In the September 12, 2017 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter, a reader succumbs to an employer’s demand for his salary information and pays for not keeping his mouth shut.
Nick, I need your help. I’m in a very tough spot with salary negotiations. HR told me the salary range for the position ($65K-$70K) on the phone before our interviews. They also asked for my salary expectations, and I told them $65K-70K. So we had the interviews knowing we were all on the same page. Or so I thought.
After the first interview, I was contacted by the HR rep and was explicitly told that I would need to provide my current salary or we would not be able to proceed further with the process. So I reluctantly gave my salary away ($53K, which will be $55K in five months when my annual merit kicks in).
After the second interview, which I knocked out the park, they made an offer. It was only $60K. On the phone, I told the HR rep that there is no deal but I would like to continue to try to negotiate the best compensation package, and we will revisit the offer in a couple days.
What do you suggest I do here? I don’t want to turn away more money, but they are $5K-$10K below my expectations. Is my only recourse to risk the offer as a whole? Thanks.
You ought to charge them $5,000 for helping them negotiate a lower salary, because that’s what you did. Congrats on getting an offer, but I agree with you – you ruined your negotiating position by strengthening theirs.
Never, ever, ever disclose your current salary to an employer. (See Keep Your Salary Under Wraps.) They will use it to put a cap on any offer they make to you. Now you’re stuck.
You must decide one thing: What’s going to make you walk away from this deal? That is, what’s the least amount of money you’ll accept and still be happy?
They may offer you a bit more, or they may stand pat. If they raise the offer, my guess is it will be by one or two thousand dollars, to make you feel you won a concession. But that’s no concession. It’s still lower than the range they agreed to. They will still save money, and you’ll lose money. You have already made a concession, by considering less than the top of your range ($70K). The kicker here is that both parties plainly agreed to the same salary range before proceeding with interviews.
They screwed you.
What they did is bait-and-switch. They agreed to one thing but switched to something else. They screwed you. Now you must recover or walk away.
Once you decide what is the minimum acceptable offer is, the rest is easy – even if it’s not a happy thing. You cannot negotiate unless you know in advance what will make you walk away. Then you tell them this:
How to Say It
“I can do this job profitably for you, and I want to join your team. I make that commitment. But I told you very clearly when you asked me what salary range I would require: $65K-$70K. And you told me your range was the same. On that basis, I did the interviews with you. If you can meet the range you committed to and that I asked for, I’m ready to accept.”
The rest is up to them. Just be ready – they may say $60K is as high as they’ll go. Are you ready to walk away? If you agree to the $60K at this point, be prepared for lower-than-promised raises in the future, and other broken promises. These people have made it clear from the outset that they say one thing but do another.
The offer is based on your salary.
“HR logic” about salary goes like this. If you make $A, you don’t deserve more than about $A + X%, where X is some small percentage. Why does HR do this? Here’s what one HR executive wrote to me in response to my advice that job applicants should never disclose their salary to employers:
“Employers want your salary information because they believe that if you apply for a job that starts at $50,000, but you made $30,000 in the same sort of job at your last company, they’d be overpaying. They’d want the opportunity to buy you for $35,000 to start, saving them $15,000.
“The HR person who does that gets many kudos for their shopping moxie from their boss, and gets to keep their job and go on many more shopping trips.
“I’ve been a vice president of HR, a recruiter, a labor negotiator and a candidate, so I know from which I speak… I am so dismayed that someone pays you to hand out this kind of information.”[Excerpted from Keep Your Salary Under Wraps]
If they try to “explain” that their offer is based on your old salary, your response can be only one thing if you want to negotiate with strength.
Tell them to go pound salt.
If HR gets pushy or threatens to “end the process,” tell them I said they should go pound salt. Your salary is none of their business. Will they tell you their salary?
Here’s what an Ask The Headhunter reader posted recently on LinkedIn:
“To anyone who wants to maintain their salary history confidential in a way which no prospective employer can hold against you, I utilized Nick’s technique at one point in my career and was very successful — including getting the job I was interviewing for. Nick has a foolproof technique on how to address previous salaries which actually makes the company respect the candidate.”
Here’s what another said:
“The hiring manager more or less offered me the position on the spot and indicated a salary range that is roughly 40-50% more than I make now. Your two biggest lessons (at least for me) at work in the flesh: (1) Never divulge my current salary, and (2) Talk about what I will do, not what I’ve done.”
You can decide for yourself how to proceed. Here’s my advice:
How to Say It
“My old salary is irrelevant. I told you my required range and we agreed to do interviews based on that. Will you make an offer in the range we agreed on?”
Once you decide your position, the rest is up to them. If they insist on judging your value on what your last employer paid you, it’s their loss, not yours. Move on. This is a company that admits it doesn’t know how to judge value for itself, or that cheats.
But please – this is your decision, not mine. If you decide $60K is good enough, then do what you think is right for you, not what I think is right. Only you have all the facts about your life and needs. I’d never criticize you.
Also keep this in mind: You killed the interviews. You impressed them. You pulled it off. Don’t let their negotiating tactics make you question your attitude, behavior, or worth. Do you think you can impress another employer? My guess is you can. But you must make that judgment for yourself.
We have of course discussed this topic many times before. See Goodbye to low-ball salary offers and Salary History: Can you afford to say NO?
How do you negotiate? Do you disclose your salary? What should this reader have done, and do next?
Coming next week
In the next edition, we’ll discuss a topic that may have headhunters (and their clients!) up in arms: Why a headhunter should never disclose her candidate’s salary to her client.