“Hey Brian, I just completed an interview cycle for a job I was really interested in. I listened to your podcasts and really nailed the process, thank you so much, I had so much confidence throughout from your guidance and advice. My excitement continued to rise as I went further in the process and really liked the people I’d be working with and the projects I’d be part of. Then they made me an offer. And it was bad. I don’t know what to do now. I’m disheartened and worried...do I have to accept? What should I do?”
Kenton – amazing question and a frustration many have had before you, and many will after. I jumped this to the head of the discussion because I know time is of the essence for you so let’s dig in.
You must respond in some way, silence is not golden here. If it’s nothing but cricket sounds coming from you, that is unprofessional and lowers your negotiation wiggle room.
My suggestion: maintain a positive vibe, be transparent about how your a feeling and ask for time:
“Thank you for getting in touch! I’m excited to review the details when I receive the written offer. The salary is a bit lower than I was expecting, so I’ll need about a week to see if I can make it work.”
In this one email response, you’ve carried your enthusiasm through the conversation, made it clear you are not eye-to-eye right now, and need a little time. This is professional correspondence and puts them a little on notice you aren’t thrilled. You buy some time with a response like this so you can put together a plan, and you are being honest, “the salary is a bit lower than I was expecting, I need to see if I can make it work”
Remember, you have some leverage too. Don’t over play it, but they liked you enough to make an offer, they don’t want to lose you either.
From here, your discussions can be wide open:
You haven’t painted yourself in a corner, you’ve left your options open.
Personal Research: Spend some time in excel outlining all your expenses. You need to know your baseline living expenses, how much has to go out each month. The monthly ones are obvious [rent, food, electric, entertainment], but you also must account for yearly expenses – insurance, apparel, healthcare. Make sure to account for some of these essentials that don’t come up monthly, but must be considered.
Once you have a baseline of what living costs, you can take the salary they offered you and see if it is even feasible!
I had a job offer once in Seattle, on paper the offer sounded great but once you factored in cost of living in that area, monthly expenses etc., I would have had $62 in discretionary income each month. That was a margin too thin for me.
Professional Research: Go to a salary calculator and figure out what this job is worth. What are your skills worth? That research will help you realize if their offer is fair, or if it is below market value.
By the end of this research, you may find out their offer is fair, but it still doesn’t pencil for you. Then you must decide, will I change my monthly expenses & make life changes, or not? Or you may find out their offer is low, and you have some wiggle room. Put in the work, it will help you in every conversation from this point forward.
I heard a quote once from New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick that has nothing to do with negotiation, but I think of it often. It’s a super obvious quote, but sometimes the most powerful stuff doesn’t have to be flowery. He was talking about roster decisions, and a reporter asked if he was trying to be strategic when he cut someone hoping to slide them through waivers and later put them on the practice squad.
He said simply, “when you make the decision to cut someone, you have to be comfortable with the fact you will lose them. Strategies in this instance are really just hope.”
Simple. Honest. Direct.
For the purposes of our discussion, when negotiating, you must be comfortable with the fact it may not work out. The more you can convince yourself that you are trying to do what is best, but in the end it may not work out, gives you a mental edge.
Decide: Where is your leverage?
How will you cinvince your potential employer you are worth more than they are offering? Here are a few ideas:
Decide: What are you willing to compromise?
Negotiations aren't about demanding only what you want, it is a balance of what you want and are willing to compromise.
Decide: How will you present your case?
You have put in the work, ot how will you present your findings and negotiate the deal?
The best way to negotiate salary is in person or over the phone, but this can put you on the spot. Writing a salary negotiation script ahead of time is a terrific way to prevent mistakes under pressure. YOu have two options, negotiate for more salary, or negotiate for improved benefits.
Negotiate for Salary
Your first goal should be to move closer to your ideal salary. Start by expressing your excitement about the position, as this will indicate to the hiring manager that negotiating is likely to be a good time investment. Then, present your case. Mention the salary research you’ve done and suggest a rate of pay higher than your desired salary.
“I’ve done some research on similar positions in the area, and it seems like the average salary is somewhat higher than this offer. Would you consider [proposed salary]?”
Be specific with a number you want, it shows you have done your research and are clear and transparent in what you want.
Negotiate for Benefits
In some cases, particularly those where there is a fixed employee salary scale or at smaller companies with lower cash flow, the hiring manager may not be willing (or allowed) to offer you a higher starting salary. Luckily, there is another option to pursue before refusing a job because of salary alone. A common method for how to counter a low salary offer is to request certain benefits. Some benefits where you might have some wiggle room include:
Hopefully, the method above will help you bridge the gap and develop a job offer you can comfortably accept. If the lowball job offer stays under your minimum acceptable salary without compensating benefits, however, it’s time to consider looking for opportunities somewhere else.
Make sure that you leave the door open for any potential future opportunities at that company. A polite tone is key to how to decline a job offer due to salary without burning bridges.