9 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?

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. And 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.

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 the company, the job they have offered, and the people who would be your colleagues. Reiterate the benefits the company would experience by hiring you.
  2. Express your disappointment about the offer.
  3. Ask the negotiator what the salary range is for the job. If questioned, explain that you want to assess how much upside compensation potential the job holds. Whether they answer or not, this will remind the negotiator of the lowball nature of their offer.
  4. Ask the negotiator if the salary they have offered is in line with what the company currently pays the people who would be your peers. Again, whether they answer or not, this will remind the negotiator of the lowball nature of their offer.
  5. 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].”
  6. If the negotiator answers your question, and the offer is equitable, then consider one more time whether or not you want to work for the company. It’s unlikely they will make an offer that upsets their internal equity.
  7. If it’s not, ask “Do you really want to pay me less than you’re paying my peers?”
  8. Acknowledge their response by repeating a summary of 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.”
  9. Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If the money is the only thing holding you back from saying yes, make a counter offer.

I write executive resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Save time. Get hired. Email me at donnasvei@gmail.com or call me at (208) 721-0131.

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Comments 8

  1. Aidan Foley

    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. Ed Han

    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. Mark Bregman

    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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