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Negotiating a Job Offer When the Salary is Not Ideal

Congratulations if you successfully made it through the job search and interview process to receive the job offer. Talking about salary may be a necessary part of your negotiation if you feel the salary offered is not ideal. You may think that the salary they offered is too low or you prefer something higher. However, there are a few things to think about before you jump into negotiations.

Determine a Realistic Salary

With the salary, do you want more money or do you need more money to live and is it a deal-breaker? The cost of living in that area may be lower than in other places, so the standard salary for that position can be lower as well. It may help to look at for the salaries in that area for positions similar to yours. That will give you a good idea of a reasonable range in which to start your negotiations.

There are several things that go into determining a salary. The organization’s budget as well as your education, skills, and experience may be used in calculating your salary. For example, some companies may pay a higher salary for a master’s degree or professional certification in a related area. Others may pay more based on the years of experience within that field or organization. Your research can help you determine your absolute minimum salary and where you might be flexible to consider other benefits instead of a higher salary.

Negotiating salary and benefits can be helpful to ensure that you are able to get by. However many individuals do not truly understand what their skills are worth, nor do they realize what income they need to sustain a household.

To help guide your negotiation process, research the salaries for your profession (i.e. online links, professional associations) and create an annual budget using the cost of living for a specific city that you plan to reside. Consider the cost of housing, utilities, phone, transportation, food, entertainment, clothing, and other purchases you expect to make. Don’t forget about federal and state income taxes. Sample budget spreadsheets and cost of living or salary information sites are available online to assist you.

Consider the Benefits

Although a higher salary may be ideal, some organizations may not be able to offer more money but they may be able to negotiate other benefits that can have a significant monetary value to you. Some benefits include tuition waivers or reimbursement, parking, company car, conference & travel funds, professional association dues, books, expense accounts, flexible schedules, vacation time, sick leave, paid holidays, moving & relocation costs, maternity/paternity leave, child care, future promotion/salary reviews, ideal office location, office furniture and electronics, medical/dental/life/disability insurance, cost-of-living adjustments, savings plans, stock options, profit-sharing plans, severance pay, and more.

Accepting a job offer is more than just about salary when it comes to finding a career you love. It is helpful to factor in all the other aspects that are important to you including your job tasks, professional development opportunities (promotion, advanced training), colleagues, supervisor, work schedule, flexibility, location, and anything else that matters such as whether the values of the organization and your management team are aligned with your own, if the aspects of the job will be enjoyable to you, and how you felt when you visited for the interview. For example, are you excited, unsure, or cautious when thinking about working at this organization? If most of these aspects seem positive, they may compensate for a lower salary. However, many times a higher salary will not compensate when other aspects of the job are not well-aligned with your personal preferences and lifestyle.

All of these aspects are helpful to consider when deciding if the job meets your long-term goals, especially if you will need to relocate. A transfer to a new place can be worth the time and energy to move your household, but not if you have to do it again in a year because you made the wrong decision. Consider everything that could impact your happiness and well-being on and off the job.


When you begin your negotiation, it does not hurt to ask for what you want, but realize that they can say no because they do not want to or cannot give you those things. Ask for your target salary and benefits but decide ahead of time the minimums you are willing to accept or where you are flexible if negotiation is not possible. For example, you could say “Thank you for the offer. I am very excited about working for you. However, the average salary for similar positions in this area appears to be $50,000. Therefore, I was hoping we might negotiate something in the range of $47,000 to $52,000; is there any possibility of that?”

Always be realistic and reasonable in your negotiations. If the employers see you as demanding and confrontational, they may reconsider whether they want you on their team. Creating a win/win situation and staying professional in the negotiation can be beneficial to your future with them. You may end up working with these people and this will be a part of your first impression!

Make Your Decision

Take your time when making your decision. It is beneficial to take the time you need to weigh out all of the factors of the job. Ideally, you should take anywhere from 24 hours to 2 weeks to make your choice so you can discuss it with those who may be affected by your decision. You may also be waiting to hear back from other companies regarding their job offers. Employers would like an answer quickly; however, it is acceptable to let the offering organization know that you need more time.

Once you have negotiated and agreed upon your employment terms, ask for the offer in writing and make sure they include everything you agreed upon in the document. This will help you when someone “forgets” the agreement or transitions from the organization, leaving you with a new supervisor who is unfamiliar with your agreement.

If you find that this is not the right place for you or they cannot offer you the salary or benefits you desire, decline politely. It is not professional to accept a job with one organization and then renege when a better offer comes along. You may use other job offers to negotiate, but once you have made a commitment to one organization, you are expected to fulfill that obligation. It can be scary saying no when you do not have another job offer. However, this can open you up to a better opportunity down the road.

Making a decision to accept a job offer includes many more aspects than just salary. Although salary seems to be a topic many people focus on when deciding to accept a job offer, the other benefits and aspects of the job can go a lot further to creating a career and life you love.

  • What insights did you gain from exploring other aspects in the job offer?
  • Did this perspective help with your decision?
  • How are you taking action today to consider all of the aspects of a job in finding a career and life you love?