One Strange Experience with Salary Negotiation

July 22, 2015

Earlier this year I concluded a 5-month long job search by accepting an offer to work for my current company, SpiderOak. During that search I had been anxious to try my hand at salary negotiation, especially after eating through much of Patrick McKenzie’s material on the subject. By the end of the search I had rejected a few offers and negotiated two. One of those negotiations was successful and one was, well, strange.

The Strange

Before SpiderOak offered me a job to work remotely I was testing out the local (Fort Worth) software market. I discovered a company who had a job posting for a full-stack engineer and had been through several interviews with them: 2 on-site, 2 phone, 1 example project. I was very happy when they sent an email offer for the job.

Unfortunately the offer was low; very low. Essentially they were offering me about what I was making as a high school teacher a year before, which was way off the mark for software engineers in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. My wife and I really liked this company so we decided to counter.

I countered with a number that my wife and I were comfortable with and that was within the range of reasonable salaries for my position in the area. I sent them a list of their goals for the upcoming year and how this new full-stack position would help them reach their goals. I also detailed the value-added of the position based on information I’d gleaned from their business during the interview process. I was confident that this new position would bring in several times it’s salary in increased revenue and cost savings.

Then something strange happened: they never wrote back. After committing several hours, a couple entire afternoons, and a personal meeting with their CEO to me they just walked away.

I replied a couple days later with a compromise offer, but I still heard nothing.

Salary Negotiation: Not About the Salary

Obviously the negotiation was a failure in terms of getting that one job; but it was a huge success in terms of getting a job I wanted. As a said in the beginning, a few weeks later SpiderOak offered me a job which I accepted (and which I now enjoy very much).

Through this process I learned a valuable lesson about salary negotiation: it’s not about the salary. Nope. Salary negotiation is about learning your value and understanding the company’s valuation of you. Tangentially, it’s also about learning more about the company and their values.

I can’t imagine working for a company that would have valued me as low as the company that walked away from my negotiation. I also can’t imaging working for a company that would walk away from salary negotiations.

If you are nervous, or not confident about negotiating, all I can say is the only way to get better is to do; negotiate your next job offer. The worse thing that can happen is that they say “no”; the best thing that can happen is that they say “yes”. The next best thing is that the company reveals themselves as a place you didn’t actually want to work for in the first place.