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I was recently offered an entry-level job following an internship. I gave what I felt were good reasons for a higher base and sign-on bonus, but HR responded:

The terms of your offer are non-negotiable.

This feels like a dead end, but I've read that it never hurts to keep pressing. Emphasize why I'm worth more to the company, etc. Any thoughts? Should I drop it and consider the offer set in stone?

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    First and most important question is: Do they have other viable candidates ? – Antzi Aug 22 '16 at 9:13
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    This is how people get "You're overqualified for this position". – Agent_L Aug 22 '16 at 13:58
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    it never hurts to keep pressing. Sure it can. Sometimes it doesn't, when you have nothing to lose, like if the offer isn't really satisfactory & you really do have other options. If you're an existing employee and they are highly unlikely to want to go through the hassle of replacing you, then maybe you have more leeway. In other cases, you should be glad that they decided to make an offer, and that they are even tolerating you enough to continue to make that offer after your understandable attempt. Pressing further may be less understandable, and cause a(n unwanted0 reaction – TOOGAM Aug 23 '16 at 3:14
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    @Antzi Actually, I'd say the first and most important question is "Do you have other offers?" :) – reirab Aug 23 '16 at 5:49
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    entry-level job following an internship ... higher base and sign-on bonus Wow, that's an awful lot to ask for, considering you've stated it's an entry-level position and you don't have much experience (other than an internship, presumably). – SnakeDoc Aug 23 '16 at 17:32

10 Answers 10

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You already asked for more, and they already stated it was a no-go and the offer stays the same. They have placed a value on the role you are applying for - and that it is what they are willing to pay to fill that role.

All that pressing will do is make them reconsider the offer and go to the next guy in the list.

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    Agreed, it's hard to imagine that it could have any good effect to keep on pushing after getting such a clear and unequivocal "no". – Carson63000 Aug 22 '16 at 6:00
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    And to pre-empt the "should I accept the offer" - that depends on if the job offers some form of progression to a position where you will be paid for your skills. – HorusKol Aug 22 '16 at 6:03
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    Yep, no usually means no, entry level people aren't hard to find (or replace). – Kilisi Aug 22 '16 at 6:13
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    @Carson63000 actually, there is reason. One can negotiate a higher than normal raise (I've done 10%) following a 6 month performance review. Just because the door on starting salary is closed doesn't mean your salary for the year is fixed. – iheanyi Aug 22 '16 at 16:23
84

This feels like a dead end, but I've read that it never hurts to keep pressing.

You read wrong. You've made your case for a higher salary. They told you in no uncertain terms that they won't negotiate. If you keep pushing despite that they're almost certain to pull the offer entirely because you'd be showing a stunning lack of common sense and professionalism.

In most hiring situations you have some leeway when it comes to salary and you can indeed argue for a higher salary (within their range) based on the experience and skills you bring to the table. For an entry level job that's completely out. Hiring entry-level staff is always a gamble and it makes sense for a company to have a base salary that they stick to for that demographic, regardless of prior experience. People who interned with the company might sometimes be able to make an argument based on their performance and skills but most companies will stick with identical offers for entry-level positions.

The only negotiating position you still have is to turn down their offer and cite salary as a reason. If they really want you it's possible they'll increase their offer. But that's playing hardball and while I don't know the particulars of your offer/situation/profile, I'd consider the odds of that working for you infinitesimal.

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    "but most companies will stick with identical offers for entry-level positions." I ran into this policy once when I was graduating. It seemed really bizarre for an engineering position. After several years of working in the field and having interviewed quite a few people myself, it still seems bizarre to me. Making a standard starting offer pretty much ensures that you're not going to get the top graduating talent or, perhaps worse, if you do get them, you're not going to retain them for very long. – reirab Aug 23 '16 at 6:04
  • OP said "HR said so". Not the hiring manager. We don't know whether the hiring manager was even involved in that discussion. It is common practice for recruiters to lie about compensation limits and whether they're negotiable. No way to tell whether that is or is not the case here; it may or may not be a dead end. OP should have discussed with the hiring manager, verbally, on the phone. – smci Aug 23 '16 at 8:11
  • @smci I assume you're referring to recruiters who say "the limit is X" to avoid giving the real reason why a particular person doesn't deserve a higher salary but that's in no way relevant to this issue. The person charged with (not) negotiating salary with the OP has told him that there will be no negotiating. That's not a sign that you should try to go around HR. Any competent hiring manager who's willing to go above for the right person will handle salary negotiations himself and even then this wouldn't happen for entry-level positions. – Lilienthal Aug 23 '16 at 10:36
  • @reirab I imagine that if a company has that policy, they don't want the top graduating talent for one reason or another. – Tacroy Aug 23 '16 at 18:46
  • @reirab: my first job I was hired on a non-negotiable starting salary, but at the end of my probationary period I got (IIRC) about a 30% payrise. So I didn't feel too bad that I turned down a job with a higher starting salary. I suppose since the questioner is already an intern at the company, though, that it's kind of pointless to treat them as an unknown quantity. Certainly agree that if you hire at low salaries and only give payrises in line with inflation/earnings then you're not competing. Some companies are able to get value out of non-top talent, others aren't and so they need the best. – Steve Jessop Aug 24 '16 at 7:59
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First things first, you cannot negotiate on anything unless you are happy to walk away.

Very few things in life are not negotiable and including a "non-negotiable" statement is just another negotiating tactic. This doesn't mean that you will be able to move the outcome towards your side, since I suspect you have very little leverage.

For an entry-level position I would imagine you have very little to offer to the company - I don't want to bum you out, but most interns or newly-skilled candidates really overestimate the value they add to a company.

There are two things I would advise to change: who you negotiate with and increase your leverage.

For starters, you have to realise that most HR departments are not the best paid in the company and they are usually of the "niche" skilled variety (to put it mildly). They will have been given a range by the hiring manager and they will stick to that. If I were you, I would try and negotiate with the hiring manager.

Now, on leverage, you probably have none now. I would advise you take the job offer as is - you will probably be on a minimum 3-month trial period with a 1-week notice. Being taken on by a company will make you more attractive to other employers and you should use that to try and get other offers. You may then find out your actual rate - what others are willing to pay for your skills - and depending on this you might want to stop or move on.

Once you have 1 or 2 better offers (and still in the trial period) you should go to your manager (i.e. the one whose budget your salary comes out of) and say that you feel undervalued and you've been approached for a better offer and ask for his advice on what you should do as he's better able to understand your career path. The offers will make you more attractive to your current employer and when he may be able to increase your salary when the trial period ends or get a (written) promise to do so at a specific date. Otherwise walk away.

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    "Being taken on by a company will make you more attractive to other employers". Why? Having worked for a few weeks somewhere else doesn't add any appreciable skillset or experience. On the other hand: You're basically telling employees that you're completely disloyal and will leave the first second something comes up. And that is one of the biggest black flags (see e.g. here) you can have! – Voo Aug 22 '16 at 18:11
  • @Voo If you do it regularly, maybe. Meanwhile, applying for jobs while employed (especially if it's following an internship during which you have already been evaluated) means you are using relevant skills right now and at least one employer found them useful. Maybe the OP's application will be even stronger one or two years from now but it easily beats turning down the position and looking for another job while being unemployed. – Relaxed Aug 23 '16 at 20:33
  • @Voo not sure what you mean by "loyal", but if you've been retained by a company where you had the internship you are more attractive to a different company than another graduate who did not have an internship or was not taken on by said company after the internship ended. I'm sure you may get a few oddballs thinking in "loyal" terms, but most hiring managers don't think like that; they will place skill over percieved loyalty any day. – Corporate Merc Aug 24 '16 at 13:50
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This feels like a dead end

That's because it's a dead end. You have applied for an entry-level job, asked for a raise whilst you have nothing in your hands to bargain with, and have been rejected. That's the end of the line.

If you spend a few years in the company and become someone a little harder to replace or have good a skill set that makes you valuable to the company, then you have a chance to negotiate.

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It's non-negotiable until you decline it due to it's insufficiency. Then lo and behold, you may well find it becomes negotiable again (i.e. offered to you at a higher level).

Basically you have two reasonable options depending on how much you value the offer.

1) Accept with enthusiasm 2) Decline, citing reason it is inadequate

To try to negotiate when they've said it's not negotiable shows you're either not good at listening or not good at responding to their needs. They've essentially indicated they want you to make one of the two choices listed above. I recommend you do that.

If you feel that they will pay you more, and you feel like it's worth the risk, then by all means decline. There's always another day, declining doesn't mean you can never work for that company again. There may be another opportunity down the road.

Note: The company is using a technique similar to "Boulwarism", which though not illegal in this way, has been discredited by authorities as unfair (at least in union negotiations).

  • Decline without reason is more fun. – Matthew Whited Aug 23 '16 at 19:56
  • Declining the offer is a negotiating tactic even if the offer is non-negotiable. If you walk away saying the offer needs to be 10% sweeter to be acceptable then they may come back to you; probably not though. Then again, this is a dead end anyway. – koan Aug 23 '16 at 22:11
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Everything is negotiable. As a previous poster stated, saying something is non-negotiable is just a negotiating tactic.

To all the previous posters who stated you have no leverage, I would say that they are wrong. Even entry-level hires have some leverage, but not a lot.

Think about it from a company's perspective. The company has gone through this lengthy process of reviewing resumes, possibly doing phone screens, doing in-person interviews, and then choosing a candidate and making an offer. That is a lot of time they have invested in the selected candidate. If the selected candidate counter-offers and if the counter-offer isn't outrageous, it might make sense for the company to agree to the counter rather than rescind the offer. If they rescind the offer, they'll either have to now make an offer to their second choice (usually not a great option unless 2nd choice was a close second) or go through the whole process again (additional time and expense). Most likely they will just say "no".

You actually have more leverage than even an entry-level hire because you have worked for this company as an intern. This company already has time and money invested in you in the form of training, knowledge of processes, etc. This is time and money they will have to invest again in a straight entry-level new hire.

Before a big decision, I use this little test: what is the best possible outcome, what is the most likely possible outcome, what is the worst possible outcome. So for me, if I can live with the worst possible outcome, then I go ahead with my plan. Sometimes you have to weigh the answers to the three questions and decide. Maybe you're not willing to live with the worst possible outcome but that outcome occurring is remote and the best possible outcome is amazing and well worth the risk. Then you must decide for yourself.

In this particular situation, I would say your best possible outcome would be for them to agree and meet your demands. Your most likely outcome would be for them to say "no". Your worst outcome is for them to rescind the offer.

If you can live with the rescinding of the offer, then try again. You have more leverage than you think. However, the company may not agree; it is your job to make them see the time and effort they have already expended on you.

If you really need the job, then I would say it isn't worth it. It is difficult to negotiate if you are unwilling to walk away.

  • As you say, you may have more leverage than an entry level hire. Not all applicants are equal. As an intern, they have seen the goods and know what you offer. – koan Aug 23 '16 at 22:14
  • This is a very length answer that only explains how maybe the OP could negotiate, if they can live with the offer being rescinded. Wouldn't it be simpler to just say no, don't negotiate? If you really believe it's possible, feel free to actually explain how to do it. – user42272 Aug 23 '16 at 23:27
  • Your argument is that the candidate has leverage because the company invested effort in the hiring process. Sure, but that effort also gave them second-, third- and fourth-choice candidates. Since this is an entry-level position, there's not likely to be a huge amount of difference between the top-ranked candidates so the company probably loses almost nothing by saying, "Fine, don't take the job if you don't want it" and moving on to the next person on the list. – David Richerby Aug 24 '16 at 10:44
  • @djechlin I believe I answered the OP's original question, namely "can I still try to negotiate salary...?" My answer was yes if you are willing to have the offer rescinded. He didn't ask how to negotiate. I did certainly give the OP some talking points, specifically, how the OP is an intern and thus the company already has some investment in the OP. – EL MOJO Aug 25 '16 at 2:59
  • @DavidRicherby True, that is my argument. But if you read further, you'll see that I stated that the OP has even MORE leverage than a straight new-hire because the OP has worked as an intern for the company. In fact, I did this exact same thing for three potential new hires for a company for which I used to work. I told all three of them over lunch (they were strong candidates) not to accept the first offer and I gave them the same reasons I gave above. The company hired all three, only one took my advice and that one got more money. – EL MOJO Aug 25 '16 at 3:11
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The best option is to get a offer from some other company for a higher rate and then ask the first company if they'll better that.

If they say no, then go with the second company. It's only "non negotiable" when you also agree that it's "non negotiable".

If you can't get an offer from a second company for a higher rate then maybe the first company really is offering the best deal you'll get and there's no point in pressing for more.

  • aka "Shop around for a counteroffer" – smci Aug 23 '16 at 8:12
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    This could be quite risky, as when you're "shopping around" you are wasting time (in the companies eyes), and they may drop the offer to you and offer it to the next guy in the list. (This is thinking "shopping around" means getting interviews and discussing salaries, and not just looking quickly at job listings) – hd. Aug 23 '16 at 9:17
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i would also look into the salary policy at the company. some companies do have a policy of equal pay for equal work. for example, one place where i worked here in china would pay the same for their chinese and foreign developers based on an equal skill-assessment. in other companies here i could have easily made 50% more wheres the chinese developers at such a company might have made a lot less. i prefer to work at a place that pays a fair salary to everyone, so i found that acceptable.

there may also be opportunities for quick advancements. so ask about those. when and under what conditions can you expect your first raise? if it comes soon enough, and is high enough then maybe that is acceptable too.

if you can not accept the current offer, as you already asked for more and then got this answer, your next step in the negotiation is to walk away. that is, you should ask yourself if you want to walk away.

if you do, then you can continue negotiating by stating that you simply can not accept this offer, and be ready to accept that this will be the end of the conversation.

if you do not want to walk away, then stop negotiating now. ask for some time to think about it. if you can find some "objective" reasons to explain why the salary is not enough (cost of living, etc), then you can try again, stating those reasons.

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This has happened with me a lot in the past even though I had more than one internships in the past. Most of the time HR is to blame who are given instructions from the upper management/founders and are blindly following them.

HR don't care how much experienced you are or how much you are worth. Even if you have half experience than you currently have, they are still going to offer the canned salary which is same for all the interns irrespective of skills.

I've even had cases where HR said We offer fixed $xx for intern position. If you apply for a full time position, you will be paid market rate according to your skill levels

My advice is, you should still try to negotiate. A lot of times HR person will not consider negotiation. If you have any other contact in company (CTO, person who interviewed you,..), I suggest try reaching him/her. Tell him/her that you love to join the company, but the offer you are getting is very low for your skill levels. There is a good chance that they will negotiate the offer with you.

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This is a very common HR 101 trick. Over time I am seeing this more and more from new job offers. It means nothing, it's just the first thing most hr recruiters will say right out of the gate during negotiations.

Be polite, but ask why it's non negotiable. Be inquisitive and express your desire to find a compromise. See if you can talk to the hiring manager, recruiters are in place to negotiate the best possible deal for the company and hiring managers value skills and behaviors and may pay more for them. Don't jump over anyone's head to do so, but ask to meet with them politely.

You may get nowhere, but in my experience, you may be successful.

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