Have you ever lost a job offer because you negotiated your salary too high?

One recruiter had been in touch with me regularly with an internal consulting position. The idea was that I’d float around internally from department to department working on a case by case basis. It sounded like a way to get my services cheaply as an internal freelancer without any career track and I turned it down.

Head hunter kept getting back in touch with me, calling me at odd hours every couple months to see if I was now interested. I eventually said look, I won’t do it for less than x a month. I didn’t think this salary demand would be taken seriously and it allowed me an easier way to tell the recruiter to buzz off without burning bridges.

Lo and behold, I was called back a few days later to setup the interview. The interview was absurd, as I wasn’t supposed to be in any specific department nor role, they weren’t sure how to proceed with the interview. They thus put everyone I may ever work with in a conference room in a pretty casual let’s get to know each other environment. I expected there to be follow up interviews. The toughest question I think I was asked was literally what kind of food I liked.

The next day (a Friday) I’m given a call and told they loved me (I didn’t think I’d made a good impression at all – I’m actually not very good with people) and they need me to start on Monday. I reply that this is impossible, I can’t just quit over the weekend via phone call and need to give at least 2 weeks notice but really preferred a month.

An hour later I’m called back, the head hunter says they understand that I can’t just no show at current employer but if I can join by Wednesday they’ll pay a huge bonus and up salary by another 20%. I tell them no promises but will try to make it work. On Monday, current employer understood situation and agreed to let me start job at other company on Wednesday. I spent next 48 hours working furiously to hand over projects and train replacements.

I’m given a phone call on Tuesday evening, told to wear a suit and wait in lobby at a specific time. I’m dragged to a special meeting with a fortune 500 CEO, and told just keep quiet and act aloof like that creative type that’s too creative for meetings. I wasn’t told anything at all, I didn’t even learn who we we’re meeting with until after the meeting.

I witness a presentation where they’re pitching the services already rendered and what they plan to do for this company moving forward. There’s a slide in the deck specifically about me, my work background and contributions to this project. Afterwards the CEO comes to shake my hand and says he’s happy to have finally met me. Not knowing anything at all I just nod my head and say likewise.

I never once was asked to contribute to that project in the future. I was in fact never asked to do anything. I had to be the annoying guy imposing myself upon people and only given random tasks but on a significantly lower level of work. It was very confusing to be paid so much and given so much praise and then treated like an intern.

One day a co-worker confessed that the CEO of that client had been personally demanding they bring in an outside expert or they’d lose the account. They were unable to find someone that fit the specifications so just implied they hired one and that worked out fine as CEO thought the level of work had a drastic leap after the phantom hire. Then when they found out he was coming for a visit they better have someone to fit the role and we’re even considering hiring an actor. Suddenly the panic to accept my absurd demands and the urgent start date all made sense.

I’d already had begun looking for a new job before the second week was over anyway. My typical day there was one hour of actual intern level make work assignments and spending rest of time reading books, playing poker, working on personal projects. It was pretty ridiculous. I have since been able to learn a lot about the motivations of people in years since because for some this sounds like paradise and for others like hell.

After about a month, I was called into a meeting with one of the department heads. She told me she was reviewing the payrolls and noticed I’m paid far more than she is paid and this can’t continue. She suggested a voluntary pay cut to about 1/3 current salary. I told her I was recruited to join at this salary, I wouldn’t have quit other job otherwise and I’ve been actively trying to get meaningful work but the logistics of not having me own any specific projects not belong to any departments made it a complex issue where nothing happens.

I asked to be handed more work said her salary was her issue not mine and recommended she renegotiate hers upwards rather than mine downwards. I truly was sympathetic as I too would be very upset of I were a department head that spent years with this company then hr brings in someone without any plan and pays them more than I to just play poker. So while I understood her outrage, I still wasn’t going to remove the sole reason I had for taking this job in the first place.

A few days later hr has a meeting with me. This time they tell me my original salary was a clerical error and I was never authorized to receive that much salary. I’m again asked to take a pay cut. I again refuse, citing that I left prior very good job and even burnt bridges doing so leaving so fast to accommodate them.

Two days later I’m called into hr for another meeting. I’m offered a 6 month buyout at current salary. While not outright stated, it’s heavily implied if I don’t take this deal, they will find a way to fire me without severance. While curiosity wanted to hold out and see if they’d go higher, I couldn’t dare look such a gift horse in the mouth (I was going crazy in that job) so I immediately signed, packed my stuff up and left. I did find new work in about two weeks.

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