Can salary surveys help me negotiate job offer?

Can salary surveys help me negotiate job offer?


I’m going to be talking with a manager who just made me a job offer. I’m going to say yes, but I’m inclined to ask, “Can you do any better?” I want to know how far to push it since my research on salary surveys indicates this is a rather good offer in my industry. Of course, I don’t want them to withdraw the offer, but it seems like I shouldn’t just say yes. I’d appreciate your insight.

Nick’s Reply

salary surveysWhy is it that when people get a good deal, they feel obligated to try and get an even better one? Maybe it’s because all those books about negotiating teach us that only the weak and meek take the first offer; that we can and should squeeze out a few more bucks. “Real negotiators know how to get more!”

Bunk. It isn’t about clever negotiating tactics. It’s about being able to answer the question, “What makes you worth more?”

Are you worth more?

Yes, I’m the same guy that recently advised you to demand bigger salaries. Only you can determine whether you’re worth more. But you have allowed that you already have “a rather good offer.” It’s fair to guess you elicited such a good offer because you performed well in your interviews. Is there something you left out that would support a request for even more salary?

If you posture for more money when you don’t have a leg to stand on, you will fall over. And that’s the crux of this. Unless you can show the employer why — exactly — you are worth more, then don’t ask.

What about the salary surveys?

“But wait — the salary surveys say I’m worth more! I’ll show them the salary surveys!”

Bunk again. Some “career experts” will tell you to use the survey data to support your salary request. What they don’t tell you is that the surveys describe a population of people who have similar titles and credentials. They don’t describe you.

Go ahead — try and tell an employer you’re worth what everyone else gets paid. It will earn you a blank stare, because any smart employer has evaluated you and decided what you are worth. “We don’t hire statistics. What are you going to do for me that’s worth more than I’m offering?”

That’s a tough question, and this is where people usually fall down flat. They think this is a matter of aggregate salary statistics when it’s a matter of one person’s value — yours.

Always negotiate?

Or, as you’ve admitted, “it seems like I shouldn’t just say yes.” Negotiating experts sell a lot of books marketing the idea that we can, and should, always negotiate! Every offer deserves a counter-offer, and only they can teach you how to make it.

If you can offer a compelling answer to the question Can you demonstrate additional value? then you should go for it.  I suspect that if you could, we’d have no question to discuss and you’d already have a higher job offer. But don’t do it only because it seems like you should.

But, seriously, what about the salary surveys?

The experts go further in advocating salary surveys. They claim that employers use the same surveys to establish their budgets and salary scales. So, if the employers use the surveys, you should, too.

Again, I say bunk. If an employer relied on the surveys to produce your offer, what more is there to talk about? Are you going to argue that this survey is better than that survey? Can you crawl out of one salary pigeonhole into another?

It’s not uncommon for a company to withdraw a good offer when the candidate asks for more without being able to rationally justify the request. That’s why you’re so nervous about asking for more.

What’s it worth?

Don’t feel bad. You’re just trying to be as assertive as the next person. But set aside the conventional wisdom and use your own common sense. If you definitely want the job and the offer is a good one, then don’t jeopardize it.

Here’s why. The better the offer is to begin with, the less you’ll be able to goose it up. In other words, you’re not likely to get more than a few extra bucks. Is it worth the impact on the employer’s attitude about you? Is the difference between one salary survey and another going to make a compelling case for you?

I’m not saying job candidates should not negotiate the best deal they can get. But we’re talking about an offer you believe is good to begin with. Part of my aim is to debunk the myths of job hunting, and this is one of them. Not every situation requires negotiating. And negotiating when there’s little or nothing to gain reveals a petty person.

But how can you ask for more anyway?

So okay, I’ve got that off my chest. I’m not trying to beat you up. You asked a valid question and you clearly recognize the pitfalls. What can you do?

First, judge the employer. Will they be offended if you try to squeeze out the last buck? (Some might actually be impressed, but not many.) Second, estimate the tradeoff. Will it affect how you’ll be perceived once you’re on the job? Finally, are you willing to lose the offer altogether if they balk?

Here’s how to ask for more with — I believe — the least risk. You could try to finesse this by first accepting the offer, then explaining that your salary objective is a bit higher. You must be able to give them a specific (and very reasonable) number, and a good justification for it. But be very clear about your intent.

How to Say It

“I’m excited about coming to work for you, and I accept your offer. That said, I’d like to ask if you’d be willing to consider a higher salary. My objective is $X. If you can come closer to that, it would mean a lot to me. If you can’t, I still accept enthusiastically. I want to work on your team.”

You are making a clear commitment to accept the offer as-is, but you’re politely asking if they could make it better.

Be prudent

If this seems like a bit of a stretch, well, it is. But you asked, and this is the best, most prudent and honest approach I know.

If you’re looking for a negotiating secret, here it is. Companies rarely boost an already good offer by much. I’m more inclined to negotiate up a big difference than I am to gild the lily. So it’s up to you — use your judgment. If you can get more money, great. But remember that prudence and good will may be worth a lot more in the long run than a few more dollars now. Congratulations on getting a good offer for a job you want!

Would you negotiate a good offer for a few extra dollars? When you ask for more, do you typically rely on salary surveys? Has an offer ever been withdrawn when you tried to negotiate? What’s your personal rule about negotiating job offers?

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Rescinded job offer: Did you dodge a bullet?

Rescinded job offer: Did you dodge a bullet?


I’d like to bring up an old subject — a rescinded job offer. I’ve been a reader for a while and have been helping my father in an interview process. He has been in the construction industry for 30-35 years and consistently climbed the ranks from laborer to owning his own construction company and hiring and managing project managers. He was recently approached for a president position at a mid-sized company. I spruced up his resume and helped him prepare for the interviews.

rescinded job offerAll went well. They said they wanted to grow the division to 3X its size under his leadership, and that they would make it worth his while. We were shocked when the offer came through without mention of any incentive plan to meet the ambitious growth objectives that were a cornerstone of their discussions. The offer was just a solid salary and a promise of a “review in 6 months.”

He was disappointed but still interested in the job, and he wanted to think it over for a few days. He had some concerns about the leadership team and the way this job would change his life. On day 2 they gave him a deadline to decide: evening of the next day. He replied, asking until the afternoon of day 4. On the afternoon of day 3 they rescinded the offer because they wanted someone who was “all in.”

I believe he dodged a bullet. The sudden rush for a decision, no plan to reward the ambitious growth they want him to commit to, and the sudden withdrawal of the offer —  these are all red flags to me. What are your thoughts? Am I off base?

Nick’s Reply

Last week we discussed how job opportunities go south. This is special case because a tendered job offer went south! Sometimes you cannot see an employer clearly until you witness its behavior after it makes you a job offer. These people sound like jerks, and I’ll explain what I mean in a minute.

What’s behind a rescinded job offer

First let’s look at the facts and at the employer’s behavior. These are signs a job offer might be rescinded.

  1. They came to your father; he didn’t approach them. In such situations, the employer should be extra respectful (they want you to marry them!) and deferential (no rush for intimacy!). This employer demonstrated neither the appropriate respect or deference.
  2. Their pitch was not matched by their offer. I agree – there should be terms in the offer about rewards for meeting the key objectives for the job. It appears that 3X growth is a cornerstone of this job, so where’s the support in the offer?
  3. You don’t woo someone that you really want to hire by giving them ultimatums.
  4. It seems to me this company was not “all in” on hiring your dad, and while there are several indications, it became starkly evident when they ignored his request for an extra day. Granting it would have been a courtesy — and a sign of good faith.

Based on what you’ve shared, I agree your dad dodged a bullet. I think the company rescinded the job offer because your dad’s hesitation signaled that he saw problems — and this employer likes its executives to be a little bit blind. The reason for my conclusion is simple: What you see is what you get. If he accepted the offer under these circumstances, he should expect to be treated exactly this way once he’s in the job.

Pursue dreams, not nightmares

Regular readers know that my mentor taught all his students this rule: “Never work with jerks.” The dismissive behavior of the company reveals jerks. Withholding a simple courtesy that your dad requested, and pulling the offer without any discussion, tells us all we need to know.

I know your dad is stinging a bit. It’s understandable that he was having dreams of running a larger company, growing a business, getting rewarded for doing a heavy lift (3X growth would indeed change his life!), and rising to the level he thinks he deserves. It’s hard when you can see it and taste it, it’s so close. But when we look at the reality of this deal, this company is not part of that dream. He’s got good dreams that he should absolutely pursue, except not with jerks that almost dragged him into a nightmare.

Turn the tables

The only advice I’d offer in retrospect is this. Since your dad had reservations about the management team, he could have bought more time to consider the offer. Rather than ask for more time to think about it, he could have turned the tables and asked for one more round of meetings with the executive team.

How to Say It
“For our mutual benefit, I’d like to make sure we’re all on the same page regarding the company’s ambitious growth plans. Before we finalize our decision to work together, I’d like to suggest we meet to review our objectives and plans for growth. Is your team available tomorrow?”

I could be wrong, but I think that might have bought him more time as well as more data points on which to base this important decision. I’m guessing the employer took more than 3 days to decide to make the offer! However, I don’t think any of this would have changed the outcome, except perhaps that your dad would have been the one to end the discussions.

Rescinded job offer? On to the next!

Please congratulate your dad on getting an offer to run a company. Even jerks recognize a talented manager, even if they don’t know to treat him. I’m sure your dad knows the difference between good people and jerks. In the throes of getting a job offer, we sometimes set aside our good judgment. Having had time to consider the signals this company gave off, I think your dad might see what life probably would have been like working there.

Please tell him I suggest that, now that he knows how to sell himself as a top executive, he should pursue that kind of job with good people at a healthy company that demonstrates respect and appropriate deference.

Some might view your conclusion and mine as “sour grapes.” But I really think the evidence you’ve shared tells us your dad dodged a bullet.

I hope something I’ve said is helpful. On to the next! I wish you both the best.

Is my analysis sour grapes? What could this executive job candidate have done differently? Was the employer to blame for rescinding this job offer? Have you ever dodged a bullet? What happened?

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