The Salary Chronicles was originally published on Forbes.com
Welcome to The Salary Chronicles, where we’re bringing transparency to negotiation and salaries, one story at a time. We ask women to share their experiences negotiating their salary and what their advice is for others doing the same. We share these stories anonymously so they feel comfortable speaking as openly and as freely as possible.
This week we’re speaking with a woman who was honest with her current salary during an interview and that information was used against her when she was offered the job.
Location: Houston, TX
Salary requested: $120,000
What was the situation when you first decided to negotiate your salary?
We were in the midst of a recession when I graduated law school, and I ended up taking a job where I knew I was being underpaid. As the economy improved I decided it was time to look for a new position because I was making $80,000 – about half the market rate for an associate lawyer.
I started applying to in-house legal positions which I knew would pay better than what I was currently making, but less than an associate lawyer. I landed an interview with a small company and during my pre-qualification interview with HR, they shared that the salary for the role was $120k +, which is near the lower end of the salary spectrum for this type of position. I told them I was fine with that starting amount and I moved on to interviews.
After an unusually extensive interview process, I was given an offer. At first I was excited, but then I read the offer letter and saw that the salary stated was $100k, not $120k as HR had informed me.
I was a little surprised, but I assumed it was either a mistake or that they were testing me, so I decided it was time to negotiate and make sure I received what I had been promised.
I went into the negotiation leading with the fact that I was so excited to work for them and I knew I could bring a lot of value to the role. Then I let them know that during my pre-qualification interview it was stated that the salary for the position would start at $120k.
I was shut down immediately. I was told that there must have been a mistake and the salary was $100k, take it or leave it.
At this point I had already been through a really long interview process and it was tempting because the salary was more than what I was currently making.
But something felt off. I knew that $120k was the lower range of what I should be making as in-house counsel. And I was shocked that I was dismissed so quickly when I tried to negotiate my salary.
I went back over the entire interview process and realized that after the pre-qualification interview (where HR stated salary started at $120k) I filled out job details that included my current salary, which was $80k. It all of a sudden became so obvious to me that they were trying to take advantage of my honesty on that form and hire me at a bargain basement rate.
Once I realized that they were using my salary against me, I started to see all of the other things that were troubling me: the reaction to me trying to negotiate was abrupt and dismissive. He was acting like he had leverage over me and I should be thrilled to accept this position. I also realized that this incredibly long and thorough interview process was a bit of a power trip for him. It was really out of line with a standard interview process for a lawyer and the questions were really strange.
I had been blinded by the excitement of the whole process and wasn’t paying attention to what were clearly warning signs.
What did you decide to do?
I knew deep down that this was the wrong job to take. Once the blinders came off I saw that this was a sign of how they would treat me later. The person I would be working for was dismissive of my request and my needs and completely unapologetic during our conversations about salary. I can only imagine how I would’ve been treated as an employee.
Even though the position would be a 25% increase in my salary, I knew that a good employer wouldn’t try to take advantage of me and pay well under market rate. I respectfully declined the position and stayed with my lower paying job.
What advice do you have for other women?
Don’t feel forced to put down your salary requirements when applying for a job – you are not required to disclose that! I always advise my friends to leave it blank or write in “market” so the employer doesn’t try to come in with a low offer.
Take the blinders off when you’re interviewing. You’re interviewing the company just as much as they are interviewing you. If something feels off, don’t ignore it. How they treat you during the interview is an indication of how they will treat you as an employee. If you’re not respected during the interview, you won’t be respected as an employee.
And finally, know that a good employer will pay market rate.