How To Handle A Salary Counter Offer

By Chris Kolmar - Oct. 27, 2020

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Receiving a job offer can initially seem like you’ve made it to the finish line of the application process. You’ve established your value well enough to get hired, and that’s a very exciting thing. You should give yourself a proud pat on the back, breathe a sigh of relief, and prepare to look into the details of their offer.

In a perfect world, a company’s starting salary and benefits will line up perfectly with your expectations. That’s not always the case, though. Finding yourself with a knot in your stomach from receiving a job offer for an ideal position with a less than ideal salary can be worrisome at the very least.

The thought of turning down a position you’ve worked so hard to secure is enough to lead a lot of people to make the wrong decision. Either by accepting less than they’re worth or by turning it down without further negotiations.

Negotiating a salary can sound intimidating, however, at this point in the hiring process, you actually have more power than any other. Once an employer has decided that they want you there’s a high chance that they’re willing to negotiate to reach a place where you’re both satisfied.

The process of salary or benefits negotiations begins with the employer making a counteroffer.

What Is a Counter Offer?

A counter offer is set forth by an employee to their prospective or current employer. An employee or applicant might issue a counteroffer when they feel that the original offer is too low. There are a few reasons why the candidate may consider the proposed salary insufficient.

These may include:

  • Being below the market standard for position and field

  • Having a great deal of experience or education

  • Length of time within the company (if counter offering a promotion or raise)

A counteroffer may be initiated by an employer if an employee receives a better salary proposal by a competitor to retain their talent.

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Should You Counter Offer?

Debating on submitting a counteroffer to a potential employer when receiving an opening offer that you’re not completely happy with depends on a couple of aspects.

Some things to consider before reaching out with a counteroffer include:

  • What’s the market average salary range of your position with your level of experience?

  • How long have you been working in the field?

  • Do you have a degree or other certificates in your field?

  • What salary range were you expecting before receiving the offer?

  • Are you willing to turn down the job if they cannot meet your bottom line?

These questions are important because they help decipher if you have a strong case for a higher salary range.

For example, the average salary of a retail manager is $32k-72k annually. An applicant for a retail position with five years of prior management experience who receives an offer of $32,000/yr would probably have a good chance to effectively negotiate a higher salary based on market average with experience.

Sometimes, extra benefits can be more valuable than a higher salary. Consider what benefits you can suggest, or would be happy accepting if the company is firm on their salary offer.

Don’t attempt to negotiate a higher salary just to get more money for the sake of it if the initial offer is up to your expectation. If you don’t need to send a counteroffer, it’s better to just move ahead with the hiring process.

Examples of Possible Benefits Include:

  • Stock Options

  • Extra vacation and sick days

  • Floating holidays

  • Work from home days

  • Tuition reimbursement

  • Retirement benefits

  • Health insurance

  • Life insurance

  • Defined bonuses

How Much Compensation to Target

If you’ve decided that you’re objectively worth more based on your skills and experience, you need to decide what your target compensation and salary requirements are. You should have a clear idea about what you’re looking to get prior to negotiating. This is the time to be realistic about the facts when it comes to your past work and what your position usually gets paid.

Before settling on a range you’ll be happy with, do your research. There are no excuses for going into negotiations unprepared with relevant information about market standards for the exact position and responsibilities the job will have. Use the internet to your advantage.

Helpful information could include an average salary for:

  • The title, field, and position

  • Your skills, experience, and education

  • The geographical location

When finalizing your ideal salary range, be sure that the lower number of your range is still a survivable wage, even if it’s the absolute lowest you’re willing to take. Some employers may lean towards the lower end of your requirements, even if you’ve made a strong appeal. You don’t want to offer something that you’re really not comfortable taking.

Additionally, be wary of submitting a counter offer that seems unfeasible and doesn’t line up with your qualifications or market average. A salary range offer that’s too high may lead the employer to assume you’re too expensive and move onto another applicant.

What Can Happen When You Counter

The outcome of your counter offer will often depend on the strength of your negotiation skills and the employer’s flexibility. The aftermath of negotiations may very well go along effortlessly and both parties leave feeling satisfied. It doesn’t always go so smoothly, though, and you should be prepared for that alternative.

It’s very possible that an organization simply doesn’t have it in their budget to offer you more than they already have. Or perhaps, they may be off-put by the back and forth of negotiations and simply resend the offer altogether. Maybe, they aren’t willing to negotiate a salary raise but do offer you five extra vacation days a year.

You truly will never know what is going to happen in your circumstance until you reach out and submit a counter offer.

How to Negotiate a Counter Offer

  1. Take Your Time and Keep In Touch. Once you’ve received a job offer, you don’t want to leave their proposal hanging around in cyberspace for days on end. You should be excited about the position and express this excitement. Respond to their offer with your gratitude and give them a clear timeline for when you’ll be in touch after fair consideration of their offer.

    There’s no need to feel pressure to decide right away unless it’s been established that the company needs you to start by a specific day. It was a process for the employer to decide on you as the perfect candidate, and similarly, it will take time for you to appraise their offer. Use this time wisely, and do research into why you deserve a higher salary.

  2. Be Likable. The hiring manager is likely already impressed with your credentials and the way you handle yourself based on the interview. It’s important to continue this impression throughout negotiations. Remember that although you’re coming from a strong negotiating stance, half the battle in securing a higher offer is the employer wanting to give it to you.

    Nobody wants to accommodate someone who they don’t like. In negotiations, there are a few behaviors that you should avoid especially.

    Some examples of behaviors that could make you less likable during negotiations include:

    • Seeming greedy

    • Being demanding

    • Cockiness

    • Pettiness

    • Being too pushy

    Some examples of behaviors that will make you more likable include:

    • Being polite

    • Gracious attitude

    • Strategic and clear communication

    • Honesty

  3. Consider Benefits Other than a Higher Salary. In the event that an employer can’t move on their salary offer, take into consideration what benefits or perks would be most valuable to you instead. Benefits can be immensely helpful and can sometimes account for a lower salary.

    Some examples of non-salary benefits you could ask for include:

    • A sign-on bonus

    • An extra week of paid vacation time every year

    • Additional sick days

    • Coverage for relocation expenses

    • Commuting assistance

    • Work from home days

    • An earlier performance evaluation for promotion

  4. Explain Politely Why You Deserve Your Request. Strong negotiation skills coincide with the ability to communicate clearly. The fact of the matter is that an employer is never going to give you something that they don’t believe you deserve. Part of negotiating is explaining why you’re worth the investment of a higher salary or extra benefits.

    In addition to explaining what it is you want, you should also be detailing why it’s appropriate for the circumstance. This could involve your years of prior experience, particular skills, and education. In the event you don’t have reasoning to back up your request, it’s probably time to reevaluate.

    You should try to maintain modesty. Even if you know you’re a highly-skilled candidate. It’s more impactful to give examples of how exceptional your performance has been, as opposed to simply stating that you’re valuable.

  5. Be Understanding. Just like you’re hoping that the prospective company will be understanding of your needs, you should also be understanding of theirs. All organizations have their constraints. You should have respect for these needs and maintain a respectful position.

    Try to view the negotiations as an open discussion rather than a series of demands. People are more responsive to a tone of collaboration than they are to being told what to do. Ask lots of questions about the company’s needs and try to form your requests around these needs.

  6. Submit your Request All At Once. Negotiating should be straightforward with minimal back and forth. To accommodate this negotiation format, include the entirety of your request in your first counter offer. Whether it be over email or in person, it’s best not to leave out anything that you want to cover.

    Receiving lagging additional requests can seem like a nuisance to employers and lead them to lose enthusiasm for bringing you onto the team.

  7. Focus on What is Most Important to You. When you’re submitting a counteroffer, you should go into it understanding that you might not get every little thing you want. You should narrow your requests down to what is most important to you. If you could afford to stick with the lower salary, but need extra paid days off or work from home time to accommodate your schedule that should be the focal point.

    A disorganized counteroffer that doesn’t highlight your most important needs could result in you getting less, or even nothing.

  8. Know Your Value. One of the most crucial aspects of negotiating for a prospective employee is knowing your worth. This doesn’t mean the subjective qualities that make you unique. Rather, you should be accentuating fact-based attributes that increase your value to an employer.

    A lot of knowing your true value comes from conducting in-depth research into the average salary for a candidate with your qualifications for your position. Your research can also touch upon standard benefits packages.

    Remind the employer why you’re the best candidate for the job and worth a little negotiation.

  9. Always Remember you Can Walk Away. Sometimes, negotiations won’t go as planned. You and the hiring manager may just not be seeing eye-to-eye on what your salary should be and there seems to be no progress.

    You should never accept a job offer that you don’t feel satisfied with. Part of the negotiation process is to remember that you always have the option of walking away and respectfully declining an offer.

    This may be the last resort for most applicants, but it happens. If this does turn out to be the conclusion of your counteroffer, accept it and move on to better opportunities. You may even find that looking into alternative offers works out to the benefit of your career.

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Chris Kolmar

Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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