One-Sided Negotiations: Is a Company’s Inflexibility on Job Offers a Red Flag?

Being offered a new role that’s a great fit professionally and culturally is an exciting time—unless an unproductive negotiation process taints the entire experience. It’s common to negotiate one or more aspects of a job offer—whether it’s base salary, sign-on bonus, or expected start date—and a successful negotiation can have a huge impact on earning power across one’s career.

But what happens when a negotiation stops before it even starts? When an organization refuses to engage in negotiations, especially for an individual bringing years of unique or distinguished experience, its inflexibility can be viewed as a potential red flag. A candidate may wonder whether the company is as uncompromising in other areas of the business or worry that, as an employee, they will always be the one making concessions. There are several nuances to consider in a situation like this, so an individual facing this issue should look closely at the details before bolting out the door.

The first thing to consider is whether the elements raised in negotiations were based on the realities of the market and the candidate’s expertise. The essence of negotiating is that sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you don’t. Some companies have very stringent compensation structures, and they have determined the value of each job to the organization, regardless of who is in the role. Set-in-stone structures like this can be frustrating to a newcomer, but if the job itself is worth it and the compensation is in an acceptable range, not accepting the offer out of spite for perceived inflexibility isn’t going to serve anyone well. If the job is the right fit and one in which the candidate can excel, the focus should be on demonstrating interest and excitement at the prospect, rather than making continued attempts at negotiation that may cause a negative perception of the candidate .

It’s worth thinking about every aspect of compensation and gathering as much information as possible. When a company makes it clear that starting comp is not a flexible item, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a red flag. Base salary isn’t the only thing to think about—what is the review process like? Can it occur more than annually with a financial aspect tied in? What’s the average raise for a high-performing employee? Are bonuses part of their comp? Are there other incentives that may be offered? Do they pay 100% of benefits when other similar employers are at 50%? Is their 401K match significant? Exploring these options will help paint a broader picture of compensation and corporate culture. There are multiple resources available that can offer insight to an organization’s inner workings. Tools like Glassdoor will reveal former employees’ experiences with salary, bonuses, and raises at the company—or whether there’s consistent one-year turnover for everybody in your role because the company doesn’t believe in cost of living increases.

Another consideration is whether the company is already on the high end of comparable compensation for the role in your industry and geography. Maybe they position themselves at the top of the charts for competing organizations and won’t budge on starting comp or sign-on bonuses. Companies make specific decisions about where to rank their starting comp—at the high, mid, or low end. Some absolutely don’t want to be the highest payer—they don’t want people coming to them just for the money; they want people coming for advancement and development or because they have the best technology or an engaging and supportive culture. They will call themselves a “strong follower” but not the leader in compensation. Most organizations plan their compensation policies very strategically, so while their practices may look inflexible at a cursory glance, it may actually be adherence to a carefully thought out plan.

While negotiating is common—and often recommended—in the job search process, no one should negotiate just to negotiate. If the job is interesting and challenging and the compensation, benefits, and vacation time are good, negotiating simply as a means of portraying power isn’t advisable or helpful. In fact, if a candidate takes this approach, the company may end up wondering if the candidate is too inflexible.

Ultimately, anyone in this position should ask “Can I work here? Is the company inflexible about everything and can I live with that? Or, does the organization simply have strong policies that contribute to its success?” Gather as much information as possible to build a better understanding of the opportunity, the full compensation package, and company culture to ensure a good fit.


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