6 Ways Your Salary Negotiation Can Backfire – And What To Do Next

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6 Ways Your Salary Negotiation Can Backfire – And What To Do Next

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Your real stories of asking for more and expert advice on how to respond when things go wrong

There’s a lot of advice out there about how women need to be more proactive about asking for promotions and raises. But research finds women do ask for raises as often as men – they’re just a lot less likely to receive them. And while it’s true that asking is often the best or only way to get a raise, there’s not enough conversation about what could go wrong in the process.

In our ambition diaries series, we’ve heard first hand accounts from women who’ve experienced backlash and penalties when asking for more, and debunked the myth that “the worst they can say is no.” And while acknowledging the realities of all the shocking and sometimes terrible ways an employer might respond to a negotiation is important (from questioning your competence, to discounting you from future advancement opportunities, to rescinding your job offer altogether), it’s just as important to know what to do next.

So we asked our community to share some of the worst responses they’ve gotten when asking for more and reached out to career coaches Jazmine Reed-Clark and Mandi Woodruff-Santos, founder of the MandiMoney Makers community and co-host of the “Brown Ambition ”podcast, for advice on how to respond.

When you ask for a raise and your motivations are questioned

“We’re not sure we want someone so money motivated.” Darra, an attorney from the Bay Area, was taken aback when she got this response after trying to negotiate a new job offer. (Read the full story at They Called Me “Money Motived” For Negotiating My Job Offer).

Emma, a project manager from Atlanta, similarly had an employer suggest she was living too lavish a lifestyle when she asked for more than the $43,000 salary she was offered, with her manager going as far as to say, “It’s like you’re asking us to buy you a Louis Vuitton bag.” (Read the full story at When I Asked for More than My $43,000 salary, They Accused Me of Living Too Lavish a Lifestyle)

Having your motivations questioned, and being accused of greed simply for asking to be compensated in alignment with the value you’re providing your employer is a response many members of the Too Ambitious community reported experiencing:


Recruiter: “You don’t want the execs to think you’re all about the money”… I was asking for fair market value based off Glassdoor in my city.


“None of us are here because of the money.” Well, how are you paying for your Mercedes, then?

A job is, by definition, an exchange of labor for money. Of course, work can also provide a sense of meaning and fulfillment. But it’s explicitly not volunteer work, and everyone should be lucid about the fact that they are there, in large part, “because of the money.”

If you’ve gotten a comment like this, career coach Mandi Woodruff-Santos, advises thinking about the perspective of the person who said it. “Remember that managers are often employees, too. They may not be the ultimate decision makers and they may have their own personal biases and ideas. Maybe they feel insecure about negotiating themselves.”

She noted that women are judged harshly when they ask for more, and the person you’re talking to may have discomfort around that. “It may be that you’re getting someone’s gut reaction, so don’t let it stop you and don’t internalize it. It’s their issue, not yours.”

She suggests keeping it very focused on the reasons you’re asking for a raise. “Come prepared to talk about not only the duties and responsibilities you’ve taken on, but the impact you’ve had on your organization.”

For more on what that conversation should sound like and how to best manage it, tune into the latest episode of the Money Confidential podcast featuring Mandi’s expert advice, “Can I Use Inflation to Negotiate a Bigger Raise?

When you ask for a raise and you’re told that you shouldn’t have

After calling her “money motivated”, the hiring manager Darra spoke to about her job offer said, “I’m going to speak with the team, and in the future […] I wouldn’t advise you to try to negotiate your compensation.”

“I was baffled by that response,” Darra remembers. While you might be too, it’s a sentiment that other Too Ambitious readers have also heard before:


I distinctly remember my manager telling me “it’s the people who keep their heads down and don’t really bring that stuff up who get rewarded” 😒😒😒


“You should never ask your boss for more money. You should let your boss come to you and offer it to you.”😂

The idea that it’s inappropriate to even ask for a raise or promotion is among the most damaging beliefs about advancement because it prevents people from even trying. Just because an employer believes this, doesn’t make it right.

Recruiter and career coach Jazmine Reed-Clark believes that silencing yourself is unambiguously wrong advice, and instead says, “try to find other thoughtful mentors you can go to with questions about negotiating.”If that is the shared ideology among your leadership, you may even want to develop your exit plan now because ultimately you’re going to keep leaving money on the table if you listen to that advice.

When you ask for a raise and you’re told that your expectations are unrealistic


Recruiter: What’s your salary now?

Me: Oh I have a policy to not share my current salary, but I can tell you what salary would be worth it for me to move, it’s $xxxxxx.

Recruiter: Oh that’s too much. You just won’t get that. You need to readjust your expectations.

Me (18 months later): I now make 20k more than the salary I wanted back then. But thanks for calling!


That I was going to price myself out of the industry, that I was ungrateful, and didn’t I know how much they’ve given me… and obviously I didn’t know the value of my health insurance and retirement benefits 🙄 then I got an extra large raise 6 months later… so had to be berated to get a raise


“I talked to my friend who works at [giant company that only hires contractors and underpays] and they don’t think you’re worth that.”

Woodruff-Santos cautions employees to be careful with who they listen to and to take everything with a grain of salt. “Ask yourself, what are they basing this information off of? Do they have up-to-date knowledge?” Then, do your own research.

You can use sites like Glassdoor and Payscale, but you may get better insights from talking directly to people who have recently been hired in a similar role (ideally in your same geographic area). This is where staying in touch with former peers and colleagues can be really useful. Woodruff-Santos made a pact with her college friends to check in with each other and talk about their salaries as they moved up in their careers.

Another strategy? Interview for other roles. Of course, that requires putting in the work of applying, but if you can land an interview, that’s one of the best ways to get real data about your earning potential. She tells her coaching clients that the key is to “always be looking” for what else is out there. That way, you’re equipped with your own knowledge and don’t have to believe other people when they say you’re being unrealistic.

Mandi talks more about her “always be looking” passive job search strategy on the latest episode of the Money Confidential podcast, listen here.

When you ask for a raise and you’re told that the company simply doesn’t have the budget


“That’s not sustainable” LOL. maybe if you can’t run a business as well as your competitors, bye

While an employer might be telling the truth about how much they can afford, the best response to this will depend on your situation. If you’re fairly content at work but just hoping to level up, you might frame the conversation as your attempt to be proactive. Reed-Clark suggests saying something like, “Hey, can you explain a bit more. What goals were not met so that I can help you make sure we hit those in the future?”

However, if they’re piling new responsibilities on your plate without any additional compensation, she believes that they’re in the wrong and advises asking about their timeline. Will there be a point at which they could offer you more (like at the end of their fiscal year or when they hit certain benchmarks)? Will there be scheduled performance reviews and opportunities for bonuses? If the timeline is indefinite or ambiguous, that’s not a good sign. Many organizations go through rough patches, but if it’s seeming like they’re always under water, you’re probably going to have a tough time advancing with them.

As a former employer who controlled a company’s budget, I know that spending is very subjective. Nearly everything is a choice that someone is choosing to prioritize or not – from the size of the office to the amount spent on social media ads to how quickly the organization grows. So even if money is in fact tight, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for rewarding key talent.

When you ask for a raise and your lifestyle and personal choices are used against you

In addition to being accused of living too lavish a lifestyle after asking for more than $43,000 salary she was offered, project manager Emma, found her employer trying to justify the rate, “They said, “Well, you should get more roommates or you should move back in with your parents.” And then they started guilt tripping my parents because they wanted to charge me rent if I moved in with them.””

A similar sentiment was reported by another Too Ambitious reader:


“Don’t you live with your parents anyway?” When I was 19 asking for a raise for transitioning from a clerk to a mortgage closing coordinator during the mortgage heyday. Maybe I didn’t want to live with them forever… 🙄

There are cases when employers use someone’s personal situation (like that they have a high-earning spouse or live with relatives) to justify giving her a lower salary. And this is inappropriate, full stop.

Woodruff-Santos said that she sees this kind of thing more often on small teams where people know each other well (I’ve seen it happen myself). She emphasized that your personal choices should have no bearing on whether you deserve a raise or promotion.

When you ask for a raise and your job offer is rescinded


I once asked for a raise. Two months later I was told I was no longer needed and parents (I was teaching kids) had been complaining for over a year. That’s the first I heard of that. 🤷🏻‍♀️


I also had a job offer rescinded recently because I asked if there was any negotiation room on either the travel requirements, time off and/ or cash salary amount. They were very unprofessional so honestly it looks like I dodged a bullet but it was still pretty hurtful and annoying at the time

Having an offer taken away is pretty much every job seeker’s nightmare. But it’s important to not be overly discouraged by these stories says Woodruff-Santos. She believes strongly that you should always ask for more, if only for the practice of it.

In the event that your offer is rescinded, know that you really have dodged a bullet because any respectable employer shouldn’t do this. They can simply say, “We can’t offer more at this time.” So if a door closes, be as polite as you can but move on. Move on with your life and don’t let that stop you from negotiating in the future.

While the worst they can say is not “no”, we can better understand these retaliatory responses to our negotiations by first, acknowledging that they exist, and second, by reminding ourselves that those responses are a better reflection of still flawed and biased workplace and management structures, as opposed to a reflection of our own value. And while that doesn’t mean that it’s not worth negotiating, it does mean you have a better chance of being prepared for those responses.

Annie Midori Atherton is a writer, content producer and parent living in Seattle. She’s interested in exploring how our broader culture impacts everyday life and questions of why we are the way we are.

For more expert insight on how to approach a salary negotiation and job search, tune into the latest episode of the Money Confidential podcast for Stefanie’s full interview with career coach Mandi Woodruff-Santos.

And to get more conversations like these delivered directly to your inbox, subscribe here.

Image: Courtney Hale/E+ via GettyImages

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