What to Do When Salary Negotiations Backfire
On Money Confidential, host Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez helps people have those difficult conversations about money and finances—and find solutions to move forward. On this week's episode, Caroline, a 26-year-old tech worker, shares her story about a salary negotiation gone horribly wrong. (Caroline is not her real name.)
Caroline had been a strong advocate for herself when working on freelance projects, so when she was approached by a company with an offer for a full-time position, she put her negotiating skills to use and asked for a higher salary than they initially offered. That's when everything went haywire. "I tried to negotiate, and then the company either ghosted me or rescinded the offer," Caroline says. "How do I still try and get what I deserve and ask for more, but not do it in a way where it's going to make a company think 'you're not a good fit for our team at all.'"
The offer gone wrong has impacted Caroline's confidence, and she's spent a lot of time trying to figure out what went wrong.
To help Caroline, O'Connell Rodriguez turned to career negotiation expert Claire Wasserman, founder of Ladies Get Paid. Wasserman reassured Caroline that she did everything correctly—and that she may have dodged a bullet by not getting that position, since they clearly didn't value her appropriately.
Wasserman offers advice for women seeking new jobs—or just looking to get paid what they're worth. Researching salaries for similar roles, sleuthing out a little bit about the company on LinkedIn, and finding the right approach to asking for more will help you earn what you're worth.
Listen to this week's Money Confidential—"I Tried to Negotiate My Salary and They Rescinded My Offer"—to hear Wasserman and Rodriguez's tips for getting your full worth in every negotiation.
Daphne: Unfortunately, we just don't make enough…
Camilla: I have a second job, um, and I'm going to add another one, so I'll be working three jobs. It almost feels like no matter what you do, it just doesn't add up.
Caroline: If you get paid an amount of money that you were happy with, that goes a long way.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: This is Money Confidential, a podcast from Real Simple about our money stories, struggles and secrets. I'm your host, Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez. And today we're talking salary negotiation with a 26-year-old tech worker based on the East Coast that we're calling Caroline — not her real name.
Caroline: When I was actually in college, I actually did a whole class on negotiation. And got a lot of very typical lean in-type advice. It's like women don't negotiate very much. Why is that? They just need to go negotiate like men do,so very stereotypical advice.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: These familiar messages, that women just need to negotiate more, speak up and ask for what they want—suggest that with enough asking or demanding or negotiating, women might close the pay gap, the leadership gap and other persistent gender inequities in the workplace.
But the data paints a different picture. Men and women are actually equally likely to ask for a raise or a promotion. It's just that women are less likely to receive them. And when women do negotiate, they're perceived as aggressive and demanding, triggering backlash and social penalties that can hurt their chances of career advancement moving forward. So it's not that women aren't asking for what they want. It's that they're less likely to get what they ask for.
Where do you feel the advice you got has maybe worked and maybe where has it been really off base?
Caroline: If I'm talking about an hourly rate with a freelance client and I'm able to say, hey, I have this many years of experience, I've done a project that's exactly like the one you're talking about. Here's what I'm willing to accept for this project. That works really well. And it meant that I actually made a lot more money freelancing than many other women that I know, because they just didn't even think to negotiate in those situations. They were just so happy to have a client who wanted to pay them. But I think where it's really not worked well has been actually in job interviews, specifically because I've always worked in startups and in startups, there's this really old essay from one of the original VC investors in Silicon Valley, and it talks about missionaries versus mercenaries.
And so it talks about the importance of building a small founding team that's not motivated by money. That's motivated just by the value of the company and the opportunity that it represents and all of the money that could be made by anyone choosing to work there and get a little bit of equity.
In my experience that kind of creates this very gendered dynamic, where men are allowed to kind of be super aggressive in that environment because it's like in startups, you only want kind of aggressive, competitive, winner-type mentalities. But if you're a woman, it gets read as maybe you're not really invested in our mission.
Caroline: I attempted to negotiate the job that I'm in now, but they let me know like, nope, we have a policy we don't do that. Here's the starting offer, take it or leave it. So in that sense it was like, did negotiating have a really bad effect on me in this job?
I don't think so. But it definitely created this sense of like, oh, was I wrong to ask for this? I think in that setting where it's like, you're going to be working with people in a full-time role, like over an extended period of time on a smaller team, it definitely doesn't seem to work well because it calls attention to power dynamics.
Especially those kind of like implicit power dynamics rather than like explicit power dynamics. So the stuff that might be more of a factor of like gender, age, experience than just, hey, what's your title on this team?
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: Well, it's funny because the vast majority of people are trying to work and negotiate within those kinds of careers, the ones you're talking about, where you say the advice has kind of led you astray. And I know you have a specific example of this happening to you in a negotiation. I was wondering if you could share that.
Caroline: Yeah. Definitely. So around six months ago I had this company reach out to me directly and I wasn't like actively looking for a job. It was the pandemic so I was feeling like "Eh, I'm not going to undertake a whole job search right now." But they reached out to me, I really loved the idea, the product. They talked a lot about how much they value diversity, equity and inclusion on their team and their programs on that looked really good. So I was like, "Why not?" Like they found me, I'm going to do this.
And so I went through the interview process. It was really detailed and time-consuming, like five different stages. One of them was like almost a whole workday's worth of time.
And at every step I asked them, hey, do you have any feedback for me on how I am as the fit for this role right now, based on our conversation today. Every single step they were like, no, this is so great. We're so impressed by you. The team loves you. And I was just getting more and more excited about it as it went on.
And then finally I finished the process. It was like, I think a little over a week after my final interview and the hiring manager called me and said, we're so excited. We are making you an offer to join our team. Here's the terms of the offer. I'm going to email you all of these terms right after we talk today.
Let's set up another time to reconnect so we can go over any questions you might have. At that time, I was very much in my negotiation mindset of like, okay, don't give any numbers right now. Just say like, oh, I need time to think about it, let myself kind of get out of this more tense situation and really go back, do my research, figure out what I wanted.
So I crowdsourced a bunch of advice. And I got a bunch of advice from senior women. I talked to other men managers in tech who are in a similar role to this hiring manager. And really, you know, a lot of consensus around, hey, ask for 20 or 25% more. What's the worst they can do.
So I thought, okay, that makes sense. That seems reasonable. And the worst they could say is no. I've had that happen. I was fine. So I come back to the hiring manager, I say, hey, can we get closer to this number? And she says, oh, we did a lot of research on this, but let me talk to my team.
So I said, okay, great, set up another conversation like a day or two later. And so we have our call and she says, I've talked to the team and we can't give you any more.
And I say, oh, okay, thank you. I really appreciate you doing that. It's very meaningful to me as a woman. It's very important to me that I negotiate and that I ask for more. And then she responded completely differently than how I thought she would.
Every other conversation had been super positive, upbeat. Her tone immediately changed. It was super, super slow, kind of negative. She then started asking me all the same questions that she had asked me early in the process. Why do you want to work for this company? What contributions do you think you'd be able to make in the first six months here? What would your goal be in working here? Why are you interested in being in this industry? I was really taken aback in the moment I was kind of just like really overwhelmed and was just answering her questions.
I asked her at the end, like, hey, does this mean we can move forward? I'm really excited about joining the team. I'm happy with this offer, and again, thanked her for asking on my behalf.
She said, no, I'm going to have to talk to the team again and get back to you. It was just all very ambiguous. And then about a week went by. The HR person, so no longer talking to the hiring manager, the HR person sent me an email and said, we are now rescinding our verbal offer, even though they had emailed it to me.
At that point, I just was really, really mad. And I had multiple people saying like, you could sue this company. Um, that's like a blatant case of discrimination. Like would they do this to a man.
And I definitely felt like, no, they wouldn't do this to a man, but I also just felt like they have already taken so many hours of my life going through this process, doing all these take-home assignments, I want to just kind of like, let this go and like get my own time back and stop letting this company take up so much space in my brain and my energy.
It's been a couple of months. I really want to get back out there, have a robust job search, and have a much better plan for how I'm going to deal with this because I've also talked to other women, three other women, also with tech startups that said, yes, this happened to me.
I tried to negotiate. And then the company either ghosted me or rescinded the offer. So I'm trying to think about like, how do I still try and get what I deserve and ask for more, but not do it in a way where maybe it's gonna make a company think like, oh you're not a good fit for our team at all.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: How do you feel about the advice that people always give around this idea of the worst they can say is no?
Caroline: I just feel like that probably works really well for men. And actually a more realistic version of that saying would be the worst they can do is demean you, gaslight you, tell you that you don't have the skills and experience that you do, tell you that you don't actually care about working at their company. and you need to be ready for that if you're going to ask if you are a woman, or I guess marginalized non-binary person, all non-male genders.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: It sounds like this experience has stuck with you in a lot of ways.
Caroline: Yeah, definitely. I thought that telling this to my friends and like other people in my network, I was surprised that at least three, and I'm sure more I've had the experience of this exact thing. And like, how is it this common? And we're still getting told, like, just ask, just ask.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: What do you think would be a better way to have that conversation around negotiation?
Caroline: I would really focus on managing bias and recognizing bias. the key aspect of this is to understand, are you in an environment right now where it is safe to hear no? Are you in an environment where a negotiation will be held against you? How do you get better at understanding that? And, how do you uncover clues about that before you get to the stage of actually negotiating?
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: I just want to get a general sense about how you feel like emotionally about all of this.
Caroline: I think emotionally it absolutely, it created a lot of imposter syndrome for me that wasn't there before, and very much this sense of like, wait, am I really like, am I really qualified for this role? If my experience were so great, wouldn't they have just paid me more or at least wanted me on their team more? It took a lot of months of therapy talking with friends, just hearing over and over again, like this is not your fault.
And this is clearly, it was not a good work environment to let go of that self-blame, but I still struggle with that a lot because, because part of that kind of lean in type advice that I was exposed to so much at such a formative time in my life really puts the onus on the individual. And I think we can see this even more.
It's astounding to me, how much more heightened these different types of biases are in situations with women of color, all of the women of color in my network, maybe they didn't have an exact story of, you know, having an offer taken away or company ghost to them, but very much had a story of, hey, I tried to raise relevant issues or I tried to advocate for myself and it was actually met with backlash and I got the response of, I'm not an invested team member. I'm not really a culture fit. And so I think that these kinds of things are really, really interconnected. I think about that a lot. That feeling of like because I am female. There's always going to be an element of my identity that's not working in my favor, especially in a kind of startup environment. And I need to be aware of that and create a lot of self care and like rituals to shore up my confidence. But yeah, that's also an extra burden.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: These feelings you're experiencing like imposter syndrome. A hit to your confidence—these are things that are touted as something that's just inherent to women that they just need to be more confident, rather than recognizing these things as a natural response to the way women are treated. And this is something that you're hearing at 26 and you now are going to be carrying with you the rest of your career.
Caroline: Yeah. I think I'm trying to keep a healthy sense of anger, sort of like how I was mentioning, like other women, they really face this backlash, you know, not only in questions of salary, but really understanding that like this response that companies have of making it an individual problem.
That is them abandoning their responsibilities to their employees' well-being and it is a direct consequence of them choosing not to prioritize, being an inclusive work environment where people can do work proud of regardless of their identity.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: Because the workplace kind of across industries still does exist with so many of these biases.
Caroline: Oh totally, oh my God all the time. I think the one thing that I kind of come back to is like, don't put all your eggs in one basket. And I think that was one of the things that made this so impactful to me is like, yes, one company rescinded this offer to me, but would this have hurt so much if I had also gotten two other offers from other companies? Probably not, even if I didn't like them that much, or even if they were kind of weird about the negotiation process.
It was also a really good lesson for me, too, of just like, yes, this is so endemic that if you let your whole identity and sense of self-worth come from your full-time job, you're putting yourself in a very fragile place. And this was a good chance for me to kind of reach out, work more with organizations that I do volunteering with and leverage more of those kinds of connections and feel like, oh, I am a helpful presence in these other organizations that do value me and to appreciate my time and my efforts.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: Overly simplistic advice like 'just negotiate more' isn't going to help women close the pay gap as long as we have workplaces in which women are less likely than men to receive the raises they've requested.
So after the break, we'll talk to Claire Wasserman, founder of Ladies Get Paid. Claire has dedicated her career to teaching women how to negotiate and advocate for themselves at work, particularly in a society where so many workplaces are still plagued by gender bias and discriminatory practices.
Claire Wasserman: Hi, I'm Claire Wasserman and I am the founder and author of Ladies Get Paid. We are a book and organization and a global community that helps women advance professionally and financially.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: And can you tell me a little bit about the genesis of Ladies Get Paid?
Claire Wasserman: it all came about because I was so frustrated by the wage gap. The fact that Hispanic women make 55 cents to the dollar, less than 22% of us are making it past middle management, Black women getting less than 1% of venture funding.
These statistics were horrible. I had no clue what I could do as an individual to combat something that is so systemic. The only thing I could think of was let's just get a bunch of women together and talk about money. Because money is power and it's value, and we just don't talk about it enough. And from there I saw a tangible way that we could make a change.
At least in our own lives would be negotiating our salaries. And it always starts with um, I'm nervous that I'm going to maybe jeopardize this relationship. Will I not be liked? At the end of the day though, it's not really so much what you say, as it is how you say it. So approaching it with empathy, with research, evidence of how what you've done has impacted the bottom line.
So there's evidence in terms of the market research that you do, and of course, evidence in terms of what you've done for the company. I would say everybody think about your original job description, go and find that. Then let's have you maybe make a new job description based on what you actually have done at that company. Look at the difference. You have probably done so much above and beyond your job probably looks nothing like it was when you first got it, which by the way, there was a salary associated with when you first got that job. So things have changed.
Then I want you to look at, how have I made the company money. You've saved them time. You've saved them resources. You've negotiated with vendors and gotten discounts. You've contributed to the company culture. How about that? All of that benefits them, but don't assume that they know that, right. Don't assume that your work will speak for itself. No, you need to speak for your work and you have to connect the dots between what you've done, how you did it, who you are, your strengths as a person and a team player. And then what they've ultimately gotten out of it.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: It almost feels like data points can be a kind of protection against some of the bias that women are facing in negotiations.
Claire Wasserman: Getting testimonials is key. So first of all, imagine that you are a business. Okay. You're the LLC of me. All right. And would you go in to negotiate? It's like, you're going to an investor and you're making the case for why they should invest in you. Now I'm not talking about favors, charity, donation.
No, no, no. They're going to get a return on their investment. They will give you money because they believe that you will make them money. So if you are making that pitch, can you show me that you've already done well, and that's like customer testimonials. All right. Again, thinking like you're a business.
Do you have emails from people who've given you great feedback? Clients, maybe even your manager, anytime that there is tangible evidence that you have done a good job. Write that down, take a screenshot, put that somewhere, bring it up. I've had a woman in our community. She made a PowerPoint presentation. She had citation of research she's done about her market value. People she talked to to give her feedback so demonstrate, you know, it's not just me who thinks this, there are other people, and yes, there are, because nobody works by themselves. There is a team who can back you up, so go and seek that from them.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: This came up in my conversation with this week's listener. She works in the tech sector and in that kind of startup ethos there's a lot of this idea of we want to build a team that's not motivated by money. We want them to see the vision and the value of the opportunity. What do you do when that's kind of the culture of the industry you're in?
Claire Wasserman: First of all, if you have the choice between taking equity or cash, Always take the cash. Okay. Because is this company going to go public? Uh, maybe, maybe not. And if they do go public, think about how long it's going to take to get there. So chances are your equity is not going to count for anything. If you can take more money, go and get it.
These things don't have to be mutually exclusive, though You can be absolutely motivated by the greater vision, love the work that you're doing, love the company, and also want to get compensated for it. That is the dream. To have all of those things. If you ever feel like you weren't in an environment or working with people who make you feel otherwise, that is not the right place for you.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: I do think this idea of this is not the right place for you is really important. And another theme that came up with this week's listener was she wants to be able to identify when the company is not the right place for her long before getting to that point.
So do you have any strategies for how in the process of interviewing and job searching, you can kind of suss out where that company really stands on how they value their team members, how they compensate them so that you're not going to get to that eighth round of interviews and have invested all of this time and energy just to find out there's no real room for negotiation or advancement in the company.
Claire Wasserman: I would first go through LinkedIn. Even before you decide you want to apply for the company, do what Anjuli Sood calls power mapping. So Anjali is the CEO of Vimeo.
She taught me how to do this power mapping. Go look at the company, who works there? First of all, how long have they worked there? So if you're seeing that people leave less than a year into it, or everybody leaves at a year. Okay. That's some information, uh, number two, how quickly do people advance there? And number three, what kind of person advances? Are they all white men with MBA degrees? That's fine. You just need to know that first.
Okay. Then you want to ask specific questions. So not just what are your values, right? Cause it's probably on their website, but really dig into, I'd love to hear more about how that gets expressed here.
Also reach out to somebody who either works there now or somebody who's worked there before. Doesn't need to be shady. You're just saying I'm really into this company. I'm excited to be applying. I'm curious, what's been your experience there, or what do you wish you'd known when you were interviewing?
You're going to get some really interesting things from them. And plus if it's a person who works there now they can become an internal advocate for you. You develop a relationship with them. They're going to say, hey, I think Stefanie is awesome. So, you know, you're getting information for yourself, but you also might be bolstering your chances of even getting the job.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: Now I want to dig in a little more to this listener specific story. She went through a process of negotiation. And the tone of the hiring manager completely shifted when she asked for this higher salary and all of the sudden the hiring manager started backtracking and then they kind of went dark and then they reached back out and they rescinded the offer.
Claire Wasserman: Ah, this is so tough because I teach women how to negotiate and it sounds like she did everything right. Here's the thing I want to say to her. This is not the right place for you. So thank God you dodged a bullet.
But, if you need money, this is crushing. The strongest negotiators are the ones who are able and willing to walk away. So this is devastating even though long-term, thank goodness she's not going to be working there because if that was the reaction to that, even just the process of interviewing. If you don't feel like this is going well, you know, it feels like there's some weird vibe happening, pay attention to your instinct, because when has our instinct ever been wrong?
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: She said that the other impact that it's had on her is that it's left her with a lot of imposter syndrome that she actually did not have before.
Claire Wasserman: There is trauma that happens in the workplace. I was fired from a job and for six months into my next job, I constantly felt like I was going to be fired to the point where my manager took me aside and he's like you're doing an amazing job. Like what, because I was carrying that with me.
So we're raised to be perfect. And you know, if we don't see people who look like us in positions of power, which many women don't, women of color, especially. So we may doubt should I be here when the C-suite doesn't look like me? So I also get that you can't control how other people react to you and way too often, we build our identity and our sense of self and self-esteem on whether or not somebody else sees us as worthy or whether or not our accomplishment happens.
So what should we focus on? What am I learning about myself? Can this become a story that I tell somebody? This horror story she's now told everybody listening. You have to make this useful for you in some way, channel it in some way.
And time will heal. It sounds like I'm talking about a breakup. It kind of is right. This was a job she had and now all of a sudden it wasn't, and she was broken up with and ghosted, and it was all very horrible. So giving herself a moment to grieve about it, that's good. Because each day it'll get a little bit better and she will find the right place.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: I do wonder though, going forward, the question that she asked me was, you know, now that I'm looking ahead, I wonder if I get an offer that I'm happy with, is it even worth risking negotiating, is it worth the social risk of what could come back? There is a social cost. And so how do you weigh that?
Claire Wasserman: There is, and this is why we're all very exhausted. it's called the double bind, right? The double bind is, well, we're now going to assume you're being aggressive and we're going to punish you for it. that is a real thing and I want to acknowledge that.
So moving forward, I want her to negotiate, but it isn't, you know, this is what I want. It's I did my market research. I was seeing things closer to this number in terms of top performers. I consider myself a top performer. What can we do together to get to something that's closer to this?
Like using the word we, right, reiterating I know this is a place that compensates fairly. And if you don't get what you want, you know, what are other things you can get that bring you value, but maybe don't cost them much money, if at all, and remember different budgets for different things.
So I know somebody the other day, she said, Claire, I asked for more for my salary, they said no. So I asked for a signing bonus and they said, yes. And it ended up getting me to the annual salary that I wanted. So how'd they do that? And I said, because they've got different budgets.
I've had so many negotiations that I didn't even realize were negotiations, which again is any time that you are trying to get something and you were working with another person, let's say your child and they don't want to go to bed—that's negotiation. So now I've become so much more cognizant that you can think bigger than just what's right in front of you.
Looking at everything as negotiation and looking at everything as an opportunity to come to a creative solution, it becomes more fun.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: And does it build your muscle, your negotiation muscle?
Claire Wasserman: A thousand percent. Does it get easier? No, because stakes get higher when you really want or need something, you will always be nervous to ask. There's a certain framework that always exists. So in that regard it does get easier, but yeah, when you really want something, it's always going to be scary to ask for more.
One piece of advice that I have for this woman who called in earlier, I would definitely try to get in touch with a recruiter or somebody in HR.
I would walk them through what happened and ask them, do you have feedback for me? What should I have done anything differently? And if she can survey maybe five people and if all five, say, this was completely them not you, then let her take that to heart. The wound will heal faster. I think she'll find that that was a unique case, bad luck, and just awful.
Stefanie O'Connell Rodriguez: While advice to 'just negotiate' and 'ask for what you want' might be oversimplified given the structural biases that still exist within the workplace, knowing those biases exist and how they might affect you can help you better navigate negotiations and manage workplace dynamics as early as your first interview.
While ultimately, the onus is on industries and organizations to correct for their biases and discriminatory practices, we can use the interview process and tactics like power mapping to evaluate whether our career ambitions will be supported and championed, or penalized within a given environment.
To better manage gendered workplace dynamics that impose these conflicting expectations of
niceness and toughness on women seeking to advance within their organizations, identify where your career goals converge with the goals and vision of your company. By finding these win-wins, women can get more leeway to pursue their vision and goals in a way that's seen as supportive and socially acceptable. Be sure to collect data, testimonials and metrics on these efforts whenever possible, so come your next negotiation, you can tangibly show how you've contributed to the company's bottom line — whether it's ways you've made or saved the company money, time or turnover.
Finally, remember to protect your identity and sense-of-self by diversifying not only the sources of employment and income you look for and create, but also by expanding your sources of validation and belonging in your life more broadly. Because whether or not your client or your employer sees you as worthy of a position, promotion or raise, the reality is, your salary is not the thing that dictates your self worth.
This has been Money Confidential from Real Simple. If, like Caroline, you have a money secret you've been struggling to share, you can send me an email at money dot confidential at real simple dot com. You can also leave us a voicemail at (929) 352—4106.