Ten Steps to Negotiating a Lowball Job Offer

What can you do if you receive a lowball job offer that you don’t want to accept?

The Internal Equity Negotiation

Consider using employers’ favorite argument to control the high end of salaries for new hires — internal equity.

The argument goes like this, “We know that you might be able to command a higher salary in the market. We would like to pay you more, but doing so would upset our internal equity. We would be paying you more than we pay your peers.”

In my experience, employers mean it when they say this to candidates. They do want to hire the person. They do want to offer a salary high enough to get a yes.

However, they don’t want to upset the person’s peers, and perhaps their entire salary structure, by offering the person more than they’re already paying their peers.

In fact, a 2016 recruiter survey (p.33) conducted by Kimberly Schneiderman for RiseSmart found that 44% of participants are reluctant to consider candidates who don’t fit their budget parameters.

Ten Steps

Thus, if you receive a lowball job offer that you won’t accept because of the money, consider this approach:

  1. Tell the negotiator that you are very excited about (a) the company, (b) the job they have offered, and (c) the people who would be your colleagues.
  2. Reiterate the benefits the company would experience by hiring you.
  3. Express your disappointment about the offer.
  4. Ask the negotiator about the salary range for the job. You want to assess your upside. Even if they don’t answer, they will be reminded of the  lowball nature of their offer.
  5. Ask the negotiator if their offer is in line with what the company pays the people who would be your peers. Again, a reminder of the lowball nature of their offer.
  6. If the negotiator won’t answer your question, note that and say, “I would like to do this job. I will say yes to an offer of [this amount].”
  7. If the negotiator answers your question, and the offer is equitable, then it’s unlikely they will make an offer that upsets their internal equity.
  8. If it’s not equitable, ask, “Do you really want to pay me less than you’re paying my peers?”
  9. Summarize what you have heard. Then say, “Internal equity is important to me. I want this job. I will say yes to an offer that is line with what you pay my peers.”
  10. Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If the money is the only thing holding you back from saying yes, then make a counter offer.

How to Play Hardball

If you are an AWESOME candidate (close to a 10/10 here), then read two superb posts on how to play hardball here and here.

I write executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Save time. Get hired. Email me at donnasvei@gmail.com for more information.

Image: Fotolia/Argus

Updated October 2016

Comments 8

  1. Donna, I might take a slightly different shorter approach. Just thank them for their time, wish them good luck, and ask them for other positions we might be able to explore together. After all, if it is truly a lowball offer, then why waste time negotiating over 10’s of 1,000’s of dollars?

    Aidan, If you would take the job for a higher number, I’d give it a go. Many offers do turn out to be negotiable. Donna

  2. Donna, I don’t know how I missed this one. I love the whole thing: great insights re: addressing suboptimal offers but also very practical steps a candidate can follow–as usual. I particularly liked the suggestions to summarize with “I heard…”. So important in avoiding miscommunications!

    Another great one, Donna!

    Thank you Ed. Hope you’re finding a way to stay cool. Donna

  3. Donna,
    I like the train of thought, and would add two comments:
    I think the candidate’s value in the marketplace could be even a stronger arguement than what the company pays his/her peers: “Based on what I am seeing for similar positions, I think you may be undermarket for a person with my skills and experience. I’ve seen other positions that are $xx thousand higher.”
    Also, I think the TONE of the negotiation is as important as the content. The candidate has to be careful to emphasize the value to the employer of paying what he/she is asking, not just the value to the employee: “Wouldn’t it be to your advantage to achieve internal parity between peers; wouldn’t you want to know that if a recruiter calls me in a year, I won’t take the call – because I have no issue with my compensation?”

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