your budget for this position, or does it represent the salaries of the employees currently in equivalent roles?”

    Ideally you don’t want to go in at the role ceiling salary, because that doesn’t leave room for merit raises and you could get stuck. If you learn that nobody in the department gets paid more than the salary you’re hoping for, that’s cause to pause.

    1. ferrina*

      You can absolutely ask a version of this!

      “Tell me about your salary range- how was that determined? What does a $60k candidate look like, and what would a $100k candidate look like?”

      Then wait for them to trip over their own words. Feel free to ask follow-up questions, like “so how many people on the team have [qualifications of a $100k candidate]?”

  36. Emily (Not a Bot)*

    I went through this recent. The lack of acknowledgement that they were offering me less than I’d asked for was frustrating. If they’d said, hey, we know you said you wanted more, we thought we’d be able to offer you it, we realized we couldn’t – or whatever – that would have made up for it to some degree. I still wouldn’t have taken it, but I would have felt better about the experience.

  37. Llama Wrangler*

    This sounds very similar to what happened to a colleague at a previous employer. The range wasn’t posted, but she knew what kinds of salaries were standard our field (which were generally on the low end for our city’s cost of living). In the initial HR screen, she was very clear to say “I will not accept the role for less than $X.” She went through the whole interview process, got an offer, and they came in at $X-$5000, and initially said they had no flexibility. It turns out the HR person who did the screen hadn’t passed her requirement on to the hiring manager.

    This story had a much happier ending though – the company decided they wanted her badly enough that they were able to meet her requirement. And then they revisited all of the other staff at the same level at her and gave them equivalent salary bumps.

    1. Grizabella the Glamour Cat*

      Wow, that is a very happy ending indeed, both for the new hire and those who got the pay bumps!

  38. Regular Human Accountant*

    Before I got NewJob I interviewed at a place where I was recommended by a friend. I was upfront about my salary requirements from the beginning, so there was no confusion. I was offered what amounted to a 30% pay CUT from my then-current salary . . . and when I reiterated my requirements the CEO asked, “Are you sure you can’t take a pay cut? We can review it in six months and might be able to give a raise then.”

    First of all . . . no. Second of all, the audacity.

  39. ILoveLllamas*

    For my current job, which involves daily negotiating, the hiring manager had asked me what I was looking for and I said, “high, very high 90’s”. The offer came in at low $90’s ($93K). I sat back and thought about it, remembered that this is a job that requires me to negotiate, so the next day I went back and negotiated. I reminded him that I had said high 90’s and that he was in agreement, and I needed $97K plus a bonus of $10K (which was higher than I was really looking for) and 4 weeks vacation. I got the $97K, a $5K bonus and 4 weeks vacation immediately. I have found that sometimes hiring managers have to start lower due to company policies, but are realistic about where it will end up. I think we all recognize that results will vary :-)

  40. Former Retail Lifer*

    I told a recruiter during a phone screening that I made $70,000 but would consider $65,000 because this position allowed working from home three days a week (totally worth the pay cut for me). He told me that the stated salary was $55,000 but there “might be some wiggle room.” I went through several interviews and on the last one, the hiring manager asked for confirmation of my salary requirements. I told her $65,000, and she said that it paid $55,000 firm, no room for negotiations. The recruiter wasted everyone’s time by telling me there was wiggle room when there clearly was not. Now I know that I need to confirm salary as soon as I start talking to the hiring team.

  41. CD*

    That range would have been a red flag from the get go, unless they specifically outlined the attributes a top end of the range candidate should have. Like particular experience or certifications.

    I do my own interviewing and hiring for entry level roles on my team at a small nonprofit. I don’t really have a ton of sway on the salary we can offer, so I I’m upfront on what we can offer and include that conversation in the initial screener call. If a candidate is looking for a salary out of what we can offer, I move on to someone else.

    1. Mid*

      I’ve seen a lot of roles listed for similar ranges, because they’re looking to hire 1 person that might be more junior or more senior into the role. So they don’t want to post two separate listings, because they’re hiring one person, but they don’t want the more senior people to skip applying if they only list the junior salary range.

      Now, in this scenario, ideally the posting would make that clear. They could specify that the range is $X to $Y for someone with 3-7 years experience and $Y to $Z for someone with 5-10 years experience and ABC certification, or 8-12 years experience without the certification.

      Basically, I want every job to list their salary bands like US Federal jobs do, with clear criteria for what band you qualify for.

  42. Someone Else's Boss*

    What likely happened is that your salary expectations were within the written range and that’s all the recruiter needed to know in order to move you forward. Once the HM was involved, and reviewed budget, they decided they didn’t want to start that high. No substantive conversation occurred between the two parties, and you were inconvenienced. It is super unfair, but it will happen. I usually discuss salary with candidates again once they’re passed on to me so I can ensure the recruiter didn’t set unrealistic expectations (as can sometimes happen, even in the best of circumstances). One thing you could do, if you’re comfortable/confident, is to bring this up in any interview during the process that is occurring with either the recruiter or HM. When you’re asked if you have any additional questions, you can always say, “The recruiter and I discussed my expectations that the salary start no lower than X. She didn’t have any concerns, but could I confirm if that will work on your end?”

    1. Kevin Sours*

      That still doesn’t explain the “how far off are we comment” which is either somebody not listening or not believing what they’re being told.

  43. Leafer*

    I imagine it’s a same scenario for companies as when applicants go forward with the process when they are looking (at minimum) for something above the top of a salary range provided by the employer; an example of that is linked under Alison’s response! Sometimes people think the numbers are close enough (and the job offer or applicant is otherwise spectacular enough) that the other side is willing to budge.

  44. Mmm.*

    What bugs me is “is that with or without benefits factored in?” I always want to respond with “how much to benefits cost you?”

    Yeah, it’s the cash. I need money.

  45. TheBunny*

    My current employer does this.

    It because they believe they are THAT AMAZING that anyone with a chance to work here would take the offer because they can say they work for us.

    I’ve been part of conversations where it’s known the person is looking for 90k but are offered 80k and are to be reminded it’s because the company is amazing.

    It’s lovely that people are this bought in to the company. Really. People really think we’re that good. But it makes things like this incredibly tedious.

  46. Bill and Heather's Excellent Adventure*

    big sigh Had something similar happen to me the last time I was job hunting (just over a year ago). Salary range posted with the job. I asked for the top of the range so I expected them to go a little lower: no, they offered me the lowest end of the range and would not negotiate the amount, or even agree to a raise if I passed my probation period. Kept saying I could “move through the internal progression system” like everyone else. This was an energy company so they were not hurting for money. I walked away from that offer. The interviewer’s response to my email declining the offer made me suspect I wasn’t the first to turn down that job over the low pay, nor would I be the last.

  47. Nica*

    Yes, went through this will a very well known international company back in the 90’s. I gave them an expected salary range after my 2nd interview. They invited me back for a third interview. That went well and the HR manager called to offer me the job AT A SALARY $10K LESS THAN WHAT I WAS CURRENTLY MAKING. I had to stifle my laughter. But, I kept my cool and said, “Well, that salary is lower than I expected and significantly less than I am currently making. Is there room for negotiation?” Her response? “NO, that is our standard starting salary at [int’l company], it is NOT negotiable.” I said “Well, why would I come and work for you for LESS than what I am making at my current company?” She responded, “Well, you’d have the cachet of working at [int’l company].” At this point, I couldn’t stifle my laughter any longer. I laughed and said, “Well, cachet doesn’t pay my bills, now does it? I’ll have to decline.” She then proceeded to get snippy with me for wasting her time and about how she’d have to start all over again. I just hung up the phone.

    I later found it was kind of a craptacular place to work anyway, so no great loss, but it did give me a laugh and a good story to share with others who were considering working there…

  48. Alice in Spreadsheetland*

    I feel like a lot of advice when requesting a salary says you should give a range higher than what you want because the company will offer as low as they think they can get away with- and you have to be an exceptional candidate to get near the top of the range. A lot of other comments say as well to ask for a higher number; if I’m making 70k and ask for 90, I would be happy to accept 80k too since that’s well above my current salary and if a company turned me down completely because they couldn’t do 90 I wouldn’t be happy at all to know I could have had the 80k offer.

    I’m also kind of wondering why the LW applied to a job posting where the range is 40-100 if they weren’t willing to take less than 90… unless they’re very confident they’re an exceptional candidate, but still even if you got an offer for 90 you’re almost near the top of the salary band for the position anyway so your raises wouldn’t be as much. Unless if you literally stated ‘anything less than 90k is a dealbreaker’ I don’t think they’re doing anything wrong by giving you an offer that’s still near the top of their range for the position (especially because to me, by acknowledging that 90k is near the top yourself, it sounds like LW is aware they may not be able to offer 90k).

    1. Alice in Spreadsheetland*

      My mistake- it was a 40k difference, not a 40-100k range so 80 is right in the middle instead of higher end. To be honest though that doesn’t change my opinion much, as LW asked on the higher end, acknowledged it, and (predictably, imo) got an offer in the middle.

      They’re of course under no obligation to take it, but I don’t think the company was wrong to offer. If the company had offered under their own posted salary band, or knew LW’s current salary and offered under that (or lowered their offer because they knew LW’s salary) then I’d say they were in the wrong, but not from the info in the letter.

      1. OP*

        OP here! I added some additional context yesterday in the comments but will add here too:

        My previous role was at a director level, so I had been making more than the top of their range and was purposefully taking a “step down” (their words) for personal reasons. HR brought up salary expectations in the context of “will our range be acceptable to you?” considering my previous salary, and so I gave my range and floor (yes, using the word “floor”). I applied because I thought the role was interesting, and the salary range overlapped with my salary expectations/needs.

        I agree that they didn’t have to offer me my floor, but I was more surprised that the HR person didn’t seem to know how far off we were on salary after I declined their offer. Like, we talked about this!

  49. Candace*

    And sometimes either candidates or the managers are wildly out of line. My academic library posted a job some years ago. The ranges are fixed and non-negotiable, and published. Also, they are affected bu whether or not you have a 2nd Masters. Without it, the range was something like $55k-$75k. With it, it was something like $62k-$85k, depending on years of experience. ALL our salaries are public. In comes a librarian from another library in the same system, so she knows exactly what we can and can’t do. She gets to just before the offer stage, and demands $115k, which a) is wildly out of the range she is eligible for, as she does NOT have the second Master; b) would put her about $30k over the person who would be her direct supervisor; and c) would put her $-0k over ME, the Dean! I have to admit I gasped. I told her “Susan, that is not even LEGAL under our union contracts, as you well know. It’s also o er $50k more than you make now, $30k more than Mary (who’d be your boss), and $10k more than me! Why are you even asking? You have worked in our system for 3 years and are well aware that is wildly out of range!” She ended up accepting an offer of $72k, but then backing out because she does red she was pregnant and changed her mind about moving. I was honestly relieved. I figured she’d honestly be much more trouble than she was worth.

  50. Rosacolleti*

    When I advertise a role with a range of, $60-100k it’s because we know we might select someone who doesn’t have all the skills and experience we’re looking for (offer $60k) or someone who nails all it with proven experience ($100k).
    We might well ask early on where they feel they got on the scale but ultimately it’s where we feel they fit on the scale that dictates an offer.
    However if the offer we are making is below what they had suggested, we would address that in the offer. Eg we had asked for 3 years experience doing X whereas you have just under 1 year. You can then discuss when the salary will be reviewed again.

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