Salary negotiation

Should you negotiate a lowball job offer? Templates and tips

We discuss winning strategies to negotiate lowball job offers.

You just landed an amazing job offer, but the starting salary is way too low.

You might feel upset, frustrated, or undervalued, and you probably don't know why you got a lowball offer. Lowball offers can be given for any number of reasons, from a legitimate inability to afford you to a thinly veiled attempt to take advantage of you. Although it may be difficult, it's best to proceed with an open mind and a belief that your potential employer values you. Extend this optimism to your negotiation potential as well-- if the offer is that low, there could be a lot of room to improve it!

What to Do Before You Start Negotiating

React as neutrally as possible

If you haven't responded to the offer yet, do so in a way that does not reveal your thoughts on it to maintain your leverage. Thank them for the offer, confirm the numbers (especially if the offer was verbal), and let them know you'll get back to them soon.

Thank you for giving me the details of the offer. Let me review this with my family and I'll follow up with my decision.

Ask for time to consider the offer

Ask for a few days to think things over. Give them a definitive time frame in which they can expect your response, preferably around 2-3 business days. This will give you an opportunity to strategize while respecting the employer's timeline.

Since this is a big decision, I want to take some time to think things over. Let me get back to you on Thursday.

Decide on a negotiation strategy

Depending on the company, the offer, and personal comfort levels, your strategy may vary. Here are the two main buckets they might fall within:

Making a counter offer: 

If you have the time and energy to research, draft a proposal, and stand your ground, this can be a good path to take. Most employers expect some degree of salary negotiation. If your proposal is realistic, research-backed, and respectful (instead of overly aggressive), it just might work.

Expressing disappointment outright:

If the salary offer is particularly low (say, 3/4 of what you would have been willing to accept), and you're willing to make things a tiny bit awkward with your potential employer, this may be the strategy for you. This involves letting the employer know you're disappointed in hopes that they'll reconsider-- see below for details.

During this phase, you should also decide whether to negotiate on your own or enlist the help of a negotiation service. These companies can help you with specific, personalized talking points and strategies to help you negotiate a better offer (hint: Candor is one of them!).

Decide whether it’s worth negotiating at all

In some cases, the chances of you getting a higher compensation package are low. These may include:

  1. When the employer insists that’s the best they can offer.
  2. When you dig a little deeper and discover that for your position, location, and experience, the amount they offer is fair.
  3. When you sincerely doubt your own ability to keep a level head throughout the process— negotiating while angry is likely to burn bridges.
  4. When the job isn’t worth the emotional strain of negotiation (i.e. you’re just not that passionate about it).
  5. When the role is entry level or a designed for students, like an internship.

Jumping Into Negotiation

Beginning the negotiation process can be intimidating. We'll explore the two primary frameworks you can follow: making a counter offer or expressing disappointment outright.

1. Making A Counter Offer

Know what's important to you

Before you put together a plan, determine which aspects of your offer you'd like to change. Is raising your base salary the goal, or were you unhappy with the signing bonus? Or do you simply want to negotiate for better perks, like more vacation time? Entering the negotiation process with a goal in mind will to do things:

  1. Help you keep a clear head and consistent message
  2. Provide a jumping off point for your research!

Do your research

A counter offer proposal needs to be well-backed. You should develop a thorough understanding of the salary range for that job title, taking location (and therefore cost of living) into account. Be sure to look into other factors that matter to you as well, whether it's equity, signing bonus, or other perks.

Take advantage of any digital resources you can find, from reliable tech blogs to salary/benefits databases. If you know someone within the industry that you're comfortable asking, they may be able to provide insight into average salary and perks as well.

Determine your value

This one requires some research too, and it's very important. Your value makes up the backbone of your case, helping you justify a higher salary, better stock options, or an improvement in other aspects of the compensation package.

There are a number of factors that contribute to your worth in the eyes of the company, including experience, skills, the market value of the job, and how much the company needs you. When in doubt, look into digital "know your worth" tools and guides. Salary negotiation services can often help you determine your value as well.

Use the information you find from this search to build an argument-- why should the employer give you more compensation? What do you bring to the table and what aspects of your value did they overlook?

Aim a little higher

Now that you know what you want, what the company can offer, and what you might be able to get, it's time to figure out some definitive numbers. Based on all the research and soul searching you've done, this part should be pretty easy-- what is reasonable to ask for and how will you argue that you deserve it?

Here's the key, though: those shouldn't be the numbers you present to your prospective employer. Give them numbers that are slightly higher than the minimum you'll accept. Exactly how much higher is up to you, but avoid presenting a counter offer greater than 25% above the original offer. out of the blue - these situations require a deeper strategy than just a counter offer.

Keep a level head

These negotiations can be emotionally taxing, and the feelings of frustration from being lowballed can bubble to the surface.

However, it's important to remain even-tempered throughout the negotiation, whether it's virtual or in-person. Express your continued enthusiasm for the job (just because you're disappointed in the offer doesn't mean you're disappointed in the role) and choose your words carefully.

Using confrontational language or making demands (instead of requests) will put an employer off. Show respect, understanding, and a willingness to talk things through.

2. Expressing Disappointment Outright

Determine your value (and the value the job has to you)

To determine your value, consider the same factors we outlined under "making a counter offer". In this case, however, you may want to consider your personal situation as well.

  1. Do you need this job?
  2. How does the compensation compare to that of your current role?
  3. Would your current company be willing to sweeten the deal and incentivize you to stay?

Overall, you want to determine how much you want this job and how much this company wants you.

Know your minimum

Determine a minimum salary expectation. This is the absolute lowest offer you are willing to accept for the job. Keep this number in mind as you move forward with your communications.

Since this strategy is meant to be embraced by those who have been lowballed severely, your minimum salary expectation may be quite a bit higher than the offer. That's alright, as long as you're prepared to stand your ground and walk away if things don't turn out in your favor-- accepting an excessively low salary offer now can follow you for the rest of your career.

Express disappointment appropriately

When you reach out to the recruiter, express your gratitude for the offer and continued desire to work at the company. Then, let them know that the offer was a bit disappointing.

Don't use aggressive language or dig deeply into your disappointment- just touch on the fact that it was underwhelming, did not meet expectations, or is below the typical pay for this position and level (based on your research). If there was a specific aspect of the offer that upset you, it's alright to include that as well (i.e. "I was a bit disappointed in the signing bonus"). Then, ask if there is any room for flexibility, or potential improvements that can be made to the offer.

Does all of this sound difficult to navigate? We've got you covered. If you're unsure of what to say, check out our email templates below.

Email Templates to Lean on

Making a counter offer

We recommend doing all negotiation over the phone. However if you want to try making a counter offer via email, it's important to include a few things:

  1. Express your continued excitement regarding the company and the role
  2. Discuss why you are the best candidate for the position -- this is the time to bring in those value-enhancing qualities you found earlier.
  3. Include a statement of the total compensation package you were offered.
  4. Detail your full counter offer, including numbers and the reasons behind them-- this is a time to bring in value-enhancing qualities and other research you did on the typical position salary.
  5. Re-emphasize your interest and appreciation for their consideration, as well as any key points you'd like them to reflect on.
  6. Express your willingness to discuss the counter offer further. Meeting in person is likely the best way to accomplish this.

Here's an example of what this might look like...

Expressing disappointment outright

When expressing disappointment via email, it's important to include a few things:

  1. Express your continued excitement regarding the company and the role
  2. Discuss why you are the best candidate for the position -- this is the time to bring in those value-enhancing qualities you found earlier.
  3. State your disappointment in mild terms, including a brief statement about what upsets you within the offer.
  4. Ask if they are willing to make improvements, or if there is any wiggle room within whichever aspects of the offer you're concerned with.
  5. Thank them for their consideration and express your excitement to hear back soon.

Here's an example of what this might look like...

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