There is much advice on how to deal with a lowball offer from a prospective employer. We talk about how to avoid being on the receiving end of a lowball offer, and how to negotiate your way out of one. But what we don’t talk about all that often is how candidates sometimes lowball themselves. This is a tactic often borne out of desperation, and one that should be avoided at all costs.
When unemployment protracts and unemployment benefits exhaust, it can be tempting to reduce your asking price in the hope of getting an offer. It may seem counterintuitive, but often, candidates who lowball themselves wind up unemployed for longer than those who stick to their guns. There are a few reasons for this:
It is suspicious. If you were shopping for a house in a neighborhood where all the homes were selling for $220K, and your realtor took you to see one that was listed for $160K, you would immediately wonder what was wrong with it. It might appear to be just fine, but you would wonder if there was an underground oil tank, a crumbling foundation, or if its well water was contaminated. You probably wouldn’t think, “That’s a bargain! I should jump on it now!” It’s the same when candidates present themselves at a price that is below market. The buyer—in this case, the hiring manager—will wonder what’s wrong.
A willingness to accept a below-market salary or a position that is below your experience level may send the message that you lack ambition. Fair or not, hiring managers sit in judgment of candidates every day. Let’s say that you are a project manager, who earned $90K in your last position. If you’re interviewing for a project coordinator role at $60K, a few things are going to go through the hiring manager’s mind:
Why would this candidate be looking to take a step back?
Can she not handle the responsibilities of the higher level job, and in that case, is she viable as a longer-term hire?
Hmm. . .she might know more about this role and the business than I do, and that intimidates me. Pass!
It exudes a stench of desperation and weakness. It is unfair to characterize someone who is willing to take a tremendous pay cut as desperate and weak. The reality of the world is that bills need to be paid, and sometimes that does lead to desperation. However, no one wants to work with a weakling. Most hiring managers want strong, confident contributors on their teams. (As an aside, if you get the sense that a manager with whom you’re interviewing prefers weak candidates, RUN. This is a major red flag.)
All of this being said, I do regularly counsel my clients that they need to be flexible about compensation, especially when they are not currently employed. The best thing to do is to arm yourself with information. Know what the market rate is for the jobs for which you’re applying. Set a range in your mind that reflects that market rate, and be flexible, but within that range. Stick to your guns, and be the confident, strong candidate that I know you are!