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I interviewed with a company for an engineering position and I got to know that they will be extending an offer. Since then, the exchanges between me and HR have been frustrating:

  1. First they called me to see if I'm giving them a number for my salary. As someone who has read the Kalzumeus post on salary negotiation, I refused to give a number. This was even before they disclosed all the terms of their benefits. So I told them to please send as much information about the benefits over email, and to please come up with an offer.
  2. Then they come up with an offer, again on the phone. I asked the HR person to please send me a formal email, which in fairness she did.
  3. I countered the offer over the email adding some level of detail about why I want a different agreement...just to get a reply from HR that says "the VP will call you in the next days to discuss the points you brought up"

Is this a regular occurrence? How can I politely steer them away from calling me? I hate negotiating over the phone (English is not my native language), and I certainly feel that talking on the phone gives them a competitive advantage, since I have to give answers on the fly.

Update: as noted by many, in the original post I used the expression "cold calling" in the wrong context - is now replaced by a more appropiate "calling".

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    Why are you so afraid of talking on the phone? I get wanting everything in writing, so an email with everything stated clearly is nice to have, but why can't you just humor them and see what they want on the phone? – New-To-IT Dec 10 '15 at 19:17
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    It's not cold calling, these are the people you want to be working with/for, why are you so concerned about talking with them? – cdkMoose Dec 10 '15 at 19:26
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    I'm averse to phone calls as well unless it's to set a time for a face to face meeting. So I see where the OP is coming from. I'd just ask them for a time I can come see them and leave it at that. – Kilisi Dec 10 '15 at 20:15
  • Thanks everyone for commenting. With respect to "cold calling", I certainly used the wrong expression. – Le Chuck Dec 10 '15 at 23:57
  • I'm surprised how influential that post on salary negotiation is. There's actually plenty of psychological evidence that whoever says the first number has an advantage. If they try to get you to lower it or say it's absurd, then you just have to state your reasons, e.g. market value for someone of my skill and experience is X and I'm above average blah blah so I need X + whatever. Then it's up to them to argue with you to lower your expectation. – Chan-Ho Suh Dec 11 '15 at 1:33
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I would never do a job negotiation over email as a hiring manager. First how do I know I am actually getting a response from the actual person? Second I don't need this person sending my responses to others and having tactical plans on each sentence. Third, it just takes too long and the going back and forth is nonsense.

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    Agreed! Email is for the formal job offer. – Wesley Long Dec 10 '15 at 21:49
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    @WesleyLong - Yes. Email should be there just to confirm what was talked about. – blankip Dec 10 '15 at 22:38
  • I liked your answer, it is clear that my communication preference should not get in the way of the actual discussion. But it is unfair to talk about "tactical plans" on my side of things - since I'm the first using email to communicate with the employer, the same could be said on their end. – Le Chuck Dec 11 '15 at 0:00
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    @LeChuck - If there is that much of a breakdown in data before the call where you need certain documentation or numbers there is nothing wrong with getting on the call and stating that and then having the hiring manager send you certain things. This should be a one-time thing hopefully though. You have to understand that during this stage the hiring manager is your biggest ally. You don't want to piss them off or any negotiations that you might have might be ignored. – blankip Dec 11 '15 at 0:11
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It feels like you are putting too much emphasis on winning the negotiation and not enough on getting the job at a salary you would like. Work out what salary and benefits you want, and the questions you need answered. For each question work out either what answer you want if it's a deal breaker, or the salary equivalent of each answer if it's not.

Then when the VP calls you, quickly whip through your questions. 401k matching? How much vacation? How much training and conferences? Insurance? Health club membership? Free parking at the office? These are easy yes/no questions, right?

So then you have, in 5 or 10 minutes, either a "deal broken" answer, or a number that is the number you need to hear for salary in order to take the job. If their number is more than that, take the job. If it's not, tell them so. They may ask you to name a number and you really should at that point. If I make several attempts to negotiate with you and you keep playing "I'm not saying a number first" games, and go back and forth with HR until a VP calls you, and you still won't name a damn number well I would probably say "thanks for your consideration" and go call my second candidate, who might actually want to work for me.

So you tell them what it will take for you to work there (possibly slightly inflated to give you some wiggle room) and they will either say "sure, welcome aboard" or "nope, how about [some smaller number] and since nothing has changed you need only seconds to either say "Great!" or try again with a lower number. In a matter of minutes you will have your deal or you won't.

The hard part is the valuing of the benefits, and knowing (really knowing) that you would rather decline this job than take a salary less than your number. You do all that in advance armed with the information HR has sent you. If the VP throws you a total curveball - I tell you what, you can live in our corporate apartment across the street from the office and we'll cover your rent - you can always ask for some time to think about it. But that's not really very likely.

  • But in this case all the information is already on the table: they named a salary, they eventually explained the benefits (nothing else I need to know), I countered with a exact number. I would think that at this point it would be a matter of them coming back with a yes, or a lower salary. I'm confused as for what the purpose of talking on the phone would be. – Le Chuck Dec 10 '15 at 19:08
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    @LeChuck it's probably faster for the VP to talk with you back/forth in a realtime phone call than many days/weeks of emails that take time, too. – enderland Dec 10 '15 at 19:23
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    Perhaps they want to gauge your commitment to your number and their chances of getting you for less? Perhaps the VP has to approve offers above a certain level, so they are looping the VP in now to avoid further delay? – Kate Gregory Dec 10 '15 at 19:24
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Phone conversations are normal during negotiations that involve intangibles and trying to reach agreement about how you "feel" with the negotiation. Email leaves out a lot of emotion that can rapidly lead to miscommunication.

While you are not a native speaker, if you are expected to speak at the company (meetings, for example) then your speaking skills are relevant. It does not necessarily give them an advantage, however. When speaking with a non-native speaker, most native speakers use different words (more common words) and expect a slower paced, more thoughtful conversation.

Writing responses also takes much longer, considering that emotion is left out and litigation can more easily come out of it. It is a considerable burden if you are insisting on doing this despite their obvious desire for verbal communication.

"Cold calling" is making a phone call without an introduction. You have been introduced and phones exist for communication. If you do not want a company to call you during an interview process, do not provide a phone number. However, that sounds a little strange, doesn't it?

You can politely ask for email, but consider their desire for verbal communication to be an expectation on your future job. If it isn't going well for you now, it might not go well in the future.

EDIT:

The statement "politely ask for email" includes scenarios like, "I'd like to consider what we've talked about. Can you send me the highlights in a email. I'm a very visual person." The emphasis here should be on convenience to you and beneficial to the employer to provide.

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    fair enough, I did use the "cold calling" expression in the wrong context – Le Chuck Dec 10 '15 at 19:10
  • Communication skills are incredibly important. But at the same time I tend to think that certain aspects of an offer/negotation belong to the email. For example, the HR person told me what their offer was. I understood a certain, low number. Bummer. Then I get the offer in written form...and it turns out I misunderstood her and she said a different, higher number. These confusions could be easily avoided by going on writing. – Le Chuck Dec 11 '15 at 17:12
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This is about more than just negotiating a salary. The VP will want to talk to you directly, he'll want to get a get a feel for how you do things that he (she?) can't get from an email exchange.

This isn't cold calling. When he hires you, he's bringing you into his business. An uncommunicative or unskilled employee can drag down a software company. He's trusting you with a lot. This is not a competition, you're joining his team.

You still don't need to agree to a salary over the phone. Take the call, get the offer, showcase your skills a little, then rather than accepting it right away, say "can I just think about it for a short while". Then email him back later with a counter offer, or to accept what he offered you.

2

Forget the idea that you're going to be able to make them stop calling you. I realize you feel at a disadvantage negotiating on the phone, so continue to do both. You don't have to make decisions on the phone. When you're given a new offer, you're always going to take time to think about it. You can ask for a follow-up email just to make sure you understand their offer.

The final offer is going to be in writing and you will always get time to think about it and counter-offer.

I don't think you've taken the right strategy to adamantly oppose giving an initial salary request. You can offer a minimum that could change based on the other benefits. There should be no concern that you can't always ask for more. The amount they may be willing to offer for a given position is not as broad as you think and will have a definite limit. If a company approached me, I may be more insistent they make an offer, but when you contact them, you're the one looking for a job.

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It is not cold calling - that is insurance companies etc. call you out of the blue.

You best bet is to ask them to call you are a certain time so you can be prepared. The trouble with conversations via email is the round trip time. Also it lacks the ability to gain an understanding of the persons emotion via their voice. It also takes ages.

You need to decide on the salary/benefits that is the lower you will go for. Then ask something that is a little higher that you think is reasonable (bit of research here is required). You need to also consider that this is the starting salary. Is the job worth taking a lower salary at the start if there is potential when you have your foot in the door you can get something higher. You need to also consider commute times, possibilities of training, pension, pleasant office space, ease of going out for lunch, subject area and is the job of an interesting subject area.

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