If you’re wondering what to do when you get a lowball job offer and most importantly, how to respond, then this article is for you.
I’m going to share how you should negotiate and respond to a lowball job offer with examples, which mistakes to avoid, and more.
Let’s get started…
You should not accept a lowball job offer without first trying to negotiate. You’ll never know if the company could have offered more money if you don’t ask.
By negotiating politely, with data and research to back up your request, you’ll ensure that you get the most out of each job offer without upsetting the employer.
You can also walk away if you’re not satisfied with the salary after attempting to negotiate, but there’s lots to gain and no harm in asking for a higher salary first.
Later in this article, I’ll share word-for-word letter/email examples you can use to respond to and negotiate over a lowball offer.
Any time you get a job offer, even if you feel it’s a lowball salary offer, you should thank the employer and show appreciation.
Sometimes, the hiring manager is limited in how much they can offer, so it’s possible that they wanted to offer more.
Any time a company offers you a position, it means they feel you’d be a good fit for their company, which is a compliment and a sign that you’re doing a lot of things well in your job search.
For this reason, don’t panic or show anger, and don’t jump to assumptions.
Thank them for the offer and then move on to the next step below…
It’s never to your advantage to accept a job offer on the spot. And the most successful job seekers — the people who go out and get four or five job offers when they job hunt because their skills are so in-demand — would NEVER accept immediately.
So after thanking the hiring manager for the offer, always ask for a day or two to consider the details.
You can say, “Would it be alright if I take 48 hours to review the details? I like to review important decisions like this carefully.”
This will buy you time to research how low the salary is versus market rates, and come up with a counter offer or a plan to negotiate/respond to their salary offered.
Asking for time to review the offer will also allow you to respond and negotiate your starting salary through the communication channel that’s most comfortable to YOU, whether that be phone, email, etc.
You may immediately know that a job offer is a lowball salary offer immediately, but in my experience, this is rare.
The main way you’d know this is in a scenario like the following:
Imagine you go interview at 10 different companies, and four of them make offers, all for a Senior Manager position doing similar work.
Then, imagine that three companies offer $100K+ for the base salary, yet the fourth one offers $75K.
That’s a clear example of when you’re dealing with a low-salary offer, and you know this based on your other offers.
If the job were exciting aside from the low salary, you could counter by referencing your other offers (I’ll share an example script for this coming up soon), or you could simply decline and go with your other choices.
However, unless you have multiple job offers for the same type of role, you may need to conduct some salary research.
Research will help you feel confident when you counter an offer or ask for an increase in the salary of the offer.
Make note of this data, since it will help you in any negotiation.
Of course, the data may confirm that the offer is fair and isn’t the low-salary offer that you thought it was. That’s beneficial to know, too.
Overall, conducting salary research BEFORE you attempt to respond to a low offer can only benefit you.
After you’ve taken the steps above and determined a good/fair salary range, you can start to negotiate or make a counter offer, so let’s discuss that next…
Before negotiating, you should take time to think about the amount you’d like in the salary, but also the minimum you’d be willing to take.
Consider the work you’ll be performing, and also changes to cost of living if you’re relocating for work.
You NEVER share this minimum salary info with an employer or recruiter, since they’ll be tempted to pay that amount.
However, what this minimum provides you with is a reference point in your negotiation. You don’t have to make as many decisions mid-conversation.
You know what your “floor” is. You know that if they can’t at least offer your minimum amount, you’re walking away.
And you’ve come up with this minimum amount in the comfort of your home without pressure to respond quickly on the phone or even via email.
This is yet another reason to always ask for some time to review each job offer.
Then, in your upcoming negotiation, you’ll share the number you truly want and feel is fair. But in the back of your mind, you know what your “floor” is.
This is one of the best tips I can give you for any negotiation. Never skip this step and never deliver a response before coming up with your acceptable range and salary floor.
Finally, after conducting research and determining what you feel is a fair salary, you can deliver your response and negotiate/counter offer.
While you’ll appear a bit “stronger” and more confident if you negotiate in person or via the phone, it’s also worth considering using email if you feel that this medium will make you more comfortable.
Play to your strengths.
Responding to the job offer by email has some benefits. You can carefully consider each sentence. You’ll never rush to say something you regret, etc.
And you’ve got two options for how to approach this salary negotiation:
Option 1: You can make a counter offer and ask for a specific salary.
I did some research into average salary for this type of role here in Dallas, and I found an average salary of $X, based on Salary.com and Payscale, and looking at data for a total of 38 jobs. I’m excited about the job and the opportunity to join the team, but I wanted to ask if there’s any flexibility in your offer to match that average figure that I found while researching.
Or, you can ask an open-ended question that essentially prompts them to negotiate against themselves.
The best way to explain this is by showing you word-for-word, so let’s dive into an example below.
I wanted to circle back to thank you again for the offer. I conducted salary research via the US Bureau of Labor Statistics as well as Glassdoor and Salary.com, and I found that the average base salary for this position in Boston is $55,000. Is there any flexibility in the base salary of your offer?
For the typical salary negotiation, I like the open-ended question tactic above, but I think given that you’re specifically stating that you feel the salary is below average, I’d recommend simply telling them the number that you’d feel more comfortable with.
I’d recommend the first email or phone script above for responding to their low-salary offer.
Remember to ask for what you truly feel is good/fair, though, because they may counter offer again and suggest an amount slightly lower than your target, but higher than the original offer.
As you counter the lowball job offer, there’s one more strategy you can consider.
If you have higher offers from other companies, you can mention those other offers as a negotiation tactic.
For example, it’s okay to say the following via email or phone:
I appreciate the offer and the role sounds fantastic. However, I’ve recently received an offer from another firm in the industry, with a base salary of $X. Is there any flexibility in your offer to increase the base salary here?
Now, sometimes a hiring manager’s hands are tied in terms of hiring budget and offer amount, and they can’t offer more even if they would like to.
But in some cases, they will be able to put together a new offer with a higher salary based on this info you provided.
Note that you don’t need to tell them the name of the other company. In fact, I recommend not sharing specific names. This is also true in the interview if they ask, “What other companies are you interviewing with?”
Further reading: How to compare two job offers.
If you come to a standstill in the salary negotiation after countering the lowball offer, yet you are excited about the job itself, you can also consider negotiating for benefits like a signing bonus, stock options, etc.
However, you should focus on negotiating base salary first. This is what’s most important and most likely to carry over into future job offers in your next job search.
And in my opinion, if the base salary in your offer is significantly below market rate, it’s a sign of a bad employer. They’re either struggling and cannot pay people what’s fair or trying to take advantage of job seekers who don’t know their worth.
So if you’ve taken time to consider the offer and come back with solid research and a reasonable counter offer (delivered politely and professionally), but the company just won’t budge, it may be time to move on.
Don’t get tempted by a signing bonus, which is a one-time payment. Whereas, a base salary is paid every year and is what your raises/bonuses are often based upon.
Sometimes it’s okay to accept a job offer with lower pay. After you’ve used the tips and strategies above and negotiated, you may still find that the offer for the position you want most doesn’t pay as high as another offer, or perhaps as high as your current job.
You need to determine what you value most at this stage in your career. For example, if you’re trying to change careers, it may be worth taking a small step down in pay to make the leap.
Or, if you feel a fast-growing startup has a bright future and amazing founding team, and they’re able to offer some equity but a smaller base salary, you may decide this is a smart risk to take.
However, it’s also fine if you decide that total cash compensation (salary plus bonus) is all that you care about right now. If so, then you’ll need to reject the offer with lower pay and go for a higher-paying opportunity.
Only you can decide what you value in your job search. And only you will know what career stage you’re in.
As a former recruiter, I’d advise people in their 20s and early-to-mid-30s to prioritize growth and learning so that they can make as much money as possible later in their career.
However, if you’re already at a later stage in your career, it makes sense to maximize earnings. In this case, you shouldn’t take a step down in pay or take an offer that pays significantly less than another for similar work.
So, the answer to whether you should accept a lower-paying job offer is “it depends.” One person may find it acceptable, while another may not.
Now, there are a couple of critical mistakes to avoid during any response to a lowball job offer.
First, don’t show frustration or disappointment in your initial reaction. You don’t know if a company is struggling financially and doing the best they can in the offer, or if they simply didn’t know what the average range is in the market, etc.
Give them the benefit of the doubt, and rather than reacting right away, thank them and ask for time to consider the job offer.
Then, make sure you’re prepared and calm, and get back to the employer at your convenience.
It’s a mistake to rush and respond to employers before you’ve had time to prepare.
Responding quickly without a strategy could cost you the job offer, and certainly will cost you the opportunity to negotiate well and increase the compensation.
You now know how to handle a low-paying job offer from a company, from the initial response to your follow-up negotiation strategy.
You should never take a lowball job offer personally; it’s just business. But you should formulate a strategy to negotiate and try to get what’s fair, based on data and research.
You can mention other job offers that you have in addition to research you’ve done.
After making your request and finding out the best the company can offer, you’ll be able to decide whether to walk away or take their offer. The steps above will give you the greatest chance at receiving the boost in pay you would like so you can happily accept the job.
Biron Clark is a former Executive Recruiter who has worked with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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