Meet Nadia, a 30-something working in publishing in New York City. After being laid off due to Covid, Nadia started freelancing while searching for a full-time job. After landing a new job offer, the salary negotiation didn’t go as expected. Here’s our conversation edited for length and clarity. Nadia is a pseudonym to protect her identity.
How has the job search been?
It has been brutal. It’s been very disheartening to apply to jobs that you’re qualified for and never hear back. Or in this one case, apply to jobs, do four rounds of interviews, get a job offer — then it’s rescinded.
Tell me a little bit about the dynamic during that interview process.
I talked to three separate people over the process of the interview and they all basically said like, “You will be expected to work 50 plus hours a week. You’ll be expected to answer email on vacation. It’s not a good work life balance.”
I personally am a workaholic. I don’t have kids. I’m like, “Okay, that’s fine with me.” I expect there to be some sort of trade-off though. Maybe there’s going to be a good salary. Maybe there’s going to be good benefits. Maybe there’ll be a lot of vacation time per year.
During my fourth and final interview, the hiring manager told me I was the first choice of everybody that I talked to and she said, “Okay, so I’m going to send you an offer, and we can go back and forth on the specifics, but I’ll just send you the offer.”
I’m thinking, okay, they expect me to work 50-plus hours a week. I’m their first choice. And they said, “We can go back and forth.” So I’m like, “Great. This puts me in a great position.”
They send me the offer and it’s absurdly low – like very, very low ball. And I’m like, “Okay, but they’re expecting me to negotiate.” They would not expect me to take this salary because it is insultingly low.
So I said, “Okay. I’m very excited about the job. I think that commensurate with my experience and with the expectations of the job, I would like this salary.”
I talked it out with several friends first and they were like, “Okay.” So I asked for this much more when I negotiated my salary. And I was like, “Okay, great.” I went lower than all that.
I was expecting, worst case scenario, they’ll just say no. I honestly might’ve even taken the job just because I need a job – it’s been almost a year.
But instead, they responded and said, “It seems like, actually, this isn’t a good fit for you and good luck finding something else.”
And how did that moment feel?
Obviously, when you first read it, your stomach drops and you just feel awful.
You feel stupid for thinking that you could negotiate. You feel worthless – like they really don’t value you at all. And that your work isn’t really worth anything.
My friends were all super supportive and were just like, “Okay. Well, that’s their loss.”
I had been talking with friends before I sent back a counter offer, everyone was like, “Well, the worst thing you can do is say no.” I was like, “Well, the worst they can do is rescind the job offer.”
But they told me that I was their number one choice and that we could go back and forth. So I really wasn’t expecting that they would rescind it.
How would you amend some of the negotiation advice that you have heard over the years?
I think that the problem is structural and not really able to be addressed by advice other than very common sense stuff like you want to be very polite while you’re doing it.
Honestly, the most helpful advice to me was just like, “Yeah, you’ve dodged a bullet. Just keep trying. You’ll find a better job. You’ll find a better fit,” which I think will hopefully turn out to be true.
No matter what I do, it’s not going to change the fact that I need a job in order to pay rent and that this company can always find somebody who is willing to do the job for less. If they’re interested in just paying as little as possible, then they can always find somebody. And that person will probably be miserable and they’ll probably be treated really badly. But for somebody, it will be worth the trade off just to be able to pay rent and just to be able to pay for medical care.
I wonder if maybe the advice needs to be directed at hiring managers or the people who are making these decisions – the people who have the power.
I’ve noticed that when hiring managers rescind offers, they then say something like, “Oh, it sounds like you’re not really interested”.
Right. Like, “Oh, it sounds like this actually isn’t a good fit for you,” is what they said to me. I talked to three separate people who I got along really well with and they all chose me as their first choice. So it seems like I am a good fit.
You can say, “No, we can’t pay you any more than X,” But to tell me I’m not a good fit, it’s just wrong. It’s just objectively false.
Another data point that may or may not be interesting to you is that everybody that I talked to in that interview process were all women. So it’s not just evil white men who are devaluing women’s labor, it’s really systemic and stuff throughout.
If I had those exact same qualifications, and I was a man, I don’t think that this female hiring manager would have reacted in the same way.
My dad is like, “Oh. Well, just tell them this.” And I’m like, “You do not understand that when I asked for more money, they rescinded the job offer. You can do that, I cannot.”
I’m very good at my job and it’s not like I’m arrogant about it, but I’m confident about it. I don’t have false hubris about it, but I don’t know false modesty about it. And I think that can be very off-putting to some people.
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