How to negotiate salary after a lowball offer

How to negotiate salary after a lowball offer

Beth takes on a tricky new money question—and offers expert advice on how to resolve it and how to talk it over in constructive ways.


The situation

I just got offered a job at my dream company, and I really like the woman I’d be working for. I’m somewhat overqualified, but I know other people there who started in this same position and moved up quickly. The bad news is the salary. I was almost insulted when the hiring manager told me they were offering $44,000. I was hoping for at least $55,000. After all, I just earned a master’s in my field. This seemed like it could be my big break, and now I’m feeling anxious and, to be honest, really turned off from this industry that I was so excited about.

—Ken, Baltimore

The solution

First, congrats on the job offer! Let’s not lose sight of the good news: A company you would love to work for decided that you’re their top candidate. You’re doing something—probably a lot of things—right. That said, I get why you’re disappointed. A lowball offer can be a real bummer.

But don’t despair. In a recent survey by the employment website CareerBuilder, more than half of employers revealed that when they extend a salary offer, it’s less than what they’d be willing to pay. And roughly a quarter of employers who offer a lower salary said that their first offer is at least $5,000 less than their “real” number. What this shows is that many hiring managers are not only trying to save money, but they are also willing to negotiate salary. But that same survey found that more than half of workers fail to do so when they’ve received an offer but haven’t yet been hired—and yet that’s when you have the most leverage with a new boss. Negotiate your best salary now so that you set yourself up to earn more in the future.

Here are five tips for dealing with a lowball offer.

  1.  Figure out if you are truly being lowballed. I’m assuming you know what average salaries are in your field. If you don’t, do your research, like, now. (Ideally, you’d have done this before you applied for the job, but it’s not too late.) Websites such as,, and are a good place to start. And you have one serious advantage: You know people who work at this company. Discreetly pick their brains—their info will be much more specific than what you’ll find online. Even if they won’t reveal their exact salary, they may be willing to give you an average range for a given job or department. In general, people love to help, especially if you’re just starting out. Once you’ve done your homework, you should have an idea of whether you’ve received an unusually low offer, an offer that’s on the lower end of average, or an offer that isn’t low after all. If the offer turns out to be generous by industry standards, it’s OK—and even smart—to just take it.
  2. Ask for a rationale. You can’t decide whether or how to negotiate if you’re flying blind. You need to ask the hiring manager how the company arrived at the offered salary. It’s OK if you already said you were going to think about the offer—it’s not the end of the negotiation but the beginning. Start by saying that you’re very interested in the job, so your hesitancy isn’t interpreted as lack of interest. Then politely mention that there’s a gap between what they offered and what you were hoping for, and you’d like to understand how the employer arrived at their number. Maybe you’ll learn that this salary is pegged to your education or other training, your experience, or your former salary—or it could be dictated strictly by the job title, in which case that master’s degree might not count for as much as you’d hoped. In some cases, there really may be no wiggle room—say this job is in the public sector, and salary is pegged to a bureaucratically determined pay schedule. Whatever you learn, it will be helpful in determining your next steps.
  3. Keep a level head. It’s tempting to feel insulted, undervalued, and exploited when you get a low offer. But think about it. This company is trying to woo you. Odds are, they want this to work out. If you get angry or defensive, or accuse the hiring manager of bad faith, you could sour this relationship before it starts. As long as you remain at the bargaining table, keep things pleasant and straightforward. Doing so will help you to feel more in control, not less.
  4. Cite specific evidence for your counteroffer. Decide what your ideal number is. (Once again, a range can be helpful.) But don’t stop there. Give specific reasons—your advanced degrees/training, your accomplishments at your last job, any special skills/contacts/etc. that will help you flourish in your new role. Focus on what you will bring to the company, and the requirements of the new role, not what you’ve been paid in the past (especially if that pay was low). If it helps to move the ball, are they willing to give you additional responsibilities—and a more senior title—for a salary bump?
  5. Get creative. If the hiring manager can’t or won’t budge, then it’s time to look at other benefits that might offer some flexibility. Can they offer extra vacation days? Maybe a performance review in six months—rather than the company’s standard 12—with the possibility of a raise if it’s positive? What about reimbursement for moving expenses, or a signing bonus that won’t officially appear as “salary”?
  6. Be willing to walk away. What if the hiring manager won’t budge, and you know for a fact that you’re truly being lowballed? You can still take the job, but beware that this could be a red flag for a business that doesn’t value its employees or is too cash-strapped to pay the industry standard. Walking away might be hard, but it’s better than taking a position and knowing that you’ll immediately be job-hunting again for better pay.

A final word: Don’t let success go to your head. If the company does offer you more money, it may be tempting to get greedy and ask for extra vacation days, too. Don’t. You’ve gotten what you wanted (or some of it, anyway). So be gracious. Once again, you’re setting the tone for an ongoing relationship. Good luck out there!

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