negotiating an offer when you haven’t talked salary at all

A reader writes:

After four interviews and a performance assessment, the company has signaled that they plan to make me an offer next week. I’m excited! But the tricky part is that we haven’t discussed salary expectations on either side. At all. They didn’t share a range, and they haven’t asked for mine. I wish I had asked, but it never seemed like the right time.

My number for happily accepting is $130K, based on my current salary and my understanding of the job’s demands. But my research suggests this may be on the high end of what I can expect.

• If they offer $130K+: Phew. I’ll ask if they can get closer to $140K, knowing I can simply accept if they can’t do it.

• If they offer $120K: Should I still ask if they can get closer to $140K? Is that too much to be a casual request?

• If they offer less than $120K: Now I’m worried we’re too far apart to meet. Do I keep going for $140K with the aim of settling at $130K? Or if the initial offer is $110-115K, is it better to be more frank and share that my baseline for making the move is $130K? If I can get them to agree, will they expect me to massively overdeliver?

• What if they ask for my number first? That would be weird at the offer stage but it could happen, right? Should I just come out and say I’m hoping for $140K?

More broadly, do you think I’m in a better or worse position because we haven’t anchored expectations? Some say to put it off for as long as you can, but I feel a little foolish for having invested so much in this process without knowing whether my needs exceed their budget.

Yeah, four interviews and a performance assessment is a lot to invest without having talked about the salary at all. If they offer $115K and won’t budge, are you going to be pissed that you invested all that time? If so, that’s a sign to raise it earlier on next time.

As for strategy from here:

• If they offer $130K+: Yes, just say, “I’m really excited about the role! Any chance you could get closer to $140K?” knowing you’ll accept even if they can’t.

• If they offer $120K: Asking for $140K is a pretty big leap. Since you’d happily accept at $130K, I’d say this: “I’m really excited about the role. Any chance you can go up to $130K? If so, I’d love to accept.”

• If they offer less than $120K: “I’m really excited about the role. I want to be up-front that the number I’ve had in mind based on the market and the role is $130K. If you can go up to that, I’d love to accept.” As for your question about whether you’d be expected to massively overdeliver if they do it, probably not but pay attention to their cues. If they seem really hesitant, I’d be more wary (both of that and of whether your raises will be super limited afterwards).

• If they ask you for a number first, that would indeed be weird at the offer stage and probably won’t happen. But if they do, you have two choices: You can turn it back on them and ask, “What did you have budgeted for the role?” (Believe me, they have an idea.) Or, since you’re at the end of the process and you’re clear on what it would take for you to accept, you can just tell them what that number is (maybe framing it as “130s” so you’re not anchoring yourself at $130K). Normally I’d recommend the former, but in this case I don’t think the latter is a horrible move.

Read an update to this letter

{ 94 comments… read them below }

  1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    I already want an update on this one! Good luck OP!!! Rooting for you!

    1. UnCivilServant*

      I too would like an update, though my mind immediately went “They’re going to offer something like $65k”

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        They’re going to offer $150k and then anxiously ask OP if that’s enough :)

      2. Sloanicota*

        Haha this was my immediate thought, because my field is nonprofit where such things are possible. I would never get beyond a phone screen without at least getting a sense of the range because it can be alllll over the place, and I’m pretty senior in my career so I’m not even looking to discuss jobs offering $45K without benefits, which some bleeding heart is out there trying to offer right to someone of my level (in part because there are plenty of people in this field who don’t work for money … but alas, I’m not one of them). I hope OP is in a field like, I don’t know, engineering or something where there’s hopefully a more standardized salary range for different roles.

        1. Birdie*

          Also a nonprofit person, and I’ve decided to stop even applying for roles that won’t disclose a salary range. Does it limit me? Yes. But I’m so sick and tired of the games around how much organizations pay. I’m no longer willing to waste my time submitting a cover letter and resume if they can’t disclose a range in the job posting.

          I work in fundraising, and our professional association is heavily pushing salary transparency. Some local chapters won’t even allow you to post a job on their job board without a salary range. It’s not perfect; I did see $60k-$120k listed recently. But it has made me steer clear of roles that looked interesting on paper but were only willing to pay peanuts for a senior-level position.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Yeah also I find that jobs offering a decent salary are eager to post it, so if there’s nothing listed, it’s almost always a bad sign. Have never encountered a job that didn’t list it and ended up being unusually high – best case scenario it’s average.

          2. Dina*

            I email to ask if a salary isn’t listed – and if they don’t reply, that’s my answer.

          3. I can read anything except the room*

            I’m in nonprofits and haven’t job searched since 2012 when salary disclosure in job ads wasn’t just unusual, it was virtually unheard of. Back then, I used to look up the organization’s 990 to see how much their executives made. Not perfect because the amount of disparity between entry, mid, senior, and executive varies quite a bit from one organization to another, but I knew if the ED was only taking $115k, say, there was absolutely no way they were going to hire a non-supervisory manager above $50k, but if the ED is taking $350k there’s a much better chance that mid-career staff get paid $50k+. If the ED is taking $500k, the pay is almost certainly good for everyone (even if not the same amount of good for everyone).

            1. BellaStella*

              Well, I work in a non profit now. Our ED and senior managers all make 2-4x what the rest of us workers make and it is part of why I am looking for new roles.

        2. Wendy Darling*

          I have a job title that, depending on how technical you are (and how cheeky the company is trying to be) can pay anywhere from $60k to $160k in my area. I had to get real comfortable asking about salary early on, in part because I’m highly technical and looking to get moreso, so the low-paid jobs are not only less than I could be making, they’re also usually not the work I want to be doing.

          My state recently started requiring job postings to have salary ranges so hopefully my next job search involves less “Our range for this role is $55-65k” “kthxbye” phone interviews.

      3. 2 Cents*

        In this job market, into which I’ve been thrust against my will thanks to a layoff in November, I’ve seen equal-in-every-way jobs listed for $60k and for $115k (and it should be in the $150s). It’s wild out there!

  2. Ultimate Facepalm*

    I hope you get the job and it’s in the $140Ks! I think through all of the scenarios like this too and you have done a great job laying out your thinking and next steps.
    I am so glad I live in a state that has salary disclosure laws, and I wish everyone had that advantage. Hopefully more and more states will adopt these laws over time.

  3. I treated you like a son*

    I’m not sure what you should do about this current negotiation, but if this comes up again you absolutely need to get at least a range far earlier in the process. I wouldn’t go past a phone screen if I didn’t have an idea of the salary.

    For this one, you said you’d “happily accept” $130K. Would you accept less though?

    1. Kay*

      I also wouldn’t go past a phone screen without a discussion on at least a range. I just wouldn’t waste my time.

      I once had a recruiter hounding me about a position, touting absolutely incredible pay and benefits. When he didn’t give me a response on just what that pay and benefits are I was suspicious and responded with a, very reasonable, if pay is more than X and benefits are at least this then we can talk – I suddenly never heard from him again.

      Ask early – if the company won’t say it tells you something valuable about them.

      1. MassMatt*

        This. IME, most recruiters often either have no idea what skills and experience are actually worth or are so fixated on filling a job to get their fee that they will say just about anything, and especially vague generalities–compensation is “great” or “competitive” and benefits are “terrific”. Maybe they are compared to what the recruiter has for pay and benefits?

        I rarely respond to any calls or emails like these anymore but I remember years ago a recruiter was mystified that I didn’t want to take a pay cut to work for this “leading company” (which I had never heard of) for no benefits. “But it’s a great opportunity for growth!” I replied “So in three years I might possibly be making what I’m making now? No thank you!”

      2. Spring*

        The last time I was job searching, I followed Alison’s cover letter advice, and I got a call right away (yay). The job and the company were terrific, but when we talked about the salary range, it turned out they were firm at $75k, and I was looking for $125k+. We were both disappointed because it seemed like such a good fit. But it was better than going through an entire hiring process and THEN finding out we were so far apart.

      3. Greg*

        I have never gotten the reticence to share salaries early in the process. My organization only has so much bandwidth and to waste it on a candidate who has higher expectations than the range of the position is not ideal.

        Plus, it can lead to great outcomes for other people as well. We recently went through an acquisition and passed on the compensation for all the current employees with no significant adjustments. Didn’t know the team, lots of moving parts, etc. When a role came up we posted the position and its range and one of those employees who came over in the acquisition called up and said, “Hey, I’ve got more experience and a better track record than whoever you’re going to hire and I am at the very low end of this range.” We said, oh man! How did we miss that?! He got an immediate raise that was retroactive because he was right; he is a very high achiever who we think very highly of, but hadn’t reviewed his compensation since the acquisition. We probably would have lost him if we hadn’t posted that position with a compensation range attached.

      4. Nica*

        Earlier in my career, I would get a lot of cold calls from recruiters and they’d dance around disclosing any ACTUAL info. Since it was a cold call and I wasn’t actively looking, I’d just say “Listen, I’m making $80K/year currently with excellent benefits and profit sharing. Unless your client can offer me at least 25% more than that and comparable benefits, I’m not interested.” 95% of them ended the call at that point. They were looking for a bargain and I wasn’t it.

    2. Your Mate in Oz*

      Yep, I’m doing this now. Far too many jobs I’m looking at are offering “$80-$150k” which means my application has to start with “I am looking for roles from $150k-$200k” just to be clear that their maximum is my minimum. I had one phone call where the recruiter had obviously chatted to the employer because the entire discussion was about who would pay for me to move cities aside from a brief reassurance that they would indeed be willing to pay $150k to the right candidate.

      I bring salary up during my first discussion with the employer because recruiters have been known to lie to both sides. And I’ll keep doing it until I find someone who’s allowed to confirm that they will meet my expectations. Often phone screens etc are with people who don’t even know the salary range.

      The other problem is that too often the top of the range is a vague dream that if they find the right unicorn they might be able to pay it in magic beans.

      1. Dina*

        Lately I’ve just been looking at the bottom of the range and going, would I be happy with that? Then anything extra is a surprise…

    3. ferrina*

      Yeah, the “happily accept” puzzled me a bit. Does that mean that that’s your floor? Or that’s what you’re hoping for? Would you be fine with 125, but prefer 130? Or would you be hard-pressed to go for anything less than 130?

    4. NotAnotherManager!*

      Same. It’s a luxury to be able to set this expectation, but I’m not wasting my time prepping and interviewing without a range that I know could work for me. On the other side, I also do not want to interview candidates I can’t afford to hire, and our internal recruiting team discusses comp expectations in the phone screening so we don’t waste the candidates time or ours.

  4. learnedthehardway*

    From a recruiter perspective – I would go ahead and say you are looking for $135-140K if they offer $120K, but that you have some flexibility based on the total compensation package (ie. benefits, bonus, vacation, etc. as well as base salary). Odds are they would come back with something in the $125-130K range.

    If the offer is below $120K, I’d still ask for the $135K. You don’t have much to lose, unless you really, really need this job. See what they come back with in response. They might surprise you. Or they might offer something you can’t accept. Either way, it’s okay.

    Just make sure whatever you DO ask is realistic and aligned with market rates (as far as you can figure out what those are). It’s okay to ask for a salary commensurate with your experience, skill and qualification level when the market is paying that amount. It’s only off-side to ask for a lot more than your level of experience/skills or to be totally unrealistic about what the market will pay.

    1. Sloanicota*

      I love the line about the total package because it brings other things into the negotiation in case their numbers are firm – more flexibility or PTO can take me from not very enthused about the salary to being quite happy.

    2. No creative name yet*

      Honest question—do you have any recommendations for the best sources of industry rates? Or does it vary by industry? I’ve mostly looked at job descriptions that do have salary ranges but even then are all over the place. Glassdoor always seems to be way off for my industry (maybe in part because job titles vary so much).

  5. Smithy*

    I’m totally projecting on this – because my industry is so all over the place – but I once went through a process where after 3 interviews, they mentioned a salary so low it was hard to believe we were talking about the same kind of work.

    I say that to indicate that while I’m fine waiting for the salary I want, I also know that there are plenty of peer organizations that have radically different pay structures. With that in mind, I think any distance apart in figures around $15k (at this level), I’d pay really close attention and perhaps see if it’s possible to learn more about their pay band structure. Moves like changing a title from a Manager to a Sr. Manager might come with more expectations but can also mean that in your new pay band the salary won’t put you wildly out of line with other Sr. Managers. If they’re just able to increase the salary by that much, you may end up at the very top of the pay band and with little room for annual raise growth.

    I always think the most important when negotiating salaries like this – is to be mindful if you’re engaging in “best practice negotiating” – because ultimately $133k is better than $130k so may as well ask! Or if you’re negotiating because you really do not want the role at the rate they’re offering. Because another infuriating process – after the first interview they told me the salary and I shared that I was happy to withdraw because the offered salary didn’t even match my current salary and I wasn’t going to leave without receiving more. Recruiter comes back and says they understand and “salary won’t be a problem”. Well, boo on me for not following up because after 4 rounds of interviews the salary they shared was what I was currently making. No increase.

    1. A Simple Narwhal*

      Yes! I’ve seen listings for jobs similar to mine going for sometimes half of my salary and sometimes double it. Those are the extreme examples but I’ve easily seen $30-50k swings for very similar-looking jobs, and that’s absolutely the difference between “you’re not worth the energy it took to read the listing” and “oh yea that sounds great!”.

      I reeeeally hope OP turns out to be the latter!

      1. Nica*

        Same here. About 10 years ago, I applied for a marketing director position. This was a step up from my current marketing manager position. I was earning about $90K/year at the time and would expect this position to pay at least $110-$120K/year.

        The recruiter reached out to me and we talked about the position so I could get a clearer picture of what it entailed and it ended up pretty much being a standard marketing director type position. I then asked her a salary range so I knew if this was worth pursuing. She came back with $70k. I stifled my laughter and said, politely, “You do know that figure is FAR below industry standards and you’ll have a tough time filling it with someone who can do the job at that salary.” She sighed and said, “I know. The owner of the company won’t budge. He feels it is a ‘fair’ salary for the position.” I said, “Well, thank you for being honest with me, but I’m going to end our discussion here as that salary is a significant cut from what I’m currently making.” She said “OK” and ended the call.

        I saw that job posted for TWO YEARS – TWO WHOLE YEARS. At the end of the time, the company was bought out by a larger company and moved from the area. So bullet dodged on several fronts.

  6. DaniCalifornia*

    OP I hope all negotiating goes well! My partner just went through the same. 2 interviews for a job that would move us across country and then the recruiter emailed saying they were preparing an offer. What would his comp range look like? We discussed what we’d need to move, he did the market research, and then aimed high. And got it! Really hoping you experience the same!

  7. Excel-sior*

    i hope it goes well, but i cannot even imagine getting to a second interview without knowing what the salary range is. i feel its a uniquely American thing to be this reticent to talk about the one thing that makes us work.

    1. Beth*

      This isn’t normal for Americans either! I’ve never gotten to a final interview without at least discussing the range that the position might pay. Sometimes that’s been broader than I’d like–a company saying “the range for this position is $60k-$110k” is avoiding a real answer to the salary question, I think–but the total lack of discussion OP is dealing with isn’t our norm.

    2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I’m not saying it’s not an American thing, but there are plenty of hiring managers (fewer than there used to be, thankfully) who decide that a candidate is mercenary and not really interested in the work if one so much as mentions salary — it’s a justified reticence, even if things are finally starting to shift.

      1. Excel-sior*

        and they’re right. everyone is. there are precious few of us who work for the love of spreadsheets. every one of us (including these managers) is a mercenary. they’re foolish and counterproductive for deluding themselves into thinking anything else.

      2. I Have RBF*


        Yeah, those are the kinds of managers that expect salaried professionals to work a minimum of 60 hours a week because the job is so world saving and special, and of course money shouldn’t matter, yada, yada. It’s bullshit.

        If someone calls me a mercenary, I say “Absolutely. I work for money. If I didn’t need money, and a professional amount of it, I wouldn’t be working for other people.”

        1. Chirpy*

          I mean, it’s also the thought that makes corporate think retail workers should be working for the love of the business/ “we’re family” and not for money, when none of them would even consider taking a job for what they pay those retail workers.

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I’ve never applied to a job without knowing the salary/range.
      (but I’ve only worked in Europe, R&D engineering, in jobs where there is only negotiation about on what grade you start, not what the grade pays or PTO)

      1. amoeba*

        I have, but then those are companies where it’s pretty well known that they actually pay well (and within a pretty narrow definition of well – so, like, between 105 and 125k for my “entry level” PhD jobs). Under those circumstances, sure, no problem, I’d probably be fine accepting either way. Most of us had friends in the industry as well, and knew how much they were making, so it was easy to see that the company you were applying to was actually going to pay “market rate”.
        If I had no idea whether the job would pay 60 or 130 k€, I’d very definitely ask early on!

  8. About to Negotiate*

    Good luck, OP! I’m in a similar position, though the numbers are smaller. Can someone help me understand how to decide which bucket the offer vs request falls in? For example, is there an approximate % difference between the offer and your request that changes it from ‘probably fine’ to ‘a pretty big leap’?

    1. Throwaway Account*

      I think the answer is what learnedthehardway said above:

      “Just make sure whatever you DO ask is realistic and aligned with market rates (as far as you can figure out what those are). It’s okay to ask for a salary commensurate with your experience, skill and qualification level when the market is paying that amount. It’s only off-side to ask for a lot more than your level of experience/skills or to be totally unrealistic about what the market will pay.”

      It is less about the difference between what they offer and what you will ask for and more about whether what you are asking for is realistic and aligned with market rates. BUT, it also depends upon how desperate you are.

      Good luck!

    2. Cyborg Llama Horde*

      I don’t think it’s a percentage, precisely. I once had a company up an offer from $35k to $45k because they knew I was interviewing with another company and had requested more time to consider. I’m sure there’s a point where the base salary is so big that asking for $30k more is no biggie, but I think you’re on solid ground to ask for $5-10k more in salaries under $100k (they may say no, but no one reasonable will fault you for asking) and in salaries $100k-200k you *might* be reasonably able to get away with asking for $15k or $20k more, especially on the higher end. But even if we were talking something in the $150k range, I personally probably wouldn’t ask for more than $10k more if I really wanted the job.

      If you can take it or leave it, or they REALLY haven’t come up to scratch on salary, you might as well ask, accepting the possibility that they’ll go “Hahaha no.” If the offer is already in my personal “Hahaha no” range, there’s not much to lose by asking, unless you’re in a very niche field that gossips a lot.

      1. About to Negotiate*

        That’s very helpful! I will start by checking local market rates as suggested above, but having some ballpark numbers and examples helps me wrap my head around it.

      2. Wilbur*

        It might depend on the company too, some companies have the policy of always offering the bottom of the payband first no matter how much experience the candidate has. My current company does this and I think they won’t offer above the midpoint, so if you can get a rough idea of those two numbers that’s probably a pretty safe bet.

    3. Beth*

      There is definitely a point where a gap tips into “big leap”, but I don’t think it’s a consistent % of the offer. A lot of it is dependent on the specifics. Is the offer notably below market value, notably above it, or roughly on target? Do you have a desirable skill or area of experience that could justify your case for a higher salary? Are you in a field that’s likely to have firm salary bands (e.g. government work)? Answering questions like that will help you decide whether you think there’s room for a big request.

      There is a point where the gap is obviously huge, of course. If their offer is way below market value, odds are you’re not going to be able to negotiate them up…and even if you did, I’d be nervous about future raises and room for financial growth.

  9. MaskedMarvel*

    I ask at screening calls.

    I like to get my derisive laughter out of the way early.

    1. Non-profit drone*

      Good approach. I once ended an initial call after they told me the salary, and I replied “Oh! I didn’t realize this was a part-time job.” They stammered a bit and said no, it’s full-time. Bye-bye.

      1. Actually LOL*

        Years ago after a phone screen, the company actually said they wanted to let me know the salary range as that seemed to be a “sticking point for other candidates”. I can not recall what the range was, but I actually laughed out loud and said “well that won’t work” and then thanked them for their time and wished them good luck. It was pathetically low for the position. Kudos to them for being transparent (and this was probably 25 years ago), but hopefully they upped their range to be somewhat close to market value.

  10. DeskApple*

    I’ve never considered the concept of being expected to “over deliver” in such a situation as Alison puts it but I guess that’s something that can really happen if someone pulled strings to get you what you wanted.

  11. Simona*

    I was asked at the offer stage what I wanted. They said, hey we are working to get an offer together, how much do you want? I knew it would be more than my last job, it was just HOW MUCH more.

  12. Good Enough For Government Work*

    ……why would you apply for a job if they haven’t at least told you the salary range?

    1. Beth*

      In the US, at least, so many job postings don’t list a range (or, in states where it’s required, list such a wide range that it’s meaningless). It would be hard to run a serious job search if you exclude all of them.

      It’s weird to get this far into the process without it coming up, though! In my experience, the first screening call usually at least establishes a range.

      1. Isabel Archer*

        Agreed. Not to make the OP feel bad, but they definitely invested too much time without this critical piece of info, as Alison said. The analogy I like to use is buying a house — if you engaged a Realtor to help you find a house, your price range would be one of the first things discussed.

    2. A Significant Tree*

      I got all the way to final interview (but no offer) without knowing the salary range for a position. The reasons I stuck it out:
      – the position was brand new without a good feel for what a market equivalent would be
      – it was with a company who was luring people in the area with very high salaries
      – this was before the state law forbidding asking current salary, so I answered with my last salary and was assured the unnamed salary range was above it
      – I was unemployed at the time

      I wasn’t too bummed about not getting the offer (work-life balance there is known to be awful), only about never finding out what salary they had in mind.

    3. Prof*

      some of us aren’t in a position to be choosy….better to try and increase my salary and then keep trying for better….

  13. Sarah*

    I wonder if there’s a generational gap at play here. For me and most everyone I know, a job that doesn’t have a salary listed is just not getting applied to. If some role looks especially great and doesn’t list salary, it would definitely be something I ask during the phone screening.

    1. Jiminy Cricket*

      It might be. I’m GenX and come from a We Just Don’t Talk About Such Things culture, so learning to make talking about salary a normal part of the job hunt (and, yes, I hear myself) has been a real journey.

    2. Wilbur*

      I don’t know, I haven’t applied to an external job in a few years but everytime I asked about pay previously I’d always get some form of “pay depends on candidate experience, what do you think?”

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Generational? I’m retired, a Boomer and I never applied to anywhere that didn’t list salary.
      However, I’ve only worked in Europe. Is it more usual for orgs in the US to omit salary/range in their ads?

      1. FricketyFrack*

        Yes. A ton of them leave it out to the point that some states have passed laws making it mandatory. That has resulted in some companies posting remote jobs and specifying that they won’t hire you if you live in one of the states that mandates salary info, or giving absurdly large ranges, but they’re shooting themselves in the foot with that kind of think, since candidates mostly know that means it’s a place that will try to screw you over.

        So yeah, it’s getting better, but slowly and imperfectly.

      2. Jiminy Cricket*

        I’m in the U.S. Until recently it was not common at all (in the fields in which I have worked) for ads to list salary. A few individual states have passed laws requiring job postings to include a salary range. Sometimes companies will “comply” by listing things like $50,000-$150,000.

        1. COHikerGirl*

          And they’re amending those laws to combat that now! It’s a bit ridiculous that companies are so afraid to talk about pay they’ll specifically find loopholes.

          I’m currently job searching and I really wish LinkedIn had a way to report a job that didn’t have a salary listing (I’m in Colorado). So many companies don’t, which is very surprising. But the first thing I ask any recruiter who reaches out is the salary. One came back with a super low number and when I said that was well below my current salary, she said “I thought so too when they told me.” So I told her my current salary; hopefully she’s able to convince the company they need to up their pay (or they’ll just get a not-very-experienced/good accountant).

      3. LaurCha*

        It is disgustingly normal for US companies to say something like “salary commensurate with experience” if they say anything at all about salary. There has been pushback and change in recent years, but it’s not happening quickly enough.

    4. Annie Nominous*

      I believe it really comes down to industry more than generation. My industry is pretty niche and sometimes none of the openings asking for my experience level have salary posted. My choice is either doing nothing or giving something that at least sounds good a try. It does seem to mostly be a waste of time, but I try to take it as good practice.

    5. Your Mate in Oz*

      In Australia the main job websites all list salary and require employers to enter a range. Sometimes they don’t show the range but there are tools to discover it as well as letting job hunters filter by it. If I search for $150k+ and a job with no visible salary comes up that means they have listed it with that range included.

      We still get idiots saying “50k-$250k” and hiding it but I always start with salary expectations so the mismatch becomes obvious to everyone very quickly.

      (I work in IT and Australian dollars, median wage in my city is $85k)

    6. Delta Delta*

      I wonder, as well. I was on the board of a fairly large nonprofit and we needed to hire an ED. The boomers on the board absolutely did not want to list a salary, and then were surprised pikachu face when we got 4 applicants. Some of us GenXers and younger pointed out that people – especially people who can do ED work effectively and well – just won’t apply without the information.

      They then settled on a boomer who was happy to work for peanuts as a ‘retirement gig.’ Eye roll.

  14. Bob*

    I hate to say this but many times when a company doesn’t offer this information it’s because they know that they are paying below market. if it was a good salary they would’ve already said something.

    1. Industry Behemoth*

      Or the salary range may state “potential to top dollar”, but the experience level in the job description is clearly for a lower figure.

  15. Parenthesis Guy*

    I’d ask for $140k if they ask you for a number. Worse comes to worst, they just say no.

    But this is why it’s important to have an idea of what’s happening before you get this far. I’m not sure how much that actually would help you, because they could easily have come back with a “this job pays between $115k-$140k”, and then you’re still in the same spot. But it gives you some info and there’s nothing stopping them from saying the job pays $135k but then offering you $115k.

  16. ghostlight*

    Yeah, just this week I was asked for a second interview at a company I was really excited about, and I replied back asking to talk salary so we were at least in the same ballpark. They had posted the bottom of the range (“Salary starting at $X) after I applied for the job and it was almost $20k under what I was looking to leave my current job for. Sending the email was nerve-wracking, and they unfortunately didn’t have enough wiggle-room so I’m not moving forward, but I’m so glad I didn’t waste my time (or theirs!) with more interviews.

  17. DD*

    Can I ask – what is the play if they offer $140K? Take it and run or do you always ask for more?

    I’m looking at an opportunity and I haven’t negotiated a salary at a new company in a couple of decades and found the scenarios above very helpful.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      I would still ask–something like, “Do you have any room to go up a bit on salary?” and then just stop talking. Chances are, if they can do $140, they can probably do at least $145, possibly $150.

      1. Big BaDaBoom*

        This is all so baffling to me. If I got an offer that was at or above my “happily accept” number I’d…happily accept it. I’m not saying it’s wrong or greedy to ask for more i just can’t imagine myself doing it.

        Of course I’m a weirdo who feels guilty every time I get a raise that I don’t strictly need. Maybe it’s an extension of impostor syndrome.

        1. Big BaDaBoom*

          (I’ve also only ever really worked for the one company in my 25+ year career so maybe that plays into it – it’s all been internal postings and it’s harder to imagine those being flexible, pay-wise)

        2. CM*

          I think it’s not wrong either way. It’s what works better for you. If getting the highest salary possible and not leaving money on the table is important to you, ask for more. If you’ve decided how much money you want, you’re getting that, and you’re happy, you don’t have to ask for more.

    2. Beth*

      If I’m genuinely thrilled with the initial salary offer–it’s both above what I wanted and at/above market value–then I’d see if there’s anything else in the offer that I want to negotiate. PTO? WFH days? A signing bonus? A stipend for a home office setup? Annual bonus?

      If it’s above my minimum to accept, but I still think it could be better, then I’d ask if there’s any room to go up on salary and see what they say. In my experience, most companies are either upfront about their offer being the offer (usually because they have set pay bands per level), or they’ll probably come up a little without me needing to push very hard.

  18. Brain the Brian*

    Among the most practical letters on this site. Thanks for the great question, OP, and the good advice, Alison!

  19. Annie Nominous*

    I’ve been job hunting for a while and I hate salary negotiation with a passion, I’m grateful for such a detailed breakdown.

    One recent job initially got back to me but it turned out to be a different region than I had applied for. When asked about salary I finally managed the “it’s hard to say without knowing more about the position, what’s your budget for the role?” That I’ve learned here and it worked! They told me! But I wasn’t interested in relocating so they promised to forward my information on to the correct region and had a zoom screening. When asked about salary
    again, I mentioned the range they had *already told me* was the budget for the role. The interviewer then agreed that was the market right now, but since they had employees *they were currently paying less* he was reluctant to offer that because it could create resentment. I’m still dumbfounded.

    1. Another Academic Librarian too*

      yes. when I was negotiating for my present position they said they couldn’t offer me more because of salary compression. In my head I said, that seems like a you problem not a me problem. Out loud I said, in my experience the new hires salary raises the boat for everyone. Yes, they did end up offering me 20,000 more than the comparable salaries. No it didn’t end up raising anyone else’s. Turns out the only way you can get a raise here is promotion to the next rank. Or a job offer from another institution and be willing to jump ship.

  20. TheBunny*

    Good luck OP!

    I don’t want this to come off as critical to OP but I’m not actually sure how else to write this…salary should have been discussed early in the process.

    Companies don’t always have flexibility and no matter how much they like a candidate they aren’t able to pay more than a certain amount. And it wasn’t flexible. At all.

    Knowing this expectation…on both sides… should be something that comes up early in the process.

    You don’t have to get into specifics, but both sides can say their limits and you can assess where to go from there.

    I know none of this is helpful for you at this point OP. I just wanted to add in some feedback on this from the perspective of someone who dealt with candidates not being upfront or even ones who initially said one thing and then inflated their ask.

    That said, have the conversation as soon as possible and if it’s not possible for alignment, hopefully all can happily move on.

  21. MilitaryProf*

    There is some evidence to suggest that in situations like this, the first responder actually has a negotiating advantage, because they effectively set the parameters of the initial conversation. It’s called the “anchoring effect.” Essentially, so long as the OP has done her homework regarding the possible range of compensation, and that seems to be evident from the letter, starting the negotiation from a higher point creates an advantage. There’s an important corollary, the “Zone of Potential Outcomes,” or ZOPA, which is also key–if there’s no chance of the employer paying $140K, because there’s an absolute hard cap on the position of $120K, starting the negotiation at that point might be counterproductive. But, if $140K is technically possible, even if unlikely, as an outcome, starting the negotiation there, rather than at $120K, is to the advantage of the OP.

    If you consider the scenarios that OP presented, we see that OP has to respond differently depending upon what the offer is, and for a couple of those scenarios, to get to the target of $140K would be a substantial jump–for some of them, even reaching the “happy” number of $130K would be a significant change (and the hiring authority might feel like they “lost” the negotiation). But, if the OP gives their number first, and it’s $140K, the settlement point is likely to be higher, even if the hiring authority “wins” the negotiation by talking the OP down to something closer to $130K.

    When an employee is asked to name their starting number, the biggest danger is that they will name a number lower than their best potential outcome–effectively undervaluing themselves in the market. Once an employee names a number, it’s highly unlikely that the offer will be higher than that number–unless the employer really wants to make a statement by unilaterally choosing to pay more than the applicant is effectively saying they will accept for the role (because why would you name a number that wasn’t enough to make the move?)

    So, bottom line: gain as much information as you can about the market, the employer, and your own relative value–and then start the negotiations at the upper end of that range whenever possible.

  22. Orv*

    My nightmare is being offered a job, them asking me for my salary expectations, saying “$105K”, and them saying “goodbye then, we’ll go with our second alternate.”

      1. CM*

        Yup, this is one of those things where a year later, you won’t still be thrilled you got the job, you’ll be mad that you’re not getting paid market rates.

    1. Annie Nominous*

      Same here. The feeling of telling a company my carefully researched salary range, having a great interview, and then never hearing from them again hurts even in the early stages I don’t even like to think about it after a serious time investment.

  23. Patricia Morrison*

    1. It’s incredibly common in the US to not have a salary talk even through multiple interviews. It’s slowly changing, but it sucks.
    2. Research is so key. Public salary databases, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and a generally sense from peers helps a lot.
    3. Know your worth. After having done your research and knowing the field, understand your place. I was low-balled at my current job (government so they said they had to offer me the lowest), and even the HR person sounded bad about it. I gave a figure that was a 42% higher than what was named and they matched it. I knew I was one of the best in my field and I could ask for what I wanted. I haven’t always been that lucky, but it illustrated how much they truly wanted me as a candidate and how much I understood where I fit.
    4. There’s no magic number besides knowing what number you’re aiming for and what you’d walk away from.

  24. North Wind*

    Both the question and answer were framed so perfectly. This is such useful information – thank you!

  25. yeep*

    What baffles me, from the hiring manager side, is why the company doesn’t broach salary in the phone screen. I ALWAYS check salary range with candidates in a phone screen. “The budget for this position is $X-$X. Does that meet your expectations for salary?” They can say yes or no. (I also do this for primary job duties. But, I’m not a nefarious supervillain who wants to trick someone really good into working for less pay or responsibility than they deserve.

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