Long story short, a recruiter contacted me through LinkedIn about a position that he thought I would be interested in. I was thrilled after reading the job description along with finding out who the company was, because it was something I am most passionate about among other things. However, one of the first things I noticed was that their headquarters was in such a high cost of living state and I would be moving from the Midwest. So, I immediately got the salary and relocation discussion kicked off during the first phone call with the recruiter. He told me he would recommend the higher end of the salary I was requesting, due to my experience and that my dollar amount for relocating paid in advance would not be an issue.

I had a 50 minute phone interview with the hiring manager which when I brought up the relocation package he just stated they do offer one. I flew out there a week after the phone interview and the first thing I do is go to lunch with the hiring manager and a few other people on his team. Of course, I was not going to bring up the relocation package question in front of everyone nor did I realize I would not have another chance to talk to him while I was out there since I was interviewing for the next three hours with various departments (HR was absent from the office that day). However he did make it a point to let me know I was the most qualified person to interview for this position that has been open for over a year now.

The offer came in and I was beyond disappointed due to both the salary and relocation package being so far off from what the recruiter and I discussed. I was upfront and laid out my expectations for salary and relocation during the first phone call with the recruiter. The relocation package/sign on bonus that was offered will leave me paying $15k out of my own pocket and the salary was $8k less then what I told the recruiter I would take.

I countered offered with $10k relocation paid in advance but kept the salary at what they offered. I am worth more that what they offered but this is a position that excites me and I see told term growth. Now the recruiter is getting irritated with me. When I submitted my counter offer he shot back that a family of 4 moved from the East Coast out West for the same salary package I was offered and they had no issues. I stated it was either he was unemployed and desperate or living next to a beach in S. Cali with his family was his incentive. Location means nothing to me, this is about the position available, so I will not financially burden myself relocating to such a high cost of living area. Also, after going through the divorce I did a couple of years ago, I will not put myself somewhere that could put my personal financials at risk which is why I want the money up front. All this was communicated during the first phone call with the recruiter. Their counter offer comes through and the recruiter stated that I would not be able to negotiate a higher salary anymore because they just hired another person who has 15 year of experience (to my 12) and he has a master’s (preferred not required) and like the family guy this person also accepted the same offer I was given but now I have double the sign on bonus.

I know the recruiter is there for the employer, but I laid everything out clear as day during the first phone call we had. Now 3 weeks later, after the phone interviews and flying out there, I feel like he is wasting my time.

My question is, what is the next step in this negotiation or is this where I decline the offer and walk away? They came up $5k on the relocation but I need it beforehand which he knew, and I will still be eating $10k to relocate out there for a low salary, but I have too much passion to make it about the money.

closed as off-topic by gnat, Jenny D, Anketam, Kevin, Monica Cellio May 3 at 20:03

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  • 159
    Don't accept an offer you are not happy with. – Abigail May 2 at 10:26
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    A key thing to remember is that just because you make your demands as clear as day to the recruiter AND the company, is it very likely they will still try to hire you for as little cost as possible. – user34587 May 2 at 10:38
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    @Thomas_j: “why would the recruiter waste everyone’s time if he knew from the very first first conversation we had that we are too far apart on the relocation” — because people often change their minds about this stuff once an actual, tangible offer is on the table. I'm not saying you should, but that's why the recruiter thought it was worth going forward with you. – Paul D. Waite May 2 at 13:50
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    The “fact” that a family moved from the east coast is irrelevant. I know a guy that can walk on his hands, but I get dizzy getting out of bed quickly. My point is that you need to filter out all the noise. The recruiter gets paid when you sign. He is using salesman techniques. He is attempting to sell to you signing the contract. – Damila May 2 at 14:34
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    Long Story Short... 700 words later. – J... May 3 at 12:28

You need to remember that recruiters get paid a high percentage of their wages through commission. The recruiters job is to get you from just a CV, to interviewing and hopefully joining a company.

90% of the time, they are only there to try and fill a role that the prospective employer has open.

If the recruiter is still in contact with you it is highly unlikely he is "wasting your time". However, as for the job, it isn't worth taking for the huge loss you are going to take plus the low salary simply for "passion". Sometimes you have to make the "smart" decision not the one you want to make.

They've already stated that there is no salary negotiation and they are clearly not willing to improve the relocation package, to me this should be clear indication to walk away.

  • 57
    The position has been open for a year - that in itself should be a red flag. The recruiter will remain in contact with you at the very least until another promising candidate appears; he's not trying to waste your time, he's doing his job and at present you are probably the best shot he has. To echo Twyxz, it's your decision how much more time you invest in the process before either taking a lowball offer or walking away. – Julia Hayward May 2 at 12:17
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    @JuliaHayward - that is not a red flag in software development at all. Most IT companies are always growing and they have permanently open positions. My company has had "backend developer" open for like 5 years now, and we are still hiring despite the fact that we have hired 6-7 people for that position in the last 2 years I'm here. Honestly, not having a permanent position open would be a bigger red flag for a software company. – Davor May 2 at 17:38
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    @Davor, actually, it is a red flag. That doesn't mean it's a no-go or deal breaker. If, like your company, they have actually been hiring multiple people for that same position, then it's fine. If they haven't been able to fill it even once, then yes, big red flag that could mean it's a bad company to work for. The OP should research sites like GlassDoor to see how they actually treat people. HR, interviews, and recruiters are often a really bad/incomplete example of how the company actually works. – computercarguy May 2 at 19:20
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    There's a difference between "always recruiting", where the company will take on any good engineers that apply in order to grow (good) and a specific post being open for a year (bad). – Julia Hayward May 2 at 19:48
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    @computercarguy It could also mean they're looking for an expert in a small subfield. But in that case they should be paying like it. For example, senior/principle level mobile devs are hard to find – Gabe Sechan May 2 at 21:32

My question is, what is the next step in this negotiation or is this where I decline the offer and walk away?

If you are firm on what you require, and you believe they are firm on what they offering that doesn't meet your requirements, then it's time to walk away.

If you think they still have room to improve, then state your requirements one more time, indicate they are final, and be ready to walk if they can't meet them.

The key is always knowing what you require ahead of time.

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    Agree 100%. I would go about this by doing a "soft decline" that reiterates that I am enthusiastic about the company and position, but it simply doesn't make financial sense for me to accept the current offer. I would restate my requirements at that point, say that I hope we can settle on something mutually beneficial, and let that make it clear that if my requirements can't be met, I'm walking away. – Bloodgain May 2 at 17:26
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    I was in a remarkably similar position to OP recently, and this is exactly how I handled the situation. In hindsight, I stand by that decision. If its a raw deal that doesn't meet your needs/wants, its probably not worth it. – ThunderGuppy May 2 at 21:09
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    I've been in the same situation before, and this is the correct answer. It doesn't matter what somebody else paid to relocate, their situation is not the same as yours. You have your own unique costs/needs, and you shouldn't take an offer that doesn't meet them. After all, the company wouldn't hire you if the offer didn't meet their needs. – bta May 2 at 21:35
  • Agree with @BloodGain. The recruiter needs to actually recruit to make money. Making it obvious to them that they should try harder to get you what you want should be the right approach (especially if the position has been open a year). – xyious May 2 at 21:36

You say the salary is $8k less than what you'd be happy with. You also seem enthusiastic about working for this company, so I'll assume it's a reputable one.

Given that $8k is likely around 5-6% of the salary (assuming a tech role on the West coast), I see no reason why they wouldn't match your expectations. Is it possible to contact them (the hiring manager or HR) directly, and explain the situation? To me it seems like the recruiter is the obstacle here, perhaps this is an unusual setup where xe stands to gain from you taking the lower offer?

  • Yes I also feel that the recruiter a huge obstacle and wanted to go around him from day one. However, this recruiter is exclusive to this company and definitely didn’t want to come off as unprofessional. What is the acceptable practice for contacting the hiring manager directly? I thought that was frowned upon – Thomas_j May 2 at 19:34
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    I see. Maybe the only option in this case is to reject the offer. But even then you could contact them (in addition to the recruiter), sort of just to thank them for the opportunity or say how passionate you were about the role, impressed with the team etc., and express your regret that you won't be able to take the position. At least they know why, even if they don't come back with a better offer. – ᆼᆺᆼ May 2 at 19:52
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    @Thomas_j There is no reason to avoid a direct discussion once you've moved on to a firm offer - the recruiter still gets his commission. A recruiter who gets angry is never a great sign, but it probably isn't something that the company is aware of. Last angry recruiter I met was playing both sides for my employer at the time. – Sean Houlihane May 2 at 20:29
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    Sometimes a recruiter's contract is set up so that their commission is higher when your starting salary is lower. Your recruiter may be trying to maximize his commission at your expense. If that's the case, then you might get much more flexibility talking to the company directly. – bta May 2 at 21:43

First, recruiters generally get paid a percentage of the candidate's annual salary. The percentage itself is usually on a sliding scale: the higher the salary, the higher the percentage.

Second, recruiters don't get paid if the candidate doesn't take the job. Obviously.

Third, recruiters generally don't get paid until the candidate completes some amount of time, usually a year, on the job.

All of this means that the recruiter has a VERY strong incentive to get you the best offer he can, and the best deal, because it is money in HIS pocket to have you take the job AND be happy with it. At the same time, he does have to work with the client company, because they are his customer, and he wants to keep doing business with them.

With all that in mind...

Something does not feel right about all this.

The company knows they are in a high cost-of-living area. They have been looking to fill this job for a year (supposedly), which means they are having REAL pain, and they probably already know they are not offering enough money to attract the candidates they want. The recruiter knows this also: You are almost certainly not the first candidate he has sent them, which means that you are probably not the first one that has turned it down because of the money. (Yes, it could be that you are the first one they liked enough to make an offer, but that is HIGHLY unlikely after a year.)

If the other guy is correct, that the salary difference is only 5-6%, then something is very wrong. They should have no trouble at all covering a 5-6% difference.

I'd suggest calling the recruiter and explaining that, at this point, it appears that you and the client are just too far apart on salary and relocation. They appear unwilling to move, and you already detailed your minimum requirements. Thank him for his efforts, and wish him luck.

Then end the call.

One of two things will happen. He may go back to the client and get them to offer what you are asking, or he may not. If he does, and they strike their colors, you win. If he doesn't, or if they refuse to move, YOU HAVE NOT LOST: you have quite probably dodged a nasty bullet.

My personal feeling is that you won't lose anything by turning this one down. If they're having problems now, they're going to have problems in the future, and the problems will likely get worse instead of better.

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    The incentives with the recruiter aren't as aligned as you say though. If the OP takes the job, the recruiter gets, say, 20% of the salary. If the OP declines, the recruiter gets $0. But if the OP takes the job for a 5% greater salary, the recruiter only gets a 5% greater fee. That means the recruiter has an incentive to get you to take the job even if the salary is too low for you (or they get paid nothing). For the recruiter, a low offer is almost as good as the best offer. For you, the difference could have a significant impact on your life. I agree with everything you say after that though – Zach Lipton May 2 at 22:29
  • First, at California salaries, for a senior specialist hire, the recruiter's fee is going to be closer to 100% of the first year's salary than to 20%. Second, the recruiter typically doesn't get paid until the candidate's one year anniversary on the job. If the candidate takes it, and then bails when he realizes he got screwed over, the recruiter gets zip. NORMALLY. That's why I said "Something isn't right here." – John R. Strohm May 3 at 4:31
  • Senior specialist and they're battling about some 8k? Doubtful. – devoured elysium May 3 at 6:56
  • Yes, what @ZachLipton said. There's a similar problem with real estate agents and others on commission. Why would a real estate agent spend a few extra weeks to try to get top dollar selling your house when he/she could sell another house or two in that same time period instead? Agents on commission make more money with a lot of quick deals than with a smaller number of deals at top dollar. – user1602 May 3 at 8:47
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    +1 for "something doesn't feel right about this" - that was also my reaction upon reading the question. Your points, plus a randomer contacting someone through linkedin, plus the recuiter potentially making up stories about a family of 4 moving on a lowball salary, would raise enough red flags for me to turn it down irrespective of the financial difficulties. – berry120 May 3 at 11:48

A higher cost of living is not always a deal breaker. Sometimes you get a lot more for that higher cost, and that's precisely why the cost is higher, because it's a better location all around. It seems to me you're fixating on the wrong priorities here, a desirable job in a field you will subsequently be able to work in, in a more desirable area, might be worth more than a little financial outlay on your part. Especially if you're ruminating bitterly about your divorce, a little change of air might be a very good thing. It's not all about money.


If the position was already open for a year, then they're offering inadequate pay and others have certainly rejected the offers too. I would also take with a grain of salt what the recruiter said about someone else taking one of the jobs for that pay, with a family of four. It sounds like used car salesman talk---i.e., a conveniently-timed lie just when you are ready to walk.
There are damn few jobs for average blokes where there is high demand like in your field with your skills. You should flat-out reject their inadequate pay and play the field some more, as others do successfully. One thing I've learned is that companies won't pay you a good salary out of the goodness of their heart. They'll do it if they have to, either on an individual basis or from deciding at the outset that the industry demands high pay and they decide not to fight it. It is miserable to be in a constant battle with your employer. If you have to go through this kind of trade-off agony just to get the job, my experience tells me that there will be other "trade-offs" that you just won't be able to refuse on this job. They will milk your "passion" and you will never, ever make enough money to feel satisfied. Keep looking.

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    You had me until the last half of your second to last sentence. You don't need money to have "sociological worth", and plenty of poor people have amazing wives. – Player One May 2 at 23:28

Based on the details in your question, it seems like you will be ok with the salary and can afford the move, so what's really going on here is you have a bad taste given the discrepancy between the offer you received and your initial discussions with the recruiter (and maybe also a negotiation whose tone has turned a bit adversarial). Unlike other answers, it doesn't seem to me that your "requirements" are do or die. They're just what you feel you deserve, likely representing a premium over your current compensation factoring in the higher cost of living.

This is what I would do (heck, what I did).

Depending on your level of communication with whomever is in charge of setting or writing you up for pay increases, informally or in writing, agree on a performance review in 6 months where if you're doing well, you'd get bumped to the pay you want. If 6 months is too soon, then at the annual review, the expected pay increase for good performance should take you above your current expected level.

Then take the job and pay the additional moving expenses yourself. In my case, I moved to a higher cost city with zero savings (and a lot of debt), got some relocation, and borrowed the rest that I needed from my dad. Pay wise, things worked out much better than I could have predicted. If the job and team with whom you'd be working with are things that ring the bells for you, I wouldn't let what's objectively a minor amount when you look at net compensation be a deal breaker, especially if you can negotiate now to have the issue revisited/handled within a year.

If you're still not convinced, try this thought experiment: Imagine that you turned down this opportunity, what's the expected time until you'd get another like it, assuming you'd get the pay/relocation you want the second time around? 6 months? One year? Five years? What's the delta in expected net compensation (factoring your higher cost of living of course) over X years between staying where you are now and taking this opportunity and how does that compare to $10k? In my case, the difference was erased in barely a year.

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    1 dollar today is better than maybe 2 tomorrow. I really don't agree with the strategy to renegotiate later especially if they weren't really open at first (when it's almost mandatory to negotiate) – Rémi May 3 at 1:07
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    Personally, I don't like betting on annual reviews. Once you have joined the company things are out of your hand. In my opinion, its always better to go for a higher salary upfront. That way you know what you're going to get regardless of performance appraisals. – Paresh May 3 at 3:42
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    Happy to hear that it worked out for you, but in general, this is a very risky approach. Getting a significant raise without a change in position is rare. Also, never gamble what you can't afford to lose. As an outsider, you often don't know how well the company is really doing, so you'd be investing time and money you might not have in a job that might not exist in a year or two. Worst case, you're out of a job and in debt in a high cost of living area. – Ruther Rendommeleigh May 3 at 14:13
  • @Rémi it's not a renegotiation. You're ensuring that in 6 months or a year, you will be where you want, absent poor performance on your part. – iheanyi May 3 at 17:19
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    @Paresh See my comment to Remi. You're not betting on the review, you're establishing that unless the review shows you're below expectations, you will get at least a raise to the level you wanted. – iheanyi May 3 at 17:20

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