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6 Reasons Why Candidates DON'T Negotiate

If you've never negotiated a job offer before, you're not alone: most candidates don't negotiate.

It's not because people don't want to. We've all heard stories from colleagues or read articles on the internet in which people say "It's okay to negotiate! It works! You should be negotiating!"

We know it's a good idea, but we still aren't doing it.

I want to start this Candidate Planet series by looking at the six main obstacles that hold candidates back from negotiating. By the end of this post, I hope you'll be pumped up to not let those obstacles stop you from negotiating future job offers.

1. Happiness

The first obstacle that stops people from negotiating is happiness.

This might surprise you to hear it, but it makes sense if you remember how much it sucks to be a candidate. When we receive an offer, often we're excited about the prospect of a great job, with great coworkers, with reasonable compensation (whatever that means! more on this in a future post). It's easy to be happy and accept that job offer.

Six months later, you're chatting with coworkers and you realize that they received a relocation bonus that you didn't even think to ask about. Or you realize some people have more vacation than you, or are paid more even though you're more senior.

Adam and I have even had candidates come to us minutes after putting down the phone filled with remorse at accepting a job. Not that they're unhappy about the job, but they feel really bad about not negotiating. They wonder if they've left money on the table, or missed out on something nice or even life changing.

I'm not suggesting you shouldn't be happy or grateful for the opportunities that come your way; that's a wonderful attitude to have. However, just because you're happy in the moment to win that job, don't let that stop you from also making sure that you feel good about the details long-term.

2. Socialization

The second obstacle that people run into is socialization.

For many of us, we've grown up thinking that it's taboo to talk about money. Not only do we have little experience talking about money, we've grown up being told that asking for more is a sign of greediness -- and you really don't want to be greedy!

Negotiating a job offer is often a short, five-minute conversation. It seems like something you just need to do. However, those short five are also extremely stressful. Have you ever called a recruiter planning to ask questions and assert what you want... and then struggle to find the words?

Fortunately, negotiation is a skill. You can learn what statements work, and you can get comfortable thinking on the spot and advocating for yourself.

Negotiation skill-building is the bread and butter of what Adam and I do. Not only do I know first-hand that it is possible, but you guessed it: I'm looking forward to sharing this material in upcoming posts :-)

3. Fear

The third reason that people don't negotiate is fear.

Whenever I do a presentation or workshop on negotiation, someone always says that they don't negotiate in case the offer is rescinded.

In my experience, this never happens. I'm sure there are ways to completely destroy an offer, but that's not what we're talking about here. If you are polite and strategic, your negotiations will be more like pleasant conversations than unexpected retaliations.

Lest you think I'm sugar coating reality, let me say this: nothing is a sure thing. Offers can be rescinded in general. Tech companies employ people at-will and can cancel contracts before you begin, not to mention lay you off essentially whenever.

However, I have never, ever, ever seen negotiation as the reason why an offer was rescinded. Of course, I'm a negotiation coach, so when I'm working with candidates, the whole point is that we're going about the negotiation in a constructive way. We're doing the negotiation in a way that allows someone to advocate for themselves while building a healthy relationship that hopefully brings people closer together.

I also should mention that Adam and I don't always recommend that someone negotiates. When negotiating there is still some risk involved, depending on the language we use and how aggressive or risk-averse a candidate is.

You don't have to negotiate. Maybe you don't have other offers and you need to get a paycheck before the next bill is overdue. Maybe you already know they've maxed you out or made an exception and you're happy with what is being offered. For various reasons, you might want to accept the initial offer, and that's fine.

The goal of negotiating isn't to get everything you want. The goal is to feel good about a really big life decision that you're about to make, including being an active participant in exploring the contract.

Personally, I see -- or perhaps I should say "feel" -- a huge difference between not negotiating out of fear, versus not negotiating as an intentional and strategic choice. It's a little bit like being a victim rather than being the hero of your own story.

Regardless of how much (if at all) you choose to negotiate, don't let fear hold you back.

4. Bullying

The fourth obstacle that can hold people back from negotiating is bullying.

Sometimes recruiters are put into high pressure situations with really tight constraints, which can lead to crummy tactics such as an exploding offer. For example, a recruiter might tell a candidate they have to accept the offer by 10pm tonight, or the offer goes away. They might even give a reason -- I've got other candidates coming in tomorrow to interview and I can't hold this job open for you -- but it's still an awful situation to be in.

You're about to make a huge commitment to a company! You deserve at least 24-48 hrs (if not more depending on the situation) to sleep on the details and talk it over with advisors and family.

I've also seen recruiters who are mean and aggressive try to push candidates around. It can be really helpful in those cases to have a friend or coach on your side. As a candidate your emotions are justifiably going wild, so find a third-party who will pump you up and be a voice of reason when it comes to communication.

Similar to the last obstacle, you don't want to be bullied into silence or inaction. We don't get to choose who we interact with, but we do get to be the hero in our own stories! You get to handle the crummy situation in a way that makes you proud.

Don't want to let the bullies win.

5. Trust

In contrast to bullying, another reason candidates don't negotiate is misplaced trust.

Maybe you're speaking with someone who is really nice. They're supportive and seem to really care about you. You think to yourself "Surely they have given me the best offer they can!"

As someone who has been a manager for many, many years -- in fact, I have a comic series all about my love of middle management -- I am the last person to suggest that you be mistrustful or paranoid about managers or recruiters. Hopefully, the recruiter and your future manager see every hiring conversation with you as the foundation for a healthy, long-term work relationship.

That doesn't mean your recruiters or managers goals are 100% aligned with yours. There are professional and personal reasons why they might care about different things than you do. They might also be middle men, who explain the system one way, and then talk to a higher-up decision-maker who can make exceptions (and if there are going to be exceptions, why not you?).

Thus, it is 100% okay to advocate for yourself, regardless of how much you like your counterpart or want them to like you. If there are things that are really important to you, you get to state them. If you don't understand why the offer is lower than expected, or whether they've leveled you correctly, or if it would be possible to work from home: you get to ask. You get to ask for that extra vacation. You get to ask for that start date that's next month instead of next Monday.

There's a line somewhere in terms of practicality and your own desire to have a constructive relationship that might stop you from arguing a hundred minor bullet points, but having a conversation about things that are meaningful to you is a completely professional thing to do before signing a contract.

6. Misunderstanding when to negotiate

The last obstacle that holds many candidates back from negotiating is misunderstanding when they are negotiating.

I like to break the candidate process down into three stages:

  1. Applying
  2. Interviewing
  3. Negotiating

The confusing thing is that often in the application stage -- whether it's in an actual application, or a conversation on the phone with a recruiter -- often you get asked, "What are your salary expectations?" It's confusing because it can seem that when you give a number, you are agreeing to a certain salary.

Unless you have an offer, you are not negotiating!

The point of those application-stage questions is for the recruiter (and also yourself) to figure out if you are wasting each other's time. They want to know that you're in the right ballpark.

If the recruiter doesn't think you'll waste their time, they'll move you on to the interview stage, and that's where you have this awesome opportunity to impress the socks off of everyone you talk with. Although it includes no negotiation, interviewing is actually one of the best negotiation tactics. If you are super prepared for your interviews, and do a really great job, the company will really want to hire you, and that can be powerful leverage.

It's not only the company who learns a lot during the interview stage. You're learning a ton during all that time between applying for a job and getting an offer. You're learning about other companies, you're learning about the market, you're talking to other recruiters, maybe you're even collecting other offers.

By the time you receive an offer from a particular company, your expectations about compensation may have changed, and we have language to talk with recruiters and hiring managers about that.

You're not negotiating until you have an offer.

Once you have an offer, that is the perfect time to negotiate, and you don't want to miss that window. In tech companies, the best time to negotiate is when you first receive the offer, which is often verbally on the phone.

Recruiters love to have a conversation in which they tell you how excited they are to give you this offer, then they list all the benefits and all the great things about working at MoneyCorp, and then they verify that the compensation numbers sound good before they draw up the paperwork.

This is the perfect time to be prepared for a short and effective! negotiation conversation. As you can imagine, I am looking forward to digging into how to prepare for that conversation, what numbers you need to come up with, what scripts to practice with and have at your fingertips -- we are going to get to that in future posts.

For the purposes of this post, I wanted to pump you up and help you step over the main obstacles that hold candidates back from negotiating. Did you find it helpful?

Stay tuned for negotiation and interview advice every week. If you have specific questions or scenarios that you'd like us to go through, send us an email at Don't worry, we will anonymize your question. I'm looking forward to answering all the hard balls that y'all throw our way \o/

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Top comments (3)

gergelyorosz profile image
Gergely Orosz • Edited

While negotiating is almost always a good idea, there are a few, rare companies where it is not only pointless, but wholly unnecessary. They are some of the large tech companies, like Cisco, Square, Uber and others that implemented equal pay.

Equal pay means the same salary is paid regardless of gender or ethnicity. How does this work? For example, men are usually far better negotiators than women, and these companies have recognised this. So candidates are given the same - quite generous - offer based on the level they are hired for. There is no room for negotiation. Why? Remember, how that would lead to men making more, from day one?

Being a hiring manager, I can tell you that it works. We don’t ask for salary information as it’s irrelevant for the offer. There is no lowballing, if people had far lower salary before. I see men try to negotiate almost without fail: but as a hiring manager, my hands are (luckily) tied. If we give a larger offer, we need to adjust and give the same offer to every offer going forward.

Look out for companies with equal pay and ask about this, during the interview process. Equal pay is not only fairer for everyone in the recruitment process, it takes the stress out of negotiation from both sides.

candidateplanet profile image
lusen / they / them πŸ³οΈβ€πŸŒˆπŸ₯‘

Gergely, thanks for bringing up such a good point. Companies that have equal pay -- or what I would call "transparent pay" since that builds more trust than blind reassurance -- are awesome!

As a manager, I'm a huge advocate for transparent pay, which is the best way to remove negotiationΒ from employment contracts, and subsequently inequality (not to mention removing the inevitable management headaches that come later because secrets never remain secrets for long). It's a real godsend to managers, and it speaks highly of how an organization considers everyone's wellbeing.

However, as a candidate, we often want to work somewhere that does reward negotiation, and so it's helpful to be ready in those cases. I would be careful of believing that an organization has a "no negotiation" or "no exceptions" policy -- or even set pay ranges -- unless you have more information than what the recruiter says alone.

Like you said, Gergely, it depends on the company's size and HR maturity, and whether you're working with an internal or external recruiter, but sadly it is not a rare occurrence that one of the candidates I'm working with asks for something, is told that "we don't make exceptions," and then the next day the exception happens. This includes some well known tech companies. It makes me sad and motivates me to keep sharing these tips with more people.

This reminds me: transparent compensation calculators are helpful tools when you're trying to figure out what compensation to ask for. Even if the raw numbers don't apply, the impact of seniority, geography and other factors can help your specific calculations. They're also useful for career planning: not that money is a single-minded motivator, but it's nice to know the lay of the land.

Buffer and Gitlab both have transparent compensation calculators:

This also reminds me that a great phrase to use when you want to gently test the waters after receiving an offer, especially if there is some uncertainty on the matter, is to ask "Are you open to negotiation?"

You'll want to be prepared ahead of time with a number or ask in case they respond with "What were you thinking?"

Also don't forget to ask questions and politely state expectations. That might not seem like negotiation but it is when compared to silence; for example:

  • Do you offer a signing bonus?
  • I was expecting four weeks of vacation.

Gergely, thanks again for sharing such a hopeful and kind thought. You're the first person to put a comment on one of my posts and it really makes me smile :-)

gombosg profile image
Gergely Gombos

I saw the video - thanks for creating a written version, too, so that your audience has a choice. Let's read the others... :)