Sometimes It’s a Good Thing NOT to Negotiate Salary
There Are Times to Play It Safe
A common misconception about negotiation is that it is all about winning — always asking for more money at every opportunity, always getting the largest possible salary, always getting the highest possible job title.
While devising intricate strategies, analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of your opponent, and determining a plan of attack can make the process of negotiation seem very much like going to war, the reality is that it is a series of battles throughout your working life. As the general in charge of your own career, sometimes it is wise to pick your battles and know when not to negotiate. Especially after you’ve already accepted the offer.
“John” recently wrote to me with an interesting story of his job search, and his new dilemma. As a Senior Manager at a large company a few years ago, he was making $85,000 before finally getting promoted to Director, which included a base salary bump to $100,000 and a generous bonus program.
Things were going great for almost a year before the economy caught up with him and he was laid off. Fortunately, his spouse also earned a good living and he took the opportunity to take a break and spend more time with his children. While enjoying this life for nearly two years, an opportunity came out of the blue (he wasn’t even sending out resumes). A former co-worker set him up on an interview and after several meetings, he landed an offer and the topic of salary came up.
Do the Math
John did his research on Salary.com and other sites for the new position, which was at an even higher level, Senior Director. When asked how much he was earning the last time he was employed, he told them $115,000, bumping up the number to account for bonuses and to compensate for salary increases while he was out of work.
When the actual offer came, he was armed with research and ready to negotiate, so imagine his surprise and delight when they called with an offer of $135,000. He was so stunned that he immediately accepted on the phone.
But was he premature?
Facing a Dilemma
Here’s where the dilemma starts to kick in:
- After going back and re-running the math against his previous position 2 years ago, he realized that his former $100,000 salary + generous bonus program was actually pretty close compared to this new offer (with limited bonuses). Essentially, his salary was staying the same.
- Next, it hit him that by accepting on the spot, he didn’t negotiate this initial offer at all. He estimated that if he had stayed silent on the phone, let his euphoria die down, and took the time to do the numbers, he might have been able to negotiate another $10,000.
Ask Yourself Important Questions
Knowing that he’d be kicking himself for the next year for not negotiating, John asked the following questions:
- Is it in bad form to go back 4 days after accepting an offer and try to negotiate?
- If so, what would be the best approach to do so?
- Should I wait until my review the following year?
- Does it make sense to say anything now to set expectations?
While I have given examples of people that have negotiated increases even after accepting an offer, in this case John decided NOT to go back and try and get more money. Here are three situations in which it is unwise to negotiate after you’ve already accepted an offer.
3. If You’ve Been Unemployed
In a perfect world, if a company decides you’re the best possible candidate for an open position, it shouldn’t matter if you were just named employee of the month or if you’ve been out of work since the last presidential administration. But the truth is, the longer you’ve been unemployed, the more important it is to get back into the working world — for your career, your financial situation, and your state of mental health. When job offers have been few and far between, you’re less likely to take negotiation risks when you finally receive one.
In John’s case, he knew that it would be more difficult to compete with other candidates in the future with a 2-year gap in his resume. He already felt fortunate in the way the opportunity fell into his lap, stating, “This offer was a gift from the Gods.”
2. If It Ruins Goodwill
The hiring process is stressful. Companies go through a long and arduous hiring process to find the right candidate, while the tension mounts for job-seekers with each successive round of interviews. So when a company and an individual finally connect, a salary is agreed upon, and both parties are eager to get things off on the right foot, carrying that positive goodwill into the beginning of a job is extremely important.
Long story short, a candidate who attempts to go back and pry open that discussion in an attempt for more money will probably not be met with open arms.
In John’s case, it was even more focused since he felt that his immediate manager really went to bat for him to make the hire even though he had been out of work for so long. It was a trust he didn’t want to break.
1. If the Money Isn’t That Different
When choosing which battles to fight, ask yourself if the extra money you will receive is worth the effort of going back on the agreement. If you accept an offer for a specific position, only to find that your peers are getting paid $20,000 more for the exact same role, then yes, it’s probably worth bringing up the issue.
In John’s case, he determined that at best, going back and negotiating the offer might bring a 5-10% increase. For a job that already pays well, is competitive in the industry, and with a second income at home, he was willing to let it go.
What to Do Instead
There are two takeaways that John (or anyone) can learn from this experience.
1) He is even more motivated to contribute in his first year on the job, and is excited for his annual review. What happened with his initial salary situation shouldn’t have a significant impact on future earnings. In fact, with a year of achievement under his belt, he may even be able to use it to his advantage.
He could reveal that he learned that he had undervalued himself during hiring, but chose to stick to his word and prove himself on the job. At that point, he can then delve back into his research and make the case for a larger increase to get back on track.
Secondly, in looking back at the mistakes he made (revealing his salary instead of finding out their range, accepting eagerly on the spot vs. taking a night to think about it, not making a counter-offer), he learned a valuable life lesson, one that he won’t soon forget.
By living with his decision for a year, you can be sure that he’ll be on the top of his game for his review, as well as all future negotiations in his career.
Negotiating Starts with Salary.com
Before you accept the offer, you should establish a solid foundation from which to negotiate. And Salary.com can help.
The first thing you should do is research, so you’re able to come to the table armed with the knowledge of what your job is worth. Use our free Salary Wizard below to find out what’s a fair salary for your position. You can enter your location, education level, years of experience and more to find out an appropriate salary range before you negotiate.