14 People On What They Did When Their Salary Negotiation Tactics Backfired

Salary negotiation is something we talk about a lot here on TFD. One of my favorite recent articles explored an idea that I was pretty unfamiliar with previously: what to do when you’re asked about your current salary or your “salary requirements” during a job interview. I’ve never had a full-time job where I successfully negotiated the salary I actually wanted. And in my freelancing career, I’ve slowly been able to increase my rates, but I can’t say I’ve ever successfully negotiated up. Potential clients have all either accepted my rates, or not been able to afford me. (And that doesn’t mean I haven’t been negotiated down — I’ve certainly spent a lot of time working for much-lower rates than my bank account would prefer.)

That said, I am always intrigued by the prospect of salary negotiations — especially because, as a freelancer, I have to get into the mindset of negotiating quite frequently, though on a much smaller scale. It feels as though the salary negotiation stories I read about the most are the successful ones. “Here’s what I did to successfully negotiate my salary, and you should, too.” But what about the not-successful ones? As someone who innately doesn’t like conflict, I feel a little ill just thinking about sitting in a room with a potential boss (or current boss) and having an uncomfortable discussion about salary. That’s why I am intrigued (and unnerved) by conversations like the one on this Reddit thread. User CrackJakes recently posted the following:

I’ve been stewing over this a bit. I work for a nonprofit with limited benefits and no real retirement, but they’ve always been good to me…

Recently, I was offered a promotion to a director position. My boss and I had a meeting and went over specifics and all seemed good. I’ve done this job before and would be a good move up.

However, when we broached salary she stated there would be a “adjustment,” but wouldn’t give specifics. I’m pretty certain she wanted me to commit to it before I even knew the salary.

I told her I felt like I was worth high $60s, which is approximately 10% less than than the person in that role (which I quietly found out beforehand). I mentioned that I had a similar job offer from another company for around $60k that I turned down. And we’d be saving $13k on my replacement. So all in all should be at least $10k savings. But she wants to base it on a % bump from my current much lower salary, rather than what the job actually should pay.

She instantly quit talking, almost like she felt betrayed by even asking for a higher salary. It’s been awkward around the office for the 48 hours since.

Anyone else been in this situation?

Yikes. I honestly don’t know what I would do in this situation; having to defend yourself and the salary you want (and deserve) when you know the position paid even more to the previous person who filled it seems pretty unfair. Yet within the many responses (which offered tons of advice for what to do in this situation, so be sure to check them out), there were tons of people with similar stories of salary negotiations gone wrong — but most of which had a decent outcome, generally in the form of a new, better-paying job elsewhere. Even in some cases, they actually were able to negotiate up with their current company — it just took a few awkward conversations, or days of silence on the boss’ end.

Moral of the story: it is always better to ask for what you’re worth. Read the best responses below, and be sure to read the original post, as well as CrackJakes’ recent followup.

1. “My last job the lab manager…Wanted to pay me basically nothing with a much more increased role because he said he knew I could make more somewhere else but the company rewards ‘loyalty’…I worked there for 4 years and was easily up for the spot (probably the 3rd most senior person there at the time). I literally asked for 1 DOLLAR more an hour than they wanted to give me…instead they let me walk, hired a college kid for less than they were going to pay me, and I found a job making 13 dollars more an hour than they offered me.” — ReallyFnCleverName

2. “I chased that carrot for way too long. Finally pulled my head out of my ass and walked three years ago. I spent a couple of years contracting for other folks and am now contracting with the same company that I previously left, making 50% more than I did when I left.

Talk is free; don’t accept it as currency, because it isn’t worth shit.” — Memitim

3. “I had one [job] where I got 3 promotions. The first was an immediate pay raise, but not much. The next took 6 months of working in the position and me bitching before I got it. Then the last was nearly a year do my essentially 2 jobs with no pay increase. Then the company decided to stop matching 401k’s and I started job hunting. Got an offer after about 3 days of hunting for about 50% more than I made at my current role (and for a demotion according to titles, despite the new role having more responsibility as the company was much larger).

Told my manager and he felt betrayed. Asked what that were paying me or what it would take to keep me there. Threw him about 60% more than what I made and he said they would definitely match it. I said I want it in writing and that he would talk to his boss. His boss said it was way too much, then the damn CEO called me asking me to stay. I said that I loved the job, but I didn’t see myself moving up anymore.” — am0x

4. “I’ve actually had to negotiate salary with people who while they would be my manager, were not making as much as I was asking and I knew it, and they knew I knew it. It’s awkward for sure but the best you can do is be extremely respectful of them and show how you’ll grow business for the whole company.” — dewayneestes

5. “I took a job offer that included a $20k raise. My manager had to actually leave the room before she ‘said something she didn’t mean’ which basically meant she was going to flip the fuck out. It was so awkward for a few days but she eventually apologized for her reaction and explained that she was just hurt since we had become friends, and I was undoubtedly leaving them in a bad position since I did 2x the amount of work of everyone else. She knew there was no way they could counter that kind of offer though. I was actually in the process of a promotion as well but that would’ve been based on % increase on my salary so again, no way they could…or rather would match it. We are still friends today but it was incredibly awkward there for a bit.” — _Scrumtrulescent_

6. “My company lost one of our best sales/service people because of this. He found a job that paid better and offered him better flexibility and mobility. After he left, they looked into and and found they’d need to hire 3 people to replace him. So of course they only hired 2, and just tried to get them to do the extra work. Seems to me it would have been cheaper to pay him what he was worth in the first place, but that doesn’t happen nowadays.” — Chris11246

7. “I worked for Planned Parenthood for a while, doing IT for several locations. When I put in my resignation, the administration at these locations acted betrayed, and wanted me to leave right away despite having done nothing wrong.

Many folks that go into non-profits have had the mindset since college that it’s not about money, it’s about making a change. And as they climbed the ladder personally, they often took less than fair ‘raises’ for promotions. Or promotions with no compensation change. So anytime anyone is seeking money, they consider it an affront to principle and taking money away from the cause.” — DeadSeaGulls

8. “I had one job offer where even my request to negotiate the salary (I didn’t even talk numbers, just stated that the offer was a decrease from the role I was in at the time) they immediately rescinded the offer.

It was like they were just hoping to get a warm body in the position.” — dante662

9. “I hardballed my boss on my raise last year and didn’t hear anything for weeks, until they came and told me that it just took time to go up and back down.

The one lesson I took from the Wolf of Wall Street: Whoever speaks first loses. It’s kind of true. You made your case, ball is in their court. In the meantime, start exploring other options just in case they decide it’s easier to get someone else.” — WreckweeM

10. “I’ve worked for a few big-name tech companies, and the salary range was given for internal hires and it was almost always insultingly low.

So when the manager wanted that specific person who was playing a bit of hardball [with their salary demands]…the manager had to have the same uncomfortable conversation with their boss or HR or finance person or whomever makes those decisions. Basically, she has to hang her reputation on you to justify the extra money.

The sad part is I saw a lot of people get underpaid because their managers chickened out during those secondary conversations. They didn’t get lower offers because they weren’t worth the money; they got lower offers because their manager wasn’t good at saying why they deserved a bigger amount.” — tosser34223

11. “Yep. I interviewed and was offered an internal promotion a month ago… was told I should be thankful for the 11% bump in pay, which I responded that it only brought me up to market since I was underpaid before, and I felt % of base pay didn’t accurately reflect my value (I’ve saved this company millions).

I think in the end, both parties were pretty offended (I knew what their budget was and how much they’d be saving even if they agreed to up my offer, but didn’t mention that to them) and in the end I declined and they hired someone externally for $30k more than what they offered me (ouch).

I found another job for $20k more and just put in my 2 weeks.” — SquirtSquirtSquirtle

12. “I have been in this exact situation, and patience paid off. Several years ago I was up for a promotion from an entry-level position to a manager position. During the conference call where I was offered the position, they said that along with the promotion, my pay rate would increase by 5%. She tried to make it sound soooo generous, as if she was doing me this huge favor. I was shocked, and if it had been an in-person meeting, they would have seen the look of bewilderment on my face.

I asked where they came up with the number and they just casually said that it was based on a healthy increase from my current pay rate. I countered with what market rate for that position was – which was about $12K more than was being offered – and my boss actually told me my options were to take the 5% or stay in my current position. In frustration I replied that the third option was me leaving the company and them having to hire and train a replacement at actual market rate. I was much younger and I’m not sure I’d be so brazen about it now, but that meeting did not end well and I got radio silence for three days. I was certain I was screwed and would be let go.

When she finally called me back, she apologized for the delay and gave me an offer that was $8K higher than the original, plus some extra vacation days and the option to work remotely on occasion. I accepted and told her I was anxious about not hearing anything and was told that she had to get approval from the CEO for the increase.”

13. “I have had three occasions in my career where I very quickly took on much more responsibility than would normally be expected of my position, or contributed by bringing in significant amounts of new business. In each case the company struggled with compensating me according to my contribution. I eventually left all three companies because they would not make the appropriate compensation adjustments. My salary increased from about 20 to 40 percent with each move.” — Doobielu

14. “I have been in this sitar my current job. 2 years past my review due date and I was offered a % [increase]…which calculated out to a kick in the teeth. I turned it down and asked for what I felt was appropriate. That’s when the games began. My boss originally gave me rave reviews and had nothing negative to say about my performance. The next time we met, she attacked me personally, and told me she had no problem finding a replacement. I fought back, asked to meet with the owner of the company. This back and forth went on for 2 months. Ultimately I ended up getting close to what I wanted, but the feeling I came away with is something I still struggle with. It really felt as if she was offended or felt I should be grateful for any raise at all. By far it was the most bizarre career interaction to date.” — accountingisboring

Holly is the Managing Editor of The Financial Diet. Follow her on Twitter here, or send her your ideas at holly@thefinancialdiet.com!

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  • Elbee

    These were very interesting (and some saddening) to read. Great piece!

  • Summer

    I think the fear of #8 is precisely why so many people are afraid to negotiate salary. I know it has absolutely been the case for me during the two most important times that I SHOULD have advocated for myself from the start. The first time around, the HR manager asked me what I had in mind and I threw out a way-too-low number ($35k) because 1) I hadn’t really done my research beforehand to know what my ballpark should have been, and 2) $35k would be the most money I’d made on a consistent basis at that point, so it felt like “a lot.” The look of surprise on her face told me everything but, again, my lack of preparation gave me no confidence to speak up after I’d already thrown out a number. I was then walked up to the VP’s office for a conversation/interview with him, and was ultimately hired on the spot for that $35k. What I SHOULD have done was thank them both for their time and say that I would get back to them within 24 hours after I’d had time to reflect on the position and my impending responsibilities……but nope. I was so elated to have been hired the same day that I ignored the nagging feeling I had that I’d severely undercut myself—and I had, by at least $10k. NO WONDER they hired me right then! I was a bargain.

    A couple of years later I got a $5k pay bump and it was a little less than a year after that when the next position I applied for was one of those that required current salary information (and again, I was too naive to ignore that request and let my ample experience speak for itself), and they ended up offered me a whopping $2,500 over what I’d been making before. This was a very unique scenario though in that while I was with my previous company for the first two of three interviews, I was actually laid off the SAME DAY I had my third interview. It was unexpected and there was no severance package, so when the new company came through two days later with an offer, I immediately accepted at $42,500. I should *at least* asked for $45k just to give myself a tiny leg up, but I told myself that I couldn’t afford to risk losing the job offer, which was absurd. There’s no way they would have invested several weeks’ time and three rounds of interviews only to say “actually, nevermind” if I asked for $2,500 more. They might have told me no, but I should have at least tried.

    LESSON(S) LEARNED.

    • Holly Trantham

      If you ever want to write about this, lmk 🙂

    • TJ

      It’s so rare that an offer is rescinded that it shouldn’t be a fear. Usually the recruiting cost of finding a new candidate is waaaay more money than any raise you’re asking for

  • GBee

    I think it’s always worth the ask. Most companies worth working for would not balk at your attempt to negotiate. I was very lucky that the reverse happened to me on a temp-to-hire position. During my interview I stated one number (that would have been a $5k raise from my previous position) and three months later when I became an an actual employee I received $14k more than I asked for.

  • Nom

    I was promoted from an intern position to a salaried position at a former employer. This was my first salaried position. Based on the feedback I had gotten from those I had worked with as an intern, I knew I deserved the promotion and the company would be lucky to have me stay on.

    The salary they ended up offering me was fair but definitely on the low end of what I would have considered fair. Since this was my first salaried position, I definitely wanted to negotiate, as I had heard (from TFD!) that people that negotiate their first salary end up making 60,000 more over their lifetime (or was it 60%?). So I asked for more. They counteroffered with $500 more (a year) so I asked again for the original salary that I had asked for. They told me I was ungrateful and I could take it or leave it. I totally understand that there were limits to what they could offer me due to budget and what other people were getting paid, but I was very annoyed that they attempted to emotionally manipulate me into accepting a lower salary. They told me it was “unprofessional” to negotiate a salary (?) and whoever was coaching me to do so was wrong.

    I work in government contracting, so when you are hired all companies ask for your salary history and you have to tell them to move forward with interviewing (according to the companies this is a government requirement…. but I doubt it. At any rate, it is standard in the industry so it’s not like I can walk away without leaving the industry). Anyway, when it was time for me to move on to another company, my salary offer was only a $500 per year raise over what I had been making before… when I asked for more, they said their offer was more than fair based on what I had been making. This is why I tried to negotiate that original salary in the first place! (They did eventually offer me more and I accepted the job).