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can I show annoyance with a terrible job offer that I don’t plan to take?

A reader writes:

Is there ever a productive or reasonable way to express annoyance at a job offer you don’t intend to accept?

I recently interviewed with a company for what sounded like a lower-mid-level position. The title, described duties, and reporting structure all indicated a position that would be the next step up from what I currently do. I’ll admit, some of the questions I was asked in the interview process were fairly low-level, but the actual duties of the job were complex enough that I chalked the low-level questions to a poor talent pool in our area combined with a new interviewer.

I went through a phone interview, took a full day off for an in-person interview, which was canceled at the last minute, and then took a morning off for the rescheduled interview, after which I was offered the job and told the HR department would be calling me to discuss terms. I was very curious at that point to hear the offer. Like I said, everything about the job was pointing to it being a higher level than I’m currently working, but because of some of their questions, I was prepared for the offer to be more of a lateral move.

HR called, and … their range for the position was really low. It was low enough that I don’t know of anybody in our industry (and I know folks who are working call centers!) who would be tempted to accept. I felt like they had wasted a day and a half of my time and PTO when any reasonable hiring manager and HR department would have known that what they were offering was unlikely to be commensurate with specialized experience (and this was a large company with a formal HR department, not a mom-and-pop who maybe didn’t know better).

Would there have been any way to express my frustration and annoyance at their waste of my time that would have done any good? I had a similar situation a few months ago, where the company handled it in the exact opposite way. I applied to a position that seemed like a lateral move, and the hiring manager emailed me to say that their budget was tight and that, based on my resume, they suspected I wouldn’t be interested in moving forward. They were up-front that the position pays X and said to let them know if I’d still like to schedule an interview. I could not have been more impressed with their respect for my time (and their own!), and I almost wanted to point out the contrast to the HR person at the more recent company. Would that have been warranted? Would any expression of frustration have been?

What I actually ended up doing was telling the HR person that I would need double what they were offering to even consider the role and that it didn’t sound like it made sense for us to continue the discussion. The hiring manager ended up trying to get them to expand the salary rage to at least come cose to what I wanted, because my skillset was exactly what she was looking for, but HR wouldn’t budge, so that was the end of that. But I still wonder if I could have given some indication of how much I felt they had wasted my time when they could have been upfront about the salary range.

Yeah, I can see why you were really annoyed by that. When an employer knows that they’re offering a salary that might be low, or when they have reason to think the person they’re interviewing will find it low (like if the person is coming from a notoriously higher-paying industry), it’s common sense and courteous to talk about it early on the process, so that they don’t waste anyone’s time, including their own.

As for whether you can point that out to them … You actually kind of did, just without spelling out your irritation. “I would need double what you’re offering to even consider the role” pretty clearly says “wow, you are way off what I was expecting.”

But there’s room to say a little more if you want, too. For example, upon hearing the salary offer: “Oh! … (uncomfortable silence) … That is significantly lower than what I’d expect for a role like this one. Wow. I have to be honest, I wouldn’t have invested this amount of time in your process if I’d realized from the beginning that the salary was so far below the market rate.”

That’s blunt, but it’s reasonable. You don’t say it in an angry tone, just a surprised and concerned one.

Another version, for use later on, not on the spot: “Can I pass along some feedback that I think might help with your process? The salary you’re offering is so far below market rate that I really wish I’d known about it from the start, before I used up PTO from my current job to come interview. I think so many candidates will be taken aback by it that you’ll save a lot of time — yours and theirs — if you let people know your range up-front.”

This, of course, is one of many ways that our culture’s weird coyness around salary hurts people. They wasted your time and energy, and they wasted their own too. No one was served by them springing that information on you at the end of the process.

can I show annoyance with a terrible job offer that I don’t plan to take? was originally published by Alison Green on Ask a Manager.


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