You’ve received a job offer for the job of your dreams but it’s lower than you expected—what do you do now? You’ve invested a lot of time and energy to reach this point but it isn’t over yet.
Before you enthusiastically accept the offer on the spot, consider this. Almost three-quarters of U.S. employers would be willing to negotiate salary on an initial job offer. Yet, less than half the U.S. workers ask for a higher salary when offered a new position, according to a recent CareerBuilder study.
Sadly, this means money is being left on the table. By not attempting to negotiate, you’ll miss the best opportunity to bring home more money. But what if the offer is unacceptable to you? If this really is a dream job, or just a job you really want, consider moving into the negotiation phase by making a counter proposal (otherwise known as a counter offer) to the employer. That’s what this article is all about.
It lays out the key salary negotiation strategies to keep in mind so you’re armed with the information you need to negotiate. You’ll learn what to do before, during and after salary negotiations. It also covers one key tool—the salary counter proposal letter, or counter offer letter—as a way to negotiate more desirable terms for the job offer.
Before Salary Negotiation
Do your research.
Make sure you thoroughly evaluate the job’s salary range, taking into consideration geographic, economic, industry, and company-specific factors that might affect the salary.
But don’t stop there—try to obtain information on the employer’s standard benefits package and policies around paid time off, flexible or remote work, or other elements of the job that are important to you. Keep in mind, you can negotiate more than just salary—more on that soon.
You need to have a job offer before you can negotiate.
Avoid trying to negotiate during the interview. You’ll have more power to negotiate when the employer is completely sold on you as the best candidate for the position.
If you must provide a salary, ask what range the employer has budgeted first. If the employer continues to push you for a salary, the best strategy is to provide a range.
What to do when the offer is extended?
When the offer is extended, respond by thanking the interviewer and be sure to express your interest in the job. Then ask how long you have to consider the offer and who to contact when you’ve made a decision. This is a major life decision which requires careful consideration.
Remember, you have the greatest negotiation power between the time the employer makes the original offer and the time you accept the final offer. Once you accept an offer, you have little to no room to negotiate.
Negotiate to your strength.
If you are an experienced negotiator, call the employer and ask for a follow-up meeting to discuss a counter proposal. If you communicate better in writing, follow our guidelines for writing a salary counter proposal letter, or counter offer letter (below).
During Salary Negotiation
Enter negotiations with a win-win attitude.
Remind the employer of the impact you will make, the problems you will solve, and/or the revenue you will generate.
You want a better deal, but the employer also needs to feel as though they got a good deal too.
Continue to express interest and enthusiasm for the job and the company.
Never make demands. Instead, raise questions and make requests during negotiations. Keep the tone conversational, not confrontational.
Begin by asking for a slightly higher salary.
Ask for a slightly higher salary than you’re are willing to accept so that when the employer counters your proposal, the salary should be near your ideal goal.
Justify your request by talking about the cost savings or increased sales revenue, productivity, or efficiencies you will add.
Salary isn’t the only way to increase your earnings.
Consider negotiating for a signing bonus, higher performance bonuses, or a shorter time frame for a performance review and raise.
Always negotiate salary first, and then move on to other elements of the job offer you want to negotiate. Don’t get greedy. If the salary negotiated is what you asked for, you may not push as hard trying to negotiate for other terms.
Be prepared for a variety of reactions.
You must prepare yourself for a variety of potential reactions to your counter proposal or counter offer letter. Get prepped for everything from complete acceptance to agreeing to some concessions to refusal to negotiate.
Be willing to walk away.
Don’t accept an offer you know doesn’t meet your requirements, unless, however, you really need or want the job. If this is the case, you’ll need to be more careful in your negotiations.
If a decision is need immediately . . .
If you should experience an employer who wants a decision immediately, consider long and hard whether you want to work for a company making such demands. This might be a red flag indicating other behaviors or policies that are less focused on the needs of employees.
What if you have you have multiple offers?
If you have multiple job offers, don’t put the companies into a bidding war for your services; it rarely works out.
After Negotiating Your Offer
Once the employer agrees to your compensation requests . . .
Once the employer agrees to your compensation requests, the negotiations are over. You cannot ask for anything more. You may come across as greedy and the employer may withdraw or rescind the offer.
Always be sure to get the final offer in writing.
Be extremely wary of companies that are not willing to do so. One advantage of writing a counter offer letter is that you list the terms of the offer in your letter.
Getting the final offer down on paper is an absolute must. Let’s repeat that: getting the final offer down on paper is an absolute must.
Writing the Counter Proposal/Counter Offer Letter
This is the basic structure for a counter offer letter to a job offer. The goal is to position items you wish to negotiate as requests and provide justifications.
This paragraph is critical in setting up the tone and direction of the negotiations. Be direct and sincere in expressing your interest for the company, thanking the employer for the job offer. Be sure to reiterate how you will make an impact on the organization.
Restate the specific element from the original offer that you wish to negotiate, followed by your counter proposal. It’s best to provide justification as to why you feel you are worthy of your counter offer, whether it be research, a desire to be fairly compensated, or the value you will bring to the company. If you have more than one item you want to negotiate, add a new paragraph for each using the same logic.
Close your counter offer letter by emphasizing how much you look forward to accepting the job offer and joining the team. You can also include a new paragraph for any items in the offer that you need clarification on or require more information, such as bonus plans, or confidentiality or non-compete agreements.
Negotiable Elements of a Job Offer
signing bonus, performance bonus, profit-sharing, deferred compensation, severance package, stock options
temporary living allowance, closing costs, house-hunting, travel expenses, re-employment expenses for spouse or partner
paid time off (number of days or eligibility), insurance (medical, dental, vision, life, disability), automobile (or other transportation) allowance, parking, professional training/conference attendance, continuing education (tuition reimbursement), professional memberships
telecommuting, work hours and flexibility, frequency of performance reviews, job title/role/duties, location/office, starting date, performance standards/goals
Additional Salary Negotiation Help
LiveCareer has additional resources to assist you with all thing salary. Take a look!
Sample Job Offer Counter Proposal Letter:
What does a salary negotiation counter proposal/counter offer letter look like? See our sample counter proposal letter.
Salary Negotiation Resources:
Peruse our hefty resources section for additional salary articles, plus FAQs and a list of the best outside salary resources. Also be sure to check out our handy Salary Calculator. Know your worth!
Any Additional Questions? If you have lingering questions about any of the terminology used in this article, get more information on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
About the Author
Hannah Morgan is the founder of CareerSherpa.net. She is also a widely recognized speaker on job search topics, and the author of The Infographic Resume (McGraw Hill Education, 2014).
Hannah’s experiences in human resources, outplacement services, workforce development, and career services have equipped her with a 360-degree perspective on what it takes to land a job in today’s fast-paced, ever-changing employment landscape. Recognized by media and career professionals as an advocate for job seekers, Hannah speaks and writes regularly about using social media, personal branding, and other advanced strategies to help job seekers take control of their job search. She is frequently quoted in local and national publications, and writes a weekly column for U.S. News & World Report. Hannah is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University.