In the October 28, 2014 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, two job seekers make one very wrong assumption. One gets burned, the other still might learn. These two readers made the same mistake–they bungled their salary negotiations. Could they have handled it better?


I got an offer from a prestigious company and accepted it two months ago. During my notice period of three months, I got one more good offer. It was higher than the first offer. After careful analysis, I have decided to join the first company, where the salary is lower. This is my first job, and I accepted the offer without negotiating the salary. Now I would like to ask the employer to increase the offer. I still have 15 days before I start work. Could you please suggest how to proceed? Thanks in advance.

Nick’s Reply

want-moreCongratulations on your offer, and on having a job with a company you really want to work for. If you’re happy with this new job, don’t try to grab a few more dollars. Rather, earn them in your first promotion and performance review. (Here’s the first thing that I think everyone should learn about this topic: That’s why it’s called compensation.)

Now I will caution you: You said you have already accepted the job offer. That means negotiations are closed, over, finished, done.

If you go back now and ask for more money, there is a chance they will become justifiably upset with you and withdraw the offer. After all, you accepted what they offered. In my opinion, what you are contemplating is inappropriate. I think it will suggest a lack of character to the employer.

(However, if you were to rescind your acceptance so you could take the higher-paying job, I’d have no issue with that. I discuss this in Juggling Job Offers, an article that is now expanded in the PDF book, Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers.)

It is common to have second thoughts about salary, especially when another company offers you more. It is also common to feel we could have negotiated a few more dollars. But consider this: You chose the lower salary job for a reason–apparently it’s a better situation for you. That’s a form of very valuable compensation in itself.

I have a rule: When you negotiate, always leave a few dollars on the table. It makes the other guy feel the negotiation was a success, and it makes him regard you and your new relationship more highly. Those few dollars are worth a lot in good will. To put it another way, never be greedy. Negotiate as best you can during negotiations–but when you’ve agreed to a deal, negotiations are done.

Read on to see what happened to another reader who changed her mind–too late–and tried to ask for more money.


I had an interview last week with a professional office, and I told them my desired salary range. My mistake. I quoted a lower amount than I needed. They checked references and they called to offer me the job. I explained that I had made an error and quoted them a range for a 30-hour work week rather than a 40-hour work week. I did not mention a new salary amount.

The hiring manager told me he was “put back by the lack of communication” and wanted me to come back in and speak with them again. I responded with, “It’s not a problem. I will accept your offer and I’m ready to start work.” He seemed frustrated and said he would call me back after talking to his partner again. He did not call back. I called yesterday and left a message, but he has not called me. I don’t want 25% more. What’s your advice?

Nick’s Reply

I’m a big advocate for negotiating the very best compensation possible. But as I pointed out in the Q&A above, you can’t change a deal after it’s struck. (You can walk away from it, but that’s another story.) The problem is clear: You destroyed your credibility by changing your salary range. I understand you made an error. But when you called to explain it, all they heard is that you want to change the terms. That worries them. Now they don’t trust you to be up front and accurate with them.

You introduced uncertainty. I think that’s what turned them off. I’d send them a short, handwritten letter. I’d apologize for causing confusion, thank them for their time and interest, and tell them you understand why they may have decided to drop the matter. Sign it with best wishes and forget about it. There’s a small chance they’ll consider this a classy action and call you back. But if they don’t, I’d leave them alone, chalk it up to experience, and move on.

This is a hard lesson. I hope it’s one that the person who asked the first question above takes to heart. I don’ t think these are greedy people; I think they are naive negotiators. Never go into a negotiation without knowing exactly what you want. (Here’s some very simple but very powerful help: How to decide how much you want.) Once you state what you want, you kill your credibility if you change your position after the deal is settled–and it’s perfectly understandable if the other party withdraws the deal altogether.

Can you go back and re-negotiate a settled deal? I think there’s a difference between rescinding your acceptance of a job, and re-opening negotiations to get a better deal. What advice would you give these two readers?

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  1. I agree with your advice in both situations, although I think the first one is a special case calling for an additional tactic. The writer states that it’s his “first job,” suggesting that he’s either a fresh college grad or coming out of the military. In either case, he should have been given some coaching up front on handling multiple job offers.

    A college or graduate student is more likely to receive multiple offers than someone who’s already working, and employers know that. The candidate should have (1) made each potential employer aware that he was interviewing for additional positions; (2) negotiated a reasonable time frame to consider all potential offers (and schools generally do this for the students by prohibiting recruiting firms from demanding decisions prior to a given date); and (3) asked how much flexibility each firm might have in the event that another offer might be more favorable with respect to salary, signing bonus, benefits, location, or other working conditions.

    This should signal that the candidate has some negotiating savvy, and gives each potential employer the opportunity to state its position in the event of a competing offer without having “their feet held to the fire.” Some employers will say that their offers are final, while some might indicate a willingness to match other offers that the candidate might receive.

  2. I don’t know what kind of school Robert O’Brien went to, but I think it would be pretty dangerous to presume that that’s how it works for most, or even a decent chunk, of students or fields. It sounds like maybe what happens at MIT or a school with a great engineering program. But none of that is at all true for the vast majority of liberal-arts grads, who have something like a 25% unemployment rate. (Don’t get me wrong… it sounds great! But none of that advice would have been true or helpful to myself or anyone I know).

    Though I would think that wouldn’t be that helpful to employers. Many employers will probably say their offers are final if they’re asked before an offer is even made… even if they would negotiate with a superstar.

    Honestly, I don’t think any of this is particularly helpful to a candidate, either. These are all questions you ask or things you bring up when an offer is on the table, not before. And I can’t imagine thinking that a candidate has “negotiating savvy” if they brought this stuff up to me. Not that “negotiating savvy” is a relevant skill to most any job I hire for (not that it’s not important to others! Just not mine).

  3. Oh! Nick! You mentioned a couple times in the blog that you think it’s OK to rescind an acceptance of an offer. Can you elaborate on that? I think that you can decline an offer and that’s fine, but if you accept it and a week later take it back, I think that’s a big deal, and I would not generally consider someone who’d done that eligible for hire in the future (with the exception of truly surprising circumstances that demand that they refuse the job, rather than such that would require them to ask for more time before the start date). But if you don’t think it’s a big deal, I’d be interested to know why.

  4. @Robert: I agree with you about the need for coaching for new grads, but the sad reality is that colleges generally do a lousy job of preparing their grads for jobs. I’m constantly advocating – to colleges and to parents – that expectations for job prep should be far higher, no matter what curriculum a student is in.

  5. @Kimberlee: I know my position is controversial, but I believe a job candidate should not automatically reject a second, better offer, before they start a job at a less desireable job. I think it’s perfectly okay to rescind an acceptance to take a better deal. It’s really no different than quitting a job to take a better one, or from a company laying people off all of a sudden. In the first case, we’re just shifting the time frame from zero days (haven’t started the job yet) to maybe a year or two on the job (when something better comes along). In the latter case, it’s a matter of financial realities – a company may find itself in the unfortunate position of having to lay people off because it can’t afford them. Is that unethical? How’s it any different when a significantly better deal presents itself while a person is waiting to start a new job (having accepted an offer)? There is nothing wrong with a hardworking person choosing more money or a better job – no matter when it appears.

    Having said that, I’ll qualify it. (I discuss this at length in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9, Be The Master of Job Offers.) Rescinding a job acceptance is a lousy thing to do that will likely hurt your reputation. But it’s still your choice, and you must face it and live with its consequences. Do your career and your family’s well-being take precedence over “keeping your word” when the job is “at will?” It’s a very personal choice. While business should be ethical, I don’t see this as an ethical question. It’s a business question.

    Pretending “there is no choice” is wrong, in my opinion. You could stick to your first choice, take the lower-paying job, and get laid off a week later. I’ve seen it happen many times. Is the employer unethical? I’m not saying it’s okay to rescind an acceptance just because employers lay people off without warning. I’m saying it’s a choice. Don’t ignore it. Make the best choice for yourself, and accept the consequences, both good and bad. Most companies would indeed never talk to you again if you bolted after accepting a job offer from them. And they’d be right. Just as right as a person who got laid off would be for never wanting to talk to that company again.

    (As a headhunter who has had hard-won placement deals go south when my candidate bolts for a better offer, I hate this. But I’d be naive if I didn’t undertand it. Business gets very messy sometimes.)

  6. Going back to ask for more money after you’ve accepted an offer is not a good idea, whatever the circumstances. It shows bad character and sets a precedent that neither the company nor the employee wants.

    Once the negotiations are done and accepted, you’ve basically given “your word” that the deal is okay. If you go back on that before you even start, it makes me wonder what is going to happen once you do. Is “your word” going to be good enough for me when I ask you to do something, or when you agree to abide by our policies? I think maybe not.

    While rescinding a job acceptance is bad, I’d rather have you do that then invest time and money bringing you on board.

  7. Nick,
    I agree with your advice. The time to negotiate is before you accept an offer. Can you walk away after acceptance? Of course you can. But once an offer is accepted, you look indecisive if you go back and seek more.

    A similar example is submitting your resignation in hopes it will scare the company and they will offer you something better. I know someone who recently tried this against my very strong advice. It backfired. His replacement has now been hired, the company has negotiated a transition agreement with him, and he has nothing to fall back on. In fact, he has delayed getting out there because he is struggling to accept that the company called his bluff. he learned a very hard lesson that no one is indispensable, even long-time employees with a wealth of institutional knowledge.

    Negotiating can be tricky. Know what your walk-away number is, be realistic about your leverage, and be prepared. How you handle the negotiation reflects on how you will (or won’t) handle your job.

  8. @Kimberlee, Esq., I laughed when I read your response to Robert. That was exactly what I was thinking. If I am interviewing a candidate who tells me how many interviews are in the works and seeks an agreement that I will consider matching other offers, I will likely no longer consider that person. I don’t mind negotiating, but let’s start from somewhere, and understand that all offers are not the same.

    If a candidate wants a most favored nations approach as Robert describes, then that candidate should be prepared to demonstrate the offer was from a substantially similar company in products, revenues, market cap, and market area. Then that candidate should be prepared to provide a full copy of the competing offer for evaluation.

    That is not a tactic I would recommend.

  9. @Nick: It sounds like we more-or-less agree. Though I do think that a business laying off employees because it can’t afford to pay them is a little different than accepting an offer (accepting implies that you’ve thought it through and it is indeed enough to make your working there worthwhile) and then taking it back.

    I’d agree that it’s like an organization hiring someone and then laying them off a week later, which I would say is actually pretty unethical except for in extreme cases. If an organization can no longer afford to pay you, the ETHICAL thing is for them to lay you off (so you are immediately eligible for unemployment, and to minimize the chances that you will end up working hours that they literally cannot pay you for). And it is unethical to hire someone for a job you’re not sure you can fund beyond a week (at least, not without being fully up-front with them about it).

    The major difference between accepting an offer and then rejecting it, versus just accepting an offer and rejecting others that are pending, is that when you accept, you are making a firm commitment to that company/organization, which means they are now contacting other candidates to reject them. I’ve still got #2 and #3 etc choices if you haven’t rejected an offer, and I’m happy to keep everything on the table as long as is reasonably possible, but if you accept my offer, and then renege, you are screwing me over. You’re possibly causing me to restart the entire hiring process for a position that I could have given to someone else.

    I think it is majorly unethical to do that. It’s definitely different than quitting int he first week (where you might legit have learned that this is an awful fit for you), but if you quit in the first week just because you got a better offer, I’d say that’s also unethical. And yeah, ultimately a candidate can choose to do it and live with the consequences, but really, USUALLY that’s the consequence. Everything you do is a choice. But I think it’s getting a little unclear between “It’s your choice whether or not to do it,” versus “It’s your choice, but there’s almost nobody who will think well of you for making that choice.”

  10. This seems to offer insight into why so many employers refuse to talk to experienced/seasoned candidates: Inexperience is much easier to control & manipulate toward lesser comp packages.

  11. @David: “A similar example is submitting your resignation in hopes it will scare the company and they will offer you something better.”

    I’m about to publish a new book about how to leave your employer, and in it I tell the story of an individual who tried to “negotiate” a bigger salary by holding a new job offer in front of his boss. He was summarily ushered to the door – literally. Onto the street. Using one’s job as leverage is like betting your house in a poker game.

    RE: “a candidate who tells me how many interviews are in the works and seeks an agreement that I will consider matching other offers… then that candidate should be prepared to demonstrate the offer was from a substantially similar company in products, revenues, market cap, and market area”

    We see the same kooky “negotiating logic” when candidates offer “salary surveys” (e.g., Glassdoor) to justify their desired salary in a negotiation with an employer. The employer throws out a variant of your response – “Show me how you’re like the people in the survey and why their salaries should be your salary.”

    Surveys and statistics are descriptive, not prescriptive. And no description of an aggregate describes an individual.

    It gets silly! Encountering someone who negotiates like this is like taking candy from a baby. And embarrassing.

  12. Nick is spot on. You’ve accepted, the deal is done relative to company 1. It wasn’t clear how much difference between offers, but usually it’s not a whopping take-your-breathe-way difference. It’s not worth it. Trust your initial analysis as to the value of your original choice, get aboard, do a great job and you’ll get it back and then some.
    Also to consider is intangibles. Compensation discussions almost always focus on salary. When there are other forms of compensation to consider, e.g net take home, stress, culture, working conditions etc. For example I live in the Houston area. A bloom on a seemingly better offer of higher salary and fade when you find yourself spending hours of your life trying to commute to & from your home and job. Or you learn that your company is fond of a upsizing/downsizing business model. That why this site emphasizes doing your homework, research, network to learn about a prospective employee.
    As to rescinding offer acceptance. I agree with Nick, it’s part of doing business. My recruiting mantra on both sides of the table, it isn’t over until it’s over and someone’s sitting at their desk wearing a badge. fortunately I never worked for one, but I know of them…companies rescind offers also regardless of the related pain to a person who thought they had a job. Quid pro quo is then also fair. It happens. As a hiring manager, I’d much rather have someone let me know they’ve changed their mind then be a no-show (that happens too). And actually what is way more disruptive, is to come aboard, then bail right after you arrived. Plans get upset, I lost alternatives etc.
    Good advice to stay on track and stick with the acceptance. Employers can be sensitive. Look at it as risk management. It’s high risk to try and go back to the well after you’ve come to terms…someone nose will get out of joint…and as far as you’re concerned..likely forever. Some managers even take declining an offer personally as well. You’re history as far as they’re concerned, no changing your mind. Ditto resignations and re-applying. So it’s not hard to imagine how trying to re-open negotiations will be received in corporate minefields.

  13. “If I am interviewing a candidate who tells me how many interviews are in the works and seeks an agreement that I will consider matching other offers, I will likely no longer consider that person.”

    If I were hiring a salesperson I would put this candidate at the top
    Of the list. S/he is seeking you to understand her position, and to open to address her salary needs in the current sphere of negotiation.

    To the person who doesn’t think negotiation is important in his/her job, I doubt this is the case.

  14. To any who see “Nightcrawler”, a great example of wage neotiations is displayed in one of the scenes. The inexperienced amateur loses.

  15. “If I were hiring a salesperson I would put this candidate at the top
    Of the list. S/he is seeking you to understand her position, and to open to address her salary needs in the current sphere of negotiation.”

    This is the number #1 reason why I think people share this info.

    It may not always be a power play to get more money, even though money could be part of the decision. To me, it’s a “I’m going to be spending >40 hours/week with you for the next n years, and want to make sure I like the work, the people, the products, salary, etc. before I make a decision”

  16. I agree: once the deal is made, they really can’t go back and ask for more. Well, they can, but there is no guarantee that the employer will pony up the additional funds, and it is possible that the employer will rescind the offer.

    The candidate who miscalculated the salary for which she asked because she based it on a 30 hour work week instead of a 40 hour work week, that is too bad and it is a hard lesson to learn. The remedy is to always have someone else–husband, boyfriend, best friend, parent, whoever–proof read and check your math. A fresh pair of eyes might have caught her mathematical error before she entered into negotiations with the lower salary.

    It is possible (probable) that younger hires/recent college graduates aren’t up on negotiating tactics. Sometimes even older candidates aren’t good at it either. And much depends upon the employer too–some are open to salary negotiation, others are not–with them, it is take it or leave it, and if you try to negotiate, then they’re over you and the offer is rescinded.

    I wish that employers were like NASCAR, and had banners or stickers or some way to tell candidates whether they’ll negotiate salary or not. Sometimes it is really hard to find out this intel, and sometimes it will vary–one hiring manager in dept. A won’t negotiate at all, but a hiring manager in another dept. will negotiate. Even if you have a contact in the company, that contact might not be able to provide you with this kind of intel.