When the exhilaration of receiving a job offer is met with the cold water of a lowball salary, the crash can be brutal.
The WORST mistake you can do at this point is equate the number on the page with your value or worth.
Your value and worth is simply not being properly communicated.
It’s a communication issue, not a value judgment on you
And communication problems are often fixable! I’ll frequently coach jobseekers who are able to successfully re-frame things for an employer during the negotiation stage, and take offers to an acceptable place.
Here’s how to approach the situation:
STEP 1: Turn the Numbers into a Deal Point, Not the Deal Itself
Take a moment to look over the offer and place a number, 1-5, next to each offer point based on how important it is to you. In other words, base salary would get a 1, equity in the company might get a 2, and so on. Splitting it up like this is important, because you really don’t want to enter into the counter-offer stage with a “take it or leave it” attitude. You’re willing to advocate for what’s important to you, but you’re also open to sacrificing things that aren’t.
STEP 2: Probe for the Reason behind the Lowball Offer
When you’re in the room to present your counteroffer, always start by expressing how excited you are to be at this stage, and where we’ll be taking things once we’ve closed the offer. In other words, make it clear that you’ve already said yes in the larger sense, and are now just clearing up points on the road to that.
Now pivot to the salary, and frame it as a question. “One question I had was about the base salary listed here. In my research, the range for this position is considerably higher. Based on what I’m bringing to the table, I was looking for a number closer to ————. What can we do to bring this to that level?”
Notice the use of “we” in the last sentence. You’re making it clear that this is something you wish to partner on to solve. You’re not retreating to your tower and making demands. You’re hashing out some final concerns together.
Now, you’re going to get some kind of an answer here. And based on what it touches upon, you’re going to be able to start formulating an opinion on whether the lowball offer stems from the following:
1) Adversarial at all costs, winner takes all mentality.
2) They don’t fully appreciate the benefits of what you’ll be delivering for them.
3) They have a VERY strong pool of candidates they’re considering.
4) They’re Stalling for Time.
5) No room at all for a deal.
STEP 3: Bounce Back the Right Way
For situations #1 and #5, the best thing you can do is to politely bow out of the situation. There is no way that a company which takes a winner-take-all mentality towards new hires is going to be a good place to work at. And if you ask a few follow-up questions and come to the conclusion that this company truly cannot afford what you need compensation-wise to do the job, it’s perfectly fine to walk away. You’re going to be amazed at how quickly you get over something you walked away from when it was your self-worth at stake.
For situations #2 and #3, the key is to RE-STATE the unique value of what you’re bringing to the table before heading back to the numbers. In other words, take a step back and go over the main PAIN POINTS this company is dealing with. Share a story or two that sheds light on an aspect of your skillset that hasn’t been discussed before, or a VALUE ADD you bring that’s unique. If all else fails, whiteboard it, actually listing out the core aspects of your value and the overall benefit (whether in terms of profitability, costs saved, or any other metric) it will bring to the company. Now return to the numbers, and, if there’s some newfound give, be prepared to sacrifice some of the elements of the deal you listed as lower priorities in Step 1 in order to get the baseline numbers to an acceptable place.
Finally, for situation #4 the key is to put things on a specific timetable. If they’re telling you they need more time to make a decision or put together a counteroffer, make it clear that you’re amenable to that…as long as it’s received within the next week. You don’t have to bluff and say you’ve got other offers on the table. Simply communicating the fact that you’re actively pursuing other opportunities and need to make a decision soon should be enough. If they can adhere to it, great. If not, move on knowing you did everything you could.