You want me to counter my own counter offer?
January 31, 2016 8:45 AM   Subscribe

My wife has received a job offer that is lower than her stated expectations by about 10%. She has tried to counter the offer, and was told both no and that she needed to come up with another counter. Is this normal, for a company to tell a candidate that the ball is still in their court after presenting an initial counter offer?

After a long job search, my wife has received a job offer from a Fortune 500 company. She was asked about salary expectations in the interview, and she said she was looking for a starting salary in "the low Xes". This number was stated more than once during the interview process, and no indication was made that this was an unreasonable expectation. The salary in the offer is about 10% lower than her stated expectations. She countered the offer with a number well within her stated expectations. The result of this was she was told they had made a best effort to give her the best possible salary, and that she would have to present another number for consideration. She was also told that the company has a strong bonus program with a long history of paying it out in full and she needs to consider that as part of the compensation.

Is this normal from a company, to both deny a counter offer and then require the candidate to come up with another number?

Given that she really wants this job, should she just accept the initial offer, or continue to try to negotiate even though she's feeling cornered by the one-sidedness of the interaction? How can she proceed in a positive, I-still-want-this-job way, and still achieve some of her salary goals?

Additional points:
- She is currently employed at a decent paying job. One of her goals in the job move is for a larger salary, and the initial offer is pretty close to a wash, salary-wise. That said, she very much wants the job and it likely has much better opportunities for advancement then her current position.
- The worst possible outcome would be them rescinding the offer. While she is attempting to negotiate in good faith, she is very worried about this outcome. She is not feeling like she holds any cards. If you have reasons this is not true, that would also be very helpful.
posted by mcstayinskool to Work & Money (29 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Salary-wise, it may be a wash, but has she been given the numbers on a total comp package that shows the value of benefits and expected bonus structure?

I recently was in the same situation, and I wound up taking the job at more than the initial offer but less than what I'd asked for because raises were guaranteed, the merit bonus structure was almost guaranteed and was very strong, and the benefits package was excellent. Overall it was a very wise choice, and I now make signicantly more after a few increase cycles.
posted by erst at 9:11 AM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Your wife should accept the salary that will take her through the next two merit increase cycles, ie she should not expect to be in a position to renegotiate within the next couple of years. However, since the company offered that possibility, she should shoot for an extra 5%.

As a side note, the recruitment process is painful for everyone and once a company finds a suitable candidate for a position, they're usually as eager for the candidate to start as the candidate is to get the job. Don't worry about them rescinding the offer. It's highly unlikely.
posted by Kwadeng at 9:12 AM on January 31, 2016

This is not uncommon, the wording (present another number) is kinda funny, and it presents you with a problem.

Break it down to simplistic terms:

"I will pay you X."
"I want Y."
"No, I won't pay you Y. But I am willing to entertain the idea of a point between X and Y."

The problem for you, though, is now you're negotiating against yourself. You stated Y, and now you're being asked to talk yourself out of it. Don't get stuck here in this part of the loop.

You need to calculate a number for yourself (with data from a market comparison of your worth) and insist that you simply cannot accept less than that number. Or state how you could recast the role -- ask for a bigger bonus, a different title, or a bonus for staying in the role after 12 months, 24 months, etc. Try not to get stuck in "give me another number" territory. Give them a bottom-line number and stay there.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 9:13 AM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

Present another number for consideration that's $1000 higher than the number they already rejected. If they're going to make you negotiate with you, you might as well negotiate for the best result you can get from you.
posted by flabdablet at 9:24 AM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

I got the same crap recently too, but for a very fortune not 500 company.

I took it, but stated very explicitly that we would be revisiting it in six months full stop. Along with the title.
posted by tilde at 9:42 AM on January 31, 2016

Sometimes when a company can't be flexable about pay, they can be flexible about other negotiables / benefits - more paid vacation days, for example, or higher / better 401K matching. There may be a way for her to come back with a slightly higher number salary paired with some other requests that make her quality of life better but that are easier for the company to say yes to.
posted by Mchelly at 9:44 AM on January 31, 2016 [19 favorites]

Obligatory "they probably wouldn't be pulling this bullshit with a male candidate" comment here.

My only advice is to look at the whole picture. Are the benefits better for what you pay, is there a employee stock program (and is the stock worth anything), what is the 401k contributions (if you're US based), if the bonus was 60% paid does that fit the compensation into her range, is the workload more or less how is the commute?

For a real life example I took a job with a lower salary, but the health benefits were a little better, the 401k contribution was WAY better, the workload was better (old job had a heavy after hours/weekends workload, new job, almost none) and I got an awesome manager at new job vs a nepotistic shithead at the old one. On paper it looked like a "step down" because "lower salary" but taking everything into consideration it was the right thing for a whole life happiness move.

Good luck to your wife!
posted by CoffeeHikeNapWine at 9:47 AM on January 31, 2016 [9 favorites]

Ask A Manager has said more than once it's not impossible but very rare to have an offer rescinded because the person tried to negotiate. After all, what's in it for the employer? Hiring is a PITA, a lot of work and takes away from the employer's time to actually get their regular work done. And if the manager is the kind of person who would undervalue his/her employees, does your wife really want to work there?

I'd suggest she spend some time over at the Ask A Manager salary negotiation archives. I always find excellent advice about work issues.

Good luck!
posted by Beti at 9:54 AM on January 31, 2016 [16 favorites]

What does Glassdoor say about their bonus payouts? Some Fortune 500s pay them pretty consistently and it's reasonable to consider that as part of the offer. There's a chance that if the economy tanks, they won't pay them, but companies that don't have that flexibility might have to start laying off employees instead in similar circumstances.

Do look for small print on how long it will be before she'll be eligible for the bonuses though.
posted by Candleman at 10:01 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

She was also told that the company has a strong bonus program with a long history of paying it out in full and she needs to consider that as part of the compensation.

Well, does the bonus meet the salary shortfall?
posted by DarlingBri at 10:06 AM on January 31, 2016 [1 favorite]

She has tried to counter the offer, and was told both no and that she needed to come up with another counter.

They want her to choose the final number they had already pre-determined so they can always say "see, we gave you what you want" in subsequent employee evaluations.

Good luck, and stay strong.
posted by hal_c_on at 10:38 AM on January 31, 2016 [2 favorites]

Bonus is lottery money. It's the first thing they make up excuses to cut when they want to cut costs, regardless of history. Tell them she's not countering again, they can make a final offer or not.

If she caves on this, they'll always treat her like a sucker.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:45 AM on January 31, 2016 [25 favorites]

Any place that rescinds her offer because she tried to negotiate is a place she'll be very happy to be far, far away from. Obviously without the exact numbers, it's hard to be sure, and it's not clear how much of the shortfall the bonus will cover or how different the benefits are.

A bonus is nice, but unless it's written into her contract and based entirely on things she has control over (not overall company success or the economy in general), it's magic money she can't count on.
posted by jeather at 10:46 AM on January 31, 2016 [14 favorites]

Is it possible that they want to pay your wife more than the original offer but for internal reasons, they need her to make the proposal? I would split the difference of her initial counter and their offer. If they still say no, then either hit their bid or accept the fact that this is a cheap place to work.
posted by AugustWest at 11:05 AM on January 31, 2016

I'd be blunt with them and say I expected an offer closer to what was discussed in interviews, this offer would not really improve on my current salary, and I'm uncomfortable being asked to bid against myself. I'd add that I like their company very much and would like to join them, but would request a salary offer in response to my last figure. Also, I'd add that if the bonus program is part of their expected compensation, I'd appreciate specifics about how much more that would be than their salary offer, when payable, and how certain it is. Then I'd say I look forward to hearing from them very soon and to joining them soon too.
posted by bearwife at 11:43 AM on January 31, 2016 [22 favorites]

Not to be harsh, but I think this is total bullshit. This is simply not how negotiating works.

To me, a company has an obligation to counter, and to generally have already budgeted for a negotiation. Even a 5% increase in offer shows goodwill.

No increase in offer is not ideal, but it's still better than being told to negotiate against yourself.

Your wife holds ALL the cards — she can walk at any time. She is a valuable asset. That is her bargaining chip.

If it were me, I'd respond, "Thank you so much for reviewing my salary requirements and discussing this with me. I'm so excited about this position and know my skills at X, Y, Z will be a valuable asset to your company. Because of these skills, I have already presented the salary of [X-range or high X's] as what I believe reflects this value. In light of this, I'd be grateful if you could review and let me know what salary you're able to offer."
posted by Uncle Glendinning at 11:47 AM on January 31, 2016 [20 favorites]

I was negotiating on a job offer in October where I asked for X and they counter-offered about 10% less, saying that's all they have in the budget, but they did contractually promise to go up 5% in the next fiscal year, starting in March. The rest of their compensation package was very good, so I was happy overall.

A former supervisor of mine negotiated an additional week's vacation to meet his old job's vacation days when they weren't able to meet his salary objectives, and got it. It took hard bargaining though.
posted by lizbunny at 11:48 AM on January 31, 2016

I've worked for Fortune 500 companies for most of my career. This is some bullshit. The response should be, "send me the entire offer package, with the number you have in mind, and I'll review it and get back to you." This will show the whole offer, how much the medical contribution is, etc.

As for the bonus, it'll be pro-rated the first time, even if you're eligible this year, which is dicey. Some companies require having been on board for an entire year before being eligible. Good question to ask though. Also, it's not real money until it's in your hands and should NOT be considered as part of the offer.

Frankly, this is sketchy as hell, and if it's indicative of how they do's not her dream job, not even close. She has a job, one where she's already making that money. Don't move unless it's for a significant increase.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:49 AM on January 31, 2016 [18 favorites]

Failing to counter is arrogant and scarcely short of contemptuous, and strongly suggests a pervasive adversarial rather than collegial relationship between management and employees, in my opinion.

It's a deal-breaker, in short. I'd thank them for their consideration and move on -- and I would very definitely not invite or accept any further negotiation from them. Does your wife really want to work with a company full of people who would put up with being treated like this?
posted by jamjam at 12:52 PM on January 31, 2016 [7 favorites]

I would give their contempt back to them by countering at 50% MORE than what I asked for the first time. This absolutely sounds like bullshit, and is indicative of terrible corporate culture.
posted by ApathyGirl at 2:01 PM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

There are two scenarios here.

One is that their picture of "total compensation" includes the bonus, and so they are legitimately thinking of this package as being within (or maybe even above!) your stated target compensation range. We've had this happen with candidates before: they look at the base salary, and it's slightly lower than their current base salary, but there are various bonuses and equity grants that represent like a 20-30% improvement over that base. Candidate says "this is a pay cut" and we say "well, we don't have much flexibility on base but the total compensation picture is pretty favorable for you, and we'll bump it as far as we can." This is not necessarily exploitative. At least at the company I work for, non-base compensation is not on the chopping block. It's a stated promise from the company to the employee and not contingent on anything. This may seem like naivety, but it's really sincerely not. It could be that this is their mental model and they're just communicating it very poorly to you. It took a few rounds of back and forth with a candidate we had who was in this position to convince them to take seriously the "total compensation" number and not focus on the base compensation number, but I didn't feel like we were being in any way deceptive. We also went out of our way to improve the offer regardless, even if it wasn't quite in the way they wanted it changed.

The other alternative is that they are exploitative assholes and you should DTMFA. Extracting salary expectations at the start of the process and then pointedly ignoring them and refusing to negotiate just says "we think you need us more than we need you and will play hardball." It's conceivable that they are limited in their negotiating range, but if that's the case it should have come up during the interview process. That's the only (dumb) reason to ask for salary expectations. If someone's expectations are outlandish you can save everyone a lot of time. But if that's their reason, they're incompetent for not making that clear earlier.
posted by heresiarch at 2:08 PM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

At least at the company I work for, non-base compensation is not on the chopping block. It's a stated promise from the company to the employee and not contingent on anything.

Why would a company do this? Unless there is some chance that the company might not give the bonus, why not put in writing as part of the contract, "the compensation package includes a guaranteed payment of $X to be distributed on Y date each year, so long as the employee is still employed by the company on that date, bringing the total monetary compensation to $Z per year?" I simply do not believe that any company that is unwilling to make a written agreement to that effect is acting in good faith and without intention to reserve the right to withhold earned compensation.
posted by decathecting at 2:15 PM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Remember - this stage of the hiring process is the best you ever get treated. And they are treating her like some kind of flunkie who could be replaced in a second. This is not a company I'd want my loved ones working for.

If they were genuinely limited in their hiring range and offering her an amount so much lower than discussed at interviews then they should be arguing the ways they can make it up. Like, hey, unfortunately so we only got approval to offer 90% of X and we know that's disappointing to you but we'll throw in A,B and C to make it up (whether they are extra leave days or free gym membership or whatever they can do that is technically non-monetary but has a tangible benefit to an employee).

I would encourage her to hold firm at the amount she wants (which should be more than she gets now) and if they say no then it's a gracious thanks but no thanks and she stays with her current job until a genuine better opportunity comes along.
posted by kitten magic at 2:16 PM on January 31, 2016 [5 favorites]

She is not feeling like she holds any cards.

Ye gods. I missed this on first read. Uncle Glendinning is (almost) completely right. She has a job she likes and pays her a good salary. She holds plenty of cards. They do hold some - they have a job she wants but she can walk away at any point. Please help her get past this "I'm coming to you with my hat in my hand." perspective. She's seriously undermining herself with that attitude. She thought well enough of herself to ask for a higher salary and they thought highly enough of her to make her an offer. This is where negotiation should take place.

I don't have any data to back it up but I think this at least part of the reason women make less than men - they are afraid to negotiate. I don't much like to say this very often but she needs to think like those types of men here - "I have worth. I am in a position of strength. I deserve this salary. They will benefit from hiring me."

Good luck!
posted by Beti at 2:22 PM on January 31, 2016 [4 favorites]

I have never had an offer rescinded because I negotiated. If you make an offer that's too high, they come back with a lower one. That's it. Tell them they can make a counter offer, and be prepared to walk, because when things are fucked up at hiring, they are likely to be worse after.
posted by zippy at 11:58 PM on January 31, 2016 [3 favorites]

Have worked for a Fortune 500 company, and have faced something like this.

'Our hands are tied, this is right at the high end of the range we're allowed by Finance.'

I was able to push for a signing bonus, with a 2-year claw-back, that got me what I needed compensation-wise (was going from a commission-based position to a field-based one). Turned out to be a very good move (in hindsight) as the position was a very good stepping-stone onto bigger things.

I've also faced the 'this is our best and final offer, we don't allow negotiating', but it was a very generous offer (which I ended up taking).

In answer to 'is this normal' to counter an offer with a request for a second counter, I haven't seen that before, but am not surprised. Lower the offer and as others have stated ask for something else to compensate (more PTO or an accelerated schedule, 6-month review, hiring bonus, restricted stock...)
posted by scooterdog at 4:09 AM on February 1, 2016 [1 favorite]

I simply do not believe that any company that is unwilling to make a written agreement to that effect is acting in good faith and without intention to reserve the right to withhold earned compensation.

I mean, it basically is a written agreement. You get a letter that says:

Base Comp: $X
Y1 Sign-on bonus: $Y, Y1 Shares: AAA
Y2 Sign-on bonus: $Z, Y2 Shares: BBB

Most professional employees in the US are at-will and don't operate under meaningful contracts. If my employer wanted to pay me less than I expected next week (or nothing at all!) they are certainly able to do that. But I'm just as free to leave any time. Not that I think that's a fair exchange, but that's how I think it's intended to work.
posted by heresiarch at 5:51 PM on February 1, 2016

The last time I had an employer that was not willing to negotiate much on the base salary, I was still able to negotiate an extra week of vacation. Would she be satisfied with a lower salary but extra vacation (which she could save up and get the payout when she leaves)?
posted by echo0720 at 6:47 PM on February 1, 2016

I may have misread the bit in the original question which said "they asked her to come back with another counter." I read this as "another, lower salary" which seemed ... weird. But they may have meant "we can't go higher on the salary, but we have flexibility elsewhere: title, a day per week worked from home, a sign-on bonus, more stock (if stock is offered), and so on.

In that case, "another counter" is a fair request. They may be at the upper limit of the pay they've already internally approved for a particular position, where more salary may mean moving heaven and earth in the corporate bureaucracy.

But there may be other places where they can be flexible. Maybe they'll let the candidate work from home, and the company will supply an extra computer and monitor for home work, and cover the monthly internet bill.

Whatever it is, I take back my "they are being weird" interpretation unless they actually expect a lower salary counter-offer.
posted by zippy at 1:16 AM on February 2, 2016

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