The most thoughtful salary negotiation response I’ve ever received

by Tracy McCarthy

By Tracy Mallette

Negotiating salary is one of the toughest tasks of a job seeker – especially in an employers’ market.

A poker hand on a box that reads "Do Not Fold"

“Your answer to question 7 belies the ‘poker hand’ nature of the employer/candidate relationship. I’m going to tilt my hand just a bit … in hopes you’ll show me yours.” – The first line of Brian Harris’ salary negotiation email.

I recently applied for the Digital Marketing Specialist position at SaaS company Bridgeline Digital. As a follow-up to the job application, they sent back a list of questions – one, of course, being my compensation requirements.

I responded with my typical pay scale inquiry: “What is the range you’re offering for the position?”

Usually, I receive the runaround reply: “I don’t have salary information since I’m not the hiring manager.” You know, the quick brushoff with the HR recruiter expecting you to just toss out a number. (It’s just one of the things companies do to annoy job applicants.)

In this economy of companies that expect job candidates to throw themselves at their feet for any pay, I was relieved to receive a thoughtful job compensation response from Bridgeline Digital‘s Digital Services Manager Brian Harris, who agreed to let me share it with you:

Your answer to question 7 belies the ‘poker hand’ nature of the employer/candidate relationship. I’m going to tilt my hand just a bit … in hopes you’ll show me yours. Our goal in asking isn’t to see if we can lowball based on your range, it’s to make sure your goal is within reach of our limit. If we told you our upper limit and you said it’s acceptable, how could we trust that you weren’t just acquiescing to get the job only to be frustrated shortly after, or even before, hire?

Why you should ask for what you deserve: We work very, very hard here. We expect very full weeks of the entire Digital Services team. You will be stretched to your fullest potential, and you will go home wiped out. A lot. Not bad-tired, just that wonderful brain-fully-utilized feeling that leads to great sleep. We also have fun, but suffice it to say, it’s as a reward for very hard, and successful, work.

Why you should mitigate your answer (at least a little): Tom Whittaker, my boss, hired us as a cross-discipline team. We have a great SEO specialist, a great Email Marketing specialist, a great Social Media specialist, etc. We even have a dedicated sales specialist focused exclusively on upselling our strategic services to our clients.

I see you as being a great Commerce specialist. We’d learn from you, but we’d also teach you a ton of great stuff from each of our areas of expertise in return. We’ve exceeded the company’s benchmarks for success at each milestone. You will grow tremendously here. The company believes and invests greatly in making rock stars of each and every employee.

Why you should not be afraid to state your requirement: To be candid, I’ve been with Bridgeline Digital fewer than 60 days. I was frank about my salary goal and because it matched the position and my experience, they moved forward. My final offer was made up of salary plus bonus for achieving corporate objectives. In this fashion, the company met my requirement. I am very happy with how it worked out, and therefore I put in very full, very hard-working, very rewarding days.

While I can’t tell you our number, I can say it’s not a range, it’s an upper limit. This is for a Digital Marketing Specialist position, not a Senior Digital Marketing Specialist (currently the only way to become a senior is to start as a DMS). Several candidates have answered question 7 with a number that exceeds my salary (as manager of the team) which implies they’d be disappointed with what we offer, and in my opinion, would carry a resentment as they worked … if I managed to convince them to settle for our limit.

I will promise that I don’t break communication simply because your requirement exceeds my limit. If I sent you the questionnaire, I saw something in you that I want on our team. Of the close to 100 resumes I’ve received, I’ve sent only a handful of questionnaires in response. Though we may not match your salary requirement today (I hope we do), I’ll stay in touch in case something changes on our end.

Ultimately I am trying to drive for maximum mutual satisfaction in this process: you want what you’re worth, and I want someone who works like she’s getting her requirements properly met. You’re worth your requirement, whatever it may be, and I hope it’s within our limit.

I look forward to seeing your hand …


Love it or hate it, I appreciate Brian’s thoughtful response, which also reflects well on his company.

It doesn’t bother me that he didn’t provide a pay range (or upper limit) because he thoroughly explained a legitimate reason for not doing so and treated me with respect.

I wish all employers would do the same.

Do any of you have job offer salary negotiation information or interesting responses? Share them in the comments below!