A Recruiter’s Post on Salary Went Viral For All the Wrong Reasons. This Career Expert Has Advice to Make Sure You Get Paid Fairly

A photo to accompany a story about negotiating your salary
Kimberly Brown (pictured) is a career and leadership expert who helps women of color navigate the workplace, become industry leaders and get paid their worth.
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A hiring recruiter named Mercedes S. Johnson recently went viral on social media for posting about how she offered a candidate an $85,000 salary when the company had a $130,000 budget for the role — a full $45,000 difference.

And people were angry.

In the post, Johnson wrote, “I offered her that because that’s what she asked for and I personally don’t have the bandwidth to give lessons on salary negotiation.” This post sparked a fierce online debate on both sides of the situation from what was meant to be a recruiter’s inspirational post. 

Some said the applicant should’ve asked for more or negotiated a better offer, while others defended the recruiter, saying she was doing her job by offering the prospective employee the salary that the employee said was acceptable. 

Johnson has since been fired and wrote an apology posted on her Twitter. Still, the incident highlights the lack of salary transparency at many companies — and their habit of putting the responsibility of salary negotiation upon potential candidates instead of offering a compensation range upfront. There are also power dynamics at play, because companies hold all the cards in what are often one-sided hiring processes, which contribute to long-standing systems of pay inequality

“This is not the fault of the recruiter or the candidate,” says Kimberly Brown, a career and leadership expert. “It also falls on the company. When you see something like this, it means the company has no pay equity structures in place. They’re not looking at the roles and making sure people are paid equitably across the organization.” 

Candidates traditionally think they’re not empowered in the hiring process, explains Brown, but they can be. Let’s talk about pay — and how you can take charge of salary negotiations. 

4 Expert Tips for Negotiating Your Salary

1. Ask for the Salary Range

The very first question candidates should ask recruiters should be about salary range, according to Brown. 

“I always encourage candidates to ask what is the range that the company can support for a role,” Brown says. 

Do research to figure out a competitive range so you have a sense of what others are making for similar roles at other companies in the same sector or industry. 

That way you can say, ‘Based on my research, it looks like this role should pay between [this amount and that amount]. Is that in line with your company’s salary expectations?’ 

2. Bring Up Salary Expectations Right Away

Ask what the salary is early in the hiring process, ideally in one of the initial conversations that happen during the phone screening, Brown says. 

“Years ago, we’d say it was taboo to mention salary so early from a candidate perspective. But I find that you don’t want to go through an entire interview process only to find out at the end that the salary is not aligned with your expectations. Be empowered and ask that question in the beginning.” 

It can be awkward, nerve wracking, and maybe even intimidating. But it’s better than getting a low offer that you don’t want to take later in the process. 

3. Negotiation Doesn’t Stop After the Initial Conversation

“Negotiation begins the moment the company interacts with you,” says Brown. “And that comes to understanding your skills, your experience, and making sure you’re articulating your value after every single step in the process.”

Once you know what your value is and the market pay range for the role you’re applying for, stick to that number. Reiterate how you’re qualified and how the role is a fit for your background and career history. Point out what you can bring to the team by telling recruiters the value you’ve brought to your previous organizations. 

If an offer comes back low, be prepared to push back and say, “I’m looking for a salary that’s much closer to [the number you have in mind].”

4. Practice So You Feel Empowered

If you feel like your confidence might waver when you’re in discussions, practice your conversations out loud. Phrase your expectations in your own words and say them until you feel comfortable. Practice either alone or with a friend until it feels natural.

The goal is for you to be able to say (or type, if an offer is made via email) your numbers confidently to a recruiter. 

Do not get excited and accept an offer the moment they give you a number, advises Brown. Instead say how excited you are about the opportunity and ask how long you have to review the offer. Ask for a breakdown of the benefits package, and consider the overall compensation of the salary combined with the benefits. 

For example, many companies offer reimbursements for continuing education, transportation benefits in metropolitan areas, or a 401(k) match. Also factor in any signing bonuses, relocation packages, performance-based bonuses, and stock options. The salary number is only one part of an overall offer. 

Why Do We Need to Negotiate Our Salaries Early and Often?

Oftentimes, there aren’t proper hiring processes within a given company, and recruiters don’t have the support they need, Brown says. And in the situation with Johnson, it’s more important than ever to negotiate salaries. 

The silver lining of this public recruiter situation is that it’s sparked an entry point to having more open conversations and asking tough questions about hiring practices, such as:

  • Are women and people of color getting equitable offers? 
  • Do companies know how much their limited women and people of color are making in comparison to their male-identified and non-BIPOC peers? 
  • Are companies doing enough to attract and retain employees, starting with their recruitment processes? 

If anything, situations like Johnson’s viral post show the importance of negotiating salary early and often, Brown says. 

Pro Tip

Salary negotiation begins the moment a company interacts with you. Take every opportunity to reiterate your value throughout every step of the hiring process.

They also showcase the importance of advocacy on the candidate side. It starts with empowering yourself from the beginning, and ultimately negotiating your offer to the best of your ability. You can drive your own process by doing your research and knowing your value for every job application. 

That’s a start to getting a job offer that’s in line with your expectations. What you can negotiate after your initial conversation is the cherry on top.