"We don't want to waste each other's time"
December 8, 2011 1:28 PM   Subscribe

Companies wanting to get into in-depth salary discussions before they even give you an offer - is this some new trend? I'm used to focusing on my excitement for the position and what it entails during interviews, and dealing with the salary side of things once an offer is in my hand. Having the offer and working with it gives a candidate much more leverage to get into hard negotiations that leave both parties satisfied.

With this pre-offer salary negotiation (which has happened to me no less than 4 times in the past 2 months), I feel like I need to assure the company of my continuing excitement and enthusiasm, and generally be in "I'm the perfect candidate for this job!" mode, while also feeling forced to do the hard negotiation right away (such as starting with a top figure that is above my actual expectations.) Is this part of the economy and the fact that companies definitely have an upper-hand over candidates, who will be desperate and low-ball their expectations in order to secure a job? How would you handle this? Earlier today this came up in a call with a recruiter, and I gave a high-ball number. She seemed soured by it, as if she was ready to just call the whole thing off based on the figure I quoted. It's just negotiation! The number she responded with was much lower but still attractive to me, and I felt forced to let her know that, just to keep myself in the running.
posted by naju to Work & Money (25 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
By recruiter I mean an internal recruiter/HR person at the company, by the way.
posted by naju at 1:30 PM on December 8, 2011

I've never negotiated for a job where salary was not discussed prior to a final offer. Maybe it's something specific to your area or the industry you work in.
posted by dfriedman at 1:37 PM on December 8, 2011

From the company's perspective it's a waste of resources/time for everyone to go through interviews (sometimes involving multiple layers/people) if the person's salary expectations are totally out of line with what they're able to offer. I've gone through this a couple times from the hiring side; it sucks for everyone, including the prospective hire. And I think it's probably true that companies have less flexibility/room to negotiate with salary and benefits than they used to (and people resources are stretched further than ever), and so may feel more of a need to weed out the outliers right away. Anecdatally at least, I know I feel this way when considering new hires now.

At the same time, it's awkward to ask you to state a salary way up front, especially if you're flexible. (Although I'm confused about your use of the term "offer"; to me, an offer is actually the salary/benefits package offered to you after mutual expressions of interest. They make you an offer, you negotiate from there. There is necessarily some talk about $$ expectations on either side before they can make it). I think it's a mistake to treat it like a negotiation at that stage, starting with a high figure. They honestly just want to know what your expectations are, not be scared off by hardball. Were I in your shoes, I would provide a salary history for comparable positions. If pressed, you can provide a (reasonable) range that you expect for this one, based on the specifics of that position. You can hold firm to that later rather than doing the traditional negotiation.
posted by peachfuzz at 1:41 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, I've been running in to the "before we even have the first talk, let's make sure we're in the same range money-wise".

It's kind-of stupid, because the question is really "Is this person going to bring (roughly) 2*X worth of value to the company?", and if you're asking that question before we've begun the discussion you're revealing that the people running the company don't understand their internal business processes well enough to be able to evaluate whether or not I can do that.

On the other hand, we've got decades of Taylorian management informing us that employees are interchangeable commodities, which seems like it only applies for the people who really are commodities.

Which is the long way of saying "yep, I've had the conversations start with money". In smaller companies, I think it shows a lack of understanding of their business processes, in larger companies it indicates that I'm going to be treated like a commodity. Take that information and use it to inform the rest of your evaluation of the position.
posted by straw at 1:41 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you're too expensive for a company, they want to know right away so they don't waste any time on you.

(Note that 'seeming soured' by your high-ball number is also 'just negotiation')
posted by Kwine at 1:47 PM on December 8, 2011

So I'm not supposed to treat this like negotiation yet?
If I do provide my reasonable expectations, then isn't that just laying my cards on the table right away? How is it possible to discuss specifics of salary without either providing a high-ball figure, or forfeiting a potentially higher salary by just giving them my honest figure?
posted by naju at 2:05 PM on December 8, 2011

(I got really screwed with salary negotiations at my last job, and I don't want to repeat that.)
posted by naju at 2:06 PM on December 8, 2011

Yup, if you tell people what kind of salary you're looking to earn, you're laying your cards on the table. But employers are almost always in a position of power when negotiating with potential employees, so it's not like you really have a choice. Unless you're lucky enough to have a skillset that is attracting multiple bids from different companies for your labor you have to play by the employer's rules.
posted by dfriedman at 2:09 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sometimes the organization wants to make sure they can afford you. I used to work at a university and when hiring IT and other technical people, I often had to talk with them about their expectations before possibly wasting their time with an interview because the university pays significantly below what they would normally make in the same position. There were several times when people canceled interviews after hearing what the university would offer.
posted by fromageball at 2:15 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I haven't had to negotiate salary before the offer. I wonder if you're mistaking "so what kind of money are you looking for" ball-parking for hard negotiations?

One company was very pushy when I didn't want to state a salary. I held ground by saying "I'm expecting a salary in line with the market. I've researched other comparable positions and expect this position to be similar." The offer they did extend (a month later) was on the lower end of what I was expecting but when I turned it down they did ask if more money would help.

In negotiation, the goal is to try to get them to state a number first. If they're pushy, just ask them what they think the position is worth. If it's low but in your ball-park then you can spend the rest of the interview stating why you're worth more than that.

(I've been at my current job for six months now, so my job hunting wasn't that long ago. I interviewed for M.S. level engineering positions, first real job out of school. I knew what the market rate was because I had researched it at sites like glassdoor.com)
posted by just.good.enough at 2:22 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the basic pattern is me saying I'm flexible and that my expectations are in line with the market. And them pushing for specifics of what I'm currently making, and ballpark ranges. Ranges are another thing I don't quite understand here - it sure seems like if I say "140k-200k", I'm really just conceding 140k.

Hmm. Maybe I made a big mistake by playing tough. I really do want the job, after all.
posted by naju at 2:36 PM on December 8, 2011

I'm trying to remember a time when this has not been the pattern and I'm drawing a blank. When requesting the creation of a job position the managers have to provide the costs of that job up through the management chain. Even if you're replacing someone who left the position, the position has a budget associated with it. Getting the ballpark numbers straight in the beginning reduces the amount of time wasted for everyone. It really just pisses everybody off if you go through multiple interviews only to find out at the end that you're too expensive. Saying "I won't accept anything less than X" doesn't mean you're willing to settle for X, just that that is the bottom end of the scale. After that, it's up to you to demonstrate how much beyond X you're worth in the interview process and actual salary negotiation.
There have certainly been times when I thought someone was being shy and was low-balling themselves. If someone states a number way below market rate for the position we're interviewing for 9 times out of 10 I find in the interview process that no, they really aren't qualified for market rate, they've got an inflated resume. Oddly enough, with two of my best employees I've gotten really lucky and found someone who just hadn't done their homework, really liked what we were working on, etc., and was asking for less than the market rate. In both of these cases I've offered them 10-20% more than they were asking, which pretty much trumped all the other offers they'd been considering.
posted by Runes at 2:47 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I guess I've never worked in an industry where at least a salary range was posted as part of the listing. Sorry you have to deal with this BS where workers have to underbid each other to land a job. If you would accept 100K, I'd just tell them "In the $125K range."
posted by teg4rvn at 2:50 PM on December 8, 2011

It really sucks, but I've heard the phrase "the first person to name a number loses" with rthe egard to salary negotiation. They want to pay you as little as possible, with as few benefits as they can get away with.

So if you just say a number, and don't mention any benefits...they're going to skimp on benefits. So when i get lucky enough to get that far in the process, I say something like, "I'm not just looking at one part of this equation, the salary and benefits package will need to be in line with what others are offering." This reminds them (I hope, but I've had the same borderline crappy retail job for 5 years now and no career type hires!) that I'm more than just a salary demand when they're filling out whatever little hiring rubric they use these days.

So. Uh. Be prepared to negotiate even when they give you an offer. "Hey, I know we talked about 125 being the bottom end of my range, and I see here that you're offering 100, 2 weeks vacation and...health package. Could we investigate 4 weeks paid vacation, better health package and company car?" (Alter suggestions for whatever is appropriate in your field.)
posted by tulip-socks at 3:09 PM on December 8, 2011

Be proactive. Ask them what the salary range is upfront and if they say "what do you want?" you say "market average is x amount to y amount. I understand compensation packages differ between companies and I am/am not interested in flexible compensation comparable to market rates, with the specifics of this position taken into account of course".

That way you don't state a number but you give them enough info not to waste your time. And they know if offering you non cash bonuses like extra leave is worth a shot.
posted by fshgrl at 3:12 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

naju: "Yeah, the basic pattern is me saying I'm flexible and that my expectations are in line with the market. And them pushing for specifics of what I'm currently making, and ballpark ranges. Ranges are another thing I don't quite understand here - it sure seems like if I say "140k-200k", I'm really just conceding 140k.

If you're honestly fine with the market rate, and they ask you for a rate, the reasonable thing to do here is state the market rate. You're bitching about them playing a game, while you're angling for an above market offer with no experience by playing a game. And you're doing it poorly, and in poor form. You've asked them to reveal information without any reciprocation. They've already published the job description, you should have an idea what the range is, and if you don't that reveals something about you professionally.

If you want a 200k offer, credibly demonstrate that you're worth at least 190k elsewhere, and are worth more than 200k to them. By landing a second offer from another firm and interviewing well. It may be that you have to settle for 140k, because your alternatives aren't that great; your resume lists your previous job, they know the market range for project managers or whatever, and they will lowball you. If you are bluffing about alternatives right now, you will be faced with a choice, and they know it. You'll have to turn down a good opportunity for the risk of getting a better one you think might exist. If you have multiple offers, you can trade them and say "Here's MegaCorp's offer, can you beat that?"
posted by pwnguin at 3:45 PM on December 8, 2011

This might be helpful: How to Make a Thousand Dollars a Minute.
posted by ottereroticist at 4:08 PM on December 8, 2011

the reasonable thing to do here is state the market rate. You're bitching about them playing a game, while you're angling for an above market offer with no experience by playing a game. And you're doing it poorly, and in poor form.

The range varies by too much depending on particulars of positions, skillsets required, how much my experience gets me, there's really no way to just state the market rate as if its a concrete number. I'm actually arguing for the higher range of the market, and I have a resume to back it up, so I don't think it's poor form.

credibly demonstrate that you're worth at least 190k elsewhere

For the record I'm about a week away from receiving a second, higher offer. But I wasn't aware that you had to have multiple offers to have any leverage whatsoever in a market that's already unfair to candidates. "Get multiple offers or else just grin and take whatever" doesn't seem very wise.
posted by naju at 4:10 PM on December 8, 2011

from receiving a second, higher offer

Or my first concrete offer, I meant. See, it's all so confusing :)
posted by naju at 4:12 PM on December 8, 2011

The range varies by too much depending on particulars of positions, skillsets required, how much my experience gets me, there's really no way to just state the market rate as if its a concrete number.

I somewhat doubt this. You look at the job description, fit it into a job title, and you look up BLS or GlassDoor data to build a range. You cut the lower half out and there's your range. Obviously the fringe benefits will vary and you don't have that on hand to evaluate.

naju: ""Get multiple offers or else just grin and take whatever" doesn't seem very wise."

It isn't about what's fair. It's about what works. Playing hardball before you've even talked to anyone who isn't a recruiter seems even less wise. Stating 140K now doesn't mean you can't ask for more later. As you've witnessed, there is a risk that going in high will result in the recruiter dropping you as a feasible candidate. There's also a risk that they're faking, presumably recruiters call people all the time asking about their salary range and know how to whinge people into agreeing to their criteria. What you want from them is a signal that's hard to fake, and that's a written offer. You want a bidding war. It sounds like you've got one.

If you don't get that second offer for whatever reason (maybe a large client goes bankrupt and their entire staff is fired), take the job and keep looking. If you really think you can do better, sit down and do the cost-benefit analysis on what it costs to keep looking vs how much it costs to be depressingly employed. Especially if your last job was quite lowballed, even taking a less than optimal offer can improve your bargaining position.
posted by pwnguin at 5:11 PM on December 8, 2011

1- It's all a negotiation. You are selling your services, they are customers looking for the best deal.

2- I disagree with the "mention a credible offer". That is an appeal to authority ("they think I'm worth this much, so should you") and it risks them saying "then you should take that offer." The negotiation is between you and the other person(s).

3- If they ask for a number, aim high. "The market range for my skillset is X, and I believe my particulars puts me at the higher end of that range."

4- If they hem and haw, invite them to make a counter offer. Perhaps their perks and benefits make a lower salary justified.
posted by gjc at 5:15 PM on December 8, 2011

Pre-interview, they ask for a range you are looking for. I give a range that is: a little above the absolute lowest I'm willing to work for through the absolute top I feel I could possible get. This allows you and the company to not waste any time if you are not willing to work for anything below $75k but they are looking to pay no more than 50k. Do not, DO NOT, give any number below what you are willing to work for.

Interview process. They find out a lot more about you and you find out a lot more about the company and how your skills apply to the company and position.

You decide how much you want to work there. They decide how much they want you to work there. Generally, they are only going to offer the job to the person they really want, this isn't a process you want to go through multiple times. I really don't see any of this "lowest bid gets the job" stuff someone mentioned above, as long as your ranges are in line with each other and they like you, you're fine.

Offer Process. They offer you something in the range you gave them before. At this point ask about standard benefits that are included with that offer - PTO/Vacation, Insurance, Holidays, Bonuses, etc.

If you don't feel the offer is high enough you can negotiate from here. Feel free to say things like "I really think I am perfect for this job" or "The job seems a little more involved that I originally thought so I think I would adjust my range at this point." Stuff like that.
posted by magnetsphere at 5:27 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I encountered a lot of this style of questioning in the past three months at an early stage (usually the screening interview). My approach was to provide a window in which my current salary fell (I used a $5k range, but if I were six figures, I'd bump that to $10k), and then close my response with "but I'm not looking for a lateral move." This generally proved sufficient to not invite further questions, unless their budget was lower than my current salary.

I also sometimes provided some extra commentary on how I was nearly up for promotion in my current position, and that the promotion would make me eligible for a total compensation of $X (where X = one paygrade up plus rockstar-level bonus, and conveniently, also the high end of my target base salary).

I just signed an employment offer for 20% more than I was making (after an offer and another round of negotiation), but with a smallish company, so my experience there may not be typical.
posted by deludingmyself at 5:56 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you're too expensive for a company, they want to know right away so they don't waste any time on you.

And to be clear, this is all about them worrying about wasting their own time. They are perfectly comfortable asking you to provide highly personal information like your salary history even if they're not going to make you an offer.

I may be overly harsh with that; you're not clear whether this request came in from the recruiter even before you had an interview. If you've interviewed and they're now in the place of considering whether to extend you an offer then that's a different matter. I'm inclined to think that's not the case, however, because otherwise they'd just make you the offer they want to and you take it or don't.

Assuming you're earlier in this process - either have only had a phone screening with a HR worker or maybe even a phone interview with a decision maker - I'll tell you my conclusions based on 20y in the technology field. It's been my experience that organizations that want information from you up-front, pre-interview, fall into one a few camps.

1: Organizations with poorly-handled/developed or non-existent salary policies. They do nothing to be sure they keep up with market, exercise no caution about making sure that people in comparable jobs fall into comparable salary bands, and consequently are forever putting out fires where people are having unpleasant salary conversations and/or leaving. This place often goes hand in hand with...

2: Organizations where they're willing to engage in behavior that is self-defeating in the long term in order to lowball you up-front. They may or may not understand that it's why they have a turnover problem, or perhaps they just agree to fix hugely out-of-whack underpayment situations when people figure it out later; they justify the ill-feelings people have about feeling screwed by telling themselves they saved some money up front.

3: Organizations that are just goofed up enough that they don't bother to do basic research on what they need to pay to be competitive in the market. Rather than do their jobs they ask their applicants to do it for them by providing them salary histories and/or desired salaries. Many times this means they get sticker shock well past the point where they've started the hiring process and are discovering they can't get someone as inexpensively as they expected. They may discard employees who respond to this inane question about salary (that they're asked to make before they get a better idea what the job and culture are like) with a number they think is way out of whack. They may cancel the position listing entirely why they decide to learn, too late, what they should have done research about ahead of time.

If you're farther in this process you may be a victim of step 3. They're either suddenly discovering they can't pay competitively or they're just wasting your time as they survey their interviewees to figure out what their bottom line should be with their preferred candidate. That bitterness could certainly be explained by their annoyance that you're not giving them the answers they want.

You can decide for yourself whether you want to play along with these things. I decided years ago that I'm not willing to be the only one making revelations. That's meant passing up some jobs who wouldn't talk with me if I wouldn't give them a 10+ year salary history. It's meant some uncomfortable conversations where I told someone "I understand you don't want to spend time on someone who isn't going to be interested, but I can tell you that based on what I know I am very interested in working at your organization. I am more interested in a job doing what I want to be doing than I am a strict dollar figure. I can't tell you what that dollar figure is until we've talked about the job more and spent more time together any more than you can make me a precise dollar offer before you learn more about me."

And that's the job I'm in now, in fact. And those positions where people were most adamant about refusing to reveal a range or live without what I consider to be personal information are ones where I saw the positions listed for 6+ more months or subsequently met people from that organization who told me how jerked up their salary situations where.

That's a collection of personal anecdotes, not data, but I feel like my career and quality of life have been much better by not working at places who didn't approach my working with them as a mutual partnership decision rather than one where I should just hand over whatever information they asked for. You can decide what your capacity for pain is in that sort of thing; it's what you really should do in any negotiation anyway - you need to know what you will walk away from.

You'll be much happier what the salary you get if you decide ahead of time what you want and don't obsess over their side. Let them worry about their side of the deal. If they can't meet what you have already decided you want to be paid then you are better off without the job. If they agree to what you want then you got what you want; second-guessing "oh they agreed to quick! I coulda got more!" is a path to dissatisfaction.
posted by phearlez at 11:52 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]

I have been facing this situation from the last 8 years - I haven't changed jobs much, but keep interviewing all the same :)

When asked about a range, I calculate my lowest limit, say 140K and think about what would it take for me to accept that - great company brand, position that does not involve a lot of traveling, allows work-from-home as needed, generous medical/other benefits etc.

I then say, "155-170K, but that is not the absolute number - it depends on the position, availability of flexible work schedules, organizational culture (look for phrases like fast-paced, competitive, Get-it-done), so once we have a discussion, you can make me an offer based on what you think I am worth and then we can go from there". From there, it either goes:

1. That is great, let me schedule a time for us to meet...

2. "Oh" (sounding disappointed). "We were thinking around 120K". Then I go: "I am sure you know that the median salary for a person with my experience currently is 140K and since I am above the median, I asked for more. I can prove I am above the median, so lets have a discussion and then if you still feel strongly about it, we can work out a compromise with other non-financial benefits".

Usually, I get the interview, but if they still lowball me, I say "Thanks, but I probably wouldn't fit in very well then" and close it.

BIG, RED Caveat: Ensure any benefits you negotiate are in the written offer and a time period for review is mentioned. I have been screwed once, when the hiring manager adhered to his promise and allowed me to work from home twice a week, but when he moved to another department, the new manager did not see any written agreement and hence discontinued that benefit. Needless to say, I soon discontinued going to work there
posted by theobserver at 10:24 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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