Lowball Job Offer? 5 Steps to Take Now (and 2 Huge Mistakes to Avoid)

Posted by Adam Hoffarber on 12/6/23 9:37 AM
Adam Hoffarber
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After clearing every hurdle in the long and winding path to your new job, you’ve just gotten the word: they’re making you an offer. Congratulations. Or…. psych!

The offer comes in, alright. But it’s nowhere near the salary range you expected.

You’ve been lowballed, my friend. And even when I tell you the truth: that good employers sometimes make wrongheadedly low offers (even to perfect-fit candidates), you’re probably shocked and disappointed – and wondering if the whole process was just a giant waste of your time.

It wasn’t. All is not lost. If you take certain steps and avoid a few common mistakes, you have a good chance and bumping that offer up into a range that reflects the market value of the job and the value you bring to it.

Let’s start with those 2 common mistakes and how to avoid them.

Don’t take it personally.

You might feel insulted. But (assuming that you did your homework on this employer and you found that they’re an above-board, respected organization) keep this in mind: a respectable employer doesn’t through the grueling recruiting and interviewing process people only to knowingly offend their top candidate. They don’t.

So, why do employers do this Here are a few reasons I’ve seen: Sometimes, an organization has everything to offer(growth opportunities, exposure to senior leadership, a reputation that will shine on your resume) – except cash. Conversely, they may be able to afford you – but they’re working with old data (which happens more often than you might think). Or, as so often happens, they could have made an error when researching and analyzing the salary comps for the role. Whatever the reasons, getting lowballed is like getting the rug pulled out from under you, provoking all kinds of emotional reactions. 

But set the emotional stuff aside for now. It will cloud your judgment at a time when you to think clearly and analytically.

Don’t let your anger, indignation, or hurt feelings show.

Right now, you need the time to gather your thoughts, make solid decisions, and craft a pitch-perfect response. Your best first response is one that showcases your composure and grace in moments of surprise or disappointment. It is not the time to create the impression that you’re difficult.

 Follow THESE 7 STEPS instead.

1: Have a Neutral Initial Response Prepared (and ideally, Practiced)

File this rule away for next time: go into every offer conversation prepared for a surprise. When you’re ready with a short, polite, time-buying response, you’re far less likely to let any negativity leak out into your answer. Neutral responses are almost always best (see my one exception, below).  Think about it:  even if the offer sounds perfect, you’re being asked to make a big decision and you deserve the time to take it all in first. You may discover a few flaws after examining it more closely, giving you the chance to negotiate them before saying yes. So stay professional and upbeat but neutral.  For a lowball, keep it very short. “Thank you for your offer. I’d like to take some time to go through everything. Would it be alright for me to get back to you tomorrow?” 

In that moment, you’re not rejecting. You’re not negotiating anything. You’re merely signaling that you’re still engaged in the process but you’re going to go silent for a few hours or a day. And for many people, silence is uncomfortable. Be ready for that. The employer may immediately ask you why you need time. They may ask if you’re unhappy with the offer. It’s an understandable, human reaction. But do not take the bait! The conversation will invariably turn tense, undermining your negotiating power. If questioned, hold your ground while neutralizing the emotional part.  “I have a rule for myself whenever I’m making a big decision. I always step back to consider all variables first. So I’d be a lot more comfortable catching up with you tomorrow if that’s alright. I’m looking forward to connecting then.”

The only (rare) exception to that rule is if, in fact, you previously shared exactly what you needed in an offer (including salary, incentive comp, benefits coverage, perks, everything) and the employer delivers it all to you on a silver platter.

2: Analyze the Gap

Now that you’ve hung up the phone, vented to your best friend, and taken your 10 deep breaths, take a closer look at the offer in total. How far apart are you on salary? Do any other compensation components fill that gap? Equity in the company or stock options all carry a potential future value that could conceivably exceed your original desired salary rangeWhat about other benefits? Be sure you understand the breadth and value of health care and other benefits and perks.

Finally, is there other long-term value that comes with the job or employer, creating an easier path to substantially higher income in the future? Having your own answers to these questions will help shape your counteroffer.

3: Check Your Work and Analyze the Market

So far, we’ve been talking about how the offer measures up to the expectations and beliefs you brought into the situation. But maybe the offer is in line with the current market and your expectations were a little out of whack. It happens. You can’t really know what’s realistic without solid data. Research the role by job title. But don’t stop there. Because different companies may title similar jobs differently, research it by core responsibility. Use multiple resources, including any connections you have with people within the organization and other, similar companies. Download the SkyWater salary guide for your specialized field to research salary ranges for your role in the Minneapolis area.

Be sure to copy and organize everything you find and how that information translates into your compensation requirements. The more fact and detail you have, the better equipped you are to articulate a convincing counteroffer.

4: Prepare Your Counter Offer

How flexible can you be? At the end of the day, you must know two things: 

  • Rock Bottom, the very lowest salary you can accept, and,
  • The Salary You’ll Propose. 

The first is driven by your own financial needs and beliefs. The second must be driven by your research and fall within a realistic salary range. This is your range. If your range is more than 20% higher than the offer you received, you may need to get creative with other compensation or perks to close the gap.  Consider asking for a signing bonus. While it won’t improve your salary, it can be a big boost to your current finances. Extra vacation days, access to a company vehicle or flexible working hours might also soften the blow of a lower salary.  If nothing closes the gap, consider asking for a 3-month or 6-month salary review, tied to very specific performance parameters.

At the end of the day, if you believe in the company, want to be a part of it, and you’re financially able to live with the lower salary now, the gap between need and offer may not be as terrible as it first appeared. Similarly, if the salary is probationary, with short-term, clearly defined success goals and commensurate salary increases, the offer may work. 

5: Make Your Counter (But BEFORE you do, READ STEP 7)

Whether you’re doing this over the phone or via email, your counter should include four very specific components:

  • An upbeat reiteration of your admiration for the organization and your keen interest in becoming part of it;
  • a brief comment that, while the offer is below your range, you would like to propose something to close that gap;
  • a very short summary of the value you believe you will bring to the job, department, and/or organization;
  • the details of your counter;
  • a sincere thank you and a reaffirmation of your interest in the job.

6: Be Prepared for Something Less

And accept it – as long as it falls within your range. 

7: Be Prepared for a No

As you’re creating your counter, never forget this: the minute you make your counter, the ball is in their court. And they might walk away.

If you need this job – if your family or other life circumstances demand that you take this job, even at the lowball salary they’ve offered, then go for it. Use it to get back on your feet, do yourself proud at this job, and keep your eyes and options open for the next great opportunity.

What Should You Earn?

Download the most recent salary guide for your specialized field.


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