I was desperate to get out of my soul-crushing corporate job. I had been at that company for five years and exhausted all the ways to advance and expand my opportunities. Truthfully, I was starting to run out of things to do. I had been trying the “spray and pray” approach to job searching — sending out tons of resumes and hoping one would work out. Although I had a few interviews, nothing was working. Then one day, a recruiter reached out to me.
He said my background was perfect for his open position. It was a promotion. And it was at a prestigious company that seemed like exactly the opposite of the stodgy, old-fashioned place I was so ready to leave behind. I quietly told myself, “new job, new me.”
The interviews began and I went all in. I was already imagining what it would feel like to tell everyone I was going to a glittering new company, with a promotion and, I could only assume, a raise. I practiced my resignation speech in my head.
Meanwhile, there were a few red flags during the process that I was studiously ignoring. The hiring manager had some incredibly unrealistic expectations. There were onerous travel requirements. The offices (to my dismay, much more old fashioned than I expected) were filled with boxes piled literally to the ceiling. I asked if they were about to move and received a strange look in return — this was their normal. And the strangest of all: at this large company with over 10,000 employees, the hiring manager and his boss were a team of just two.
All these things I overlooked, and frankly, didn’t even question, in my excitement to get out of my job. And I used a negotiation strategy I had learned from the director of compensation who I was close with at the time: I never revealed my current salary*, and I didn’t discuss my salary requirements for the position until I was sure I was the final candidate. It’s great advice that I still give today: wait to bring up the money until they want you, they need you, they have to have you.
Finally, the offer came, and it was good. The salary was an increase of more than 20% over what I was currently earning, plus a bonus and some other valuable perks.
I was ready to leave and I had no alternatives. I took the job.
Looking back, I realized something important that I hope you will keep in mind the next time you’re in a negotiation situation where you think you have no other options.
You can always walk away. It takes (at least) two to make a deal, and without your buy-in, they can’t move forward.
At the time, walking away certainly didn’t feel like an option. But if I had approached the process with a cooler head, I might have seen it.
Fast forward to six months after taking the job, and I was back to my old un-strategy of “spray and pray.” Many of the red flags I had ignored turned out to be deal breakers. And I ultimately wound up taking a pay cut in my next role in order to escape what had become a toxic situation.
Walking away requires the wisdom to know what your true needs are and the courage to hold out for something better. It’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth it.
*If you work in New York City, employers are now legally prohibited from asking for a candidate’s salary history.
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.