Did I box myself in with a low salary?
April 30, 2013 4:00 PM   Subscribe

I just had my first phone interview for a prospective software engineering job, which was a ten minute phone call with an in-house recruiter. I wasn't expecting the topic of salary to come up this early in the process, which I grant was maybe naïve, but they asked me and I gave a lowball offer. Now I'm wondering whether I've screwed myself here.

Basically, I wasn't entirely prepared and gave an offer that, now that I've done the research, I see is a good 20% lower than the salary range that Glassdoor reports for that company and that position. Am I going to be able to negotiate upwards later? This feels very early in the game, but I don't have that much interviewing experience.

Possibly relevant background:
1. I'm currently employed.
2. I would be relocating for this job.
3. It's at a mid-stage startup.
4. This short call went well, so I've got a phone interview coming up with the actual department lead tomorrow.
5. I'm just beginning the process of looking for new jobs in the last few weeks, with the hope that I'll have something in hand by August, and, while you never know with these things, I'm fairly confident that I'll get an offer at some point in the next few months, not to mention that if worst comes to worst I don't need to leave my current position. All that is to say that I don't have much to lose in negotiations.
6. I live in an area with a really low cost of living, and this job is in an area with a really high cost of living. As a consequence, that salary range from Glassdoor that I mentioned above is twice what I make in my current position. I told the recruiter my current salary, rounded up to the next thousands place.

So, what do you think? Am I locked in, or can I still negotiate freely without harming my chances of getting the job?
posted by Two Stranger to Work & Money (13 answers total)
Can't you just say that you thought they were asking what your current salary is? And given that you live in a low cost of living area, you're expecting a 20% increase from that earlier number.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 4:05 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "You know, after doing more research on the area, job, and the cost of living, it seems I would more likely be looking for a salary around $_____, instead of the salary I quoted earlier."

You also can only have a job that will pay the bills, so you need to make a budget for the area, in case you can't negotiate up and you still want the job. You have to make sure you can live on it.

Next time say you are willing to negotiate (or do your research prior and have a range of salaries for your job field/geographic area.) However I don't like to throw out numbers myself and would prefer that they quote to me first - but that's me.
posted by Crystalinne at 4:06 PM on April 30, 2013

If you are a software engineer, you can and should shoot for a best case scenario. Just say that you haven't had to look for a while so you weren't aware of the current job market for programmers. Hint at better offers elsewhere. Also, what thewumpusisdead said.

And since this is a startup and you will be relocating, I would ask for a recommendation on Hacker News.
posted by rada at 4:09 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I wouldn't bring it up again until it's time to negotiate an offer and unless specifically asked about it in the second interview.

The second interview will give you more details about the job and the skills they're looking for. Salary probably won't be discussed til they're ready to make you an offer. At that time, you can say based on what's been learned during the interview of responsibilities, skills required and local market rates, you expect x amount.

So, no you haven't boxed yourself in. It is during the interview process that you learn what the job really entails and how much it should pay.
posted by shoesietart at 4:43 PM on April 30, 2013

I think the recruiter was asking for a lowball to qualify you to see how low you will go - s/he gets more of a commission the higher your salary is, so they're likely going to try to get you the best deal possible.

You can always tell the recruiter that what you quoted is too low, and that you're aiming for XX amount as a reasonable salary, but you should be able to extrapolate the range based on your "low" figure and either negotiate the top of the range, or get a different recruiter.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:49 PM on April 30, 2013

I think the recruiter was asking for a lowball to qualify you to see how low you will go - s/he gets more of a commission the higher your salary is, so they're likely going to try to get you the best deal possible.

If it's an in-house recruiter as stated, and we're talking about a US-based technology company, this is exceedingly unlikely. I have intimate knowledge of technical recruiting at tech companies, and the recruiters I'm familiar with are neither on commission nor highly incentivized to lowball candidates. I'm not saying it can't happen, but I will say I've never seen it, and I've seen the sausage being made at a lot of places.
posted by primethyme at 5:08 PM on April 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Just negotiate when the offer is made. If they bring up your current salary, just flatly say that it's obvious you are underpaid today and definitely underpaid relative to the new area.

If you are a software engineer and are worried about rounding up _one thousand_ you need to get your head straight, at least if you are anywhere near a hot market, which is almost all major markets.

Glassdoor is generally worthless for startups.

If you are relocating to the bay area, you need to very strongly consider that you need a *substantial* increase in pay.

PM if you want detailed advice.
posted by rr at 5:48 PM on April 30, 2013

Best answer: I lowballed myself in a phone interview for my most recent job. They came in with an offer right at market rate, which I was quite happy with. In other words, I don't think you've sounded the death knell for a possible higher salary.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 6:33 PM on April 30, 2013

Best answer: When I've been involved in hiring for my group, we almost always get a salary expectation from the recruiters as part of their hiring screen. We use it to determine whether or not to even proceed with an actual interview as we don't want to waste anyone's time if they aren't going to like the "standard" salary for the position.

That said, there is always room to negotiate when it comes time for the offer. But if you end up with more interviews be prepared for salary to come up early.
posted by machine at 7:05 PM on April 30, 2013

Best answer: You did make a mistake, and in future you should be more careful. The right answer is full of hedging: it's normally good to say something like "today I make roughly x. But of course, there's a lot more I'd need to know before I could consider what would be appropriate for this job -- I'd need to understand more about the role itself and its responsibilities, what else is included in the overall compensation package, as well as cost of living for the area." If you want, you can say something like "salary is not the most important consideration for me. I'm much more interested in the scope of the job, what the company is like, etc. If everything else was a fit, I'm pretty sure we could come to agreement on compensation."

In this instance, because you've already named a figure, I'd leave it alone for the time being. You don't want to look flakey or indecisive. But if they appear serious about you --like, the minute they start moving into offering you the job, including asking for references, or if they bring up salary again at any point-- then say "I think I low-balled myself when we started taking salary before. I hadn't been thinking about cost of living in your area. Probably I'd want my current salary bumped up by about twenty percent." Or more than twenty percent, if the responsibilities of the position are greater than yours now.

Basically, you want to make your actual bottom line clear to then before they start releasing other candidates, otherwise you may end up with them feeling boxed in and bait-and-switched. That's a bad way to start off. But you'll probably be fine. Twenty percent is not a big ask over whatever lowball figure you've already named, assuming they like you.
posted by Susan PG at 9:00 PM on April 30, 2013

I would phrase it even more carefully and not bring up any salary numbers at all unless you have a major hurdle to cross (multiple interviews, major travel for an interview, or a job offer).

"I cannot answer that question in good faith without understanding the roles and responsibility of the position."

"I am looking to be paid a salary commensurate with my background and experience for this market area and position."

Repeat ad-nauseum to the point where I just may say, "I can't answer that question right now."

If they refuse to stop asking or if I have a major hurdle to cross (see above), then I usually ask them what is their budgeted salary range for the open position req. If the answer is completely out of my acceptable range, I usually end it right there thanking them for their time and to not waste any more of mine or theirs with no bad feelings. If the answer is in the acceptable range, I still don't say a number and say that "We are in the same ball park."
posted by seppyk at 6:14 AM on May 1, 2013

Best answer: I got slammed with this in a phone interview too. I said, "Well, I would say that my salary is low for my current skill set, what's the salary range for this position." The recruiter laughed and said, "That's the best 'turnaround' I've ever heard." He then said, I'll be straight with you, you be straight with me." So I told him what I make and he then told me they were looking to offer nealy double my salary. And I'm scheduled for a second interview.

You can believe that no matter what they offer, I'm going to ask for a bit more.

I'm not sure you can ever answer perfectly, but you can negotiate based on the whole compensation package, not just the salary. You can ask for bonuses, more vacation time, stock options, whatever.

This is completely salvageable.

If you don't like the salary, don't take the job.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:13 AM on May 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice and reassurances, everyone. I feel a lot more prepared for future interviews now. This was my first callback, so I'm a little green, but hopefully no longer.
posted by Two Stranger at 9:09 AM on May 1, 2013

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