This is a complicated one. I’ve been in this situation a few times and every time I heard this, my enthusiasm went significantly down. In one case, I negotiated and was able to move 15%-ish higher their initial offer, but in the cases when they were not flexible, I declined. The leftover feeling is negative and puts such companies lower on my raking list. It’s hard to tell for sure why somebody would do this in every case, but here are the key reasons that I’ve observed and heard of.
Sometimes, the company doesn’t understand the real value a UX designer can bring to their success. For them, a designer is a person who just creates pretty pictures of what they are told to draw. For me, this is a red flag that such a company might not be a good investment of my time.
Sometimes, hiring managers like the process of bargaining and they perceive the offer negotiation process as one. They expect that the candidate starts above what they are aiming for. Hence the company intentionally starts lower than what they want to pay, expecting to meet in the middle. To be fair, some candidate who prefer doing it this way and others who prefer a more concrete way when there is no negotiation at all. Very personal preference with no right or wrong answer. Often, cultural differences affect one’s preference to “bargain”. From my experience, in most cases the negotiation is expected, so do negotiate.
Sometimes, a company has a very limited budget that can afford only a less experienced person, but they just hope for the best that they can get a higher calibre talent for a lower price. If they realize that you are over-qualified, but still want to hire, they may be more open to negotiating and going above their initial budget. From what I learnt, quite often these budgets are not set in stone. If they feel the candidate is right and is a good “investment”, they may add (significantly) more. This is also a reason why many companies are not so open to sharing their pay range (which I understand, but still don’t support).
And sometimes, the value of your expertise in their opinion may be indeed lower than in your opinion. It could be that you just lack relevant experience. You could have enough overall experience, but it may not be as relevant to what the company is doing. For instance, you’ve designed a dozen great e-commerce websites, but the company is a SaaS platform for managing accounting practice. Or you’ve worked on complex enterprise systems and applying to the position of mobile apps designer. The relevance of your previous experience plays a big role.
It could also be that you have relevant experience, but the complexity and the scope of ownership are lower than what the company is estimating for this job. It depends on the scope and expectations for this particular role they are hiring. Usually, they would list key responsibilities and summarized description hinting at how large the role’s scope is. Some companies may still be open to hiring a person not at this level, but who is close enough and shows evidence of fast learning and increase in ownership.
It could also be that you didn’t show good examples of your work supporting the narrative. Or just didn’t perform in the interview to the best of your potential (due to stress, anxiety, exhaustion, personal problems, etc.). I’ve seen this a few times. The designer was not choosing the right case studies to highlight their relevant skills and experiences. If you have several projects under your belt, you should be very intentional about choosing which projects you present and which ones you skip, or how you prioritize them, which skills/steps within each case study you highlight and which ones you reduce to a short blurb. It’s your job to understand what kind of skills the hiring team is looking for (based on the job description and preliminary conversations) and tailor the story to show relevant evidence.
And don’t forget, that another very common reason could be that you just don’t have enough under your belt. I know too many people who think they are more qualified than they are. There is a problem with varied job titles, role definitions, years of experience expectations, work environments. These inconsistencies result in different “standards” of quality and expertise. A huge problem in itself that harms the overall UX industry and the reputation it has built over the years.