How to Handle a Non-negotiable Salary Offer

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Ways to Gain Negotiating Leverage Even When the Salary is Fixed

Is it fair for a company to offer a job with a non-negotiable salary?

Sometimes life isn’t fair. This is especially true in the job market, where one person might quickly land their dream job and increase their salary by $10,000, while the next person might be unemployed for months, be forced to tap into their savings, before finally taking an unfulfilling job at a low salary.

I recently came across the following question:

“How fair is it for a company to offer a job with a non-negotiable salary? It is considered an entry-level position although it requires previous relevant experience, which I find odd. And what’s insulting about the offer is the fact that the job is located in the San Francisco Bay Area, with one of the highest costs of living in the country.”

What makes this question particularly interesting to me is the way it is phrased, using of the words “fair” and “insulting.” To me, that makes the person seem as if they are angry or pouting over the situation.

To give the job-seeker the benefit of the doubt, looking for work can be extremely frustrating. Perhaps they were particularly excited about this job, the interview went really well, but then they were disappointed by the low salary offer and decided to go online to vent a little bit.

However, if you’re interviewing for work, looking to negotiate your salary, and this is an ongoing issue for you, beware. Any anger, frustration, and bitterness about the job search process that you carry over into your interviews will usually be picked up by the hiring manager and might give them pause when deciding to hire you.

In terms of the reader’s question, the simple answer is yes, it is totally fair — companies can handle their hiring however they want.

Some companies publish salaries beforehand while others keep that information private. While most companies leave room for negotiation, there are many instances where a starting salary could be fixed. For example, it is a common practice in many educational institutions, the military, and government.

In fact, the President of the United States has a non-negotiable salary ($400,000) and didn’t get “a raise” for 32 straight years! Is that fair?

To address the second part of the question, is it “insulting” that the company is offering a non-negotiable salary in a city with a high cost of living? While most companies adjust for regional variances (an accountant in Charlotte, NC would need to earn more than double their salary in order to live in New York City), the fact that the company is able to do this is probably because the job is in San Francisco, not in spite of it. It’s an amazing – and expensive – city to live in, and because of that, countless people that are determined to live there figure out a way to survive.

To be helpful, let’s change the question:

“I’m interviewing for an entry-level position that says the salary is non-negotiable… what’s the best way to handle the situation?”

I’d say that if you’re just starting out in your career, there are other things that are more important than salary:

  • Do you have a great boss that can serve as a mentor?
  • Do you get along with your co-workers?
  • Are you in a growing industry?
  • Does the job offer a good work/life balance?
  • Is the commute manageable or do you spend hours in traffic?

Most importantly, are you learning as much as possible and doing something you truly like doing? If it’s not your dream job, is it at least getting you one step closer on the path to your dream job?

That being said, there are other things that you can try and negotiate, even if salary is locked in:

  • Does the company give out signing bonuses?
  • Can you get an extra week vacation?
  • Are you able to work from home when needed?
  • Does the company have a generous benefits program?
  • Is it possible to be put on a project that suits you best?
  • If performance reviews are annually, can you request one at 6 months?
  • Will they let you expense attendance at industry events?
  • Do they reimburse you for additional training that will further your career?

If you’re just starting out in the working world, you don’t have as much leverage as someone with more experience, so you’ll need to approach this in the proper way. Even if you ask and don’t receive a single thing in return, you’ll be practicing a skill that will be valuable many times over later in your career.

And if you can secure some of the added benefits beyond salary that make the job worth it in the big picture? Sounds like a fair tradeoff to me.

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