How to respond to a failed salary negotiation?
April 4, 2017 12:17 AM   Subscribe

I got a job offer that I countered, and the employer said they were unable to increase the salary. What's a good way to respond?

I am interviewing at a small size, early stage startup. It's a good job, and I'm excited about it. During the interview process, I did not give a number for salary expectation.

I am not currently working but I have a long runway to support myself, so on a scale of 0-10, 10 being I desperately want this job and 0 being I don't care at all, this is about a 7. The employer knows I am not currently working so I suspect I am perceived as someone with less leverage than someone who has a job.

Late Friday night I got an offer with decent compensation and options, but it came with an alarmingly short expiry date. The employer knows that my skills are in high and broad demand, and I feel this was a tactic to try and force my hand. I'm not like really special or anything, I just happen to posses a somewhat rare skillset that everybody needs and there is not enough labour to satisfy demand. I live in a city which is a tech hub (but not SF), which makes this problem generally worse for those hiring.

I waited a day and then counter offered with a salary that was about 10% higher. The base was already pretty good, so the increase is a non trivial amount in the absolute sense (5 figures), but this startup is pretty well capitalized. I also asked for an extension of the expiry date so I could think about it for a few more days.

They responded today and said they could not increase the salary, but that the extension was fine. The reason given for not increasing comp was that they felt it was already a fair amount given my experience, which is a legitimate and fair observation, though I (clearly) disagree.

So now I don't really know what to do. The salary is okay and above my minimum acceptance value, but it's still lower than what I am targeting. I am trying to decide between a few plans:

1) Peace out, keep on trucking
2) Try to negotiate a signing bonus, or for more options
3) Deliberate, and then if I am still cool, accept the offer as is
4) There is some other possibility I haven't thought of

I find it believable that the initial offer might just be the max they are going to pay me.

If this is true, I am tending towards option 3. If I do this, what's a good way to respond to the rejection of my counter? Just like a "thanks, I'll think about it" sort of thing? If anyone out there has some good language for this sort of email I would really appreciate some suggestions.

If this is not true, how would I propose a signing bonus or some other comp increase? I don't want to seem greedy or leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth. I am lucky enough that salary is not a primary motivator, but at the same time I don't want to leave money on the table like a dummy. So this seems like a super delicate thing.

I'm really bad at this sort of thing (just in case that was not plainly obvious already), so any sort of advice or analysis would be greatly appreciated.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (26 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
> I just happen to posses a somewhat rare skillset that everybody needs and there is not enough labour to satisfy demand.

If this is true, the best response is to say "Thank you for your consideration" and move on to the next prospect. But if so, why aren't you currently working?

The 7 on the scale of 10 suggests that you need the job. The age-old option is to suck it up, take the job as offered, and keep your eyes open into the future.
posted by megatherium at 2:20 AM on April 4, 2017 [12 favorites]


I spent a year of hell trying to survive on offered salty and negotiate an increase after showing off my awesome to no avail.
posted by tilde at 4:15 AM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I would accept the offer as is. The email wording :

After much consideration, I am very pleased to accept the job offer and am excited about working with you.

If you think lingering doubts with affect your work, keep looking for another job.
posted by raisingsand at 4:19 AM on April 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Highest possible salary is not the most important attribute of a job. You aren't saying anything about:

- the workplace culture;
- the people you'd be working with;
- the hours you'd work;
- the length of commute;
- the layout of the office;
- the meaningfulness of the company's mission;
- the cultural or environmental impact of the work you'd be doing;
- the company's role in the community;
- the way they support women and minority employees;
- the windows or lack thereof in the office;
- the value of this work on your resume as you look for future opportunities;
- the prestige of the work and your coworkers;
- vacation time.
posted by amtho at 4:26 AM on April 4, 2017 [49 favorites]

I'm confused why you are so concerned with the "alarmingly short expiry date," since this doesn't sound like a contract end date and just a "we want an answer by (fill in date)." If I'm reading this right, I don't think wanting an answer quickly is that big of a deal. I think the longest any potential employer I've interviewed with was willing to wait was 4 business days, but all would have preferred an answer ASAP, ideally within 24-48 hours. Partially, this is because they want you to be as enthused about them as they are about you, but mostly they want to fill the position, stop looking, and focus their resources on their actual business. Also, if there is a second choice in the wings, they don't want to lose that person while you are deliberating.

I know it's disapointing that your negotiations didn't pan out, but you were offered a job at a company that you are excited about, with decent comp above your minimm target, and good benefits. I wouldn't attempt to negotiate for a signing bonus or anything additional. It sounds like you're taking this personally, and you may want to keep in mind that, regardless of what they told you, this is all they can afford at this time, especially being a startup in its early stages. This is your final offer. Take the job, use raisingsand's spot on wording, and, if in 2-3 months you don't like it, start looking and move onto something better. Best of luck!
posted by katemcd at 4:30 AM on April 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Just take the job. It's a good job with a decent offer. I would only hesistate if you had 5x other interviews lined up, which it doesn't sound like you do.

If you are really worth more, you can continue to hunt and leverage a new job or this job once you're already working.
posted by Kalmya at 4:49 AM on April 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

you can negotiate another week of vacation, or a built in 12% raise at 12 months (higher than your counter since you're putting off for their benefit). There are ways.
posted by chasles at 4:53 AM on April 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

I'd favour option 1, if demand is as high as you say it is.

Only do option 3 if you are truly 100% happy with the offer. Not just cool. Totally, completely happy.

Taking the title of your post at face value — "a failed salary negotiation" — I don't think option 3 is a good idea for you.

Accepting a lower starting salary sets the emotional and financial baseline for every salary negotiation you will ever have in that job. You risk feeling like you're being underpaid forever, no matter how many raises you get.

Walk away from this one. Doing that might make them up their offer when they realise you know what you're worth.
posted by ZipRibbons at 4:57 AM on April 4, 2017

I think the longest any potential employer I've interviewed with was willing to wait was 4 business days, but all would have preferred an answer ASAP, ideally within 24-48 hours.

This has not been my experience in tech, for what it's worth. On both the hiring and applying side, 3 days has been a minimum, and it's not been unusual to have the process go for quite a bit longer. It's a big decision, and most people are aware of that.

That being said, it's unusual to offer the "max" salary the first time out, and combined with the short expiration date, would leave me to suspect that this startup doesn't have its act together when it comes to hiring. This often means that management is not seasoned, and unless you're interested in helping baby founders grow, I'd look elsewhere.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:00 AM on April 4, 2017 [9 favorites] that I think of it, a company that's using this kind of "urgent deadline" tactic on you may be telling you something about their culture. I'd look elsewhere if you can, and it sounds like you can.

It's clearly just a manipulative tactic, too. That sounds like a terrible system under which to try to work. Also, your coworkers will be the kinds of people who accept this kind of tactic, which means they will not be strong enough or motivated enough to improve the culture.

In other words, I'm coming down firmly on the side of _go elsewhere_.
posted by amtho at 5:38 AM on April 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Take the job subject to a pay review within a shorter than normal period I.e 6mths as opposed to 12mths or 3mths if need be.
posted by Under the Sea at 6:02 AM on April 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

You can try to negotiate more vacation time, although whether you can use it might be an issue.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:07 AM on April 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

Almost everything in your post suggests that you should accept the job, which will give what you call an appropriate level of compensation while you still look for the totally amazing job you deserve. The simple one line posted above should do nicely as a response.
posted by dozo at 6:10 AM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Take the job subject to a pay review within a shorter than normal period

I tried that tactic once with a startup and it failed miserably. There's no time. Things are busy. Money is tight. We have that big VC presentation next week and things will be great after that. Everyone else is being reviewed next month. Let's come back in 6 months and talk again, ok?

Unless you can negotiate a contract and get a salary review/comp increase down on paper and SIGNED, it's virtually free for the employer to promise this and then do nothing. You have zero leverage, other than walking out the door.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:11 AM on April 4, 2017 [15 favorites]

The thing that gives me pause here is the initial exploding offer. Without that, I would presume that your potential employers are simply being up-front and honest with you about what they are able and willing to pay, which may be rarer than it ought to be, but certainly is a thing that happens. I don't think you should necessarily regard that as a "failed" salary negotiation, and others have made lots of good suggestions about other areas that might be worth negotiating on, if their salary number really is hard and fast.

You don't say how short the timeline they gave you was. (Personally, I would consider anything less than 24 hours "alarmingly short", but something in the 2-4 days range to be shorter than I would like but not unconscionable). There are two potential stories that account for the facts as you've presented them. On the one hand, maybe these are no-bullshit, get-things-done, start-up types who just want to move forward with their hiring process as quickly and smoothly as possible. On the other hand, maybe they're exploitative assholes who think that because you're currently unemployed, they can railroad you into taking a below-market salary offer. You have a lot more pertinent information (exactly how short is "alarmingly short"? what were your other interactions with them like?) and are in a much better situation to determine which of these stories is more likely to be true than we are.
posted by firechicago at 6:44 AM on April 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

If it truly is a small, well-capitalized startup company and you truly do have an in-demand skillset, they likely do have the flexibility to make your counter-offer work. Their decision to not give you that number could have to do with any number of things (internal compensation equity among the team or just being cheap or not thinking/knowing that the skillset is in-demand). I wouldn't try to characterize it or personalize it.

If it is the kind of role that can be accomplished through a shorter-term consultative engagement that might be an interesting way to get started, particularly if they need this skill now-now-now.

I might try to assuage their fears through a less "permanent" initial engagement.

"Thank you for the offer. Unfortunately, at this time I am not in a position to be able to accept it. I am however very interested in the work you are doing and confident in my ability to contribute to your . As a middle ground, perhaps there is an opportunity for us to work together on a shorter-term engagement to assess fit. For example, . That way, you can get your urgent work accomplished immediately while I have the time to demonstrate my skills. Of course, since I am covering my own healthcare and related benefits, the hourly rate will be higher but we'll both have flexibility that full-time employment does not provide."

I think this kind of thoughtful answer might demonstrate your interest in the role and lack of desperation. If they are in a hurry, they might do it. If they were iffy on their non-negotiation, you might find that they have a change of heart. If they don't want to budge, this is a nice way to deliver option 1.

posted by milqman at 7:34 AM on April 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

My experience in tech recruiting is that timelines for acceptance are short because they are talking to more than one candidate, and if you don't accept, they need to get an offer out to their #2 choice, who is also interviewing and has offers coming in. So a short timeline on acceptance is not some sort of evil manipulation tactic. It's just practical. It comes with the bonus that someone who's excited about the job is unlikely to need more than a couple of days to think about it.

There are exceptional people who command so much cachet for whatever reason that companies will wait and hope and beg, but those are rare.

I've certainly seen offers be rescinded when someone's negotiating stance suggests they're going to be difficult or unrealistic or unenthused about the job.

If you're unemployed and at a 7 about this job I think you should take it. To be sure, visualize yourself taking it: are you happy and relieved, or feeling hard done by?
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:53 AM on April 4, 2017 [4 favorites]

In addition to what amtho wrote, keep in mind that you will never enjoy a deeper reservoir of goodwill (and you never know when that might come in handy) with this employer than if you give them a loud and enthusiastic "YES" and you do it now.
posted by John Borrowman at 8:21 AM on April 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

If you don't want anything else, then accept. If other stuff is important to you, then negotiate around that.

"I'm excited about your company and I think we would be a good fit. I understand that you can't offer more on the salary front, but I require four weeks of vacation per year. Let's discuss how we can make that work."
posted by lockestockbarrel at 8:48 AM on April 4, 2017

I'm curious what you mean by "alarmingly short" -- I don't think asking for a response within a few days is unreasonable, especially since it sounds like they actually were willing to extend that if you had a good reason. They could be playing games, but I think just as likely is that they were giving you their honest best offer in negotiations and they want to move on to other good candidates if you don't accept the offer. I once had a job offer (involving moving to a different city!) where they asked for a response in 24 hours -- I believe they would have extended if I'd asked (and were somewhat apologetic about it), but the reason in that case was really needing to fill the position and wanting to move on to other options if I said no. I ended up taking the job, and it was great -- the "exploding offer" thing was not an indication of anything at all bad about the place.

Since you are currently unemployed, I would take the job -- if you really turn out to hate it, there's nothing stopping you from starting to look again and changing to a different company (I think job hopping is probably even more usual in tech than other industries, so while they might be annoyed, I don't think they'll be shocked). And if it turns out your skills aren't as in demand as you thought, you'll at least have a job instead of being unemployed.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:01 AM on April 4, 2017 [2 favorites]

I see a lot of advice here that doesn't apply to you, or the tech sector, or is simply bad advice. Particularly treating an "early review" as a concession. It's not. You get nothing because they've promised nothing. If you can negotiate a signing bonus, or an automatic raise written into your contract, that is a concession.

Don't take this job unless you are happy with it. Consider what it would take to make you happy with it. See if that would be possible to get.

Not knowing all the other details, I would be doubtful that they would be willing to make you happy.

Exploding offers are in my experience a sign of a badly run company. They either need someone immediately (in which case they have had little or poor succession planning) or feel like they can't get anyone in without building in a pressure tactic (in which case there is something fundamentally dysfunctional about their culture, one way or another). If I was running a great company, I would be trying to find the right fit, and that takes time.

In short, if this was a job you actually wanted, you would have already accepted.
posted by danny the boy at 10:37 AM on April 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

PS I have worked in the industry (and in startups) for a long time and the majority of hires I've been involved with have successfully negotiated an increase from the starting offer.

I'm a little surprised they didn't even offer to swap equity for base...
posted by danny the boy at 10:42 AM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a little surprised they didn't even offer to swap equity for base...

They may be holding that in their pocket as a counteroffer tactic. Again, from my personal experience, you're better off asking for the difference in lottery tickets. Don't take stock or equity when what you really want is the cash. (And also: it will never be equity)
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:25 AM on April 4, 2017

Someone's mentioned it above, but asking for additional vacation or other non-pay benefits is a good next step. I took a huuuuuge paycut to work in my dream job about a decade ago, and it's been worth it because (1) I asked for, and got, bumped up from the intro employee vacation earning rate to the 5+ year employee vacation earning rate (e.g. I had 4 weeks' vacation saved up by the end of year one), (2) I asked for flexibility using vacation time to bookend international work travel (so when I fly the 12 hours to Copenhagen, I'm not hassled when I take a week off in Copenhagen and work pays my RT airfare). Considering the amount I travel, this has been the equivalent of, say, $15K/year over a decade, so that's $150K I've "earned" outside of salary.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:34 PM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

If your skills are really in high and broad demand and you're under no financial pressure to accept this, plus (most importantly) you think you'll easily be offered a good job with better pay in the near future, you can afford to reject this offer and hold out for a better one.

If, on the other hand, one or more of these things aren't true and you're not sure if a better job is forthcoming, you say you're excited about this and the offer is above your minimum acceptance, I would take it. It really comes down to how employable you think you are and what your level of risk is.
posted by Jubey at 4:54 PM on April 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

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