February 14, 2017

That’s Not Enough Money! Five Ways to Approach A Bad Job Offer

by Scott Thompson

One of my candidates recently shared a story with me about his last job. A very successful and qualified professional, he received a bad offer from an insurance agency. What was his response? To laugh at the hiring manager, act insulted, and tell them that they would have to come up with something better to get him. After all, he is unique and highly skilled. Would you handle the situation similarly? I’m guessing you would say no, but if that was everyone’s answer these examples wouldn’t exist. From time to time, emotions get the best of us. When you’re invested in a job search, this situation plays out more often than you think.


  1. Your salary needs haven’t been adequately communicated
  2. The company is limited by their budget (otherwise described as ‘internal equity’)
  3. The original position’s range has changed, or you assumed the high end while the company meant the low number
  4. You have unrealistic expectations
  5. The salary reflects the level of position but not your skills
  6. The company leaves room for merit increases (based on performance and tenure)

You’ll notice that I didn’t list… because they really don’t want to hire you and want to make you mad.


1. Take a deep breath!

Remember, the company doesn’t mean any disrespect.

2. Use Terminology Like ‘Expectations’, ‘Needs’, & ‘Goals’.

Be direct. Never dance around the subject. Say, “I want $X.” Share factors like:

  • Recent compensation history
  • Personal goals and considerations

3. Negotiate.

The first thing I tell people about negotiating salary is that the road has one of three prongs:

  1. The company will be receptive AND change
  2. The company will be appreciative but NOT change
  3. The company WILL change (by pulling the offer)

If you’re worried about #2 and scared to death about #3, consider items like benefits contributions and PTO where you can trade one for the other to be more satisfied.

4. Thank the Company for the Job Offer. Ask for Time to Think About It.

Even if you know that the offer won’t work for you, thank them for it. It’s good manners! Thank them for the offer and ask if you can think about it for a day or two. Give them a specific time frame like – can I get back to you by Tuesday? Remember that time kills all deals and that you shouldn’t try to push it farther than 24 – 72 hours. When you get back to them, start out by thanking them again. From there, tell them that you are really excited about the position but can’t make it work at this level. Tell them that you would be happy to accept if they can get as close as possible to $X.

5. Don’t Deal in Absolutes.

Don’t start your negotiation with an ultimatum! People don’t respond well to them. Soften your approach by using words like close, near, and about. Finally, give them options. Make statements like,  “I’d really like a higher salary but I could also look at a higher bonus potential.” However, only give these options if you are truly comfortable with all outcomes. It’s kind of like the salary range. You can’t give an option to soften things and then be mad because they chose the option you didn’t want.

Final Thoughts

When a company makes a job offer, it is because they like you, want you to be a part of their organization, and value you.

Companies are fallible and sometimes just don’t understand the strategy behind making a good first offer. That said, most of the time they are open to adjustments that satisfy your needs.

Do not respond with emotion like a wounded puppy…. Don’t tie your ego to our salary; in our culture, we use salary is an estimation of self-worth. Money means nothing more often than it means everything.


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