A reader writes:
I had a first interview with a hiring manager that went very well, and I was asked to interview again. Before moving forward with the entire process (extensive interviews with VPs and clients), the recruiter wanted to make sure I was comfortable with the salary range. Although it is 25-35% below my last salary, I told her that I wanted to move forward, that I am excited for the job (true) and that salary is not the sole factor in my job search (also true, but it's still a big factor for me).
I may be coming close to an actual offer - can I negotiate salary after this conversation or was the interview process a complete waste for the company?
I do like the job for what it is, but by taking such a large pay cut, I will have to make some major lifestyle changes (move to smaller apt), and I'm not sure I would be comfortable with the salary as much as I thought. I have an MBA and lots of debt to go with it.
Well, you're in a tough position. Because you already told them that you were comfortable with their range and they moved forward on that assumption, there's a decent chance they'll feel like you acted in bad faith on the salary question and wasted their time. At a minimum, they'll be annoyed.
But all isn't necessarily lost.
First, I can't tell from your letter whether there's any chance you would accept this job at the salary range they stated, or very slightly above it. But if you're really uncomfortable doing that, you should probably stick with that feeling and not compromise. Taking a salary you really, really don't want (especially when it's that large of a cut) rarely goes well.
So then the question becomes: Do you just bow out or do you try to negotiate for more, even though you already told them you weren't going to do that? If you do get an offer and decide to try to negotiate for more, the only way to do it is to give them some sort of compelling narrative that makes what happened understandable. You're going to have to acknowledge that you earlier said you were fine with the range, and you're going to have to explain why you're now not. You're also going to have to apologize profusely for the possibility that you've wasted their time.
They will either hold firm, go up very slightly but not enough, or go up a lot more than you think (depending on whether they want you enough, what their back-up candidates are like, and what their budget permits).
You mentioned a recruiter. Is it their in-house recruiter or an outside recruiter? If the latter, you might also talk candidly to her and explain what happened and see what her advice is on how to proceed. She probably has a good feel for their likely reaction. Good luck!