Help, I've been lowballed
June 11, 2010 12:52 PM   Subscribe

The employer and I agreed on a salary range. Then they offered 10K less than the minimum of the range we had agreed on. WTF?

I realize there are lots of salary-related questions on AskMe, and lots of salary advice on teh Google, but I would appreciate some advice specific to my situation.

I got to the final stage of interviewing. When asked by the HR Director for my salary requirements, I told them that my market research had indicated a salary range of $xx to $xx, and asked if that aligned with the range they had planned for the job. The HR rep indicated that it did. Great.

The job offer they sent a day later was 10K less than the minimum end of the range we had discussed. I am baffled, to the point that I assume this must be a typo.

I have already followed up with an HR rep to say, "um, I think there's been a misunderstanding here." The rep promised to speak with the HR Director I originally talked with, and will get back to me. I intend to say, "hey guys, you said the range I wanted was ok for you - so what gives?"

To be fair, the offer did indicate a potential for a year-end bonus, but even with the maximum bonus amount the annual salary would still be less than the minimum figure we discussed. Obviously I'm a bit insulted and wonder how interested I would be in working for a company that would do this, but maybe I'm just really that out of touch with the reality of today's job market.

So: Assuming that is not some sort of clerical error, why in the world would a company agree on a range and then intentionally lowball the offer? And how to deal moving forward with such a company?
posted by ladybird to Work & Money (39 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Seems odd to me.

However, perhaps the organization may feel that you do not fulfill the entire job description and as such do not qualify for the full amount of compensation that that position entails.
posted by axismundi at 12:56 PM on June 11, 2010

The job market is exceptionally tight right now, and the economy still sucks donkeys in most sectors. Companies are trying to cut costs where they can, and salary for a new hire is one of those places, especially since there are so many candidates for so few jobs that people may be willing to accept a significantly lower salary than they would have only a few years ago.

That said, make a counter-offer. They may even be expecting this.
posted by Nothing... and like it at 1:02 PM on June 11, 2010

My advice is to line up other interviews so you can be prepared to walk away from this offer.

When a company is this dysfunctional (or slimy) during the hiring process, it does not speak well to what daily life will be like with them.
posted by zippy at 1:02 PM on June 11, 2010 [9 favorites]

Probably the HR rep had no authority to offer you that amount. The HR Director would have told him to offer you the lower amount. You've rejected it, maybe they'll come back with an improved number, maybe they won't. If this is their negotiating technique, it sucks. I wouldn't take it personally. They're looking out for their interests, you're looking out for yours.
posted by IanMorr at 1:03 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

WARNING: this is purely speculation. I don't work in HR nor have I ever worked anywhere larger enough to have HR.

I would speculate that they did it because they could. Maybe the person you spoke to would have agreed with you no matter what range you said but if what you had said was lower than what they planned to offer then they would have made a note of it and made sure to offer something within that lower range. If what they've offered you is all they're willing to pay for the position they lose nothing by offering the position to you at that salary, if you refuse, they move on to the next candidate, they have at least given you the option to take the job even if the salary doesn't meet your requirements. If they had decided to rule you out because your salary expectations were too high then they wouldn't have even a chance at getting you - from their perspective they either automatically rule you out or offer you the job and worst case scenario, you turn it down.

How much of a % is the 10k? If we're talking 100k+ then maybe they can afford another 10k but they're low-balling to see if you'll take it. If its nearer 50k, it seems unlikely that they would low-ball by that much if they really can afford to go 10k+ higher.
posted by missmagenta at 1:05 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Sorry, I should clarify: it was the HR Director who confirmed that the range was acceptable.
posted by ladybird at 1:05 PM on June 11, 2010

have you done the math on the full compensation, including insurance? my husband's official compensation, including bonuses, insurance, and 401k is about 10k more than we actually see represented in the paycheck.
posted by nadawi at 1:07 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Like missmagenta said, they did it because they could. My company did something similar to me when I was hired during a good economy.

Applied for senior position, interviewed for senior position, accepted position. Then all paperwork said it was MID level. I said WTF and showed them all the history stating that this was senior. By the time of hire my HR rep left. Their excuse? "Oh well, yea I see. Well, she left so ...yea. Now it's mid."

Bait and switch can happen and does happen because it's a right to work state. They figured it's a take it or leave it offer knowing you quit your other job (more than likely).

It's an asshole move being a sign on how much they really do care and how skanky they operate. Trust me, I had to take the job, I've been here 5 years and yep, they operate pretty skanky.

So I would ask for clarification. Speak directly with the director, not their flunky. Then decide from there.

The short of it is people are assholes.
posted by stormpooper at 1:12 PM on June 11, 2010

Could it be that there was a radical shift in budget between the initial conversation and the offer letter? If there was, I would expect them to just tell you that.

If it wasn't a typo, the simplest explanation would seem to be that they're just assholes. I once had a situation where a company had received my resumé and salary requirements, invited me in for a fairly long interview and went through the process of introducing me to a bunch of the people I'd be working with, and then at the end of it all offered me half of what I'd been asking for. Literally less than I'd made working as an intern during college. Idiots. Yeah, it's pretty insulting. (Thinking about it later I realized that the person they'd had me lined up to replace was probably an unskilled worker who'd learned everything on the job and they must've simply wanted to keep paying the same salary. Why they thought they'd get away pitching that to someone with years of experience and a college degree in the field is beyond me.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:13 PM on June 11, 2010

I'm sorry, but it's an employer's market and they know it.

I would carefully ask them to bring the offer back up to the lower limit of your agreed range. If they refuse, suggest meeting halfway. If they still refuse, then your course of action depends on whether or not you have other opportunities in the pipeline.
posted by randomstriker at 1:16 PM on June 11, 2010

This exact thing happened to me a month ago- it was a mistake but they stood by the lowball offer.
Since I was in a position where I could have turned it down, I said "I'm sorry but X is the lowest salary I will take, and I am flexible on the bonus." with X being the lowest number on the range we had discussed.
I got what I asked for the next day.

Even though you might have been in range, they still want to get you for as low as possible. I don't know if you are in the position where you can play hardball, but I'd try leveling with them about the lowest you'd be willing to take if your conversation doesn't go as planned and they don't admit the mistake and up the offer.
posted by rmless at 1:31 PM on June 11, 2010

Agreeing with the rest. They are testing the waters.

Whether it is simply "let's see how low we can get away with" or "let's set the tone that we're in charge now" is up to you to determine.

Unless I was really desperate, I would have a frank, dispassionate discussion with the person who you spoke to about the salary range, and simply say "I can't possibly take the job at the rate you offered. We agreed in principle to X, you offered less. If you'd like to reconsider your offer, I'd be glad to reconsider taking the job."

If the next offer is still not in the range you discussed, call them back and tell them you are no longer interested in working for them. Because if they are going to play those kinds of games, working for them is going to be a nightmare.

(My opinion is that if it is just the job market, why didn't they just say so in the interview? "Salary range X? We probably wouldn't be able to go past X-y." To agree on a range and then offer less means *something*.)
posted by gjc at 1:49 PM on June 11, 2010

How much does the employer pay of your health benefits?
posted by yoyoceramic at 1:55 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Paraphrase of an old joke:

Q: How do you know when an HR person is lying to you?
A: Their lips are moving.

It's a scummy move on their part. But the "culture" of HR doesn't always reflect the culture of your actual work environment, if you were to take the job. If you are really desperate, you could take the job, with a plan to keep looking for better opportunities. Otherwise, counter-offer with something in the range you want.
posted by drjimmy11 at 1:59 PM on June 11, 2010

In re: to bonuses, if there are ANY conditions whatsoever attached to it, assume you will never see one penny of it. At my current job I agreed to take a bonus. The conditions were, as they put it, "if you're still working here after six months, you get the bonus."

Again: Any kind of "at the discretion of the board," "based on performance," etc etc means you will never see one penny of that money.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:01 PM on June 11, 2010

They're playing you.

Be ready to walk. Don't be shy about what their current offer tells you about what they think of you or your potential work for them. During salary negotiations like this, I've actually said "this offer is telling me it's ok to cut corners and not be true to your word at this company. Is that what you're trying to convey to me? If so, you've got the wrong candidate."

Be ballsy. There are other jobs out there. If they counter with stuff like "it's just a few X dollars" make it clear that it's not about the money. It's about the tone and the expectations they're setting for someone who's about to join their team. Unable to appraise their own worth or fight for their own interest, what kind of advocate or employee are they telling you to be, exactly?

Screw getting up to the bottom of the previously agreed range. Demand the top of your range, plus 10k. Cause you're worth it, and going the extra mile is the tone you and they want to set here. Either excellence matters to them or it doesn't. If it does, they need to prove it.

With cash.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 2:04 PM on June 11, 2010 [10 favorites]

This exact thing just happened to my husband. The sad part is, he was so beaten down by the negotiation and his suddenly lowered expectations, he started to feel that if they would just come up by half, or even a quarter, of the discrepancy, he would take the job. I countered that that is exactly how they wanted him to feel.

In the end, he (sweetly) gave them the ol' "come-up-this-much-or-I-walk." They didn't. He walked. It may be sour grapes, but we are glad he's not going to be working for a place where they bald-faced lie to you when you are a candidate, and they are supposed to be wooing you. How much worse must they treat their employees?

Yes, they lowball because they can. People are begging for jobs. Definitely negotiate! Don't take $10K less. Never take the first salary offer.
posted by Knowyournuts at 2:21 PM on June 11, 2010 [3 favorites]

Are you sure the salary is out of range?

You mention using Google and other resources. Some sources I've used in the past are:, I've also called friends who are recruiters and HR in the industry to learn about salary ranges for that type of role. If you're salary is in range, you might actually be out of luck since that may be the new going rate for your type of position.

But, if your offer is out of range (or at the lower range of the data) use that fact in your negotiation. For example, you could use the following:
"Thank you for the offer, but I'm be bit surprised by the amount. Based on salary data I've collected from {source} the range of salaries for {role} with {#} years of experience is between {+/- $}. While I am interested in {role} at {company}, I believe that my experience and skills warrant a compensation that is in line with market rates, at the upper edge of that scale because {your unique value to the company} that {hiring manager} has said would be invaluable for someone in the {role} role."
The key here is that you did not come up with these figures, but you have verifiable 3rd party data that has led you to this conclusion.

Naturally, there is a possibility that they won't move on salary, or that your offer actually is in line with the market.

If you're not satisfied, you could counter to increase the base or variable part of the compensation. But you'll need to be clear as to why you think you deserve more. Other modifications might be to have them provide an upfront bonus, add additional vacation, or perhaps provide some non-financial upgrades. For example, adding a "Senior" or "Principal" to the front of your title. Sure it won't send your kids to college, but having that bit of a title upgrade might help in future job searches.
posted by cheez-it at 2:41 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

cheez-it, the downfall of using third party appeals to authority is that it will backfire. If they are smart, anyway. Anyone who comes to (the hypothetical manager) me with a piece of paper that says what they are worth is going to get "well, go find someone who will pay you that. Come back when you are ready to talk about *your* performance, *your* value as an employee and *your* compensation."

when you are a candidate, and they are supposed to be wooing you.

I know what you are saying, but actually, THEY are the customer. You provide a service, they pay for it. Which also means you set your price. If they can find a better "product" at a better price, they will take it. If they can't, you get the job.

Any company that plays the wooing and recruiting game is either:

-Stuck in an industry with a lot of turnover, or
-Not a good place to work for.
posted by gjc at 2:57 PM on June 11, 2010

Companies do this all the time. I work for a state university and they do this to professors. It is really crappy. If you need the job take it and keep looking. If you do not need the job, play hardball and tell them they have to honor the original offer. Employers do they because the can, they must get away with it a lot. The biggest surprise I ever got was when I was given more than I agreed to. I thought it was a mistake, and was told no mistake: you are worth more.
posted by fifilaru at 3:19 PM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: I appreciate all the responses, though I'm now really depressed. It's sad to hear that this has happened to so many others. I understand companies need to make money, and that times are hard, but it sucks to think companies will jerk you around just for the hell of it.

I am going to stick with my original tactic of assuming that this was an error; if not, I will simply point out that the offer is far short of the minimum we discussed and ask if could they come up with another offer that is well within the range that was agreed on. I really want the job because it's with a very solid company that has great benefits, a reputation for treating employees with respect and long-term career potential, and up til now has treated me exceptionally well throughout the interview process - so it's strange they'd go all Mr. Hyde on me now.
posted by ladybird at 4:09 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

again, great benefits - is this the 10k difference?
posted by nadawi at 4:50 PM on June 11, 2010

Response by poster: When we discussed salary, it was made clear that the range I was providing was base salary not including benefits or bonus. At least, I thought it was clear. It is possible that they could try to use the benefits + bonus to explain the 10K difference, but that'd be a pretty weak rationalization IMO.
posted by ladybird at 4:54 PM on June 11, 2010

it might be weak - but it is common.
posted by nadawi at 5:13 PM on June 11, 2010

Best answer: Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity. Remember, you're dealing with HR...

It could be that the HR director didn't know what the budget was for the job. Hard to believe, but possible. Remember, you're dealing with HR...

It could be that your question ("...if [range] aligned with [their range]..." ) was vague and something that they interpreted more loosely than that it defined a range beyond which they would not go. To them, "aligned" might mean "in the ball park".

Finally, they could be using this as a negotiation tactic -- you mentioned a number first. Then they took it to the higher authority who gave a counter offer. I'm not sure that there was an iron-clad agreement on a specific range, if your wording above is accurate.

In other words, I don't think it is certain that they are trying to screw you over. However, if there are additional things that are setting off your alarm bells as to how they treat their employees, this could be one more to add. Alone, too little to tell.
posted by buzzv at 5:25 PM on June 11, 2010

Any company that plays the wooing and recruiting game is either:

-Stuck in an industry with a lot of turnover, or
-Not a good place to work for.

Or growing like mad and unable to get people in the door fast enough.
posted by mendel at 5:28 PM on June 11, 2010

Don't be afraid to go back and ask for more. Hiring is largely a pain in the arse, expensive, time-consuming etc. They won't want to do it again if psychologically they have "locked you in" - if they really want you they will either bump up the salary or be very frank about why they can't.
posted by smoke at 5:30 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Don't be afraid to go back and ask for more. Hiring is largely a pain in the arse, expensive, time-consuming etc. They won't want to do it again if psychologically they have "locked you in" - if they really want you they will either bump up the salary or be very frank about why they can't.

Seriously. I don't think you should back down on this one easily. And FWIW, I have NEVER had a company try to include "insurance" as part of the total compensation offer. I'm sure it's an expense but come on, that is not generally negotiated as part of base salary considering for most companies larger than a certain size it is a fixed cost to them regardless how much you make.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:43 PM on June 11, 2010

Play hardball. At every step of my current negotiation process, my wife has said, "they're going to walk away if you make that request." And every time they've either said, "Yeah, we can do that, let's talk to the lawyers," or offered a compromise. And while I'm really, really good at my job and worth every request I've made, due to the circumstances, I don't think that my soon-to-be employers know that.

I don't know your industry, but there are plenty of industries where labor (specialized labor, at least) is not freely available. Part of this is that everybody is convinced that the economy is shitty, so they aren't even bothering to look for better work. Another part of it is that the worst-hit sector of jobs are entry level. If you've moved past that, then you're on much better ground.

My point is that, if you don't need a job immediately, it may well behoove you to keep looking instead of settling for $10k less. Also, as I'm sure you know, ten thousand dollars is a lot of money. Unless we're talking about Australian dollars or something (HAMBURGER).

I understand companies need to make money, and that times are hard, but it sucks to think companies will jerk you around just for the hell of it.

This is pretty much how all companies operate all the time. They talk about trust and loyalty, but, once the company has grown large enough that not everybody can fit at a pub table, they expect the trust and loyalty will only extend one way.

And FWIW, I have NEVER had a company try to include "insurance" as part of the total compensation offer. I'm sure it's an expense but come on, that is not generally negotiated as part of base salary considering for most companies larger than a certain size it is a fixed cost to them regardless how much you make.

It just came up in the job I'm negotiating. But, it's a startup and I'm employee #3 or something, so they don't even have a group health plan.
posted by Netzapper at 7:04 PM on June 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you're going to go back and ask for the $10K, which is exactly right.

If they come back with an excuse about why they can't afford it and you still really want the job then be prepared to ask for $10 in additional benefits. Extra vacation, company car, telecommute, flex time, private office, health club memberships, free gas and tolls, whatever. These are things that the company can provide for you cheaper (or as a tax break) than you can provide for yourself.

I'd still keep my running shoes on though. Just in case.
posted by Ookseer at 7:40 PM on June 11, 2010

Best answer: Sounds like you're going to go back and ask for the $10K, which is exactly right.

No, this is what they want the OP to do. That way they get you at the lowest end of the range. I would go back and tell them that based on the description and responsibilities of the job, you feel the job is worth $20K more than what they're offering. That way, you have room to negotiate down and still be above the lower end.

They are counting on the fact that you are emotionally invested in the job already, and are likely to just accept anything. Don't fall for that tactic. Yes, the job market is tough, but you are still the best candidate and they want you, not someone else. You have some bargaining power.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:14 PM on June 11, 2010 [9 favorites]

I'm with buzzv. No way would I go in with all this value-laden language: "this offer is telling me it's ok to cut corners and not be true to your word at this company. Is that what you're trying to convey to me? If so, you've got the wrong candidate."

Just assume the person you talked to interpreted the first conversation broadly, and make a counter-offer. If your range was 40-60k, that probably "aligns with" a range on their end of 30-70k. Or maybe they viewed your question as informational and their answer as a noncommittal "basically in the same ballpark" as opposed to a handshake. It sucks that they offered you something below your low end, but it's not immoral.

All this "they betrayed me" "I feel insulted" "what person of honor would do this?" stuff is just wasted emotional energy. Negotiating a salary from an emotional standpoint is going to be less effective. Taking it personally or acting insulted will just let on that you feel like you have less power here. You are selling your services for $X to $Y, they asked if you ever sell your services go for $X-$10k, and that brings us up to the present.
posted by salvia at 9:04 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have read the responses and they all have valid points. I have been on both sides of this situation. I have made an offer that was less than what we talked about in our interview/meeting. HOWEVER, I made it very clear the reason I did it. If I recall, We found two candidates we really liked and decided to try to hire them both rather than one. This was a budget buster, but we were willing to go over for these two good potential employees. We just could not double the expense. So, I told him that we loved him and someone else and decided to actually increase the responsibilities of the title, but he would be sharing it with another person and thus doing less work. From our standpoint, we thought that he would have less work per dollar than the original plan, we would get him in the door and since he had really good potential, we figured we would find an additional or different role for one of them and then be able to pay them more. I was very clear that this was the plan. Turns out that only one of them accepted our new terms so the one who did actually ended up getting the original number since we did not change the role. He worked for me for 6 years. Great employee, great guy and worth every penny we paid him salary and bonus.

Also, sometimes, although they know the job is worth x, they have to offer x-y because another long time employee in the same role is getting paid x-2y. Sometimes, no matter what the value is in the open market, they have an employee compensation structure for that role that would be very expensive to change for the new hire. Better off just offering the lower rate to as many good candidates as it takes to find one willing to accept the below market rate.

TL;DR, I agree with your plan to play perplexed that the offer was lower than you had discussed and it must be a typo or something about the job responsibilities changed. Or maybe they forgot to mention the car allowance...
posted by JohnnyGunn at 10:07 PM on June 11, 2010

Take the job, then keep looking for a job with a company that does the right thing. You will owe the current company NOTHING in terms of loyalty. They have already established what they think you are, just haggling price. One of the awful things about these economic times is how the slavemasters have taken the upper hand.
posted by jcworth at 10:44 PM on June 11, 2010 [2 favorites]

jcworth has it, I think. If they're going to lure you in and then dump your initial agreement in exchange for an arrangement involving a lower salary figure more advantageous to them, you should feel free to lure them in with implied long-term devotion and then dump them for a better job. (Assuming that they won't budge in negotiations, that is.)
posted by XMLicious at 1:47 AM on June 12, 2010

Response by poster: Again, all these responses have merit and I very much appreciate the different perspectives.

And yeah, I won't just be saying "give me another 10K"; I will say, "you said this range was acceptable. And to clarify, I was expecting an offer than fell clearly within that range". Unless they can come up with some specific rationale as to why that range is no longer okay (budgetary changes, etc. - which would be REALLY strange considering the job offer came within 24 hours of my discussion with HR) then I'm basically expecting them to go back to the drawing board.

I want the job, but I'm not desperate. My skills are specialized and I'm in a market where they're needed, so I feel comfortable that I can negotiate without the company yanking the offer away or getting their feelings hurt. I have ten years of experience in the working world, but haven't had to negotiate a job offer in five - so the rules have changed a bit.

I will definitely update and let you all know what happens!
posted by ladybird at 3:40 AM on June 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

Hello! I am a Gen-Y-er. Apparently I am flighty, have no employer loyalty, want responsibilities before "Paying my due" and don't trust my boss. Crap like this, is why.

They're either playing you ("We are in charge" or "Har har you've already said yes mentally and now we keep your money") or there was a misunderstanding. A misunderstanding about the fundamental component of the equation... Your Time = Their Money.

Seriously. That's all you can bet on, legally... They will pay you, you will work there.

Given that this might be a misunderstanding, I'd go back with a simple "The figure you offered is substantially less then we discussed being my absolute lowest figure. To consider your offer seriously I will need to know your reasoning."

This lets them know you're not a pushover and gives them the benefit of the doubt, but also lets them make a counteroffer.
posted by Quadlex at 8:10 PM on June 16, 2010

Response by poster: Update: they claimed their first offer was indeed a mistake. Whether that's actually true or not, who knows.

In the end they came up 12K from the original offer, doubled the bonus potential, plus I negotiated additional vacation time and a few other small perks. Frankly, I think I could have pushed for more on the base salary, but as it stands I am satisfied. Thank you all again for your advice!
posted by ladybird at 4:52 AM on June 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

YAY! Congratulations!
posted by MexicanYenta at 6:26 AM on June 17, 2010

« Older Could these "Membership Shares" certificates have...   |   Am I ruining my ex's credit? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.