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Lost Opportunity

John Leehman
© Scotwork NA

Joe, a friend of mine with years of specialty medical experience, was relocating to a new area and looking for a challenging job with good compensation and working conditions. He had an impeccable résumé, not to mention a stellar reputation in his market. During his search, he came across a career opening that unexpectedly — and mysteriously — fell through.

By the looks of it, the missed job opportunity matched Joe’s qualifications perfectly. In fact, the employer made an offer immediately following the initial interview. While the proposed salary was slightly less than Joe was looking for, the offer came with an aggressive bonus plan and an opportunity for him to oversee a new office with dynamic market potential. Joe was excited by the prospect of career advancement, and a match clearly seemed possible.

Then came the rub. The final contract details, submitted by the employer, were sketchy to say the least. First, the salary offer was much lower than had been discussed. Secondly, it didn't include the responsibilities for leading the new office. Something was amiss. Joe was still interested in the position, so he made a counteroffer to deal with what he hoped was an oversight.

Joe’s counteroffer attempted to accomplish two things: He assumed that first-year cash flow was a high priority for the employer due to the new office location and start-up costs, so he decided to accept the lower first-year salary offer, but he structured his counterproposal to guarantee his desired salary within three years, regardless of market conditions beyond Joe’s control. Secondly, he asked for more clarity on some of the working conditions that he and the employer had discussed during the interview, but that were not laid out in the employer’s final offer. It was critical that Joe have complete transparency into these specifics, because he was emerging from an unfavorable employment environment at his last job — one that he didn’t want to repeat. 

Here’s where the unexpected occurred: Within an hour after Joe submitted his counterproposal, the employer withdrew all offers from the table, refusing to discuss the agreement further. It was mind-boggling for Joe. After some reflection, Joe considered this a learning opportunity and is taking some things with him into his next job pursuit . . .

First, he resolved to do more research into his potential employer before attending the first interview. In this case, after the employer pulled the offer, Joe did a deeper investigation and discovered several red flags. The employer’s “client satisfaction” stats in his current market were not particularly good. Additionally, the employer had never before hired a manager or expanded to a subsidiary office. And based on his abrupt termination of discussions, he likely had other management-style issues or agendas that Joe never fully uncovered, all with potential for hidden risks.

Secondly, the employer pressured Joe to make his decision within 24 hours — a stipulation that had become a significant factor in the negotiation. Ostensibly, the employer was up against the wall with a property option for the new office, which was set to expire the next day. Since this opportunity was in a location that was new to Joe, and would require an out-of-state relocation for his family, he required additional time. Was the employer’s applied pressure genuine or simply a negotiation tactic? Either way, the employer seemed unphased by Joe’s request for more time to come to a decision — a clear danger sign. In any negotiation, forcing a decision before there’s a clear understanding between the parties regarding employment conditions, performance criteria, and expected outcomes is a recipe for regret down the line.

Finally, at the time when everything fell apart, Joe’s first thought was that he had “blown” a great opportunity. However, in retrospect, he was pleased with how he protected himself with his counterproposal. Joe’s added requests were reasonable and appropriate. They addressed key issues that would transform the job offer from risky to rewarding. It also avoided several areas of significant risk that will never be fully evaluated. Better armed as a result of this negotiation experience, Joe resumed his employment search, resolving to dig into each new opportunity carefully and be more transparent about his key priorities at the initial stages of negotiation, assuring that both parties are on the same page. 

Sure enough, he quickly found a superior employment offer, far exceeding his counteroffer to the original employer. 



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