When you have successfully gone through the interview process, come out on top and received a verbal offer, it’s easy to think that you have got the job. But you haven’t. Details still have to be negotiated—like your salary! Up until this point the money issue has probably not been fully addressed. If you are coming from another position, your potential new employer is aware of your present salary, and from your side you have a ballpark idea of what similar jobs pay. They want you; you want them. So what could go wrong? Just remember the words of Yogi Berra, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”

A position became available in my office at Eastman. It was entry level and we had more than 60 applicants for it, but one clearly stood out. He was young, energetic and had done well as an intern in a similar position at another school. His interview was wonderful. He hit every question thrown at him right out of the ballpark. As we did our due diligence some negatives began to surface, but they were several years in the past when this person was young. He has grown up, we thought (or rationalized), and besides he had done so well in the interview. He had some blemishes, but we would take a chance. He was our man.

I put in a call and gave him the good news. I told him that we would hammer out the details, and when we were both in agreement a written offer would be given. We set up a meeting for the following day. During the phone conversation he asked me the salary and I told him it was $36,500. This was an offer pre-determined by Human Resources and was based on job responsibilities, experience and comparable salaries for similar jobs within the university. He was disappointed that it wasn’t more, but I said we would talk tomorrow.

At our meeting he came prepared with national salary averages for the position, and information on current openings in the area. He made his case and I told him that I would contact Human Resources to see if the salary could be bumped. Both of us noted that the salaries for similar jobs in the area were higher, but I reminded him that we weren’t really comparing apples to apples with his figures. Some positions called for more experienced persons with more responsibility. I reminded him that this was his first real job and though internships are helpful in gaining job know-how they aren’t like the real thing. We talked about the job’s benefits, like health insurance and the two courses per semester that he could take free of charge. He could get another degree if he wanted. But within the positives I also brought up some of the negatives we had heard when checking references. I wanted him to know we had some reservations, but were willing to take a chance. He left the meeting with my pledge that I would try to get the salary higher.

Later that day, HR called with the news that another $1,000 had been secured, bringing the total to $37,500. I called our candidate. He was not happy, but I stated that I didn’t think any more money was possible for this position. He said he would be out of town the next day but would get back to me with an answer on the day after tomorrow. That day came and around 9:00 a.m. he called and asked if we could meet. I said we could meet at noon for half an hour but added that the discussion of salary was off the table—$37,500 is the final offer. At that point he reiterated that he viewed the job as a $40K job and he wanted to discuss the job responsibilities. I told him that he had the job description. It became apparent to me that our noon meeting would include an attempt by him to reduce his duties to what he considered a $37,500 job. As this conversation unfolded, I recognized that there was a strong potential that we might be about to hire an already disgruntled employee. The negatives that had surfaced from others were coming to the fore for me. I detected a slight tone of “attitude” in his voice. I lost all confidence in him and realized that he was not a good fit with us. I got off the phone with him and immediately contacted our HR representative to see if the job offer could be taken back. He indicated that it could. At 10:30 I called our candidate and rescinded the verbal offer. I could tell in his voice that he was crest-fallen. He really wanted the job and had no other prospects. He probably didn’t think that taking the offer off the table could be possible, but it was. I didn’t want to hire him at any price.

As one negotiates a contract, especially if you are coming to a new position, you must remember that you are still being interviewed and evaluated. At all times remain cordial. Don’t let a “tone” sneak into your voice. It’s okay to push back, but you have to read the other guy. If you truly want the job, but are just trying to get a higher salary, be careful and don’t push too hard. To me it’s much better to accept the job. Your foot is in the door, now work your tail off. The raises will come, and if they don’t, you’ll have experience to move on to something else that pays more.

Categories: Negotiation