In the October 27, 2015 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader is living in la-la land.


I recently had three great interviews with an organization that I would be proud to work for. Afterwards they asked me for samples of my work and references, but they never brought up salary. I asked them if they had a salary range in mind for the role, and I learned it was $20k lower than what I am currently earning. ? I politely said that I had a higher number in mind, based on my background and experience. I said I hoped there might be some flexibility if I ended up being their finalist. I left them samples of my work and left the interview with no further discussion of remuneration.

la-laWhen I got home there was an e-mail asking me for references, so I took the opportunity to mention my salary expectations prior to moving forward. The CEO responded that they could not match my request, but explained she would go to the board to see if she could increase the pay since the position played an important role in their growth strategy.

A couple of weeks later, the CEO got back to me and said she could not get any more money from the board and thanked me for my interest.

Since then they have re-posted twice for the job under a more junior title. I suspect that other applicants for the original posting of Chief Strategy Officer were also expecting a higher salary. They have now changed the posting to Senior Development Officer.

I realize now that I should have waited for a job offer, and then negotiated. But, live and learn, right? I am still very interested in the position but would need them to come up at least $10k.

Do you think I can still approach them or has that ship sailed? Being experienced in recruiting, I would never have taken a candidate that far without knowing where I stood on salary. Do I stand a chance?

Nick’s Reply

No, I don’t think you stand a chance at all. What surprises me is your wishful thinking and rationalizing, since you said you’re experienced in recruiting. The CEO told you it’s over. What I see is you putting your hands over your ears: “La-la-la I can’t hear you!”

But this is incredibly common. Employers will make it clear how much they’re willing to pay, and it just goes in a job applicant’s one ear and out the other. It’s one of the most puzzling phenomena — otherwise smart, savvy job seekers just refuse to believe what they’re told about salary.

Or, is it that some job seekers really, really want to believe an employer will pay more, even when it said it won’t? Then — when no more money is forthcoming — the applicant either (1) gets angry and blames the employer for wasting their time, or (2) blames themselves for not wishing hard enough.

Stop wishing

Consider: The CEO knows what you want. She went to her board, which refused more money. The CEO told you. Yet you still harbor a belief that the CEO will come up with another ten grand.

la-la-2But your rationalizing doesn’t end there.

You’ve seen that the title was downgraded from Chief Strategy Officer to Senior Development Officer — and you even seem to understand why. Applicants like you were expecting higher salaries that the company can’t pay. So the company adjusted the title to reflect the lower salary.

Nonetheless, you’re telling me you should have gone through the rest of the hiring process, gotten an offer, and then negotiated — after the CEO already told you there’s no room to negotiate!

And it still doesn’t end there. You seem to think that because you’re “still very interested in the position,” they’re going to come up with another ten grand! Stop pretending! It doesn’t matter how interested you are!

Having said all that, I can understand why you’re bothered. The CEO never should have taken you through three rounds of interviews without knowing where you stood on salary. You’re right about that. She never asked you about salary, and never told you about the salary range — making her just as guilty as you of wasting everyone’s time!

Are we all on the same planet??

I don’t think so.

  • Wishful thinking about salary is a stupid, dangerous waste of time.
  • Hiding a job’s salary range is a stupid, dangerous waste of time.
  • Hiding your desired salary range is a stupid, dangerous waste of time. (See How to decide how much you want.)

The conventional wisdom — which is proclaimed by “negotiation experts” — is that whoever mentions money first loses! And it’s pure nonsense!

Who wins?

Who wins is the person or employer who knows what they want, expresses it candidly, and establishes common ground before investing time in a hiring process. Only a naive wuss starts talking about doing business without first talking money.

I say naive because most people have no idea how to negotiate, so they pretend instead. Do you pretend? Are you afraid? Try this:

How to Say It

“Look, I have no idea whether we can come to agreement on money, but I’d like us to establish a framework about the money before we start talking turkey — so that we won’t both feel like a couple of turkeys after we invest hours talking, only to realize we’re not even in the same ballpark about money. So, what kind of money are we talking about?” (See “How can I avoid a salary cut?” in Fearless Job Hunting, Book 7: Win The Salary Games (long before you negotiate an offer), pp. 7-10.)

I say wuss because most people are afraid or embarrassed to talk about money until the other person does — hence the silly excuse, “It’s best not to be the first to bring up money!” Whew.

People who know what they’re worth, and what they want, are the ones who are best prepared — both to do the job, and to justify how much they want. They’re the people who are ready to demonstrate their value and to engage in a candid dialogue about it. (See The New Interview and The New Interview Instruction Book.)

When you’re going to do a deal — any deal — negotiating about money starts immediately. Whoever controls this discussion sets the anchor on the outcome. That’s who wins.

The anchor effect

There’s a phenomenon in the science of pricing called the anchor effect. The idea is simple: Whoever brings up money first influences which direction the negotiation will take. If you start talking high numbers, the final negotiation will probably end on a higher number. If someone starts by putting smaller numbers on the table, the final number will likely be lower. That is, the first number that hits the table is said to anchor the negotiation — pulling the rest of the discussion toward that point, higher or lower. (For more on this, see William Poundstone’s excellent and very readable book, Priceless: The myth of fair value and how to take advantage of it.)

Of course, if your number and their number are way off, either try to make your case, or shake hands respectfully and move on. Don’t pretend!

Grow up

Everyone needs to get over their hesitation to talk about salary before interviews proceed. Employers need to disclose — even advertise — a job’s salary range. Job seekers need to disclose how much money they’re looking for. At the very least, both parties should establish an honest ballpark for salary — or stop screwing around with interviews, rationalizations, sneaky tactics, and hemming and hawing.

I know what you’re thinking: “If I say what I want, what if the other guy is actually willing to pay me twice that? I’ll lose out!”

Unless you just fell off a hay wagon, you can’t possibly believe that what the employer was planning to spend is double what you want. Grow up. You’re not going to hit the lottery in a salary negotiation. More likely, playing coy is going to lead you right into a brick wall — when honest mutual disclosure is more likely to result in a healthy discussion.

Where did you go wrong?

When you agreed to the first interview, you failed to ask what the salary was for the job — so you could decide whether it was a match.

Worse, you avoided this because you thought you might be able to play the CEO along, and “convince” her to spend more than her board permitted. This is the old foot-in-the-door tactic of the inept salesman: “If I can get the sucker to invite me in, I’ll just brute-force my way to a deal!”

That’s naive. It’s also — pardon me, because I sense you’re actually smart and capable — stupid. I’ll bet you think it’s professional to not bring up money, and unprofessional to expect the employer to bring it up.

You’re wrong on both counts. What’s unprofessional is two people leading one another on. There’s nothing professional about being afraid or embarrassed to talk money. The CEO is just as guilty. She should have asked you how much you wanted — a range — at the same time she expressed the salary range for the job.

Please: Consider these basic guidelines when applying for jobs:

  • Know what salary range you want, and be ready to express it. (Don’t confuse this with disclosing your salary history. See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.)
  • Don’t agree to an interview if the employer won’t disclose the salary range for a job.
  • Be prepared to justify the money you ask for, in terms of how you’ll produce more value for the employer than the next candidate will.
  • Pay more attention to what the employer is saying, than to what you’re wishing.

The key to negotiating

Do you know what is the biggest mistake you made, even after you invested time in three interviews without knowing the salary? You let the CEO ask the board for more money without arming her with the justification.

The CEO was willing to go to bat for you — but you sent her to negotiate without a bat!

If you’d given the CEO evidence of why you’re worth $20,000 more than she was planning to spend, she might have gotten more money from the board. Your mistake is that you asked for more money just because you want it. The key is to show what the board gets in return for $20,000. The key to successful negotiating is being able to deliver more value than the other guy expects.

The CEO has struck out. She told you to go home. Sorry — get over it. There is no job for more money. Please don’t make a fool of yourself.

I don’t care what negotiating experts say. Don’t be naive, or afraid, or a wuss about bringing up money first. Winners are prepared to justify what they want, and to show how it will pay off for the other guy. (See “What’s your business plan for doing this job?”, Fearless Job Hunting, Book 6: Be The Profitable Hire, pp. 30-32.) If there’s no match on the money, they move on early and quickly.

Do you talk money? Or are you terrified to bring it up? Do you wait until you’ve invested hours of time before you find out what the salary is? What’s the best way to ensure everyone is on the same page regarding salary?

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  1. I’ve learned to research the salary range for the industry and probe towards the end of the interview for what the employer is thinking around compensation. As noted, the compensation you need/want can be considerably different.

    My current job compensation offer came in at the exact midpoint of the industry. I then negotiated more vacation, flextime and some creature comforts…

    The runner up job, who I was a finalist for, discussed the compensation range but never made an offer. I later learned they kept me holding on the line while waiting for the cheaper candidate to accept… which they did.

  2. At my last Fortune 500 job, all salary levels were posted on a bulletin board outside the company cafeteria for all to see. The chart included the minimum, maximum and several intermediate percentiles for each range. Levels 1-15 (out of 21) were published. This covered most of the firm, including some directors and low-level VPs.

  3. I’ve been unemployed for over a year, and have found not only is no one interested in paying a living wage for this area, but they’re certainly not interested in paying more for 25 years of experience. Salaries offered by most places for EA/SR Admin positions are about 30% less than the cost of living here, and 20-30% less than the industry standard for that level of experience. One job told me, after salivating at my experience, the salary was less than I made 15 years ago and I should be grateful to work at that company and give 110%! I do not understand the disconnect between the cost of living and salaries, how can employers expect people to survive on less than what it costs to live here? 50% of your income on housing is not a living wage.

    Yet, when you ask at the outset about salary (which is rarely if ever disclosed in the ad) you’re thought to be “inappropriate” or “greedy”, just interested in the money. Well, YES, I want to know if I will be able to survive on what you’re offering!

  4. I have no problem asking a salary range as soon as I get a call from a recruiter or a company about a position. I don’t waste my time or theirs. Sometimes I get a pushy recruiter who demands to know my current base and total compensation. I don’t share that info with them.

    The worst is when an employer or recruiter tells me there is no salary range that the employer is willing to pay for experience. BS I say. They are phishing. Then I am asked my current salary/comp and I try to turn it around and ask for a salary range. I usually hang up at this point because I realize there most likely is no job because an employer knows how much they are willing to pay for the job but wants to shop around for the lower salaried candidate. Why can’t they be honest? This is happening more and more to me and others I know.

  5. I respectfully have a couple of questions about Nick’s advice here. First of all, it seems to take for granted that an employer’s stated salary range, if given or pried out, is truthful. In my long employment experience, including on the hiring side, it often is not – the employer knows about the anchoring effect too. The “range” is often flexible to the upside for the right candidate, even if they have to bump you to the next grade to make it happen. Second, isn’t one of the main, if not *the* main, reason for not disclosing salary history precisely to avoid anchoring ? Why is that principle valid in that context but not (as seems to be being suggested) in the context of considering ranges ?

    Finally, regarding the scenario of this Q&A, the employer apparently downgraded the title to match the salary they are willing to pay, but I’ll bet they expect the same deliverables. It doesn’t say whether they also changed the job specs. At the very least it could well be that they can’t afford to get what they want. If that’s so I guess they’ll eventually realize it when they get no suitable candidates at the range offered.

  6. 1) it sounds as if the ceo is not the final say in the process
    2) you are obviously over qualified and would get into the job and see that it is the wrong fit
    3) EVERY job has a price range,including all benefits, or the board is not doing its job
    4) everyone wants a deal and looking for a job is like lookng for a car, a place to live or potential mate, a lot of window shopping,trying on,tire kicking, dating, kissing frogs, in the end there will be comprimise
    5) it is a numbers game and you have to know what you want, what and where the target is. Don’t hunt for small game with a machine gun

  7. If you are working with a recruiter–even a retained recruiter–who won’t disclose or gets ‘cute’ with the compensation range, that also gives you a clue as to the integrity level of who you are dealing with.

    Here where the CEO had to go to the board–dollars to donuts this was an early stage company and the investors had the CEO by the shorts. I’ve had this too with a recent pass by a recruiter–I let him rattle on and found out by what he said that he was really working for the Series A main investor, not the company CEO.

    I’ve also had it happen to me where at offer time, the company downgrades both title and money figuring you are so far down the aisle (especially if you’re between jobs or coming from consulting) you’ll take it to get benefits. That is such a dirty trick that it’s best to walk away first.

    Remember, 9 times out of 10, the best deal you have on the job is before you get in the door. Unless you must (to pay the bills, for medical) stick to your guns. If you are stepped on here, you will forever be stepped on.

    Our friend here needs to turn the page on this.

  8. Nick, I have a problem with your advice. In many countries employers never advertise a salary range in their ads, making it hard for job seekers to know what is the market rate. In that context the candidate who is forced to declare his salary range first is almost certainly the loser, yes: if he undershoots he’s setting himself back by years whereas if he overshoots the line will just go cold. What’s a candidate to do then?

  9. @Paul: Good for you for negotiating other forms of compensation – vacation, flextime, etc. People often forget that salary is not the only thing you can negotiate!

    @Jim: I’d love to know who your employer is. Good for them for being so transparent. There is NO reason for an employer to withhold salary information.

    @Heidi: “when you ask at the outset about salary (which is rarely if ever disclosed in the ad) you’re thought to be ‘inappropriate’ or ‘greedy”

    Indeed. HR behaves as if money is icky and a sign of lack of sophistication. How unsophisticated! Yet, HR has no problem demanding your salary history, as if it’s public information! “We require it. It’s our policy. We cannot proceed if you don’t disclose it. But – you want to know the salary range of the job you’re interviewing for? THAT’S CONFIDENTIAL.” Gimme a break! Run, don’t walk, from that kind of employer!


    @Mark: I distinguish between disclosing your salary history (which the employer will use to cap a job offer) and stating the range you’re looking for, because in the latter case, if you’re not both in the same ballpark, then the rest of the process is a waste of time and a pathetic dance. If both sides state an honest range, then it’s up to both to justify the numbers they each decide on after interviews are done. But I agree with you – either side can be dishonest about the range it states. Then both sides are likely to lose, because nothing will come of the interviews. It’s shameful when that happens. It’s why I teach candidates to focus on showing exactly why they are worth what they are asking. If you want more money, you must prove to the employer that you’re worth it – in terms meaningful to the employer. This isn’t about haggling for its own sake.

    As for the job in this story, I think the employer downgraded the title because it could not pay more. But you could be right – it might be looking to spend less for a lower-titled job while still wanting more experience.

    @Retired: I think the message between the lines in your comment is that this employer is going to spend less and get less – and regret it. The trouble with the CEO is that she’s trying to stick to a budget, as if hiring an executive is an expense. It’s not. It’s an investment. If you spend more to get more, the ROI is higher. And isn’t that what the board is ultimately looking for? Not this board and CEO.

    @Dee: Yup! If the CEO was in charge, she wouldn’t have to go to the board. Either she’d find the money in the budget herself, or just tell the candidate there was no more money. The hidden lesson here is that when the CEO doesn’t have authority to make an investment, there’s a problem with the company.

    @Olivier: “In many countries employers never advertise a salary range in their ads”

    The U.S. is one of those countries. It’s up to the candidate to require a salary range on a job before agreeing to interview. If the employer is really recruiting that candidate, it will disclose the range. If it won’t share the information, it means it’s not really motivated to recruit the candidate – which means the candidate has no leverage, so why bother? In the end, this is all about motivation. If one party doesn’t demonstrate high motivation to work together, then we wind up in one of the 95% of interview experiences where there’s nothing doing. It was a waste of time. It’s better to find out at the start how motivated the employer is to recruit you. Make sense?

  10. @Nick: Great blog post. For myself, I would never want to waste my time or the employers, so I won’t even apply for a position if it’s not remotely close to what I would be willing to accept. Why even invest the time applying when it’s not something one is willing to consider. I simply call and ask what the expected salary range for the posted position is. It’s a reasonable question IMO.

    @Retired: While I fully respect your years of experience and talent, I believe you have 3 options to consider in your local job market. 1. You can move to a different location where the cost of living is lower/reasonable or companies are willing to pay higher salaries. IMO. companies only pay what the position is worth to them, not what a local “living wage” should be (that’s the local governments responsibility IMO). 2. Take the lower pay, (which should be more than what your getting in unemployment) work for the employer and see if you can leverage a raise after you’ve proven your worth. If they are not willing to give you a raise, you are free to apply for other jobs (internally or externally) from a place of employment as opposed to being “unemployed”. 3. remain on unemployment.

    ~Best wishes

  11. I always share a hiring salary range in my job descriptions, like +/- $150,000. It saves applicants, my clients, and me a lot of time.

    The truth is, unless you’re a franchise player, there’s not much latitude in hiring salaries. Because of this, it makes sense to find out if you’re in the same ballpark early in the process.


  12. Excellent post, Nick! Both parties in this week’s Q & A made mistakes, and I agree with you that this job hunter hasn’t got a chance now.

    This example illustrates perfectly the problems, namely the huge time-sink spent applying for, and, if the employer is interested, and interviewing with someone when your salary ranges do not overlap.

    I, too, have seen far too many employers run job after job, and when they don’t get the right candidates, they’ll re-post the ad yet refuse to answer my simple question “what is the salary range for the position?”. I’ve often wondered why they don’t make this information available. If I can’t afford to take the job at the salary range offered, then I won’t apply for it. Sometimes, when talking to the hiring manager, I’ll ask “what have you budgeted for this position?” and I can tell by the response, or most commonly, lack thereof (hiring manager goes silent or starts sucking air or babbles something incoherent and tries to fob me off to HR. Sometimes I’ll be haughtily informed that they don’t discuss such matters until the candidate has accepted the offer, and act as if I committed a heinous sin by asking about salary before I’ve been made to run the HR gauntlet and survived four rounds of interviews (not to mention the background checks).

    I also really like Nick’s article about why it is called compensation. Job hunters’ salary requirements have to be grounded in reality. An elementary school teacher is not likely to be able to command six figures. And Nick’s point about justifying your asking price, but there’s the rub: I think that only works if you’re within the salary range (budget) for the job. Sure, I might think I’m worth more, but if the salary range is $41K-$59K, I can’t just demand the $59K–expect to show the employer how I’d be profitable, and thus justify the higher salary. But if the employer is keeping the salary range a secret, then I have no way of knowing whether my minimum salary is even in their range.

    During one conversation with a hiring manager, who chided me for asking about what they’ve budgeted for the job, I responded by saying (politely) that we’re all adults here, and as an adult salary is a concern. I need to make enough to pay my bills and salary should be enough so that I can give my full attention to the job (not stressed about how I’m going to make ends meet). The hiring manager replied that it wasn’t the company’s concern how people make ends meet, and their policy was never to discuss salary until an offer was on the table. To this day, this company keeps posting jobs with the same requirements, which tells me that either they’re not paying enough or management/workplace is awful. There are more than enough people looking for work, so those jobs should be easy to fill, but not at Wal-Mart wages.

  13. @marybeth ” Sometimes I’ll be haughtily informed that they don’t discuss such matters until the candidate has accepted the offer, and act as if I committed a heinous sin by asking about salary before I’ve been made to run the HR gauntlet and survived four rounds of interviews (not to mention the background checks). ”

    Imagine walking into a car shop and being told that you are not allowed to know the price of the car, or its specifications, before after you have signed all the sales documents….

  14. @Karsten Good point. Too bad they don’t see it that way in Congress (I’m thinking of what the congresswoman from California said about the ACA.

  15. “The hiring manager replied that it wasn’t the company’s concern how people make ends meet, and their policy was never to discuss salary until an offer was on the table.”

    This guy needs to be fired. How on earth can a company be profitable if they have constant turnover from people leaving to find a better, AKA LIVING wage, and they are wasting their time and money onboarding people who can’t live on what they pay? How is it not the company’s concern how people make ends meet? Say hello to the face of corporate greed and this is why we are in the mess we’re in, with a starving middle class and corporate profits disproportionately huge.

  16. It is so obvious that the company was a low-baller. They were not interested in actually paying a reasonable salary, so there is no wonder the candidate was rejected.

    They still want the purple squirrel at a low salary. Watch that job posting get reposted at more and more junior levels until finally they’ll be begging for an unpaid intern.

  17. Nick:

    Reading your comments (and those of my fellow readers) is like a breath of fresh air. We don’t hear this from other, follow-the-crowd career advisors.

  18. @marybeth: “And Nick’s point about justifying your asking price, but there’s the rub: I think that only works if you’re within the salary range (budget) for the job. Sure, I might think I’m worth more, but if the salary range is $41K-$59K, I can’t just demand the $59K–expect to show the employer how I’d be profitable, and thus justify the higher salary.”

    There’s an important point here. If the employer has a fixed salary range, how does showing you can be a more profitable worker change that? Well, it’s up to the employer. Simple example: Sales job pays $100k and assumes you can generate $X in sales (or some objective). You believe you can generate 1.5X and can show how. What kind of employer would let you walk away because you’re asking for more money? A dopey one. You can’t fix dopes. I’ve helped people get more than the employer budgeted because the opportunity forced the employer to change its budget. It’s not easy, but if you’re dealing with a smart, agile employer, it can work.

    “The hiring manager replied that it wasn’t the company’s concern how people make ends meet, and their policy was never to discuss salary until an offer was on the table.”

    Yep, it’s time to walk away from that jerk!

    @Steven: Thanks! I’m very proud of the quality of discourse on this blog – it’s a great group!

  19. I am so happy to see I am not the only one and frustrated! I share the same dilemna as others in my job search. I am asked what my current salary is (though the job I am applying for may not correlate) and they refuse to discuss what the position’s salary range is… If I am honest, I usually do not hear back. So, did I price myself out? I know I am in range.
    Nick- you say:”It’s why I teach candidates to focus on showing exactly why they are worth what they are asking. If you want more money, you must prove to the employer that you’re worth it – in terms meaningful to the employer.” But, I am not given this opportunity! So, I end up frustrated and know they are the ones that have lost a potentially great employee. I am currently being pursued by a ‘famous’ financial firm. They have busses that pick you up, meals onsite, you are expected to work 6 days; at least 10hrs daily…all for $24/hr (50% less than market)! They claim to be a stellar firm, but, their reputation is that they are ‘slave drivers’ and treat you like a ‘slave’ with little respect or dignity. They seem to have a lot of turnover as a result. This their 4th attempt to lure me. Unbelievable!

  20. A CEO with no power and/or influence? Really? CEO of what?

  21. This CEO reminds me of GM’s Mary Barra who claims she had no knowledge of the GM auto defects as an engineer for GM for 30 yrs. BULL! She’s part of the problem and claims ignorance, selectively.

  22. @Marie: “they refuse to discuss what the position’s salary range is… They claim to be a stellar firm, but, their reputation is that they are ‘slave drivers’ and treat you like a ‘slave’ with little respect or dignity.”

    I think you answered your own problem. When an experience reveals a scummy employer, it doesn’t matter how “stellar” they claim to be, they’re bums. Walk away. I know it hurts when you know you could do a great job for them, but that’s not what they really want. They want slaves.

  23. When a staffing agency recruiter calls, if they are Indian, I almost always hang up on them because a) I can’t understand them b) they have no authority to negotiate and c) when they agree to a rate, they often call back later and try to renege (notice I said renege and not re-negotiate – there is a difference).

    The subject of your article has got to be one of the most naive and downright stupid job candidates I’ve seen post here. I cannot believe an adult still asks such inane questions. That said, like Donna above, I almost always try to get the recruiter or Headhunter to give me a salary range before I tell them what I earn (and I try to hold that back as long as possible). Likewise, in initial conversations, if they provide a rnage, I try NOT to name a hard figure that they can hold me to. I am in procurement and have a lot of negotiating experience buying all types of commodities and services and all too often, I find myself walking away because I didn’t like the company, the recruiter’s lack of honesty or told them specifically that I lacked the preferred experience they seek. People need to remember that companies try to get talent as cheaply as possible and one needs to weigh all parts of the comp package before accepting. To do anything less is foolish.

  24. @nick: “The trouble with the CEO is that she’s trying to stick to a budget, as if hiring an executive is an expense. It’s not. It’s an investment.”

    As is all hiring above minimum wage. Bingo!

    On a refreshing note, one of my managers was recruited by a company and the HR rep disclosed salary range on the first phone call without prompting,

  25. @nick: “The trouble with the CEO is that she’s trying to stick to a budget, as if hiring an executive is an expense. It’s not. It’s an investment.”

    As is all hiring above minimum wage. Bingo!

    @ Paul….tough love, but a lot of truth in what you write. A CEO who can’t get 10k from a Board for a candidate doesn’t cut it.

    On a refreshing note, one of my managers was recruited by a company and the HR rep disclosed salary range on the first phone call without prompting,

  26. marybeth: ‘Sometimes I’ll be haughtily informed…’ and ‘it wasn’t the company’s concern how people make ends meet’ especially in the way you framed it. I think we are both becoming connoisseurs of abusive remarks and treatment that I doubt would be made if our sex were male. Also age I believe is a factor–at both ends, young and old.

    I rarely play this ‘it’s because we’re women’ card, but we all have a tough time closing our folios and walking away. We get our bluff called almost reflexively. It’s tough to walk away if you are not working or can’t pay the bills, but I’ve found that if you are stepped on in the hiring process, you will be trampled on and run over with a tank if you are hired.

    You don’t have to be nasty or shrill–you can even smile as you say “I can’t go further without knowing’ or even ‘Excuse me?’ But we don’t have to let them get away with it.

    By the way, a big THANK YOU to those here on the blog and to Big Nick for teaching me about how to negotiate for a job, showing value and getting the salary/rate up front (I recently turned a consulting gig into a FTE) and as Paul C. put it above, weighing all parts of the package before accepting. Most of all, confirming for me in some very dark times that I wasn’t crazy in thinking that something was Very Wrong with employers and especially HR.

  27. I will offer myself up as the guinea pig as to what happens when you don’t ask a range. I recently answered an ad that required some unique experience that I have. In the online application salary history and desired salary were required, so I put down what I wanted, no skimping, a real living wage commensurate with my experience. Their HR recruiter called me almost immediately to talk about my unique experience, which was a really good fit, according to him and one of the senior people in my field. Set up a phone interview with the local manager for whom I’d be working and it was fantastic – good chemistry and both on the same page. For the first time in over a year I was very positive and sure this was headed toward an offer. He said he would consult with his boss and set up a time for an in-person interview.

    That was a week ago – since then, crickets. I contacted the recruiter Monday, he said he had also reached out to the local guy for an update but hadn’t received a response. To this moment, two days later, no answer.

    I *assumed* (hah hah) that when they saw my salary requirements and still called me for two phone interviews that they would have been accepting of my salary range. Now I am wondering if there is some behind the scenes bickering going on over what salary they think they want to pay.

    I don’t know what to think. But if they do end up contacting me and try to lowball me, I will say no, and consider myself yet another victim of ‘failure to ask for a salary range’.

  28. @ Heidi, I don’t think it was because you didn’t ask the salary range. You disclosed desired salary. A lot of jobs go sideways because there are other factors in play. End of year budgets or staff reassignments, internal fills, firings, medical leaves or freezes. Demonstrate written interest, where you believe you bring superior value, and move on. You know what to do if they ever get back to you and it’s about lowballing you. It’s disappointing, ain’t it? And HR will never tell…only if you know someone there.

  29. Nick, loved this article!

    When others dance around issues, you pull no punches. We need that punch in the gut to make us realize when we’re being a wussy pants.

    So a friend texts me yesterday. She thinks I’d be a good fit for some part-time work with her company.

    I like the work and normally I’d probably start falling over myself to prove how I can do the work for her.

    But then I think back to your article. So I text her back with a simple message: “I’m interested. So, what’s the pay like?”

    She texts me the range and it’s lower than my expectations. So I just say that I’d require x.

    She says thanks but it’s not in her budget. I say no problem, thanks for thinking of me, let me know if something comes up in my range that I can help you with.

    Time spent: 5 minutes.

    Thanks for reminding me to be up front about money. It saves time and prevents frustration for everybody.

  30. @Karsten: Agreed! Your comment was actually my response to his statement. I said it politely and with a smile, but meant it as a barb to get him to think about his ridiculous policy nonetheless. My attempt failed, because he said that knowing the sticker price of a car (or, to my thinking, even a loaf of bread or a quart of milk) is important. And that’s why supermarkets post the prices clearly–so you know the cost. I wouldn’t think of signing the paperwork to buy a car without knowing the price, including tax, title transfer, etc. The analogy is apt. If the salary is too low, then I can’t afford to work there, very simple.

    @Heidi: Unfortunately, people like that don’t get fired. I have come to the conclusion that they merely reflect the company’s values and the values of the board and shareholders. They don’t care about employees (who are the reason the company is successful and the reason the shareholders get quarterly dividend checks). Employees are seen as fungible and easily replaceable, always at the lowest cost. The mentality has trickled down to the managers, and while I was appalled, I’m glad that he gave me an inkling of the company’s mentality. There is no point working for such a place. I can imagine how they treat people who are hired. I was thinking “Oliver Twist–“Please, Sir, can I have some more?” and the response as I walked out.

    @Nick: My apologies for not being clear. You are absolutely correct that if there is a set salary from which they refuse to budge, showing them how I would do the job profitably is a time sink and won’t help me. But if there is a salary range and they are on the low end, then I think showing them how I’d do the job profitably could help. That only works IF there is a salary range (because then I think there might be some wiggle room–if I am persuasive, I might not have to start at their low end.

    @Dee: First, congratulations on turning a consulting gig into FTE! That’s wonderful news!!

    Re your other comments, yes, I’ve thought that, too, but can’t prove it. Sometimes I wish I had a male twin with the same credentials, education, and experience to send in just to see if he’d be treated the same way. Like you, I hate to play the woman thing, because it might not that at all. They might just be equal opportunity cheapskates and treat everyone, male, female, black, white, etc. badly. But like you, I often wonder if they would be that rude, that condescending, to me if I were a man.

    To people who think gender discrimination is a thing of the past, or something that women bring on themselves, I can attest that it is alive, well, and thriving today. Two years ago, I interviewed for a job and was asked questions that had the company’s lawyers known were asked, would give them conniptions and planning how they would defend the company in lawsuits. I was asked if I was married, why did I want to do this job/what would my husband think, would he approve. I was also asked about plans for having children (I must have looked younger than I am) and was informed that they learned that women don’t do well because they’re not cut out for managing. I was shocked. They finally asked me why I had asked about the salary, and suggested that my husband must be ashamed (I’m not married). I finally told them that I’m not married, don’t have children, and can give my time, skills, attention, and energy to the job. The manager told me that instead of trying to take a job from a man, I should spend my energy finding a man and getting married! I walked out (I’m sure they were thrilled), but then why interview me at all if they really just wanted a man? My name is obviously female, so there should have been no surprises on their part. If I’d been recording that interview, I could have sued into the next century, but it is just my word against theirs, and besides, I wouldn’t want to work for such a company or for people who held those views! I can imagine the kind of hell it would be.

  31. I’m curious whether the company was aware of the reader’s current salary, and whether the reader’s current position is similar to the one being sought. Because this looks like yet another case of an employer expecting someone to make a lateral move for less money, a phenomenon that baffles me no end.

    I encountered this practice of hide the salary early in my career 35 years ago, along with lowballing. After wasting interviews on jobs with hopelessly inadequate pay, I became more aggressive establishing salary as soon as possible, especially nowadays. Expecting competitive pay by default doesn’t work.

  32. Well finally today, over a week later, I get a call to set up an interview for next week. I can’t wait to see how this works out, because it would be really nice to make a living wage again.

  33. @ Heidi, good luck to you. You are forewarned and forearmed!

    @marybeth, thank you. While their business is challenged and the ownership is foreign, I look upon all jobs at this stage of my life as temporary, and if our work succeeds, this might be a good gig for a few years. Concur that both sex and age discrimination is alive and well, especially among the ‘frat boys’ I have met in health tech and also among the older guys who adopt their frattish ways. There’s a condescension as well–that you can’t possibly be up on tech if you’re both older and female!

    However women can be very nasty and unprofessional regarding their team–it gets personal and I’ve seen from my 20s on something I call the Queen Bee Syndrome. When you’re younger, that means eliminating anyone who stands out. At my age, it’s the older and experienced person because you’re not going to put up with BS, and you’re seen as a rival, no matter how soft you go on the interview.

    Re your experience two years ago–good grief! It is hard to believe that took place.This guy was obviously a sick-o and you were not the first–and I’d bet it was condoned in the company. I HAVE experienced this, a little more subtly, in a job (mercifully short) that was in an office 40% Orthodox, including the CEO and almost all the management. It’s a wonderful argument for a smartphone with a voice recorder app as a front button on your home screen. Whip it out, press record and put it on the desk. Love that technology!

  34. @Kevin Kane: My bet is you’ll hear from her again. Candor is impressive and it pays off. Thanks for your kind words!

  35. I’m just updating this thread because I want to let people know how this works out. I did get a call, and I did go in for an interview in person. Fantastic! Loved the guy I’d be working for, and when I asked what his favorite part of working there was, he said ‘I love my boss, he’s great, he’s fair, he collaborates, and his attitude is pervasive throughout the company, it comes from the top down”.

    That is all I needed to hear. I may have a phone interview with his boss because he was unable to make it back in time yesterday. I asked a lot of questions, about backlog of work, future, about the company, he said “very thoughtful questions”. When I asked if he had any reservations or concerns about my ability to jump in and do the job he said “Not at all!” Now I wait till they finish the rest of the interviews, and hope not to have a new hole in my stomach. if I don’t get an offer I may as well give up looking, as far as chemistry and opportunity, it doesn’t get much better than that.

  36. One excuse I hear against providing a range is that the candidate always hears the highest number.

    The problem is, this boils down to simple economics. The buyer wants to get something at the lowest cost. The seller wants to get the most money. Both should have reasons to back up their positions.

  37. @Heidi, did they give you a time frame as to when they are making a decision, or next steps e.g. that interview with his boss? It’s not real until there’s an offer, an offer in writing, signatures and a start date–and even then it might not be. So keep moving on other opportunities so you don’t get stuck on this one

  38. @Dee, they said they have some interviews scheduled this week, as for the phone with the boss, nothing firm on that. They expect to make a decision next week. I am continuing to look and send resumes and am preparing myself for what’s coming if the answer is “we chose someone else”. I’ve been disappointed many times in a year and a half, I always say to myself “it’s because that’s not supposed to be where you end up – NEXT!” This time it will break my heart, because it’s what I’ve been waiting for. The recruiter in the main office asked me to call him after the interview and he said he could hear the enthusiasm in my voice, asked again how the chemistry was, I said ‘perfect’, so if that carries any weight, maybe I’ll be lucky. *crossing fingers*

  39. I’m replying on this thread to follow up on the job opportunity. They finished the interviews and as great as it was, after a ‘really tough decision’, they chose another candidate. I’m gutted. But, the recruiter told me that they really liked me and might want to consider me for another position in the first quarter of next year. That’s nice, I suppose, but it doesn’t help me now, and talk is cheap, I’ll believe it when I see a job posting and/or an offer. Now back to an utterly dead job market…

  40. @Heidi, how disappointing. I am sorry for you. I guess the only positive thing that can be said is you got so close this time – and it was not just any job, but a perfect-seeming one. So they’re out there. If you can keep from getting demoralized, you’re bound to succeed eventually – maybe even with the same employer next quarter, like the recruiter suggested. I’m sure you’ve expressed your interest in that, and will follow up next quarter, but in the meantime you’re wise not to put any stock in it.

  41. I’m recently unemployed and am catching up on ATH newsletters. This is an interesting topic because the advice from Challenger Gray & Christmas here in Chicago is to NEVER bring up compensation until an offer is made. With the job market being more favorable to employers, they suggest that getting into the dialog too early can remove you from consideration quickly. While none of us wants to waste time going through all the motions only to discover the salary may be too low, it may be more important to stay in the game as long as you can – getting them to like you. It gives you more of an opportunity to sell yourself too. When the salary question comes up too early in the discussion by the employer, they are not focusing on what you can bring to the table. So, when they ask you what you expect to earn, I was told to respond with, “This is a great company/organization etc. etc. I’m sure you’ll be fair.” This throws the ball back in their court, and if the salary is more critical to their decision process than to get the “right” person, they may press on. At this point, I would simply ask what their range was and make my decision to continue or not. However, if they are truly looking for the right person, they’ll drop the salary question and move forward. Keeping in mind, that a decent salary with no other benefits, deflates the value of the salary. So, unless you can retrieve the benefit information off a corporate website to determine the added value to compensation, stating a salary range too early in the process could leave you with less than you might expect. Finally, if you stay in the game long enough, and they really like you, you could be offered something else or better. This is just another side to the coin.

  42. Jean, good luck to you in your job hunt. I hate to break it to you, but if you don’t ask at least the range before you interview (why they just can’t post it in an ad I will never know), you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. I am going on 2 years unemployed, and the sole reason I am not is that I cannot find a job that pays a LIVING wage. The last time I made a living wage was 2007. I have since been offered, with 25 years of experience and excellent references, 10k to 15k LESS than I made 10 years ago. Everyone wants advanced skills, for entry level wages, which will not pay my mortgage. I’ve had phone interviews for what looks to be challenging jobs, only to find out they’re offering 10k less than I need, and when I ask if there is any flexibility in there for the right person, I am told “NO”. So I end it there. They are not going to like me more if they meet me and miraculously offer up another 10k. Employers are beyond cheap these days. Even for extremely responsible positions, $35k. I am personally fed up and beyond discouraged. I refuse to agree to the fast slide into bankruptcy just because employers don’t understand what constitutes a living wage. You have your work cut out for you but don’t fool yourself, even if they like you, they will still offer you the paltry amount they’ve settled on, unless you ask first, you are wasting your time. Good luck though.

  43. @Jean E Brennan: So Challenger Gray told you to say “This is a great company/organization etc. etc. I’m sure you’ll be fair.”

    Let me explain why that lame, over-used response would reveal you to be naive and unsophisticated. It tells the employer (1) you don’t know what you want or are worth, and (2) that you don’t know how to negotiate.

    Pretend you were applying for a top sales position, and you answered the question as CG&C suggested. The VP of Sales would never hire you because if s/he heard you say that to a prospective customer about the price of your product — the VP would fire you.

    CG&C’s response is canned, silly, thoughtless and nothing but a sign that the applicant has no business in a job interview.

    Please: Don’t do it. If you think that answer will help you “stay in the game” longer, you’re going to lose because the employer will take advantage of the fact that you invested all that time — and correctly surmise that you’re going to take whatever they offer you, just so you can justify the investment you’ve already made. This is one of the oldest psychological tricks used in negotiating — look up cognitive dissonance.

    But there’s another side to this. If you continue interviewing while knowing an offer is not likely to be in your acceptable ballpark, and then try to “sell” the employer on a much higher salary, do you really think they’re not going to get upset with you for misleading them?

    Playing games so you can stay in the game turns interviewing and hiring into a game — but it’s not.

    And please read Heidi’s comment, posted just beneath yours. She gets it. I wish you the best.

  44. Alright Nick and fellow jobskeekers – I am back for an update. Last October I posted that I had interviewed at the company I interviewed with last fall, and loved, but didn’t get hired for the position. I was crushed. Turns out the HR person gave me bad info, they never hired my position, they needed more managers for projects at the time, so were getting by without an admin. I was just about to reconcile settling for a job that was less than I made 15 years ago, which would have left me with $18 at the end of the month, just to put a tourniquet on on things. Out of the blue, the great company from last fall called me to see if I was still interested, had a phone convo, went in for a marathon interview with the branch manager and the entire team, and two days later was made an offer that was the TOP number in the range I gave them, which was an almost laughable stretch even in this area. More money than I have ever made at any job, far beyond my expectations and happy that they didn’t try to lowball me. First time in ten years I have been treated with respect by any employer or potential employer. This company gets awesome reviews on Glassdoor, and everyone I met was happy to work there and loved the company, truly a family vibe from the top down. I wish I would not have had to wait 2+ years to find this job, but I’m a fatalist, things happen when they’re supposed to. It worked out better than I ever could have expected, but then again, it’s about damn time something worked out for me. So looking forward to liking where I work for a change. Hang in there, don’t give up, and don’t undersell yourselves!

  45. Congratulations Heidi! And you obviously gave a range and set the expectations on compensation. BRAVO!

  46. After rereading this I’m now thinking OP wanted higher level position for less money than current position, instead of lateral move I suspected earlier. But why? Seems like important details were omitted.

    I agree OP should have cut bait after learning pay was less than current earnings, never mind desired earnings. The quaint notion you can wow employer into exceeding budget died long ago (assuming it was ever true).

    That job title was reduced is critical clue pay not negotiable. Curious whether job description downgraded also. Even if so, as Mark said, likely original expectations remain in place. So again, I’m wondering why OP was so infatuated with this job.