How to Counter a Hideous Lowball Salary Offer

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There you sit, staring at the offer letter in your inbox. You’ve been chosen. The job title is the same as your current company, but it’s a new market with an exciting learning curve and a significant jump in responsibility that you are so right for.
“Congratulations!” it starts. “We are happy to offer you the position of Account Manager.” And you’re pumped until you read on. The salary offered is only 2K north of what you’re making now. The more you read, the more you realize the cost of accepting the position is huge.
“Your starting salary is almost exactly what you’re earning now. We’re so thrilled that you’re willing to move from Atlanta to Chicago with no relocation benefits or signing bonus to offset the annual bonus you’re leaving on the table to join us. Even though you have 20 days of PTO now, we are thrilled to have you start at zero because we know you have a serious learning curve and will want to work your ass off year one and won’t want to take any time off. And by the way, we suggest moving close by because we’re a small company and offer no commuting benefits.”
I know I’m being satirical, but real people, real clients, are routinely being lowballed in this manner. And you, my friend, do not want to be one of those real people who say yes without making a counter offer, even if the company sticks to their number, and you ultimately decide not to accept.

If you don’t ask, you won’t get. Anything. And most companies and hiring managers expect you to negotiate—even if they feign shock and awe when you do. So here are some tips to consider:

If you make a counter offer and your future boss doubles down (“our offer is incredibly generous and I’m shocked you’re asking for more”), realize it’s a hardball tactic, not an attack on your character.

Press for more information instead of defending your counter. Say, “I see my request didn’t land so well. Can you explain your reaction?” The answer you hear will reveal information about culture and fit, and fuel your decision-making process.

If you are completely stonewalled, DON’T SETTLE. Say thanks for the opportunity and move on. There are more fish in the sea.

In my experience, walking away will produce one of two outcomes: crickets, or a counter to your counter. Perhaps not in the moment, but in a few hours or days. 

We have covered this information in past newsletters and posts, but it bears repeating. In your initial interview process with a recruiter, do not answer the “current salary” question. It’s none of their business and doing so perpetuates the wage gap.

(By the way, asking your current salary is now illegal in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and all of California. Info on that here.)
Employers will tell you that they can’t take you forward in the process until you reveal that information, but stay calm. Tell them, “I’m looking for a salary in the $120K range.”
If they persist and say, “That’s great, but I have to complete this form with your current salary or you’ll be disqualified from consideration,” you can respond by saying, “I’m happy to tell you that my current salary of $105K is under market by $20K.”
You can do this!