Article #21 From the "What If ..." Library on Salary Negotiations

What If ...
                                             I Decide to Walk Away?  
The Key to Negotiations:  Be Willing to Walk Away
To succeed in negotiations, you must be willing to walk away. 

Many people sabotage career success by accepting job offers they should refuse, often ignoring gnawing doubts that arose during interviews or salary negotiations. 

In any failed relationship or job situation, hints of upcoming conflicts often appear at the very beginning.  Things that don't begin right rarely improve.  Job interviews and salary negotiations are like dating--if they are unpleasant, a happy "marriage" is unlikely.

For example, I once sold a business.  In arranging the trip to meet the potential buyer, I inquired about transportation to his office - 40 miles from the airport.  Instead of having me picked up, he suggested a bus or rental car.  I thought, "Wow, he won't spend a nickel to make my trip easier."  Three years later, I was in court to extract the payments he owed.

Belief in scarcity is often the root cause of people taking undesirable jobs..  Even savvy job hunters sometimes get tunnel vision, failing to see opportunities beyond the immediate offer.  Besides accepting inferior positions, they undermine salary negotiations.  In business and love, the person with no other options is less attractive, and often gets poorer treatment.

One example is a young woman we'll call Tracy.  She had a good job, but wanted to work in a different area within her industry.  She applied for a position at company X, and soon had an interview.  The interviewer said they were excited about Tracy because of her topnotch experience and she got the job offer. 

She had done her homework and found that the industry range for similar positions is between $42,000 and $48,000.  Through an inside contact, she learned that the company's pay scale for the position ranged from $35,000 and $50,000.  With that information, Tracy was astounded when they offered only $35,000.

She astutely requested a face-to-face interview with the real decision maker, rather than the interviewer.  The boss said he was "too busy" to meet with her.  He could spare "just a couple of minutes" over the phone. 

Tracy started talking about the average industry salary, but he interrupted.  "Everyone here is underpaid. That's just how it is." 

Since he wouldn't budge on salary, Tracy tried to negotiate an extra week of vacation (additional vacation is a raise which doesn't cost employers more out of pocket).  "No," he said, "one week is plenty."  What about tuition reimbursement?  "No."  It was "no, no and more no" with this man.  He then said she must decide about the job by noon the next day. 

Tracy asked how to handle the situation.  She was sure there must be magic phrases to transform these dead-end negotiations.

Sometimes there aren't.  Tracy had negotiated well--except she wasn't willing to say "no thanks," if necessary.  Johnson wouldn't negotiate and wasn't interested in being fair--perhaps because her nonverbal communication told him she wouldn't turn down the job.  We advised her on tactics for restating her position, but our most important advice was to be willing to decline the offer.  Certainly, many other companies would hire her. 

Tracy, however, was unwilling to hear this.  Ultimately, she accepted their unfavorable terms.  We wish her well, but think she made a big mistake.

Employers should be on their best behavior during interviewing and salary negotiations.  This boss, however, was unwilling to take time to meet her, was totally inflexible, despite the low offer, and demanded a quick response.  He displayed no respect.  By accepting the offer, Tracy sent a signal that disrespectful treatment is acceptable.  We think Tracy can expect more of the same.

Pay close attention to the signals from prospective employers and your gut reactions during interviews and negotiations.  They are reliable predictors of the employment relationship.