How to Respond to An Unusually Low (Or High) Job Offer

Your third job interview is winding down, and your future boss finally makes a financial offer. But the salary is much lower than you expected. Or (good problem to have) the salary is much higher than you ever dreamed. What you do next can make a huge difference in your long-term finances. Here are steps to take.

offer not what expected

The offer is lower than you expected

Silence is golden

First, don’t say or do anything right away. If you’ve made it to the third interview and an offer, it’s clear the company wants you. That’s why it’s a good idea to wait before bringing up money. If you let the silence stretch on long enough, your future boss may become uncomfortable and make a higher offer.

Make the ask

If no higher offer is forthcoming, muster up all your tact, smile, and say, “I really would like the opportunity to work here. I was hoping for a higher starting salary. Are you able to go any higher at all?” Then, keep quiet again. Anything you say after that statement is likely to sound like rationalizing and backpedaling.

Plan to revisit

If your future boss doesn’t offer more money, ask her to revisit the issue in a set time period, for example, after three months. When “Alex” was offered a job as a receptionist at a cutting-edge veterinarian’s office, the proposed salary was not much more than minimum wage. Alex negotiated to be considered for a performance raise every month and to be added to profit-sharing after six months. Two weeks in, she had increased the vet’s profits by 50 percent and was promoted to practice administrator.

The vet kept his word about the raises. But those raises were tiny. Despite the uptick in profits, Alex’s monthly raises were only 25 cents an hour. The profit sharing never happened. Although Alex loved the work, she left after 18 months. Her additional advice: get any offers in writing.

Ask for other benefits

If your interviewer doesn’t or can’t offer more money, don’t walk away. Instead, be ready to ask for nonfinancial incentives that would make you happy. Consider asking for an extra week of vacation, the ability to work from home one or two days a week, educational benefits, and/or flexible hours.

Look at the industry and the long-term

Even if the offered salary is less than what you’re making now and less than your goal, look down the road. If your salary is topped out in your current job or career path and the new job gets you into a field where salaries keep going up, the lower salary could pay off later.

At “Leslie’s” first newspaper job out of college, pay was little more than minimum wage. One coworker complained she could make more money babysitting. But within two years, Leslie had scored a job at another newspaper paying almost double. In two more years, Leslie had doubled her salary again at Associated Press. Within seven years, Leslie was making five times that first meager check. Babysitting pay would not have increased 5X.

The offer is much higher than expected

If the job offer is more generous that you ever dreamed, do not let your surprise show on your face. Later in her career after earning a degree in a computer field, Alex was offered a job in California paying much more than she earned at the time on the East Coast. Because of the higher cost of living on the West Coast, she expected 10-15 percent more but not 33 percent more. She was shocked, in a good way.

When this happens to you, try to keep a straight face. It’s a good time to start asking questions. Ask about your responsibilities, what factors will determine growth and success, and what your future boss thinks you bring to the table.

Practice at home

Finally, to prepare for unexpected salary offers, practice at home in front of a mirror alone or with a partner. Have your partner offer you an almost insultingly low salary and practice your negotiating techniques. If you learn your lessons well, your hourly rate for those five minutes of silence and negotiating could be outstanding over the course of that position.

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