I’m currently in a job where I thought I was going to grow a lot more quickly than I have, so I have started to explore other options. The tricky part about this position is that I am in marketing and my manager is not tracking any results or success (which is a basic expectation for this kind of work). Because of that, I am having a really hard time landing a job. Interviewers are blown away that I’m not using basic marketing business practices, but my manager is just very out of the loop.
I’ve had about 40 interviews since December, but no job offers until now. I finally received an offer and, after so much rejection, was so excited that I cried. Once I received the offer letter, I took it to my mentor, who said, “Never take the initial salary offer. HR is always expecting some negotiation.”
So I replied to the offer with a very nice response asking if they were willing to go up by $10,000, expecting that maybe we would meet in the middle at $5,000 over their initial offer. Never once did I say I would back out if I didn’t receive it; I just positioned it as a simple question. I don’t have a lot of experience with offers, but I was told by at least five people (including my mentor) that it’s extremely normal to negotiate, so I felt confident about doing this.
The hiring rep quickly replied and said the offer they made was the highest amount they had budgeted, but she would ask the team. I assumed that even if the answer was a no, it would be fine. However, she came back an hour later and rescinded the offer, saying that they didn’t feel the negotiation had gone well. I tried to call and email to tell them I’d be willing to take the initial offer, but they never responded to me.
I am devastated. This would have been a $20,000 bump in my salary and a title change. I am at such a low point after so much rejection. All five people who told me to negotiate say they were astonished.
At this point, I regret my email so much. If I had never negotiated (which I wasn’t intending to do anyway until everyone told me to), I would still have a new job. I am a mess. Is this normal? Did I do something wrong?
Oh noooooo, I’m so sorry.
Negotiating salary is a very normal thing to do. Candidates do it all the time, employers aren’t typically surprised by it, and it almost never ends in the offer being pulled.
In fact, it’s so rare that I’m nervous about running a letter like this because I don’t want readers to worry that they shouldn’t try to negotiate their salary in the future. Negotiating is nearly always a safe and reasonable thing to do.
When an offer does get yanked because of a negotiation, the explanation is usually one of the following:
1. Most commonly, the problem is on the employer’s side. If they truly pulled the offer because you negotiated and there’s nothing else at play, that’s so outside the realm of normal business expectations that it indicates they don’t play by professional norms in general. A company that rescinds an offer because you wanted to negotiate (rather than simply explaining that their offer is firm) is a company that doesn’t understand that employment is a two-way street. That manager is likely to have a similarly dysfunctional response to employees who ask for raises or better benefits or who otherwise advocate for themselves. Seen through that light, this is a bullet dodged — though I realize it doesn’t feel that way when you’ve been job searching for so long.
2. Other times, there’s more to the situation than what you see on the surface. For example, a stronger candidate emerged at the last minute and they were looking for an excuse to pull the offer, or a higher-up was pressuring them to hire someone else, and when you didn’t accept the offer immediately, that person had more of an opening to push for their preferred candidate. (“Has she accepted? No? Then let’s just hire Candidate B instead.”) This isn’t okay — employers should stand by the job offers they make, not change their minds on a whim — but it can happen.
3. Occasionally there’s something about the way a candidate negotiates that gives the employer pause. This doesn’t sound like the case with you, but if you come across as notably unenthused, that might make them second guess, especially if they already had concerns about your level of interest. (To be clear, I’m not talking here about a neutral response. But if you sound put upon to have to even consider their offer, they may conclude this isn’t a great match for either of you.) Or if you ask for a salary or benefits that are wildly outside the realm of what’s realistic for the market, they might figure that there’s no practical way to move forward, and also maybe that you’re prohibitively out of touch. The same is true if you appear to be operating in bad faith — like if they were up front about the salary during the hiring process and confirmed with you multiple times that it would work for you, and then you ask for more anyway without offering a reason why (like that the responsibilities of the role changed after you last discussed salary).
In your case, my guess is that the explanation is No. 1 or No. 2. It’s certainly worth reviewing the way the conversation went down with your mentor to make sure there’s not something about your approach that might have set off red flags for a reasonable employer. But assuming that’s not the case, it’s pretty safe to conclude that this was an issue on their side, not on your side — and that you did nothing wrong.
As a rule, decent employers do not pull offers because a candidate asked for more money. They might say, “No, the offer is firm,” but at that point it’s generally up to you to decide whether to accept it or not. “Never mind, we won’t offer it to you at all then” is not a normal response, and it’s the mark of an employer that’s highly likely to turn out to be broken in other ways too.
I realize that’s cold comfort when you’re left without an offer for a job you had been excited to accept. But please don’t let it make you gun-shy about negotiating in the future; you’re very unlikely to run into this again, and ultimately you’re better off not working for an employer that reacts harshly to workers who advocate for their own worth.
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