Wanda [not her real name] came to me with an interesting situation. She was highly qualified in the mathematical arena and, following a gap year, had taken an entry-level job with a financial services firm. Despite her extensive qualifications, the firm managed to low-ball her starting salary, stating that they felt she was overqualified for the work and would be surprised if she stayed [Huh? Convoluted logic or what?].

There were vague promises that if she did stay, then her salary and level within the organisation would be reviewed and corrected … sometime. Well, Wanda did stick with it and brought a high degree of value and analytical skill to the work she did, frequently training in new hires who were being brought in on much higher salaries than hers.

Eventually, a promotion came up and she visited me in advance of the interview. Wanda was a very strong candidate for the role, suffering only from a slight lack of verbosity and detail in talking about herself and her accomplishments. She succeeded in the interview and was offered the job in a new department in the company. And this is where the problem really began to rear its ugly head.

Once her new boss had made the offer, he handed Wanda over to Human Resources to finalise her terms and conditions and, more importantly, her remuneration. Surprise, surprise, the new package being offered, while being a reasonable step up on Wanda’s existing salary, was well below the market norm for the role. Here’s what I told her:

“You didn’t apply for a job in HR, nor will you be reporting to the HR manager who is supposedly negotiating with you now. Call your new Department head and quietly, but firmly, insist on negotiating with him and him alone. Believe me, if this was good news and he was looking to give you a huge, equitable rise and bonus to the level of what you are truly worth, he would be there in the room with you and he would be wearing a Santa suit! The reason he is not in the room is because he doesn’t want to jeopardise his relationship with you by negotiating hard, so he’s hiding behind HR and making them the bad guy.
Keep quietly repeating that you are reporting to him, not HR. You applied to work with him, not HR. He will be doing your annual review and determining your salary and bonus going forward, not HR. So why would you be negotiating with HR now? He’s hired you because of your acumen and your analytical skills – does he seriously expect you to turn both of those off while you are negotiating on your own behalf?

If he refuses to deal with you, you have two options. One, tell him that you’re going over his head, go straight to his boss (before he can get his spoke in) and explain that this guy is hiding behind HR’s skirts, has ballsed up this selection process, and doesn’t seem to understand the concept of a fair market rate. Two, walk out the door right now into a role in an organisation that doesn’t suffer from this familiarity-breeds-contempt culture. In the unlikely event that he does agree to deal with you – see below.”


  • This situation demonstrates how important your entry negotiation is. (1) If Wanda hadn’t allowed herself to be battered down as badly as she had been on joining the company, this situation would never have arisen. (2) If she had forced the ‘corrective payrises’ issue and made the company give it to her in writing at the outset, this situation would never have arisen.
  • Your tone throughout needs to be quiet, assertive, and relentlessly logical.
  • I highly recommend the broken record approach, “Tell me what I’m doing wrong here? … Then why am I being disrespected/punished in this way? I’ve proven myself at this level, the market has set a value on this … So tell me what I’m doing wrong here.”
  • A customer is someone who is willing to pay a fair price for your product or service. A worthwhile employer is exactly the same thing – someone who will pay a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. If you walk into a new job simmering with resentment because they have shafted you in the pay negotiation, then neither of you wins. [“Ooh, a disengaged flight risk! That sounds like fun! Let’s go for a lose-lose on this one!”]

  • Employers bank on that fact that 90% of people in a situation of this nature kowtow to “That’s just how things are done around here.” Don’t.
P.T. Barnum estimated that there was a 525,600 suckers born every year. I reckon, with a burgeoning global population and decreasing infant mortality, that the figure has to be higher nowadays. Don’t be one of them.

Wanda won.

Related posts:
Negotiating remuneration [from Where’s My Oasis?]
Call that a pay rise?
Getting that raise