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Why does your salary offer stink?

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I recently applied for a job within the same institution where I am currently working. I am an administrative assistant for an academic department, yet I have a master's degree in sociology, so I applied for a research analyst position. Before applying, I inquired in the HR department about the salary range for the new position. I was quoted a particular range, yet when I received the job offer, the salary was $2,500 below the low end of the range. My question is this: How can an institution have a salary range for a particular position, yet make an offer under the stated range? Given that the advertisement said it would consider candidates who were currently in a master's program, rather than having a degree in hand, it seems odd that the offer was so low. I have absolutely no knowledge of how ranges are calculated, but it seems to me that if there is a stated range, the offer should fall within the range. Am I missing something?

What you're missing is that there can be completely illogical things that happen during the hiring process. Of course the offer should be within the range stated, but since it wasn't here are some possibilities.

1. They expect you to negotiate. Many job offers are lower than what they are actually willing to pay. They expect you to make a counter offer and negotiate the final salary. People who don't negotiate miss out. Women are prone to this type of behavior. You have an advantage here because you know what the true range is (or was), so use that in your negotiations.

2. HR didn't give the full range. Typically, a salary range is pretty wide -- and no one gets hired close to the top or the bottom of the range. (The range is supposed to be based on market data, but how accurate that is depends on the quality of the data that the compensation people have gathered.) So it's possible that HR said, "Oh, the range is $50,000 to $55,000," because that's where it figured the offer would be -- but in reality the true range was $40,000 to $60,000.

3. The offer is terrible. It could just be a really terrible job offer. They happen. The job market still stinks and it's just possible that the manager decided to throw out a low-ball offer to see if you'd accept it.

4. Communication is terrible. This, unfortunately, is often the cause of problems. HR isn't communicating with the manager and vice versa. HR could have looked at the job and compared it to current market data and come back with the figure that you were quoted. However, the manager doesn't have that much money in his budget. Somehow that wasn't effectively communicated and you got told the ideal range instead of reality.

5. The position was downgraded. Just because you already have a master's degree doesn't mean you have all the requisite skills and experience. They may have just really liked you and decided to downgrade the job to fit your skills rather than rejecting you. Downgrades and upgrades happen all the time.

The most important take away from this is don't stop now. Start negotiating. It's part of the job-hunting process.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user APM Alex.

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