So you found a job you're actually excited about, nailed the interview process, and received a callback with an offer. The bad news? It's a lowball salary.
I've seen this happen to so many job seekers, and while it's unfortunate, I can tell you that a lowball salary doesn't necessarily mean a lost cause.
In fact, it's the way you respond that can make all the difference.
Let's use Tyler's situation as an example. Tyler just interviewed for an marketing assistant position at a tech company in New York City, and was offered a starting salary of $50,000.
Unfortunately, he was expecting somewhere between $60,000 and $70,000, which is fair based on his experience and market value.
2 things you should never do
Before Tyler responds, he's going to remember the two things that will ruin his chances of a successful outcome:
1. Taking it personally. Employers can offer low salaries for a number of reasons — perhaps they have a tight hiring budget or they're leaving some wiggle room because they expect you to negotiate. It doesn't always have to do with the individual person.
(I've seen people end up getting the salary they wanted, but come into the job resenting their employer for giving them a lowball salary in the first place. This type of thinking won't benefit you in any way. After all, if the company chose you as their top candidate and worked hard to meet your requirements, it means they see value and have confidence in you.)
2. Reacting with anger, frustration or disappointment. Stay calm and use this time to gather your thoughts, make important decisions and prepare a solid response.
You always want to maintain a good relationship, no matter what. Giving into your negative feelings will only stand in the way of your professionalism and possibly burn bridges. When you respond with grace and sincerity, you'll appear more likable and easy to work with —which is what employers want to see in employees!
Ask for at least one or two days to consider the offer
Job offers have an expiration date, and many employers might request 48 to 72 hours, which is reasonable. Some might be generous and give you a week to think it over.
However, since Tyler already decided that the offer is way too low for him to accept, he doesn't want to waste any time. The faster he acts, the sooner he can move forward with his job search if things don't work out.
Pick up the phone when you're ready to respond
It might feel much easier to explain why you're not happy with the salary offer via email, but I always recommend picking up the phone.
Why? You want them to hear the sincerity and professionalism through the tone of your voice. Also, conversations involving money are sensitive, and doing it over a call can help avoid any miscommunication.
Be nice and thank them — but be stern about what you want
The first step is to say thank you. Maintain a respectful tone and tell the hiring manager how much you appreciate them for taking the time to interview you.
However, make it clear that the salary they're offering is too low for you to accept — that you know your worth and you're willing to stand by it. This is important.
Here's a perfect example of how Tyler should respond:
"First of all, thank you so much for extending an offer and for taking the time to consider me. I'm really honored that you chose me. I admire what your company is doing, and I truly believe I'm a great fit for this position.
That's why this call is so hard to make, because $50,000 is not within my desired salary range of $60,000 to $70,000. I understand that you might be working with a tight budget. But I know that I can go above and beyond in this role because [X, Y, Z].
I don't want to waste your time. If you're able to work with me to get within my range, I'd love to continue this conversation. But given my extensive experience, and the fact that my market value is much higher than $50,000, I can't accept this offer as is."
What happens next?
In my experience helping clients land jobs, there are three likely outcomes from making this call, and Tyler should prepare himself for all of them.
Outcome #1: After taking a day or two to discuss the situation with the rest of the team, the hiring manager tells Tyler they can't offer anything higher than $50,000.
Tyler thanks them a second time: "Again, I appreciate you taking the time to interview me. If anything changes, please let me know. Otherwise, let's stay in touch, and I hope you'll keep me in mind for future opportunities!"
This is a bitter pill to swallow, because now Tyler is back on the job hunt. But he can proceed with optimism because fact that he got an offer means he's on the right track.
Outcome #2: The hiring manager tells Tyler they'll need some time to think things over, but they don't tell him exactly when he'll hear back.
A couple of days go by and, after reviewing other candidates for the job, the company realizes that Tyler is the best person for the job. They really want him on board, so they come back with an offer that's within his range.
Tyler might decide to accept the offer. Or, by then he's already found a job with a salary he's satisfied with. If he declines, he'll do so with the same professionalism as the first call.
Outcome #3: The employer was prepared for Tyler to ask for something higher, so they initiate the negotiation process.
Tyler needs to have some exact numbers in mind. He decides that $59,000 is his walk-away rate (he also calculated that it's the minimum amount he would need to pay his bills and live comfortably in the city).
Additionally, he's prepared to give an exact number of what he wants, because this is something employers often ask to get straight to the point. And since that number — $69,000 — is significantly higher than the company's original offer, Tyler knows he'll need to get creative with other compensation or perks to close the gap.
That might be a signing bonus, access to a company vehicle, more vacation dates or flexible working arrangements.
Remember, if a company is willing to budge and go above their original offer, it means they believe you will add value to the team. So instead of having a "me vs. them" mentality, work together as a team. It's the best way to come to an agreement that both sides will be happy with.
J.T. O'Donnell is the founder and CEO of Work It Daily, an online platform dedicated to helping people solve their biggest career problems. She has more than 15 years of experience in hiring, recruiting and career coaching. For career tips, follow her on TikTok @jtodonnell.
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