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One Big Negotiating No-No

In the August 11, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader almost blows it.

Question

I live and work on the West Coast. Two days ago I was offered a position back in the New York area. I was so happy to go back home, and with my initial offer (including base salary). Nonetheless, I managed to negotiate a sign-on bonus to cover my relocation expenses — but that’s about it. I verbally accepted, and gave permission to do the background check.

After thinking it over, I am kicking myself for not pushing the envelope to negotiate a higher salary, fearing the risk of losing the offer. Do you have any meaningful advice that can help me? Is it too late to negotiate anything else after verbally accepting the offer? I would really appreciate it. Thank you.

Nick’s Reply

Last week we discussed The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer. Your question is a nice bookend to this topic. It’s important to know when negotiations are over.

negotiatorImagine you bought a new car. The next day, you arrive at the dealership to pick it up and hand over a check for the agreed-on price. The salesman tells you he hopes you don’t mind, but he wants to charge you a few grand more. Is that okay with you?

That’s what you’re talking about. Forget about whether it would be fair to re-open negotiations. It’s unacceptable, it’s bad practice and it’s unbusinesslike.

If I were the employer, I’d pull the offer instantly. I’d question your integrity and ability to deal with others – especially after I agreed to give you a starting bonus. Negotiations are over when both parties agree to the deal.

Having said that, I’ve got no problem with you changing your mind. If you feel strongly about the compensation being too low, then rescind your acceptance, apologize, and walk away – but it’s really bad business to accept a deal and then try to renegotiate it.

Now for the soft part. I know how you feel. Been there, done that. I think you’re beating yourself up for nothing. The offer was good enough that you accepted it. Enjoy your win! Enjoy your satisfaction. As for “leaving some money on the table,” that’s actually a sophisticated negotiating practice. It leaves the other guy feeling like he (or she) won, too — and it buys you some good will in your new relationship. Not asking for more could be the best thing you ever did.

But the best thing you can do now is either walk away from this immediately – or take the job and do your best to earn a raise in the first year. Heck, once you’ve proved yourself, you can even ask for an early salary raise.

I would not go back to the well for more money at this point. Put yourself in the employer’s shoes. What would it say about you?

I’m sorry you’re not happy with your offer. But once terms are agreed to, the negotiating is done. The lesson here is not to accept a job offer so quickly — no matter how excited you are. Take at least 24 hours to think it through.

Use this to negotiate a better deal next time: How do I prove I deserve a higher job offer?

Have you ever “left money on the table?” Did you ever risk an offer to re-open negotiations? Is there a way to re-open negotiations that I’ve missed?

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26 Comments
  1. I once had an offer made and a horrible manager dropped the salary once I accepted the offer. I know it was a sex and race-baited move. I was used and laid off, then picked up by another contractor.

    Something pretty horrible happened there too; a manager was paid to hire me; funds declined and another company bought out the small company I was with; while on vacation (I got a call that I was being relocated to another project), and to top it off, the week my mother died (a less than qualified (I hate to say white male) was able to steal my job after I had proved myself.

    Even listening to this guy; I wonder how many qualified people are just waiting to take this job in whatever discipline he works.

    I answered no to the questions before reading your article and I am so glad my integrity proved right.

    I thank you so much for your candor, honesty and integrity.

    I’ve learned a great deal from your columns and appreciate them with fervor. I wish I could afford to purchase your e-books and share with (about) 40-50 (so-called re-trained unemployable) professionals who just completed Engineering Technology training here in NYC). Again thanks, and I will keep reading.

  2. It sounds there could have been more work to prepare for salary negotiations. That is, to understand the range of salaries in the new job market, versus your worth to the firm.

  3. Nick is absolutely right. I am a recruiter I had 2 employers pull offers from 2 candidates – in each case, the candidate kept asking for more, to the point that the employers each said “enough, we will find someone else”. I had never seen this happen before, and then it happened twice in 3 months. By the time an offer is made, in my opinion, there should be nothing to think about – everything should be clear from discussions and the offer should just be the paperwork that supports what has been agreed to. No game playing on either side.

  4. You’re falling pray to woudda, coulda. Go with your original excitement & 2 distinct plusses, a venue you wanted, and a sign-on bonus. You did fine. If you want a higher salary, settle in, add value and get promoted or a nice raise.
    I agree with everyone, as a recruiter and as a manager. if you on reflection turn your focus to more money, you’re employer on reflection will most likely decide they misjudged the kind of person you are. And pull the offer.

  5. @Deborah: Sad to say that I’ve heard stories like yours before. Predatory employers make a hire, then change the terms. Desperate job seekers stay mum and take the deal. It sucks. Thanks for your kind words about Ask The Headhunter.

    @Jim: It’s common for eager job seekers to quickly accept an offer that satisfies one or two emotional needs. In this case, the applicant really wanted to move back to NY. Having managed to get a signing bonus, he figured he’d won and failed to stop to consider the complete deal. It really is important to walk away with the terms and mull them over for at least a day.

    @Lori: Thanks for posting your recruiter’s story. It sounds like you’re 3rd party – not the HR recruiter. There’s a solution for this. As the headhunter, you need to manage the negotiations. Be the intermediary and don’t let candidate and employer negotiate directly. This really is where the headhunter earns her money – by helping both sides reach a mutually good deal. Some will see this as the headhunter “blocking” direct discussion, but it’s actually a benefit if the headhunter is good at her work – she’s an important buffer from stupidity. What you should do is get a final decision from the candidate, let them know there’s no more negotiating — that is, “Is that your FINAL answer?” — then wait one day. Yes, wait a day before giving that answer to your client. This cooling off period is critical, because people change their minds. Let each party have that day without them knowing it. It’s for their own benefit. Then go back to each and ask again, “Is this your final number?” If both say yes, wait an hour, then call each up again and share their decisions. It will buy you control and save both your candidates and clients from themselves – and help you close more deals!

  6. Nick, I agree with you 110%. The negotiation has ended and this person needs to be a person of his word. He verbally agreed — done deal. It is unprofessional to do anything else in this situation.

  7. @Deborah: I’m sorry to read about your experiences, and although Nick’s Q&A this week focuses on the candidate who is considering whether to try to renegotiate his salary, employers too can be guilty of this behavior. This happened to my brother. He applied for and was offered a job, accepted it, moved out there, and when he started working, he learned that the employer had hired another person for the same job–both were full time employees, but the salary was half of what he had been offered and had accepted. He did speak with the hiring manager, who kicked him over to HR, and where his concerns over the promises and the offer he had accepted went nowhere. Fortunately for him, my folks were willing to help him pay his rent (couldn’t swing it on the half-pay he was now getting), and since the lease on his apartment was a month-to-month, he immediately began looking for another job. Six months later, he found one, moved back in with my folks to get back on his feet, and remained in that job for several years. The only benefit to former job is that it was a curiosity, something that intrigued people, so when he submitted his résumé and they saw it, they often called him in for interviews. He said the first question he was always asked was “So, what is it like to work at _______?”. These were the days before online applications and ATSes ruled the job hunting world, so it worked in his favor. Today, an ATS or computerized screener won’t pick up that job. And today, that job has been dropped from his résumé as being too old–he only lists more current and relevant jobs. But for some time, it helped him, even though the way the employer treated him (offering him one salary, then telling him he wouldn’t get it because they were splitting the salary with another employee after he began working there) was not ethical or honorable.

    I agree with Nick on this one. In this case, he still did well because he got money for relocation and he’s back where he wants to be geographically. I think it would reflect poorly on him if he tries to go back now to ask for a higher salary. Agreed: buckle down, do the job, do it exceptionally well, and angle for a raise once he’s proved himself capable and profitable to the company. This is an important lesson, and one that Nick has emphasized in past Q&As–think about the minimum compensation you’d accept, the compensation that you’d accept happily, and the compensation, if offered, would have you jumping for joy (but must be within reason for the job, region, title, your skills, etc.). It sounds like this person didn’t do this, or he was so thrilled with the offer AND the re-lo monies that he didn’t consider that he might have been to get a higher salary. And maybe not, given that they were generous in the re-lo funds.

    Act worthy of yourselves–going back now, after you’ve agree to the offer, would be unworthy of yourself (makes you look bad).

  8. Although I agree with you Nick on principle, I also believe negotiating can be re-visited if one does it respectfully. For example, a company made an offer to me which I accepted, however, they came back later and said after reviewing the cost of living in NYC we will be giving you an additional 25% increase. Of course I didn’t refuse it. Yes this is somewhat different, but who says that the company is the only one that can come back and change the deal. My point here is we all make mistakes when it come to negotiating, whether it’s with our children, spouse, or potential employers. You don’t have to handover your power just because the company holds the money. If you have something of value that the company wants, respectfully explain to them why you think you’re worth it. I would let them know how excited I’m about working for them and remind them of the skill set that I will be bringing to the table and what it’s worth. Don’t be surprised if they admire you for it.

  9. Agree with the article and comments as usual.

    At some point, as one pushes the envelope, they are viewed as too greedy and not someone of their word.

  10. @Deborah, I’d like to know more about those “unemployable professionals,” as it’s comforting to know there are more members of my species :)

  11. @sighmaster, I am one of these “U.P.’s”
    I’m 48, amazing achievements, look 35, eclectic work but straitlaced finance background, and _turned down_ this morning for yet another position. I’ve covered the following: is it me? am I sounding aggressive in the interview? is my jaw (a physical problem) making me look tight or angry? am I too expensive? too confident? too old? talking too much? is it those rotten personality tests? …blah blah blah…

    After two long miserable grueling years of hunting I am *literally* at the point where I can see I may never have a job again. That sounds really, uh, negative, but I believe it is a reality that must be faced.

    As @Deborah said, I too appreciate the columns here and have learned quite a bit. So thanks again to all and to Nick!

    • @sighmaster and @sara I don’t know about your situations, but I highly recommend that you read the book “Put Your Best Foot Forward” by Jo-Ellan Dimitrius, Ph.D. and Mark Mazzarella. It is about how we are perceived by those we meet and how to deal effectively with those things that are negatives that we cannot change. It was a huge eye-opener for me, as I realized that people viewed me as overbearing and impatient, when I had no idea I was coming across like that. I have been much more successful in all of my relationships since reading and heeding this book. I have recommended it to others, but do not loan it, as I need a reality check at times. Best of luck. Please don’t give up.

      • What a load of garbage. And, you’re correct, you don’t know jack squat about our situations, so please take that “blame the victim” crap somewhere else. (Sorry, Nick, but I have zero tolerance for ^this kind of nonsense…)

  12. One quick note – the recent personality test I was given was the Predictive Index, may it rot in a hot place! : )

  13. @Sara, just replace ‘finance’ with design and I could be you, although you seem to at least be landing interviews, I haven’t had one since January. [Feel free to email me if you’d like to chat (I’m finding it difficult to find good outlets for us unemployables to congregate amidst this ‘booming economy’), ladydi1984(at)yahoo(.)com.]

  14. @Sighmaster, Hi!

    I’d love to connect with you. We’re leaving for the mountains today and will be back Sunday, so look for a note from me early this coming week.
    –“booming economy”, LOL

    Hang in there! : )

    -Sara

  15. How about this one – ’employment retread’? lol

    Sorry, wayyy off topic now!

  16. @Deborah, @Sighmaster, @Sara:

    I, too, am in your club. I’m working part-time, searching for full time work, and not having luck, despite, as the headlines scream about the dropping unemployment rates and jobs added (although my local newspaper ran a story about 2500 salaried employees who will be losing their jobs at Heinz-Kraft, and a local company is shutting its doors, throwing 350 people out of work). It is frustrating to then watch a news segment about how employers can’t find skilled people (the skills gap! the talent shortage!) to fill vacancies. When I see the same jobs posted again and again every few months, I now think not “what’s wrong with me” but “what’s wrong with the job or the employer” if they can’t find anyone. Are their requirements (99+ specs–they’re looking for the purple squirrel) too stringent, is the job impossible to do (too much for one person, no training, toxic work environment), or are they too d@mn cheap (not paying enough)?

  17. Apologies in advance for hijacking the comments section, I decided to make a Facebook group for us “unemployables” if anyone wants to chat, share stories, etc. (and you’re okay with using your fb profile — it’s a private group so nobody will see what we post), name is Post-ATH Chat, https://www.facebook.com/groups/509831049193937/ (would’ve preferred Reddit but don’t have enuff points)…

  18. Edit: I was able to create a Reddit site,
    https://www.reddit.com/r/TheUnemployables/comments/3h3ciw/unemployed_longterm_afraid_you_will_never_work/
    Whichever you’re more comfortable with, feel free to join…

    • Uh, the link brings up an old, archived page.

  19. Am I the only one asking the question of why the candidate didn’t research compensation for this type of position in the target market BEFORE applying for jobs there?

    For instance, the Wall Street Journal, and other sources, publish cost of living indexes for most major US cities. So, if your cost of living index in Omaha is 95% of the US average, and in New York it is 125%, and you are making so many dollars/year in Omaha, you need to do the math before entering salary negotiations.

    There are two numbers you have to come up with (1) what it will take to meet your expectations for compensation for the job in the target city, and, (2) if you are seeking a promotion, what that number looks like for the cost index of the target city.

    Finally, you need to have a “walk away” number, that is, if the salary offer is too low, keep walking.

    Also, Nick is absolutely right that you should not seek to squeeze ever single dime out of the employer for the job.

    Leaving money on the table is good business for you because it give the employer room to give you a good raise / bonus at the end of the first year. Every job has a salary range. You want to try to land it at no more than 50% of the way through it. Otherwise, expect crickets when your annual review comes up. You’ll be red lined by HR for the first year.

  20. When you’ve just lost your job and your wife is six months pregnant, you’re justified in being scared. So when my friend Eddie got me a job interview at the good company where he worked, I was hopeful. My prospective boss liked my work, and began discussing money. Fearful of pricing myself out of the ballpark,I asked for a raise from my previous salary, but less than I would have asked if I were still employed. He responded, ‘that’s very reasonable’, which made me realize I could have asked for 10%, even 20% more.
    I got the job, did good work, and occasionally felt like kicking myself for not asking for more money. But then I remembered how terrified my wife and I were at the prospect of my being unemployed when our baby was born, and I got over my self-pity and went back to work.

    • @Astoria Jim: Faced with after-the-fact new information, people kick themselves because they got what they wanted! It’s silly. Good for you for keeping it in context. That doesn’t mean you can’t try to make the case for more money now — but it’s wise to keep in mind that your boss gave you what you asked for.

      Life isn’t just money. Sometimes it’s about security for those we love.

  21. There sounds like an element of greed in the OP’s letter. This is something one must get over — ask for a fair salary up front and then don’t second guess oneself or get greedy when they say yes. Its a negotiation and very narcissistic to think one can renegotiate after the final negotiation. Makes one appear to be ill mannered and narcissistic and greedy or perhaps one really is. No employer wants to take the risk of such a self centered applicant so of course they back out. Our culture in the USA is very self centered, me first, and this is just one example. Employers do the same selfishness also by not paying fair wages and demanding deep loyalty without paying fair wages or decent work schedules and benefits. Employers greed and self interest above realizing their employees are their most important resource has now bled down to the employees and perhaps rightly so.

    • @Kathy: All good points. But I think beneath all this is the misconception — promoted by news items, by “negotiating experts” — is that we can always get more money if we press for it.

      That’s totally untrue. You can get more money if you can show exactly how you’re worth it, keeping in mind the other person may not agree.

      But the underlying rules of social interaction still hold. You can’t just change your mind after a deal has been struck and expect the other person to fall in line with what you want.

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