Meet Deborah, a 30-year-old, Brazilian-American video content producer and proudly self-described “ambitious person”. Deborah follows a ton of recruiters and HR professionals. “I want more than the opportunities that are offered to me for a person of my identity and for a person that grew up the way I did,” she told me.
But asking for more isn’t always simple, and doesn’t always go the way we hope. Deborah shared her story of a negotiation gone wrong — and the surprising feelings and lessons learned along the way. Here’s our conversation (edited for length and clarity).
I know women have this tendency to only apply for things that are perfect, and I was a perfect fit for this role – even a little bit overqualified.
I did a quick phone interview. Then a three hour in-person interview. They went through my resume point by point.
Right after the interview, I did all the appropriate things. I sent “thank you” emails to all the people who attended, offered some ideas for what could happen in the future, and they said they’d follow up with me.
In the meantime, I landed an offer for a job. So I sent an email like, “Hey, I really want to work for you, but I have another offer.”
So they sent me an offer letter – full-time, full benefits, salary – but not market rate, which I did a lot of research to figure out what that is.
I sent them an email the next morning saying, “Thank you so much. I’m so interested in this. I’m excited to get started.” All the things.
There was a non-compete clause in the offer letter and I was like, “I do a lot of freelance work. I want to know what kind of non-compete you’re talking about”. And I asked about possibly offering a day of work from home because this happened in October 2021. And I added a note that said this specific site says…
This is what market rate is for our city, for this job title, I’m wondering if you can do anything about that, but I’m really excited, can’t wait to get started, the whole thing.
I didn’t hear anything back for that week. The following Monday, I sent an email to their HR person. She said, “I’m so sorry, our COO has been in meetings. I’ll talk to her and get back to you.”
So I sent the person that I talked to in the interview an email on Tuesday saying, “Hey, can we hop on a quick call, iron out these details? I’d love to come work for you”… blah, blah, blah.
On Thursday, I got an email at like 7:00 PM, “I’m so sorry. We’ve decided we’re going to go in a different direction with other candidates”.
I’d been looking for a job for three months at that point and I declined the other full-time offer when they offered me this. I was running out of my savings.
It was an ideal job. I knew I could do it. I knew I could elevate it. I don’t understand what happened.
My strategy from that point forward was, “I’m not going to think about this.” Because if I think and I ruminate I will get upset and what I need right now is a full-time job.
And I know that that made an impact because in December I got offered a job I did not negotiate.
At that point I was like, “I will not risk anything happening to this opportunity. I am accepting immediately.”
But it’s for less than the first offer.
After being excited in the initial moment that I got the offer, I was angry. Like after the relief of being able to have income, it was like this deep well of rage started bubbling up. I’m still dealing with what happened.
I know the common advice after this is like, “Oh, then you probably didn’t want to work for them anyway.” And it’s like, well, that doesn’t take away from the fact that I really needed income at that point and it took me another three months of work to get.
I think if I had had more financial cushion, I would have been willing to take the risk to negotiate my next offer, but I do now see it as a risk.
My job before, I asked if they were open to negotiation, market rate, the whole thing, and they were like, “No, this is the top of the field”. And I was like, “Okay, then that’s what I’ll do”. And that was fine. But now it is a risk.
I have to be willing to lose the offer or I have to be willing to have them see me as presumptuous.
They’re like, “Oh, what’s the worst that’s going to happen? The worst thing is that they can say no.” But the worst thing is they can send you a physical written offer letter and then retract it two weeks later.
The people that I have mostly seen give that advice come from middle-class backgrounds, are well-educated, white, more often than not male, though white women do it too.
But when it comes to creators of color, they’re like, “You should negotiate because you deserve more, but here’s what you do after if it goes wrong.”
I know that once I get to the point where I have a repository of savings again, and if I ever leave the company that I’m working for now, I will negotiate because I am that ambitious person and I want more and I know I deserve more.
I know other people who are not as good will get more.
The advice for when you’re looking for a job when you have a job, versus the advice when you’re looking for a job when you don’t have a job has to be different because the risk is different. Like my time horizon when I have a job and I have savings is, “Well, if I don’t get this one, I’ll get the next one”
But my time horizon for when I’m running out of money in my bank account and bills are still coming is, “I need the next thing”. And I need to know how to be perfect and answer all their questions in the way they want them answered so that we minimize the risk.
I feel lucky that things worked out and that I’m okay. But once the relief of getting that job wore off, there’s this deep resentment and anger.
All I did was ask about your policies written in the offer letter for clarification, casually mentioned market rate within the appropriate professional code, say that I still want the job – and then two weeks later have it be gone. I basically got ghosted.
Do you have a story to tell about how ambition has played out in your life — for better or for worse? Let us know in the comments.
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