Negotiation Skills

6 Tips for Negotiating an Offer During Widespread Budget Cuts

woman negotiates job offer over the phone

It’s normal to feel insecure or have doubts when you discuss the terms of your employment—salary negotiations are designed to discourage counteroffers. Even during periods of economic growth and low unemployment, wages across the U.S. have been down for decades. According to the Economic Policy Institute, between 1979 – 2018, productivity rose by 69.6%, but hourly wages only increased by 11.6% (after adjusting for inflation).  

Most Americans believe their salary will rise in tandem with the value of their work, and if there’s a discrepancy between an employer’s offer and a candidate’s target salary, it subverts those expectations. If you receive a lower offer than you want or expect, it might challenge your confidence or shake your sense of reality. It might even feel embarrassing. But studies on wage suppression demonstrate a widespread pattern that goes beyond your individual qualifications and labor value—other influences are at play that don’t reflect on you or your work. 

Today’s economy is centered around a monopsony—the Roosevelt Institute estimates about 60% of labor markets are highly concentrated, which means workers have limited options when it comes to finding a suitable employer. Non-compete clauses can further restrict worker mobility and negotiating power. These conditions combined with the economic fallout of COVID-19 add pressure to job seekers struggling to find the next move in their career.  

Here’s a list of techniques you can use to advocate for a better job offer during a recession. 

How to Negotiate a Job Offer During Widespread Budget Cuts

Investigate the salary range for the role.

If the employer is a large company and you know you’re not the only candidate pending review, call the HR department and ask about the salary range for the position. Even if the salary isn’t included in the public job posting, many businesses are willing to give this information over the phone. 

Talk about auxiliary perks or “benefits in kind.”

Your salary isn’t the only item that’s up for negotiation. Consider some of these fringe benefits that might make the offer more attractive:  

  • 401(k) matching 
  • Health, dental, and vision coverage 
  • Tuition reimbursement for yourself and/or a dependent 
  • Company equity and stock 
  • Memberships and subscriptions 
  • Position title and job description 
  • Company car 
  • Training and certifications 
  • Eligibility for bonuses 
  • Commission 
  • Scheduling flexibility  
  • Additional PTO, sick time, and family leave 
  • Health and wellness stipends 
  • A platform for promoting your work—for example, opportunities to speak at public engagements, publishing credentials, etc. 

Demonstrate your value.

Show quantitative and qualitative data about your project outcomes and how you can apply these skills to help the business. Be creative—you might find, for example, you can contribute to two departments. If you can fulfill more of the employer’s needs than they expected to receive from a new hire, they might be willing to extend the salary offer. Focus your pitch around a shared future with the employer that’s as beneficial to them as it will be to you. 

negotiating during performance reviewWait until conditions change.

Ask to revisit the terms of your employment after the next budgetary review. As an alternative, you could also request consideration for a raise or bonus that’s contingent on a 6-month review. 

Know when to walk away.

Be polite but firm when discussing your requirements and what you have to offer to the company. If you’re unhappy with the job offer, consider your other options. If you can wait to find the right opportunity, that might create a better long-term outcome than taking a role that will make you unhappy or jeopardize your reputation. 

Don’t lose your perspective.

During mass layoffs and furloughs, it might seem strange to negotiate. Should you be happy just to receive an offer at all in the middle of a crisis?  

Yes and no. First, the fact that you’re still talking with employers proves that you have a lot to offer. It means your resume stood out among hundreds if not thousands of other applicants. You should be grateful for the work you’ve achieved and the opportunities that led you here.  

But gratitude doesn’t mean you should take whatever an employer offers to you. Be confident during negotiations, and don’t feel guilty for asking a business to pay you fairly.  


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About the Author

Rachel Lake is a writer and editor in New York City. She holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. To get in touch with Rachel, contact her on LinkedIn.