Getting Lowballed on That Salary Offer? Here Are 7 Tips to Talk it Up

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Let’s be real: Negotiating your salary can be scary. So scary, in fact, that nearly three in five U.S. employees accepted the first salary they were offered. But ask yourself: Would you be willing to step outside your comfort zone if it meant you could earn an extra $7,500 a year?

In the study highlighted above, Glassdoor found that the average American worker could be earning $7,528, or 13.3 percent, more per year than his or her current annual base salary.

Multiply that by however many years you have left in the workforce, and it soon becomes clear that failing to negotiate can cost you big time — especially if a recruiter reaches out with a less-than-stellar job offer.

The good news? You don’t have to settle for less than what you deserve. The next time you get an underwhelming offer, use one of these strategies to level the playing field.

1. Do Your Research

It’s pretty difficult to get paid fairly if you don’t even know what fair pay looks like. So before you start negotiating, make sure to look up what you should expect to make.

“Respond to the offer with well-researched salary data — check Glassdoor to better understand what similar positions in your area are getting paid. This tactic works well if the data proves that the offer is low,” says Marielle Smith, VP of People at GoodHire. For a customized look at your market worth, use Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth calculator to get a free, personalized salary estimate based on your job title, location, years of experience and more.

If a company’s offer is reasonably close to what your market value is, counter with a number that’s between 10% and 20% above their offer, suggests Josh Doody, author of Fearless Salary Negotiation — try using the tactics below to inform your specific approach.

If the offer is not even close to what you want, though, you may need to push the reset button. (More on that later).

2. Ask for an Explanation

If you’re caught off guard by a lowball offer, there’s nothing wrong with asking how the company arrived at that particular number.

“Get curious about how the potential employer arrived at the salary offered,” recommends Executive Therapeutic Coach Lisa Pepper-Satkin.

An employer’s salary justification might reveal that they relied on outdated or inaccurate information. It’s that the case, you can gently correct them in order to push for a higher salary — e.g. “Based on your explanation, it sounds like the salary range was created for someone with two to three years of experience. However, I have five years of experience and hope to be compensated accordingly.”

3. Get the Recruiter on Your Side

As the saying goes, you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. Translation: If you want a higher salary, it’s best to ask nicely.

“It’s tempting to balk at a lowball offer and act indignant. While this may be effective in some circumstances, the cooperative approach works better for most people,” says career consultant Christopher K. Lee of PurposeRedeemed. “Reaffirm your skills and interest in the company. You want [the recruiter] to go to bat for you with upper management to approve a higher salary. This works because you show that you are truly interested in the job; the only piece to be solved is the compensation.”

To highlight what a great fit you are for the company, get specific. For example: “I was so impressed by your company and its mission to help small businesses succeed, and I really think that my experience in growth marketing would help you find creative ways to get in front of your target audience. The one thing holding me back is the salary. If I can get an additional $5,000, I’m on board.”

4. Tie it Back to Business Value

You’re in a great position to negotiate if your role would have a direct impact on the company’s revenue. After all, that means your salary isn’t just an overhead cost — it’s an investment.

“Show how your work directly adds to the company’s bottom line with actionable steps you’re able to take from day one. Explain why those steps would justify a much higher salary,” suggests operations and strategy expert Anna Nguyenova. “Your job is to convince them that you’re not just another ‘replaceable’ employee, but a rare talent they need to help drive the business.”

This will be all the more powerful if you can cite concrete data points from your work history. For example, a top-performing salesperson might say “Given that I was able to bring in $250,000 for my current company last quarter, a $10,000 increase in base salary would be entirely appropriate.”  

5. Highlight Another Offer

Companies put in a lot of time, effort and budget into finding talented employees, so the last thing they want is for another firm to snatch them up at the last minute. If a different company has extended you a higher offer, sharing that information can motivate an employer to up the ante.

“You can simply say, ‘I really enjoy your team and company. However, I do have another offer with a company that I like very much as well. They came in [at] $20,000 more than you did. If you can match or beat that, then I’d love to join you,’” suggests Brianna Rooney, founder and CEO of recruiting company Techees.

6. Think Outside the Paycheck

Some companies, especially if they’re smaller, really can’t budge on their starting offer even if they would like to. If that’s the case, it’s worth seeing if they would be open to compensating for that with additional benefits.

Figure out which benefits matter most to you — whether it’s a flexible schedule, more vacation days, a bonus or something else entirely — and ask if your potential employer could sweeten the deal. Just say something like “The salary is below what I was hoping for, but if I could work from home twice a week, I would happily accept your offer.”

7. Be Prepared to Walk Away

Not everybody is in the position to turn down a job offer — but if you can, you may want to consider it in cases where the compensation is significantly below what you were expecting.

If company officials can’t meet you halfway, it’s time to thank them for the opportunity and let them know you aren’t able to accept their offer.

You may end up calling their bluff and have them respond with a more generous offer, but it’s also possible that the two of you will simply decide to part ways. That way, they can find someone within their budget and you are free to pursue a company that will truly honor your worth.

There’s no doubt that negotiating can be intimidating, but a brief period of discomfort is nothing compared to years of lost earnings.

Emily Moore is a Senior Staff Writer for Glassdoor, one of the world’s largest job and recruiting sites. Glassdoor combines millions of jobs with valuable data to make it easy for people to find a job that fits their life while also helping employers hire quality talent.