why ask my salary expectations if you’re not going to meet them? — Ask a Manager

here are the 10 best questions to ask your job interviewer — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I had a recent situation that left me pretty frustrated, but now I’m wondering if I was just completely unrealistic in my expectations of how salary conversations go.

Backstory: I applied for a role, which stated the salary range in the job listing (required by law in my state). The range had a $40,000 difference, for example, $60,000 to $100,000. During the initial HR phone screen, the recruiter asked what my salary expectations were. I gave them my floor, which was $90,000, about $10,000 under the top of their stated range. I even acknowledged that and said something along the lines of, “I know that’s right up to the top of the range.”

Fast forward two months and four more interviews (this was for an individual contributor role, not a manager), and I get a job offer. I’m thrilled … except the offer is for $80,000, which is $10,000 less than what I told the recruiter was my floor. I was polite on the phone, but asked if there was any wiggle room on the salary. The recruiter acknowledged that she’d told the hiring manager my salary expectations, but that they wanted to go with this offer instead because it was the middle of the range. She said there wasn’t wiggle room but that I would be eligible for a raise soon.

I politely declined the offer, citing salary reasons. The recruiter then emailed me to ask how far off we were on the salary. I’m baffled, because shouldn’t they know given our earlier conversations about salary expectations? In the end, I got an offer from a different company and accepted that, but I’m wondering if this whole salary negotiation situation is normal?

Do companies assume our stated salary expectations aren’t real? I understand equity considerations, but then why even post a range if you’re not willing to negotiate within that range? Or do you think there was another candidate who they felt would accept their offer … but then why waste my time?

Yeah, it’s BS.

And believe me, if the roles were reversed — if they told you up-front that the salary was $X and you went through the whole interview process, only to say at the end that $X was a deal-breaker for you — they wouldn’t be happy. [To be fair, there’s some nuance there; it would be different if you said, “After learning more about the role, I’d be looking for $Y because (reasons).” Just as it would also be different here if they’d given you some explanation of why they were coming in lower than the salary you’d named as your minimum.]

But yet this is a thing that happens. Sometimes it’s because they’re assuming that what you say is your floor isn’t really your floor, or that you’ll be more flexible if their benefits are good. Sometimes they were open to the number you named but after fully evaluating your candidacy, they genuinely believe $X is a fair offer that positions you correctly within their salary structure, even though they’re aware you might not accept it. Sometimes the recruiter isn’t even passing along your salary expectations at the beginning or not flagging it enough or at the right time. Sometimes they just suck at handling salary discussions.

Ultimately, the thing to remember is that when you name a number early on, the fact that the employer moves you forward doesn’t mean they’re agreeing to meet that number. They’ll probably flag it if you’re wildly out of their ballpark, but otherwise they may be assuming your number comes with an implicit “somewhere around here, give or take.”

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