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Ask the Headhunter: My boss gave me a promotion, but HR won’t agree to my raise. What now?

Nick Corcodilos started headhunting in Silicon Valley in 1979 and has answered over 30,000 questions from the Ask The Headhunter community.

In this special Making Sen$e edition of Ask The Headhunter, Nick shares insider advice and contrarian methods about winning and keeping the right job, on one condition: that you, dear Making Sense reader, send Nick your questions about your personal challenges with job hunting, interviewing, networking, resumes, job boards or salary negotiations. No guarantees — just a promise to do his best to offer useful advice.


Question: Our office has undergone a review process, and we have all been offered promotions after going through interviews. When they notified me that I got it, I said I wasn’t going to accept until we worked out the salary.

My boss met with me two days later. We both had figures in mind. I played hardball, and in the end, he agreed to the lower part of the range I was aiming for. We shook hands, and I accepted the job. He told me he would draw up the paperwork.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: Should you tell a recruiter your salary?

Two days later, he has now come back saying HR and senior management don’t agree with this salary. They think it’s too high. He has re-offered me the lower salary that I had previously turned down.

Can they do this? Do I have any rights since my boss agreed to the salary and we shook hands? I’m not going to accept the promotion, and I feel very disheartened and annoyed. I hope you can help me, because our HR department isn’t helping. Thanks.

Nick Corcodilos: I’m sorry to hear this — but it’s a story has become altogether too common. (See “I got a job promotion in writing, and then they took it back.”) Rescinded job offers are the number one complaint I get from readers now. That’s why I think we need to keep talking about it — perhaps employers will notice they’re doing damage to employees and to themselves.

Either your company is disorganized and one hand doesn’t know what the other is doing — top management and HR don’t talk to your boss until it’s too late — or this is a nasty form of bullying. It’s hard to tell which.

Disorganization is when employers and bosses make commitments, then renege and claim someone else up the ladder nixed the offer. It’s irresponsible and unfair — but I don’t believe it’s illegal. You’d have to talk with an attorney to get the legal picture.

It’s bullying if they’re playing a negotiating game. They offer a better job and get you excited after they agree to a salary. Once you’re hooked, they count on you not to reject a subsequent, lower offer, because you really want the new job. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s illegal either.

You must ask yourself two things:

  • Will you be content, if not happy, at the lower salary?
  • Can you afford to say no and go find another job?

I can’t answer those questions for you, though I can hear your dissatisfaction clearly. Still, I urge you to take a day or two to think about those two questions, because this is a big decision.

Of course, you can agree to the final terms they’ve offered and still go find another job after you take the promotion. I don’t see any ethical problem with that. It’s a business decision, just like your company’s decision to revoke a commitment to you.

READ MORE: Ask the Headhunter: I think my employer cheated me on salary

But, if you take the lower offer and start a job search, my advice is to smile and say thanks. Do your job, but don’t let on that you’re starting a job search. That’s not sneaky; it’s necessary. And when you get to the point of an offer from another employer, be careful what you tell both employers — and when. See “Protect Your Job: Don’t give notice when accepting a new job.”

I’m not surprised your HR department won’t help you. They must support the company’s position, though the HR manager must also grapple with how broken promises affect employee morale.

Use your own best judgment, make a decision that’s best for you, and go from there. I’m really sorry they’ve put you in this position. I’d love to know what you decide and how this turns out.

Dear Readers: Has a promotion or raise ever been pulled out from under you? Is it unethical for this reader to accept a reduced offer and then look for a new job?


Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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