The Curious Case of Mercedes Johnson
Updated: Oct 3
How to get the salary you want when you’re being recruited.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog post is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is important to consult with legal professionals for guidance on specific legal matters.
Recently there was a kerfuffle on the Internet involving an HR recruiter named Mercedes Johnson.
It all started with the following post on LinkedIn:
It appears Miss Johnson was trying to give advice about the importance of asking for the salary that you want or believe you deserve when negotiating a job offer.
But her admission that she allowed this woman to receive a much lower salary than what was budgeted for the position resulted in much of her central message being lost. Instead, she received a serious “dragging” on the internet and according to reports, lost her job. It was also reported that her employer, or former employer, adjusted the salary of the employee in question to the amount that was originally budgeted for the position. It’s likely she lost her job because her post went viral and it made her employer look bad.
There have been many opinion pieces and social media posts written about whether or not Miss Johnson was right. I wrote a couple myself on LinkedIn.
In this post, I want to address the question of whether Miss Johnson’s central point was correct. In my opinion, it was.
Miss Johnson’s decision to share this post on a social media platform was probably not a good idea. And it seems to have cost her, her job. Her decision not to recommend a higher salary than what was requested may not have been wise, but honestly, in most Human Resources (HR) departments, candidates are not usually offered higher salaries than what they request unless it falls completely outside of the salary range for the position. This is standard practice in many HR departments and I suspect it may have been the practice where Miss Johnson worked. Now of course after a huge public PR mess, the employer stepped up and paid the higher salary but the fact is that they allowed the person referenced in Miss Johnsons’ post to be hired at a lower salary and I’m pretty sure this is not a decision Miss Johnson made in a vacuum. She became the fall guy because her post went viral but it is somewhat disingenuous to believe that she approved this hire independently. The hire was an organizational hire that I’m sure was made with the approval of a manager and HR. So clearly, they all knew this woman was receiving a lower salary and they were fine with it until it became public.
Miss Johnson’s central point in her post is that potential hires should always ask for the salary that they want not the salary they think they will receive. This means that they have to know what they should ask for. And the responsibility for doing that homework is the person being offered the job NOT HR
An HR department is always going to look out for management and organization as an entity and structure. They’re not going to look out for you as an individual person who doesn’t even work there yet. So, when you decide you want to apply for a job there are a couple of things you should do to make sure that you get the salary that you want and that the marketplace says you should receive.
1. Ask for salary range data. Salary range information is information that tells you the starting salary and the mid and high end of the salary. For example, a job might pay a minimum of $25,000, a mid-range of $45,000, and a maximum of $60,000. Some employers may give you up to the midpoint so if the max is $60,000, but the middle is $45,000, they may tell you the job starts at $25,000 to $45,000. If you are contacted by a recruiter about a position that you applied for, ask them for the salary range for the position. New York State recently passed a law requiring that employers make salary range information public. This is not a common practice. In most places, employers are not required to do this neither is it something that most employers want to do. It is information you may be able to get if you ask for it but most employers won’t volunteer the information if you do not request it. If a recruiter balks or refuses to give you salary range information, that’s a red flag that should be a consideration as to whether to pursue that job.
2. Do your own salary range research. Before you apply for a job you should already know what the marketplace says the job is worth. You should go online and do your own research. Websites like Indeed, LinkedIn, Payscale, and Glassdoor provide compensation data for many jobs. A simple Google search of “what does a ______ position pay in ______ city or state“ may get you the information that you want. Do your homework and know what a job is worth before you apply for it and definitely before you accept a salary offer.
3. Always negotiate. Never accept the first salary offer you receive. Always negotiate. My rule of thumb for clients is always to ask for 10 to 15% above whatever you’re offered. But depending on the skill set you can even ask for 20% more. This is assuming you are well within the range for the position and you’ve done your homework. Even if you are being offered more than you expected, you should still negotiate. If they say no you can choose to accept a lower offer or throw out another number. You can ask for a different incentive like a hiring or signing bonus or enhanced leave.
· A signing bonus is a lump sum payment an employer may pay an employee on top of their annual salary. Quiet as it’s kept many employers pay hiring/signing bonuses for many positions but they won’t always offer it initially but you can definitely ask and you should. The payment is paid upon hire usually in the first paycheck. Sometimes it can be split up over a period. Often the employer will require that the employee agree to remain employed for a certain period or pay back all or a prorated amount. For example, if you want a salary of $100,00 but are only offered $80,000 you can request a signing bonus of $20,000 and an annual salary of $80,000. You could also request a signing bonus of $10,000 for the first year and an additional $10,000 in the second year. The point is it is a hiring incentive that can be negotiated.
4. Be confident and know your worth. Never negotiate from a place of fear or desperation and never take other offers off the table until you’ve accepted an actual job offer in writing.
Sometimes individuals are afraid to negotiate for fear that an offer will be withdrawn. If that happens, you are probably dodging a bullet frankly. If a potential employer withdraws an offer because you negotiated, that’s probably not a company you want to work for.
It has been well documented that people of color, and specifically Black Women are more likely to not negotiate. This is one of the many reasons that we are often the lowest paid even when we are the most qualified and experienced. Many employers also engage in discriminatory hiring practices and often offer people of color and women less than they offer white males. I’ve personally seen this happen even at institutions led by women. White supremacy and patriarchy run deep in America. That’s the reality. For these reasons, if you are a woman and a person of color, you MUST do your homework and know your worth when negotiating a salary offer whether inside your organization or at a new organization. Don’t just ask for the salary you want, ask for the salary the marketplace says you deserve based on your knowledge, experience, education, and on-the-job training. The only way to know this is by doing your own research. Don’t be afraid to present this research when you are negotiating.
The sad truth is that especially in America, employees are nothing more than commodities. Just like computers and other assets. The current pandemic has taught us all this lesson.
When you are hired, you’re being hired to execute an activity based on, usually, knowledge and skill, and training. There is a price point applicable for that. Employers want to get access to your skills for the cheapest price possible as they do with most commodities. And they definitely don’t want to pay more than what the job marketplace says they should pay. And they know what the marketplace says they should pay but they often rely on the fact that you don’t. So, it’s your job to do your own homework.
At the end of the day while the point made by Miss Johnson may have been inartful and what she admitted to doing was not right, the point she was seeking to make was right.
Always ask for the salary you want, but not just for the salary you want, the salary the marketplace says you deserve.
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HR is not your enemy but they are definitely not your friend