You Got a Job Offer But The Salary Is Less Than You Expected – What Now?
Salary negotiations are a common and predictable part of any hiring process. As the candidate, you should anticipate that immediately after you receive that exciting job offer phone call there’s a likely chance that things will move immediately into negotiations. As a result, it benefits any prospective job seeker to prepare in advance for what to do in the event that the package you get offered doesn’t quite meet your hopes or expectations.
Here are the important considerations to start thinking through now so you’re prepared to take the appropriate steps and make the right decision when the time comes.
Understand the company, position, and the market rate.
One of the most common mistakes that many job applicants make is being misinformed or unrealistic about the market rate of a position. In preparation for this exact moment many applicants will cruise over to a site like PayScale, punch in their would-be job title and then immediately take the median salary from the resulting page as gospel. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t take into account the many factors unique to each employer, applicant, and position. Before you begin setting your salary expectations and planning your negotiation you should consider the following:
- Company location. While this may seem obvious it’s often an overlooked aspect of compensation planning. When looking at average salaries for different roles it’s important to keep in mind that the data contains figures from that same role as featured in New York City or Silicon Valley as well as data from small towns. So while the average pay for a given role may technically be $60k per year, if you’re in a lower cost of living market that figure could be significantly lower.
- Job responsibilities vs job title. As above, it’s easy to look up a given job title and find data points around what an average compensation package may look like. However, one incredibly common tactic in the recruiting world is to alter job titles to drive applicant volume. For example, the job title “Editor” could refer to someone who manages content strategy, calendars, and assignments for a bullpen of writers in the more traditional publication sense. It could also refer to someone who simply proofs and edits existing collateral in the vein of what would otherwise be called a “proofreader”. The problem here is that while these two positions could feasibly have the same title they are vastly different in terms of responsibilities and salary. So it’s important when you’re Googling average salaries to factor not just the job title but also what the equivalent role and responsibilities would be.
- Company size and role value. Budgets are a real thing and for most companies payroll is one of the largest expenses that they have to tangle with. This means that when push comes to shove certain roles are simply more critical to a company’s operation and success than others. As a result, it’s important to set expectations and be realistic about both what a company can afford as well as what your pursued role is worth to them. Smaller companies will inevitably have smaller budgets and that means that salaries are probably not in the upper quadrant of average compensation packages compared to what a larger company could offer. In that same theme, it’s important to be realistic about the company’s need for a given role and how much they could or should value it. A small software company that does little marketing and seldom appears in the news has limited need for a comms professional and likely won’t be interested in paying top dollar for the best PR consultant in town regardless of how skilled or experienced they are. They simply don’t need that professional or that expense.
So, what next?
Before you plan out your next steps it’s important to consider why the offer may have come in lower than you expected or think it should have. While it’s impossible to know the actual answer without just outright asking, preparing for a negotiation is much easier if you have a rough idea of what you’re getting yourself into. Some of the more common reasons are as follows:
- The company prices their positions on a cheaper market area and thus is scaling down how much they think the role should be paid.
- The role is not core to the company’s revenue or business and as a result is less valuable to them so they’re unwilling to match a competitive salary.
- They expect a negotiation and are creating a lower starting point so any counter offers instead bring the salary up to market rate rather than over.
- Your resume has gaps in experience or knowledge that the company is factoring in their offer to you.
- The company’s total compensation package (including time off, benefits, bonuses, etc.) is generous and the company is trimming base salary offers as a result.
As you’re thinking these over you’ll want to make a mental note of the likely reality and mentally prepare yourself for what that could mean for your employment and negotiation. Some of these scenarios could be serious red flags. For example, if you’re applying for a marketing job in a company that primarily does software development and the open position is one of only two in the department then the low salary could be a warning of things to come. A low initial offer could foreshadow limited growth opportunities in the future for the role and continually disappointing compensation.
Open up the conversation.
Now it’s time to start a dialogue with your contact in HR. In approaching this topic you’ll want to be direct but armed with appropriate information. If the topic of salary came up during your interview and you had previously offered an expected range then you’ll want to cite that in your negotiation now. Consider phrasing like “While I appreciate this offer, the included salary does not fall within the range we previously discussed. Can we discuss this?”.
If salary wasn’t discussed during the interview then you’ll instead need to build and argue a case. In this situation you’ll want to cite relevant facts to explain where you’re coming from and highlight the validity of your ask. Including important elements of your qualifications that should increase your value to the company in the associated role and industry benchmarks around compensation, applicant competitiveness, and the job market are all useful ways to illustrate your position.
Typically you’re going to get a very binary response, either the company is open to a negotiation or they’re not and from here things tend to move quickly toward a conclusion. If the company isn’t open to a negotiation then you’ll want to take this into serious consideration as it could be a bad sign about the position’s future or how much the company value’s this type of work.
If they are open to a negotiation then you’ll need to press your case and have a salary goal in mind. This goal could be the amount you originally requested in the interview or may be something you need to come up with now. In either case, you’ll want it to be reasonable and backed up by justifiable data points either from the job market or from your own qualifications. Resist the urge to “highball” your offer with the expectation that the company will meet you in the middle. In many cases, an outrageous or unreasonable starting position will simply send a negative message to the company that you’re not worth dealing with or may be more trouble than you’re worth. This is especially true if the position has other qualified applicants in the waiting. Only in a situation where the applicant holds a significant amount of leverage is this tactic worth risking.
If the company is willing to negotiate with you but won’t rise to your requested salary then you’ll need to factor the position compared to the compensation. If the company is making up for the lack of salary in other areas with benefits, lifestyle perks, or holds other variables that are valuable to you (like a short commute) then it may still be worth taking the lower offer. You may also want to ask what the growth opportunities look like at the company and factor that into your decision. A lower salary may be worth dealing with today if there’s the prospect to make up the difference in a quick 12 or 24 months. However, keep in mind that a lower starting salary means you’ll be spending your first year or two with the company trying to make up for the ground you couldn’t cover in the negotiation.
Ultimately, while these situations can be frustrating and anxiety-inducing they’re very common. Keep that in mind when engaging with your recruiter or HR rep, they deal with these kinds of conversations constantly and won’t be flustered or irritated by an applicant asking to negotiate on salary. In these situations the best possible advice is that you be thorough and advocate for yourself as these initial conversations can set the tone for your entire experience in your next position.