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Ask the Headhunter: This employer punished me for trying to negotiate

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

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: I received a job offer for $80,000, which is low for what my position gets in my industry. I responded that I’m excited about joining the team, and I counteroffered for $85,000, outlining what my value is, how I plan to benefit the company and how the raise is justified overall. That’s my understanding of the proper way to negotiate — you must justify your counteroffer.

Instead of just turning down my counteroffer and staying at $80,000, which I would’ve gladly taken, they rescinded the offer completely. The hiring manager wouldn’t even respond to my calls or emails, even after he said he’d be glad to discuss any questions. Is this punishment for daring to negotiate?

I spoke to friends who are hiring managers, who in turn asked other hiring managers, and the consensus was total shock. They said it was an anomaly to rescind the offer because I tried to negotiate it.

Is this becoming more common, or is this just plain bad hiring practice? Was I in the wrong to negotiate? The hiring manager did claim that he already pushed for the $80,000, which is the maximum they could offer. But anyone with negotiating experience knows that might be a negotiating technique of the employer.

In all, this experience scared me into never wanting to negotiate again, and I’m afraid I’ll never get a job that pays at least the average value for my position. I would love to know your thoughts!

Nick Corcodilos: Here we go again — another rescinded job offer. (See “Are disappearing job offers a new trend?” and “Why it’s risky to give notice when you quit”) What is going on with human resources management?

Your story has an interesting twist, because your offer was retracted simply because you dared to negotiate it. But more troubling is that I’m seeing a shocking number of rescinded offers reported by readers.

Don’t beat yourself up about what just happened to you. As long as you do it respectfully, there is nothing wrong with negotiating. It’s part of business. I compliment you for negotiating responsibly. (See “Only naïve wusses are afraid to bring up money.”) Here are my thoughts:

  1. The manager is within his rights to not offer more money. But taking offense at a negotiation is puerile. As a job applicant, I’d walk away from this employer without another thought. As a headhunter, I’d never work with this employer again. (Employers should read “Why you should offer job applicants more money.”)
  2. The company’s HR department reveals it is meaningless, clueless, powerless or all three. (See “Why HR should get out of the hiring business.”)
  3. The company’s marketing and public relations departments are to be pitied, because while they are working to create a good image of their company before their customers and investors, HR is tearing that image down in the company’s professional community. (I’m sure you’ll be sharing your story with your friends in your industry.)
  4. You have dodged a bullet. Better to know now that this person doesn’t negotiate, than after you take the job.

What this company did doesn’t make sense. But please consider that the risk of working with people whose behavior doesn’t make sense, doesn’t make sense!

Move on. There are good employers out there who know how to conduct business. Business between honest, smart people is always a negotiation. You did nothing imprudent or wrong. When someone won’t negotiate, they’re not worth doing business with.

We learn through negotiating. As you pointed out, negotiating by offering sound reasons for your counteroffer is a way to find common ground and a way to understand one another better. This kind of back-and-forth is the foundation of all commerce. It’s how we learn to work together. (See “The ONLY way to ask for a higher job offer.”)

This employer doesn’t get it. It never feels good when someone dumps us. It makes us question ourselves. But if you take a deep breath, I think you’ll realize that a company that refuses to have a dialogue — a negotiation — with you doesn’t care about you. There can be no commerce in that case.

I think such appalling, irresponsible behavior by employers has become much more common, because HR now so dominates recruiting and hiring that hiring managers are less and less likely to understand even the most fundamental rules of engagement with job applicants. They do stupid things that cost their company money and good hires. Even worse, HR is so dominated by automated hiring tools, regulatory blinders and “best practices” that even HR “professionals” are less and less likely to understand the basic rules of doing business.

A responsible business person doesn’t just walk away from a negotiation like that. They respectfully close out the discussion. And if an employer makes an offer that the recipient tries to negotiate, the employer doesn’t withdraw the offer as its answer to a request for more money. The employer just says, “No, no more money. Do you accept the original offer?”

It’s outside the scope of this Q&A, but there’s a negotiating technique that turns the offer process on its ear. In “Fearless Job Hunting, Book 9: Be The Master of Job Offers,” pp. 8-9, I explain how “By making a commitment to the company first, you establish a level of credibility that may strengthen your negotiating position.” Using this technique, you actually accept the offer first and then negotiate. Would it have worked in this case? I don’t know — it depends on the integrity of the employer.

Don’t beat yourself up. You can always negotiate with good people. The rest aren’t worth worrying about or dealing with. I wish you the best.

Dear Readers: Do you negotiate to get the best job offer you can? Have you ever had a job offer pulled because you tried to negotiate? If you’re an employer, are you willing to negotiate with job applicants? If you work in HR, do you take responsibility for how your company negotiates with job applicants?

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,” “How Can I Change Careers?”, “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

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

Copyright © 2016 Nick Corcodilos. All rights reserved in all media. Ask the Headhunter® is a registered trademark.

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