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Engaging in Salary Negotiations? Beware of Bait and Switch!

written by: N Nayab•edited by: Ronda Bowen•updated: 5/16/2011

Competitive pressures and greed force some companies to indulge in sleazy and underhand methods such as "bait and switch." With human resources now a key driver of organizational performance, such organizations try to trap talent in their firms through bait and switch salary negotiations.

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    What is “Bait and Switch?”

    Bait and Switch Salary Negotiations "Bait and switch” is a form of fraud that involves giving a false impression or concealing facts to give a distorted image. The common application of “bait and switch” in job contexts involves when employers advertise a job opening and convey working conditions that seem better than they are, or promise a salary or benefits package without disclosing the underlying strings attached.

    To illustrate the concept of bait and switch, consider a hypothetical case where a candidate has been offered a starting salary package of $80,000 per annum. The impressed employee may readily accept the job offer. The employer might not have disclosed the conditions attached, or included the information in fine print in the offer letter. Some of the conditions that could make this offer an example of bait and switch are:

    • The salary is only applicable after successful completion of a probation period, the term and evaluation of which the management decides
    • A major part of the packaging being performance pay that would realize only on achieving an extremely high sales target
    • The packaging quoted being cost-to-company, and a major portion of the package being deducted for employer’s contribution to social security and other statutory dues, the cost of maintaining office, including computer and electricity charges used by the employee, and so on

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    Recognizing the Tactic

    Candidates succumbing to an employer’s bait and switch tactics invariably find themselves trapped and at the mercy of the employer. The best remedy is prevention, and for this, the candidate needs to concentrate and pay attention to detail during the salary negotiation process. The following tips help:

    • Probe the offer in detail, asking for a specific break-up of the salary structure when receiving an offer. Do not relent on receiving a vague break-up. Ask follow up details to clear all doubts.
    • Clarify the proportion of the package tied to performance, and secure a commitment on what the company considers poor, average, good, and excellent performance.
    • Seek clarification on the compensation during probation period, deferred benefits, and other strings attached to the offer. When the negotiation takes place on CTC (Cost-to-Company) basis, seek clarity on the actual take home salary by asking for a break down of deduction before realizing take home salary.

    Companies that dilly-dally or give vague answers in reply to such probing almost certainly indulge in bait and switch tactics.

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    Handling Such Offers

    Bait and switch practices are unethical, if not outright fraud. Adopt any one the following options when faced with such tactics:

    1. Make explicit your displeasure, and do not compromise on your stance
    2. Make a counter offer to the company, with the value not much different to what the company proposed. Specify the terms and break down expectations. Make it clear that you will accept only if the company accepts your counter-offer with the conditions attached.
    3. Reject the offer and walk away. Only people with low integrity engage in bait and switch strategies, and such people will certainly break promises. Companies who try to outsmart employees even before they join the organization will certainly repeat similar tactics after prospectives join the company and become dependent for salary and a good experience certificate.

    The best position for bait and switch salary negotiations depends on how much the candidate needs the job when compared to alternative employment options. Those desperately wanting the job could opt for the first or second solutions, whereas those with other choices would do well to walk away. The candidate need to develop their BATNA or Best Alternative to Negotiated Agreement before start of negotiations to handle bait and switch effectively.

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    The author is an HR expert with more than 10 years of experience in wage and salary administration and other HR functions.

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