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How Low Can You Go?

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Two conversations I’ve had with job seekers recently helped me to consider another aspect of salary negotiations.

I’ve written on the topic before in:

Always Ask For More… Right?

There you will find a great deal of practical advice on how to land where you'd like to land. 

However, what do you do when an offer comes in extremely low compared to expectations? What options do you have?

Here are some observations and points to consider…

What was communicated in the interview process?

When an offer comes in particularly low, it’s not unusual to see a correlation to part of the discussion that took place earlier in the process. One job seeker, when asked what he was looking for in regards to compensation, told them what he earned in his last full-time job 5 years ago and before he earned his bachelors degree. They made an offer just slightly above that amount and he felt “low-balled”, without realizing that he gave them the basis for it. They thought they were offering him more than he quoted, and he felt they were taking advantage of him.

Setting expectations properly is critical.

Often, job seekers give low numbers out of fear that they will be dropped from consideration if the salary they need is too high. That may be, however, if you give them a number that you can’t accept, it wastes both their time and yours. Giving a legitimate range that is workable for you will dramatically improve the chances of gaining an acceptable offer.

Know your numbers!

In order to give an acceptable range, it’s important to know in advance what an acceptable range would be. That seems basic. However, it’s interesting to me how often people don’t do the math until they get an offer, and then realize they can’t pay their bills on a salary they gave in their range.

Fully understand what you need as a minimum, taking into account employee benefits, quality of life, and other factors. Know what you would really like to aim for, taking into account competitive compensation in the marketplace and comparable experience to others in the organization. Then give a range that’s more educated and acceptable for you.

What’s going on?

At times, even if the right things were communicated in the process, an employer may make a very low offer. There are multiple reasons that may happen…

  • The position you are pursuing is below your experience level and can’t pay what you hope
  • Internal equity issues with current employees prevent them from offering what you would like
  • The salary grades the organization has established are not competitive or out of date, and the hiring managers hands are tied
  • They are simply trying to hire someone as cheaply as they possibly can

The last point is an outlying exception rather than the rule in these cases, however, they occasionally do exist. Generally, companies want people to come in feeling they’ve been treated fairly and feel good about the new role. “Low-balling” a new hire rarely accomplishes that.

Appeal to their sense of fairness.

When an offer is very low, rather than taking on an aggressive negotiating stance, better results more often come from an open-handed appeal.

Thank them for their offer… let them know you are definitely interested in the position and the prospect of coming on board… express disappointment that the offer is quite a bit lower than was expected… give them a range you are hoping for… and ask if there is any additional information they may need from you that would help them raise the offer to a level that would work for both of you.

There may be some explanation necessary on your part to help them understand the basis of your request. It should never be about your personal financial situation, rather it should involve career and/or business considerations. It may be…

  • The compensation is too far less than you’ve earned in the past
  • The compensation doesn’t take into account new education or skills that you’ve acquired
  • You have a higher competing offer (Don’t bluff on this! If they decline to offer more, it becomes very awkward to then still accept)
  • The common salary ranges in the marketplace for the same kind of role is quite a bit higher
  • …or other considerations as well

Often, with a reasoned and non-threatening negotiation, an employer will reconsider and make a more suitable offer.

Then what?

At times, however, they may still not move. Then you have a decision to make… are you prepared to walk away? If they have not come up to a level you can accept, you can certainly let them know flatly that you cannot accept an offer below your minimum amount, but still hope an agreement can be reached.

If they then come up… terrific! If not, you know this wasn’t the right position for you and you can continue your job search with other organizations. Decline politely, and let them know that if things should change, you would like to hear from them again (they may change their minds later if they can’t find an acceptable substitute).

Nothing works every time, and at times you may have to be willing to walk away. However, following these guidelines your chances of a workable agreement improve dramatically!


Always Ask For More… Right?

The Salary Question

Do the Math!

I Got a Counter-Offer! Woo Hoo???

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