For as long as I have been involved in recruitment, so far over two decades, the 'Bait and Switch' job offer has been occurring in some job offers. Fortunately, due to the increasing transparency of feedback about this dubious practice on LinkedIn, and other business networks, people are more familiar and even wary of what can be on offer at the end of an exhaustive interview process.
What is the ‘Bait and Switch’?
Simply put a bait and switch is when you apply for one role and interview for it, then get offered a lesser role for less money.
The bait may be a role that is very attractive and seems to be a dream role for anyone in that space.
Who is this tactic targeting?
This is not about those with large egos who think they deserve to jump the queue for a role that involves a promotion or two and the employer quickly sees the candidate is nowhere near ready for the promotion they are interviewing for so they offer a more junior role instead.
Also, this devious tactic is wrongfully assigned to a person who wants to leave a much smaller company and get in with the 'big fish', but they don’t have what it takes for an easy ‘hit the ground running’ lateral move. The big company will normally offer a grade below the one being advertised out of fairness, as they know it’s a 'sink or swim' environment and they don’t want someone to sink.
This tactic is about those companies who are penny pinchers. Ones who intentionally advertise an attractive role and salary to entice applicants. But no matter the quality of those applicants they still offer them a lower position and salary without any tangible justification.
The role being advertised probably did not exist. This is a desperate recruitment hustle technique to get someone on board, who is qualified for the advertised role, but the company cannot afford to offer and pay them the salary or market rate.
Surprisingly, this is not a phenomenon just in penny-pinching companies, I have witnessed many successful companies employing such tactics.
It features heavily in recessions, when candidates may have been unemployed and desperate for a job while interviewing, then even getting demoted seemed like a win. And with the current discussions of recession being talked about again, we will probably see an increase in the tactic.
The Second Bait
Aside from the attractive job description a second bait may happen at the job offer stage. An offer involving a devious ‘bait and switch’ may go like this, “We like your experience in x and y and can see you fitting in well here, and we have a great project coming up which requires your skillset, and we think you will be great for it. However, we do not think you are ready yet for the project manager role you have been interviewing for, but we do think you would make an excellent project lead. Then, after a year, we can look at a management role for you. What do you think about that?”
I am sure any qualified, experienced, candidate’s heart would sink after the second sentence. And accepting such an offer, when the company really knows they have the experience for the next level would be a sign of low self-esteem or desperation, which the employer will not reward well in the long run, if the candidate accepts. It is a ‘lose lose’ situation.
The best thing any decently qualified and rightfully experienced candidate can do is to turn the offer down, and express disappointment at being ‘low-balled’. Standing up for themselves will put them up in the company’s estimation. Sometimes a company may re offer the rightful advertised role in the end but only if the candidate fights for it. But do you want to work for a company like that?
Another Bait and Switch Tactic
Another bait and switch tactic employers sometimes use is attracting applicants for a dream job and then at the end of the interview process offering them the dream job but at a much lower salary level than initially discussed. As a past internal and external recruiter, I have had to pass this news on to a candidate. Dressing up the offer but still lowballing on salary, the most hateful part of my job, fortunately, it did not happen very often.
Mostly, switching on salary happens during a recession or in a company that is penny-pinching. And candidates who accept a lower salary, particularly if it is lower than their current salary will be diminished in the eyes of the employer. The retention rate of the company’s new joiner will often not be good, as they continue their job search for a correctly paid role. It really is not a good strategy for employers to use.
Sometimes though, it can be the most impressive companies who use this tactic too. The ones where there are millions of people trying to join them. These companies know their attraction and they milk it! Lowballing because they can get away with it and new joiners are so happy and reverential that they do not care.
A Final Word
In these times of looming recession, cost of living issues, war, supply chain problems… I can predict this tactic may increase, as companies tighten the purse strings.
In my Interview Coaching Programmes, I offer the chance to rehearse the offer stage and how to negotiate the offer if needs be. Providing you with confidence to hold firm and only accept the offer if you are happy.
I really hope this helps illuminate the ‘bait and switch’, so you can be alert to it if it happens to you, but I really hope it doesn’t.
Clare Reed is a leading global expert Interview Coach with over 24 years global interviewing and coaching experience.