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What a Strange, Strange Ride

Today I accepted a job offer after 9 months of unemployment, and you’d think I’d be ecstatic. But mostly, I feel exhausted, with a fair bit of dazed mixed in.

First, a bit of context: I have three degrees, including the highest you can get in my field. And I have nearly a decade of high-level professional experience. Together they qualify me for nonprofit work, think tanks, academia, and government positions, all of which I’ve been actively applying for.

And I’ve been doing so from a position of privilege: even after nine months of unemployment, I still have enough money in the bank to live without income for another 8-9 months. That’s reduced my stress considerably – I wouldn’t want to be unemployed any other way – but the uncertainty and unpleasantness of unemployment still take their toll.

Hence the exhaustion.

In all, I applied for 490 jobs, and I was rejected by 130 of them. In turn, I rejected 13, mostly because the salary ranges (which they didn’t make clear in advance) turned out to be too low. I got two offers; came in 2nd six times, and never heard back at all from 339 of them (nearly 70%).

And boy, do I have stories to tell.

Let’s start with one of the weirdest: I applied for a job with one of the oldest and largest environmental nonprofits in the country. I could tell you what happened next, but instead, I’ll just let you read the emails (which I’ve redacted to protect the innocent and the guilty):

Hi [Name] (and [Name] and [Name]),
Thank you all for your time this afternoon. I enjoyed learning about the good work you’re doing in the world, and naturally, I wish you all the best with it, regardless of whether or not I’m eventually hired. But I just have to say how odd it is that you don’t have a salary range you’re willing/able to disclose.

This snarky article makes a broader case for full disclosure:
http://nonprofitwithballs.com/2015/06/when-you-dont-disclose-salary-range-on-a-job-posting-a-unicorn-loses-its-wings/. I don’t agree with all of it – I’ve continued applying for jobs that don’t list salary ranges, even though most of the government and university positions I’ve applied for do. And when they don’t, no one has hesitated to share it in subsequent conversations. But I agree with most of the article. It helps that I’m a white male, so I have the privilege of not worrying about racial or sexual discrimination in this situation. But I still think it’s rude and disrespectful to withhold such relevant information at this stage. Sharing a range leaves plenty of room for future negotiation. Refusing to do so indicates bad faith, secrecy, and poor management, in my view – it communicates that you don’t value applicants enough to give us even a sense of what we might get paid.

No one likes to tarnish potential relationships, or lessen the possibility they might get hired. I’m sure you’re all good people, and none of this may be within your control. But I think it’s wrong, and I feel compelled to say so.

If you’d like me to continue interviewing for the position, I’d be delighted to, but only if you provide me with some reasonable answer to the fair question I posed. I don’t want to spend more time and energy pursuing a job while remaining in such ignorance.

If not, then I still wish you the best with other candidates, and the good work you do.

A bit strong, I admit. I was blunt because (a) that’s how I really feel; (b) having fuck-you money is great; and (c) they were just as blunt with me on the initial call.

I thought they’d respond this way: “We’re sorry to hear that you won’t be continuing with the hiring process, but of course we wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.” Nothing more is needed, and it’s an easy and polite dismissal. Instead, I got this:

Dear [Name],
[Name], [Name] and I enjoyed speaking with you today and hearing about your background and interest in promoting [cause].  On the issue of salary range, our organization has chosen to address this issue by asking candidates what their salary requirements are when they fill out our online application.  In this way, we can see if the candidate’s expectations are aligned with the range we can offer for a position.  In fact, one candidate we interviewed had listed a much higher salary expectation than we could accommodate.  I sent an email and disclosed to her that we would not be able to pay within this range, but asked if she would still be interested in interviewing for the position.  You did not fill in this section of the job application.

Regardless of the merits of your argument on this issue and my sincere respect for your opinion on it, the way you have raised it would seem to reveal a lack of ability to sensitively and constructively handle disagreement.  This is an extremely important skill for this job, without which you would not likely be successful.

I thank you for your interest in the position.  You have an impressive background and have accomplished some great things already.  I know you will do great things in your future career and I wish you great success.

Sincerely,

[Name]

I couldn’t let that rest, so this is what I wrote back – to Name and to many of her superiors:

Hi [Name],

You’re right, of course – requesting an applicant to submit their salary expectations when they apply is one way of resolving the logistical problem, and ensuring there’s overlap between what the applicant wants to get paid, and what you’re able to provide.

I’ve been on the other side of a few hiring processes, including one which illustrates your point. In 2004, I was part of the committee hiring the first director of the [Organization]. And one of the applicants – Rebecca – was clearly the best fit. She had a wealth of experience and outshined everyone, but when we offered her the job, she was astounded by how low our offer was ($40K). She really wanted the job, and we wanted her, so we didn’t part ways immediately. We did some surgery on our budget and gave her a revised offer of $45K, which she regretfully turned down.

Asking her at the start about her salary expectations would have saved us all time and disappointment. But resolving the logistical problem in this way – the way [Your Organization] does – exacerbates the imbalance of power between employer and applicant, and does so in a way that salary brackets do not.

There are many applicants for a single job, and the employer gets to pick who gets hired. By asking an applicant to provide their salary expectations as they apply, an employer exacerbates this power disparity, unless they’ve already disclosed the job’s salary range. This is because the applicant has an incentive to provide the lowest salary they’re willing to accept, and because it gives the employer an informational advantage: they know something about the applicant’s expectations, while revealing nothing in return.

That’s why I don’t provide salary expectations when I apply. But I’ve been happy to share them in first interviews, and every employer has been happy to share their salary range in return, until now.

I asked about the position’s salary range at the end of our interview: the minimum or maximum you might pay someone, depending on their experience. And without context, explanation, or apology, you told me, “We don’t disclose that information.” Even as a white male, I was taken aback. I thought, “Is my question unfair? Was I out of line?” If I were black, I might wonder, “Do they think I’m being uppity?” If I were a woman, I might wonder, “Do they think I’m being a bitch?”

I don’t need a job right away; the money I’ve saved has allowed me to spend my time searching for the right fit. And as a white male, I don’t have to worry about racial or sexual discrimination. It’s these factors – rather than a defect in my skills or character – that have allowed me to share this constructive feedback with you. It’s feedback that’s still more relevant for applicants at greater risk of wage or employment discrimination – like women and people of color – but from whom you’re less likely to hear it, for that very reason.

You write that, “On the issue of salary range, our organization has chosen to address this issue by asking candidates what their salary requirements are when they fill out our online application.” That doesn’t preclude sharing a salary range; they’re not mutually exclusive. What purpose does such secrecy serve? Keeping applicants in the dark about what they might be paid, until whenever an offer is made, maximizes the employer’s negotiating leverage. It’s a system designed to minimize wages for all applicants, and an advantage that can be used to discriminate against vulnerable applicants – women, minorities, and those in more desperate need.

Is [Your Organization’s] policy not to disclose any salary information to any applicants before offers are made? I can’t tell, based on your email, whether withholding salary ranges from the applicants you interview is standard within [Your Organization], or a decision made within your unit.

I’m also hoping you can explain the second paragraph of your email. What purpose does it serve? In my last email, and in this one, I’ve critiqued [Your Organization’s] hiring practices, in specific ways and for reasons I’ve clearly articulated. The personal disparagement in your second paragraph is not specific, and its purpose is unclear. It is, regardless, unprovoked and uncalled for: I have not personally disparaged anyone at [Your Organization]. You write, vaguely, “the way you have raised” the issue. As an applicant, it’s hard not to read that as, “the fact you have raised” the issue. The latter interpretation would have less credibility if you’d also written something like, “I’ll forward your concerns to our HR department and upper management.”

In various capacities, I’ve worked for [Organization], [Organization], [Agency], [Organization], [Organization], and [Your Organization] itself ([link to Linkedin]). I spent [X] years leading [Organization], and another [X] years earning [terminal degree]. I think I have a good grasp of my own abilities. They are, in any case, unrelated to the substance of the feedback I’ve given you.

Remember that you invited me to interview because you felt I was a credible candidate for the position. You’ve now lost that candidate because you refused to provide any estimate of what you might pay someone in that position – a range that would have left you plenty of room for further negotiation, and which other organizations happily provide at this stage. When I raised this as an issue, you disparaged my skills and terminated my candidacy, in foreseeable ways that nevertheless have left me disappointed in your organization.

I applied for [Your Organization] because I believe in making the world a better place. In its small way, I hope this feedback will help to do the same. And who knows? Instead of doubling down, you might have responded differently. I hoped you would share my concerns within [Your Organization], and provide a more substantive response. I’m sad you didn’t, but I thought the possibility was worth the effort.

I still think [Your Organization] can and should do better.

And I think having a wider conversation would help. Accordingly, I’ve added the other members of the hiring committee ([Name] and [Name]) back into this conversation. I’ve also added a few members of [Your Organization’s] upper management who seemed relevant to me.*

But whether you have that conversation is up to you. I wish you well.

Sincerely, [My Name]

* I’m not familiar with your organizational chart, so I apologize if I’ve cc’d a few of the wrong folks. And I couldn’t find the email for your HR director, so I tried a few different variations.

All this was so unnecessary.

The world would be an immeasurably better place (with less room for discrimination) if organizations did publish the salary ranges for their positions. It would save applicants time (no sense applying for jobs you wouldn’t want if you knew what they paid) and the organizations themselves time (no sense wading through applicants who wouldn’t want the job if they knew what it paid). But if you don’t want to, fine. No need to be a dick about it.

I never heard back from Name, but I did get an apologetic call from the organization’s HR person. They were sorry I was mistreated, and I appreciated the gesture. They said vague things about changes that would be made – mostly around how questions and emails like mine are answered in the future. But they couldn’t publish a salary range for many jobs, they told me, even if they wanted to. Why? Because they have no idea what many positions should pay, and they rely on the salary expectations submitted by applicants to establish that range.

I didn’t argue because I’m uninterested in becoming a winged HR warrior or caped HR crusader. I have other fish to fry. But that explanation just doesn’t hold water. First, a range isn’t a number – it’s an arbitrarily large expanse of numbers. You’re saying your knowledge is so uncertain that you can’t even set a $60K – $80K range and figure that a fair number is somewhere in there? Secondly, you could lift a finger. That is, you could look at your budget, or the salaries of the other folks in your organization, or informally survey folks in similar roles elsewhere.

But hey: I’m no winged HR warrior.

Here’s another example of process craziness: after applying for a job, I got this email:

We’ve received your application for our position. Thank you for your interest in working with [Organization]. After reviewing your application, we are pleased to invite you to take the next step in our hiring process, and complete a candidate questionnaire.

Below, please find our standard candidate questionnaire. Due to both the high volume of applications we receive, and the urgent nature of our work, we ask you to return this to us within 48 hours of receiving this email. We have set up a website to collect questionnaires, and instructions follow. If you have any questions, or technical difficulties, don’t hesitate to call us at [number].

HIRING QUESTIONNAIRE

Name:
E-mail:
Today’s Date:
When are you available to start?
Alma Mater(s):
GPA:
Test Scores (please approximate if you can’t remember)
SAT/ACT score:
GRE score:
LSAT score:
GMAT score:

1. How did you learn about [Organization]?  Please specify.

2. Name one issue that you are following closely in the news and tell us why that issue is of interest to you.

3. Describe how you would begin to make substantial change if you were working on the issue that you just selected above and had a minimal amount of funding to work with.

4. Why will you be a good fit for this position? Advocate for yourself.

5. Explain any gaps in your work history

6. As we may have openings in more than one location, please note any and all geographical locations you would consider for your next position. If you are interested in multiple locations, please note any order of preference.

7. Please indicate your minimum salary requirement:

8. Please indicate your salary goal:

9. Submit a one page writing sample in which you chose an issue from the news, and advocate for a position.

10. Do you have any grassroots organizing experience? Please describe.

11. Have you ever worked for any of our partner organizations, such as [Organization], [Organization], [Organization], [This Organization], or [Organization]? If yes, when and where was this?

Isn’t it obvious that a lot of this is ridiculous busywork? Apparently not, so I did my best to explain it all in this email:

Hi [Name],
Thank you for your email, but I’m going to decline to participate in your questionnaire. And I’d like to explain why in a way I hope you’ll find constructive – though whether you do, or whether you even read it, is of course up to you.

As an applicant, I take a dim view of employers who ask us to jump through extra hoops, especially if they’re unnecessary. Applying for work is a time-consuming process, and the effective purpose of this questionnaire, it seems to me, is to weed out the applicants who are desperate or compliant enough to complete it from those who are not.

I say so because much of the information it seeks to obtain is duplicated in the resume and cover letter I already sent (attached again, here) – and presumably, the same could be said for other applicants. And because some of the information is just plain useless in a hiring process – and I know this because I’ve been on the other side of more than one. Standardized test scores – really? They became irrelevant as soon as I was accepted to my respective undergraduate and graduate schools. By asking for them, you’re communicating to your applicants an embarrassing statement: that you don’t know what you’re doing. Degrees are more relevant; the classes taken more relevant still; even more relevant is any experience that shows skills in use. Asking for a GPA is a bit like asking how many books I’ve read in the past year, and about as useful to you.

The same could be said for gaps in someone’s work history. I have more than one gap, while I simultaneously have times of employment that have provided a wealth of relevant skills and experience. The former doesn’t undermine the latter, and need not be explained; it is, in fact, irrelevant.

Other questions are perfect for an interview. For instance, I’d be happy to tell you all about how I did make substantial change on an issue while working with minimal funding – my time with [campaign]. In fact I already did, in my cover letter and resume. I can elaborate on that in an interview, but telling you still more before we speak is asking me to jump through hoops that create extra legwork, and little value for anyone.

If you receive a high volume of applicants, and your work is urgent, it would behoove you to be as clear and specific as possible in your initial job posting. For instance, you could ask applicants to submit a writing sample at the start that demonstrated certain skills – like the ability to think analytically or express oneself clearly. Asking after the fact creates needless additional process – and your needlessly specific prompt means that an applicant will likely have to write something original especially for you, which again makes the process needlessly arduous.

Being more specific about the skills you’re looking for would also cut down on the volume of applications, as would stating a salary range. [Your Organization] does have a minimum and a maximum it might pay the person it eventually hires, depending on their experience. Stating this publicly would allow applicants to self-select, and cut down on the volume of needless applications that we spend needless time submitting, and that you spend needless time sifting through. Refraining from stating a salary range in a job posting isn’t uncommon in the nonprofit world – I know, because I’ve done so myself more than once – but asking applicants then to share their own salary ranges is unfair. There are many applicants for a single job, and the employer gets to pick who gets hired. By asking an applicant to provide their salary expectations without reciprocation, an employer exacerbates this power disparity, because the applicant has an incentive to provide the lowest salary they’re willing to accept, and because it gives the employer an informational advantage: they know something about the applicant’s expectations, while revealing nothing in return.

I don’t need a job right away; the money I’ve saved has allowed me to spend my time searching for the right fit. This is why I’ve refused to complete your questionnaire, and provided this constructive feedback instead. I hope – for your own sake, as well as future applicants – that you’ll do away with this poor HR process in the future.

Did they do away with it? Of course not, but at least they weren’t dicks about it.

[My Name],

I’m very sorry to hear that you will not be continuing with the hiring process. I wish you good luck in your future endeavors.

[Name]

How hard was that?

A few weeks ago, I had a great first interview with a state agency, but the email I got afterwards was disappointing:

You have been selected for a second interview for the [X] position that is now vacant in my section.  We were impressed with you during your first interview.  However, because several applicants were impressive, we have found it necessary to conduct second interviews.

For this interview, I would like for you to review the [X] Program.  Tell us what you like about the program and what you would improve.  Include your ideas or plan for improvements.  I’m looking for a couple of pages, more or less.  Please send this to me via email by 5 pm on Friday, April 1, 2016.  I’ll take a look at your submission and follow up with you to schedule a time for us to discuss.

A good place to start would be at our [program] webpage at [address].

Again, thank you for your interest in this position.  If you have any questions, please email me as I will be out of the office.

Am I the only one who sees the problem with this request? He could have asked me to review a program that’s no longer current, or a current program run in another state, or simply to address whatever his deeper concerns may be – my writing ability or strategic planning background. Instead, he’s asking me to do productive work for him as a part of the interview process.

Hi [Name],
Thanks so much for this email and your recent voicemails – I’m excited to be moving forward!

I’m attaching three documents that I hope you’ll find useful. The first is an old memo of mine, just to demonstrate my writing ability. The other two are portions of the campaign plan around [problem] that I developed while working for [Organization]; the first relates to volunteer development; the other relates to local campaign development.

If you’re trying to assess my writing and/or strategic abilities, I hope these will suffice.

I really enjoyed our first interview, and I’d love to work with you and the other good folks at [Agency]. But right now, I’m not an employee, and so I’m unwilling to create work product on your behalf without being paid. That’s why I’m not reviewing the [X] program, as you requested.

I hope you understand. If you’d like to move forward and schedule another interview, just let me know!

The response I got was somewhat apologetic, somewhat defensive, and somewhat specious:

Hello [My Name],

Please understand that I was not trying to get “free” ideas by asking for this evaluation of the [X] program.  The use of the word “plan” by me was probably a bit strong.  While I do want to use this exercise to get to know the candidates better, I also wanted the candidates to understand the position and responsibilities better.  I would not want someone to accept the position and then not enjoy the job.

I’m on vacation this week, but I’ll contact you by phone next week when I get back in the office to discuss further.  Thanks!

As an applicant, I definitely wouldn’t want to accept the position and then not enjoy the job. But there are many factors that contribute to job satisfaction, and Name could have gone about that purpose in other ways.

…And that’s apparently the end of that story, because, although I sent an acknowledgement email, I never did get a follow-up phone call or email from him.

I also had some first interviews that didn’t go so well. I applied for a state-level equivalent of the federal OMB – Office of Management and Budget – and found myself perplexed by this question: “What’s the correct discount rate?”

In case you’re already perplexed, the discount rate is used to calculate the Net Present Value (NPV) of an investment, financial decision, or public project. It’s used, in other words, to account for time. To use a simple example, if I gave you $1,000 today, it would probably be worth $1,000 to you. But what would it be worth to you today if I gave you $1,000 ten years from now? To answer that question, you have to decide on a discount rate – just like, in reverse, you need to know the interest rate to know how much you’ll end up paying on your mortgage. It may take you years to do so, just like it may take years for the societal benefits of (say) early childhood education to be realized. We can estimate the future societal value of spending $10 billion now on nationwide pre-K, but in order to compare apples to apples, it helps if we can put that future societal value in the same timeframe (now) as our $10 billion investment.

But to do so, as I mentioned, you need to know the discount rate.

And here’s the thing: the discount rate is arbitrary. Some cost-benefit analyses use discount rates of 10%; some use 3%, or 5%. Good studies show results from multiple discount rates, to better inform the reader. Different fields have different disciplinary conventions – a study investigating investments in education might use a different discount rate than one investigating infrastructure investments. The federal OMB generally presents results from two: 3% and 7%.

In other words, there is no correct discount rate; the question is ridiculous on its face. Best practice is to use more than one and to cite appropriate disciplinary authorities when you do. There is no single correct discount rate for all times and all purposes, just like there is no single correct interest rate for all investments at all times anyplace on earth.

We spent – I kid you not – a solid five minutes going back and forth on this. I suppose they could have been trying to see whether I could choose a position and defend it, but if so, they worded the question really badly. I think they may have actually believed there was a single correct answer – which, from an agency at this level, is actually quite frightening.

But that may be in keeping with the other weirdness in the call. Even though they’re researchers and analysts, they’re not impartial – they slant their analysis to comply with the political aims of the Governor in office. That itself is weird, since the more explicitly political a position is, the less credible its analyses are likely to be. I was told that everyone in the office actually had to register formally as a lobbyist, even though they’re all state employees. It was so weird.

I never did get a second interview – I think they held my views on discount rates against me.

The other really weird interview I had was with a nonprofit organization whose work I admire. But they repeatedly asked me strategy questions that are impossible to answer, because good strategy derives from context.

Say Organization X wants to get the legal voting age reduced to 16. How should it go about it? You could say some general things about the legal steps required, or the communication strategies you might use. But to really answer that question, you’d have to know a lot more about (for starters) Organization X: about its staff capacity; prior experience working on this issue; the other issues it works on; its network of relationships; financial resources; ideological slant; the size of its membership; the willingness of its membership to engage; decision-making structure; and so on. Strategy is about drawing a map from where you are to where you want to be. And that route will change over time, even in the best campaigns, to take advantage of unforeseen opportunities and cope with unforeseen obstacles. If you really want to assess someone’s strategic acumen, ask them about their prior strategic experiences. You should look for a diversity of experience; a capacity to innovate; the ability to foresee and weigh different methods of developing and using political power. The essence is always the same: you want to identify potential allies, opportunities, obstacles, points of leverage, likely responses, and so on. But it’s the details that focus those generalities into something meaningful. In the abstract, you could say that war is about defeating your enemy, but World War II was fought differently then the War in Iraq. Details matter.

Needless to say, I didn’t get a second interview.

Finally, a few words of weirdness about the two jobs I did get. The first was with a state agency, which said in its initial job posting that the salary range was from X to Y. It came up again in the interview, and I said that what I was looking for was closer to Y, given that the job was term-limited (it would end in two years) and lacked any benefits (no health insurance; no paid time off). They liked me; they made me an offer close to X. I reminded them that I was looking for something closer to Y. Then I didn’t hear anything for three weeks, despite following up on a regular basis. Finally I got through to the guy, and he told me that they couldn’t get close to what I was looking for – the higher end of the range they themselves had advertised. And that the job itself would never be filled, because they didn’t think they could get anyone qualified for the low salary they had available to offer.

The other job offer came in lower than I expected, so I did what you normally do – I negotiated. I thought the email I sent was exceedingly polite:

Hi [Name]!
First, thank you: our conversation this morning made my day, and I am so excited about the prospect of working for [Organization].

But as I mentioned, the initial offer of $[X] is lower than what I’m looking for, for the following reasons:

  • A little over $[X+7K] is the average salary for a [Title] position, according to glassdoor.com.
  • My statistical, analytical, and research design skills bring real value to [Organization], because I’ll be able to analyze your data in new and innovative ways. Which then helps [Organization’s] member institutions better achieve their aims: attracting and retaining students; increasing access and diversity; better understanding their own data; operating more efficiently.
  • My [terminal degree] also adds value – even aside from these skills – because I’ll be a representative of [Organization] in this position. And I’ll have more credibility (as will the work I do) because of my degree – particularly with the institutions of higher learning that [Organization] represents.

I’m your final candidate because you’ve already decided that my skills are a unique fit with the position, and that I’m a good fit with the organization. And good organizations invest in their people, because in exchange, their employees add incredible value. I certainly intend to.

I’m excited about [Organization] for many reasons: the culture, the people, the work, the opportunities, and the joy with which so many of you have talked about your work there. But I also spent the last five years earning a [terminal degree] (and earning little) so that I could earn more in my next position.

When I last spoke with [Name], I said that I was really hoping for an offer of $[X+7K], which is a fair reflection of the market rate for this position, the value I bring, and the unusual expense of living in [location]. He said he would look into whether the budget for this position could be adjusted, and I think it should be. But I’d love to work there, so I’m interested in hearing whatever your offer may be.

Warm regards,
[My Name].

But the reply I got – from an organization that wants to hire me – wasn’t so polite:

Hello [Name],

Thank you for the detailed counter-offer. I appreciate the time and thought that you put into it.

While Glassdoor may be a popular site for informal salary comparisons, you, as a researcher, are probably aware that it has a number of shortcomings, not least of which is that the data is self-reported, raising questions about validity.  In addition, the $[X+7K] figure you sent via the Glassdoor link was based on national pay data and does not represent pay data for the [location] area.  Drilling down to the [location] area in Glassdoor, you can see that the average salary for a [Title] in the [location] area is $[X+3.5K] (per Glassdoor).  This figure does not take other important variables into consideration. [Organization] relies on local market data (multiple detailed salary surveys based on [location] employer responses) targeting data for positions which most closely match our job descriptions, the size of our organization (approximately [X] staff), and the industry sector (non-profit association). We find that this fine tuning gives the most reliable data.

Additionally, while earning a [terminal degree] is a significant accomplishment, it is not a requirement for this position. Unfortunately, outside of academic settings, the [terminal degree] does not always trigger a salary premium.

[Organization] invests in its employees in many ways in addition to salary. We have a state-of-the-art facility and a generous total compensation package including health, dental, vision, life, disability and other insurance benefits, plentiful vacation, holiday and sick leave, professional development opportunities, and a 403(b) retirement account with an employer contribution of [X]% of annual salary upon eligibility. I have attached a benefit summary for your review.

Although we do have other candidates, you are currently our top candidate and we feel you would be a good fit for our [Title] position. Because of this, we are prepared to offer $[X+2K] as a starting salary. This is a provisional offer, pending successful completion of a background check.

I hope that you decide to join us and would appreciate your answer by Friday.

Sincerely,

[Name]

The tone is off-putting and unnecessary, and it made my partner and I seriously question whether this is the organization I want to work for. We decided to accept the revised offer, but the tone – all of which was unnecessary – still leaves a bad taste in our mouth.

Here’s what a better email would have looked like:

Dear [My Name],

We’re so glad you’re excited to come work for us, and we’d love to have you! Unfortunately, we don’t have as much flexibility in our budget as we’d like, so we can’t offer you the $[X+7K] you requested. The most we can offer is [$X+2K] – and we can only make this revised offer because you’re such an exceptional candidate, and we’re so excited to have you.

Please let us know by Friday whether you’re willing to accept this new offer (we hope so!).

Sincerely,

[Name]

First, this reciprocates and returns my enthusiasm for the position; it lacks the off-putting tone of the original. Secondly, there’s no need to rebut my arguments point by point: simply say this is our best offer and leave it at that. Thirdly, my version of the email avoids advancing rationales that are obviously dubious.

For example, why is self-reported salary data of questionable validity? I have nothing to gain if I inflate the salary data I report to Glassdoor. If salary data by employees is suspect because they have a vested interest, isn’t salary data reported by employers just as dubious, and for the exact same reason?

Secondly, where is this employer-reported data? I can’t see it. I didn’t invent the Glassdoor data; I sent you a link. For all I know, the employer data you’re citing without sharing may or may not exist.

The Glassdoor numbers for the city in question are lower than the national average, it’s true. But the organization’s revised offer still falls short of even that localized average.

Nonprofits do pay less, in general, because they often have less money. If a nonprofit could afford to pay the market rate, it shouldn’t get to deprive its workers because of the relative poverty of other nonprofits.

My degree isn’t a requirement for the position; what I said was that it adds value, and it does. Nor am I so ignorant that I need to be condescendingly reminded that the degree doesn’t entail automatic premiums; again, I argued that it had value in this context, and that value was worth paying extra for.

I’m aware of the benefits; we’re discussing salary, which is the most obvious and tangible way in which employers value their specific employees. Having benefits – even great benefits – doesn’t mean that employees shouldn’t be able to negotiate their salaries.

It’s implicit that you have other candidates, just as it’s implicit that I’ve been applying for other jobs. So what? You want me and I want you. More importantly, why are you starting off the relationship by implicitly threatening the person you want to hire, especially when there’s no need to do so?

I did accept the job offer, as I mentioned. But geez.

Of course I didn’t write about all the times when a hiring process went fairly, or well, as it did many times – even when I wasn’t chosen. Because that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be. These examples all stick out because they’re all so bizarre, unnecessary, and self-defeating.

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