Envision the scenario:  One of your key people resigns.  At the worst possible time.  They are irreplaceable.  So, of course, with low expectations you grudgingly begin the search for a replacement.   Weeks pass, and every resume you see is a disappointment.  You are certain that this search will never end.  You plead with your HR department “This is a recession, where are the good people?”  (Or perhaps you ARE the HR department and hiring managers ask you this pointless question).

Then!  You get a great resume.  You excitedly schedule an interview.  Then you  meet them.  They are terrible.

But then! you finally, finally meet someone who can do the job.  Oddly, another qualified job seeker somehow shows up around the same time – you are doubly blessed, now you have TWO people who could do the job!  Your team is excited to stop working overtime thrilled.  You put them through 3 or 4 interviews – they both survive.  You check references – they both survive.  You need to pick one and make an offer.

Then, because you have two people to choose from, an alien takes over your brain.  You go back to boss mode – you are under the illusion that you have power.  TWO people want your job, you are in CHARGE.   (My theory is that you get a mental virus from the Excel spreadsheet you use for budgeting.  You look at a spreadsheet and calculate your salary budget for the rest of the year, or you are forced to maintain some kind of idiotic salary parity concept where the Director of IT earns exactly the same as the Director of Marketing – irrespective of their actual market value).    So, in this zombie-like trance, this appearance of rational thought that an excel spreadsheet offers, and wholly divorced from the job marketplace and the reality of what you are doing…you make a job offer.   To a real live, thinking breathing human being – a person who has not seen your cool spreadsheet, and does not know how you arrived at your salary number.  Because clearly you forgot to consider what their expectations were, and you just offered them about $3,000 less than they expected.

And this human being you made the job offer to is hurt, wounded, and offended.  Because they were looking at salary.com or some other online “what am I worth” calculator like the one on indeed.com.  And somehow they looked up their title (ignoring other data like experience, size of company, industry sector, cost of living variances by city) and they came up with a different range.  So they calibrated their expectations differently than you did.  You see they thought when you said “I’d really like you to work here” that meant, you were really willing to pay a premium for that privilege.

So now, after months of fruitless searching, when you finally are about to end this miserable era of being understaffed – you blew it.  You botched the offer.  Over $60 a week.  Ok now what?   Well, one of three things can happen.

  1. The wounded person turns you down (this may be the best case scenario – at least the problem goes away).
  2. The wounded person takes the job and feels like they were gotten “on the cheap.”   Not a great way to start your employment relationship.  How do you think that scenario plays out over the years? Not well.
  3. The wounded person counteroffers.  Now you have to negotiate over a few thousand dollars with someone who is about to work for you – setting the stage for your relationship forever; they assume that you will always low-ball and they will always have to fight you for every dime.  Ughh.

Naturally, this is why almost every search firm likes to control making the job offer – some people think it’s so they can drive up the final salary, but I know, it’s so they can keep their clients from snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.  (Just for the record, we reconcile salary expectations between both parties, but recommend that our clients make the actual offers).

Related Resources

We have updated salary guidance in light of trends toward salary transparency in 2023. Please see: