how to negotiate salary … without getting your offer pulled

I hear from a lot of people who are nervous about negotiating salary when they get a job offer. One of the most common negotiation questions I hear is “what if I try to negotiate and they pull the offer?”

It’s understandable that people worry about this. After all, when you’ve worked hard to get an offer and a potential paycheck is on the line, the prospect of jeopardizing that is nerve-wracking. Plus, there have been a few widely publicized stories of employers pulling offers after a candidate tried to negotiate, like this 2014 report about a college professor who lost a job offer after she asked for a fairly lengthy list of changes to the offer. In reality, though, the chances of an offer being revoked are low, as long as you navigate the offer stage appropriately.

Here’s what you need to know to negotiate salary without losing the offer altogether.

1. Most importantly, know this: If you handle the negotiation reasonably and professionally, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll lose the offer over it. Salary negotiation is a very normal part of business for employers. Reasonable employers are used to people negotiating and aren’t going to shocked that you’d attempt it. They might hold firm on their offer, but it’s very unlikely that an employer would revoke an offer simply because you asked for more money.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that no employer ever bristles when a candidate tries to negotiate. But it’s important to know that an employer who reacts badly to a polite negotiation is almost certainly unreasonable and dysfunctional in other ways too. If they penalize you for advocating for yourself in an utterly normal and accepted way, think of what that would mean for how they would likely treat you as an employee (including things like how they would respond to requests for time off or raises).

That said, the caveat above about you needing to handle the negotiation reasonably and professionally matters. That means…

2. Tone matters. The tone you use in negotiating matters because it can convey “I’m a professional who will be pleasant to work with, even when we’re talking about difficult things” or it can convey that you’re inappropriately aggressive, ego-driven, or even rude. You can still be forthright in explaining that you think your work is worth a higher salary, but you want to ensure that your tone sounds pleasant and collaborative, not adversarial. The note you’re striving for is one that says, “I’d love to accept this job, so let’s figure out if we can come up with a package that works for both of us.”

3. Responsiveness matters. During the negotiation process, hiring managers are watching you for clues about your level of interest and enthusiasm, especially if they’re going to bat to get a higher salary approved. If a hiring manager leaves you a voicemail in the middle of the negotiation process and you take several days to get back to them, or if you don’t respond by the time you say you will, it’s likely to appear that you’re starting to lose interest. The hiring manager may assume you’re focused on other employers or even that you’re using their offer to try to get a counteroffer from your current employer, and may end up concluding they’d be better off moving forward with a candidate who’s more invested in the job.

4. Your salary request needs to be reasonable for your position in the market. If you ask for a salary that’s wildly outside of the market rate for your work in your field and your geographic area, you risk looking out-of-touch and/or prohibitively out of the employer’s reach. For example, if you ask for twice the going rate for your work, most managers are going to conclude that you have an unrealistic sense of your own value or an ego that will make you difficult to work with. Or they might figure that your numbers are far enough apart that even if you did accept a lower offer, you won’t be happy with it for long. (The story about the professor whose offer was pulled is likely an example of this because she asked for a salary far outside the norm for the role, as well as an extensive list of perks on top of it.) That means that it’s important to do enough research that you know what a reasonable counteroffer would be for your field and location … which is also handy in evaluating whether the offer is a good one to start with.

But if you do your research and you approach the negotiation process pleasantly and enthusiastically, you should be able to negotiate without trepidation. And since that it’s nearly always easier to get more money at the offer stage than it is once you’re already working there, it’s important not to negotiating fear hold you back. Your future paychecks will thank you.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 55 comments… read them below }

  1. Lizabeth*

    This is timely, however, what if equity in the company comes into play with salary? Does that change anything?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Can you say more about exactly what type of situation you’re wondering about? In general, though, no, that wouldn’t change the basic advice.

      1. Captain Radish*

        I’m curious as to what happens when the new company finally is able to get off the ground.

      2. Lizabeth*

        In the job listing at the bottom it said this: This position is fulltime salaried position (with equity) and on-site…

        And I’ve not come across that before and was wondering how negotiating salary would come into play with equity in the company as part of the salary package?

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Oh! I think there’s a whole different post to be written there (although I am not the one to write it because it’s outside my expertise), but that this one applies — in terms of how to negotiate professionally and politely and not jeopardize the offer.

    2. BRR*

      Yup. I think when negotiating you need to consider the entire compensation package. I know at Amazon cash compensation stops at a relatively low level but they give you stock. But beyond stock you should consider the insurance, retirement matching, and another else that might be of value.

      1. BRR*

        I want to clarify that when I say yes to if it changes anything. I mean if you’re trying to negotiate a higher salary but are given a lot of equity in the company (thinking in terms of stock). You would still use everything in the article when discussing things.

        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

          I tend to look at bonuses warily, though, since they’re not guaranteed the way pay is.

          1. Jerry Vandesic*

            Great point Countess. Ask about how the bonus is calculated, and how it has been funded and paid out over the past five years. If they can’t or won’t tell you, factor that into how you discount their bonus target.

      2. Jerry Vandesic*

        Look at EVERYTHING. At my current job, I include base salary, 401k matching (it vests immediately, so I count it equally with base salary), bonus, equity, vacation, healthcare, educational reimbursements. Some things need to be discounted like equity, which depends on vesting, the viability of the company, and the type of equity (restricted stock vs. options). Once you have your list, total everything up, and that gives you a number you can compare with an offer.

        1. Jerry Vandesic*

          Also, the list needs to be YOUR list. If you don’t see any value in educational reimbursements, you probably don’t want to include it even if your offer includes a fantastic educational package.

    3. Pwyll*

      It shouldn’t, really. I’ve found that if you address Total Compensation, rather than just the salary dollar amount, employers can be more receptive. Benefits are expensive for companies, so acknowledging that you understand that and are seeking to negotiate on the entire package, and not just salary, has helped me in the past.

      Obviously, if you’re taking equity in the company, it changes the dynamic of the conversation, and the acceptability of certain types of questions that would otherwise be inappropriate. (For example, if a significant chunk of your compensation is going to come from equity/stock, you’d have more standing to request financial performance data on the company. It would be WAY out of touch for an employee on a straight salary to do so.)

      1. Stranger than fiction*

        Yeah and all the vesting details. If they give you options you can’t afford to purchase, what good is it.

    4. MechE31*

      I think it really depends on the type of equity. If it’s stock awards/RSU in an established company with an established value, it should 100% factor in when it comes to salary.

      If it’s a stock option, it has a significantly lower impact. These are most often associated with startups/early stage companies with possibly bright futures and there is no guarantee of anything. Startups with good equity may make you a millionaire, but more often they not, they don’t make it.

      Another thing to think about, plan on the purchase (options) and tax implications up front. I worked for an early stage company that took off while I was there and many people with options couldn’t make use of them when they left. I had to put out a large chunk of money to purchase my shares within 60 days of leaving and then an even bigger amount the following April to the IRS (which I get back over 4 years, google AMT “timing item”) with no payback for an extended duration. I saw people leave many times their annual salary on the table because they just couldn’t find a way to come up with very large burden up front.

      You may also want to investigate IRS form 83(b) up front to see if it may benefit you in your particular circumstances.

  2. BRR*

    So timely for me. I had an interview this morning and since this is the first job I’ve interviewed for where I’m not super desperate. Also because it’s a job hop (I’m partially desperate since I’m super unhappy in my current position) and I’ll be here for awhile, I can’t accept a low salary.

  3. Dave*

    This happened to me. I had an interview and was told they wanted to create a position for me, and that they hired for skills and talent rather than to fill specific roles. Great. They gave me a title, I did my research, and responded saying “My research indicates this would be a fair salary for the role as you described it; I hope we can use it as a starting point for further discussions. I’m willing to be flexible, depending on the complete compensation package including benefits and holidays.” I got an email a couple of days later saying that suddenly there were no open positions. (I KNEW that. You said you were creating one for me.) I replied back saying I was confused and emphasizing again that that was an initial figure as I hadn’t been told about any benefits or anything yet, and they never replied back.

    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante*

      Wow, and they had to take the disingenuous “no open positions” line with you, even! That’s some pretty cowardly operating on their part.

    2. hbc*

      It sounds great to have skills and talent waiting on the bench until you actually have to pay them for all that skill and talent.

  4. Penny for Your Thoughts*

    Great timing, Alison! I posted about this to Friday’s open thread. I had concerns about the wage I was offered for a part-time position and was told that what was offered was standard for starting, despite my experience in the field. (I never provided a number but just shared my concern.) I admittedly took several days and hadn’t responded yet when HR followed up with me to let me know the hiring manager was prepared to offer me more money. I’m not suggesting waiting it out will ensure that you get what you’re worth (this is still below my desired amount, but it is at least a better offer), but sometimes taking the time to think, reflect, and negotiate pays off.

  5. poorly paid...*

    Hoping you can answer my dilemma about this.
    I was offered a position, tried to negotiate salary, was told all they could afford was X, no negotiation. Because I was desperate for work (unemployed for almost a year), I took the job at a huge pay cut.
    Part of my job is payroll.
    The exec who told me there was absolutely no money for my position is getting a 15% bonus (almost $17k) PLUS an increase in her salary, an additional $10 grand a year. Person is already being paid more than 3 times my salary.

    How do I:
    A) get over it – I’m a lowly peon and will always be a lowly peon, destined to be among the working poor, making to much to get government assistance but not enough to pay my bills.
    and 2) How do I get more pay???

    The company also lost about 1/3 of its staff this year and is hiring new people, all getting much bigger salaries than my pittance. Payroll is clearly not for me.

    1. Lurker*

      This doesn’t necessary answer your question but if the executive’s position is endowed, then the money for that salary is restricted and can only be used for that; even if the exec were paid less it wouldn’t free up money for other staff/positions. I worked somewhere once where there was a salary freeze for two years. Very hard to swallow on an entry-level salary when it was a matter of public record that the director was making $500k +. But his was an endowed position which meant even if he made less, the money in the endowment couldn’t be used to give us ‘peons’ an increase.

      1. anonabon*

        But… Why? Pardon my ignorance, but unless this is a government position where funding is clearly and deliberately earmarked, and under immense public scrutiny, or a non-profit institution where money comes from donors and again is similarly earmarked… What makes an “endowment” untouchable? If it’s a private company, they can move money as they see fit. If it’s a public company, the issue can be presented to the Board for consideration.

    2. Jerry Vandesic*

      I’d recommend you start looking for a new job. They showed you where their moral compass is pointed, and it doesn’t align with your’s.

      1. Penny for Your Thoughts*

        Agreed! I would try to stick it out with this one for a little longer but start looking today. You can have a job that pays you what you are worth and that makes you feel valued. Don’t settle.
        And make sure you check out remote work. It may or may not come with a high salary, but the trade off is you do not have to spend money on gas (or tolls, if you live in a commuting area. also saves money in long term on vehicle maintenance since you are not driving as frequently).

      2. poorly paid...*

        yeah, took the job because I needed to pay the mortgage and couldnt’ get more unemployment pay.
        travel time & gas is killing me.
        looking for something new now; worried that the drop in my salary will affect my ability to negotiate elsewhere. :(

        1. Audiophile*

          I understand that. I just took a paycut myself when I was suddenly let go a month ago. I’m worried now, because this was a drop in salary by 5k.
          Most applications, I don’t fill out salary, unless it’s required to move forward in the online application.

    3. Slippy*

      You change jobs. If the exec is getting a raise, plus bonus, then there is money available and it is a question of what they prioritize. Looking at it another way, someone else sacrificed your raise to make sure the exec got his.

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The issue really isn’t what the exec is getting paid; the market range for her work is presumably different. The question is what the market rate is for your job, and whether they’re meeting that.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          That’s where you focus then — I’d leave the rest out of it. (But also, if you’ve only been there six months, it’s a little early since you did accept the salary pretty recently. I’d wait until it’s been a year.)

  6. AnAcademic*

    It’s also worth noting that academia generally handles hiring, salaries, salary negiotiations, raises, etc. very, very, very differently from the rest of the world. Norms are really different. I’ll comment more specifically when I get home from work.

    1. Lemon Zinger*

      Great point! I work in higher ed administration at a large public university. The general attitude I’ve gotten is that you CANNOT negotiate salary unless your job description changes (and even then, it’s very limited). I’ll still ask for a raise at my next performance evaluation, but I’m prepared to hear a flat “no,” which I will take as my cue to start looking for other jobs.

      1. fposte*

        The post is about negotiating salary with a job offer, though, and I think that academics isn’t as much as an outlier there as you two are making it sound. State universities will run more like government, but even within bands some negotiation can happen at hire.

        1. BRR*

          I took it as specifically professors. Besides that I don’t think academia is that much of an outlier. Maybe public schools more so than private ones.

          1. TCO*

            I work for a large public university (not as a professor/academic) and successfully negotiated my salary. That obviously varies widely based on department, school, and role, but people shouldn’t take it as gospel truth that negotiating is never possible at a university.

      2. Honeybee*

        You can indeed negotiate salary in academia – I’ve heard professors talk about negotiating their offer packages (including startup, office space, equipment, summer salary, etc.) and give tips about how to negotiate packages to their students entering the academic market.

    2. BRR*

      The regulara on the site know academia (speaking specifically to professors) operates in its own bubble haha.

    3. vpc*

      And also government – salaries and benefits tend to be fixed, no negotiation possible.

      1. Brett*

        Starting salary can quite often be negotiated with government, but benefits, raises, and promotional bands cannot.
        I would even say that negotiating starting salary is far more important in government than elsewhere, because so frequently that starting salary will directly fix your pay for the rest of your career.
        (That said, more often than not, you will only be brought in at the bottom of the range for starting salary.)

    4. Ghost Town*

      In my, admittedly limited experience, at a large state university, the only time you can really negotiate salary is when you are offered the position. Raises tend to be tied to the fiscal year (time-wise) and doled out according to the school/college/administrative band of your position. If you are able to reclassify your position, then you can negotiate for more money. If you move positions, you can negotiate for more money. But merit raises are not something I’ve seen or heard of actually happening.

  7. Jane*

    Curious on readers’ thoughts on the following scenario. What if the prospective employer tells you what the intended salary will be before the interview and asks if you want to move forward with your application with that in mind? Does that mean that you’ve essentially agreed to that salary and can’t negotiate? What if it comes up again in the interview – do you have to attempt to negotiate even though you’re nowhere near the offer stage (sounds like a bad idea)?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It wouldn’t be outrageous to try to negotiate for slightly more, but you can’t really ask for significantly more in good faith — they’re basically asking you to opt out now if you’d need more to accept the job.

    2. fposte*

      I think if they say “We’re looking at $50k for this position” you can say “Then I think it’s worth continuing the conversation” without committing to $50k on the nose, but you don’t continue the conversation if you couldn’t live with $50k. I can’t tell if you’re talking about a situation you experienced or are just thinking this through, but hammering salary repeatedly pre-interview and during interview would be unusual, and it would be worth asking yourself–and possibly them–questions. For instance, is this because they’re offering well below market rate and people are walking? Do you want to walk to where those others walked and make more money or continue discussion with this employer because there’s something you like here? Or are they just broke and scared of negotiating?

      Sometimes you can also ask for other compensation to be increased if they’re fixed on the salary. It’s sometimes easier to get some one-time funding, like relocation assistance, than a salary bump that changes a budget line, or conference funds, which benefits the employer as well.

    3. Chriama*

      Did they give you a number or modify it with something like ‘approximately’ or give a range? If the salary, based on job description and what you know so far about the job is below your bottom line then obviously don’t continue. But if you’d be willing to take it depending on the cost of benefits, typical weekly hours or other perks (e.g. telecommuting, flex time, professional development budget) then go ahead with the process and open negotiations with something like “Based on what I learned about the position/health insurance/whatever and skills x/experience y that I bring to the table, I’m looking for a salary of $z” where $Z is probably no more than 10-20% what you agreed to in the first conversation.

  8. Trout 'Waver*

    If anyone ever tries to punish you for attempting to negotiate, they’ve shown exactly what type of person they are and what working for them will be like. Above entry level positions, it’s expected for you to negotiate. It’s a sign of competence if you know what you’re worth and can advocate for it. And if the position truly is non-negotiable, they can simply say so and hold firm.

  9. Sunshine*

    Government jobs – is the negation process any different? My large city’s events programming division has some marketing/finance positions open with the salary and benefits already posted. Is this another case of don’t push too far for too much more since it was listed, or is a city/government funded job different and you need to accept as is? I’d love to negotiate for future education opportunities, but I think our city just cut tuition rembursement a few years ago and it didn’t seem like the place to ask for a one off exception.

    1. Chriama*

      I would honestly take money over education opportunities unless they can prove they have a strong professional development program that’s well documented and easy to use. I don’t want to be promised money to go to a conference 6 months later and then hear that it’s not allowed because of policy or whatever.

    2. vpc*

      It tends to be different, and non-negotiable — salaries and benefits are a matter of public record and a particular position is assigned to a particular pay band. It may be possible to argue that your past education/experience qualifies you for the higher end of the pay band when you start and it may not, depending on the individual government’s rules: it could be that everyone starts at the bottom rung and can move up with exceptional performance reviews after a set period of time; it could be that everyone moves up after a set period regardless of performance; it could be that you are brought in at a higher or lower rung based on other factors. It’s worth asking if there’s room for negotiation – but don’t be surprised if you get an absolute no from either the hiring manager or HR.

      Future education opportunities are a little bit different than salaries in government in my experience. They are a benefit that is offered to all employees, or no employees, and the availability of the benefit will likely be set either by statute or by blanket policy and will be the same for all agencies of your government (federal, state, or local). So if your city cut tuition reimbursement, they probably won’t be able to make any exceptions. On the other hand, it may come back in the future.

    3. Brett*

      In my experience with government, few people actually take advantage of education opportunities outside tuition reimbursement. If you are aggressive with training requests, you will get them (particularly if those training requests relate directly to advancing your directly relevant skills).
      I used to request 15-20 days of conferences or offsite training a year, and rarely had them denied. The main trick was the location of the training. Palm Springs at a $300/night hotel plus airfare? Wasn’t going to happen. Kansas City at a $100/night hotel and driving? Sure. Anywhere with federal reimbursement or a grant paying the bill? Always approved. (I actually specifically looked for training in cities where I had relatives. Every time I could offset training costs by staying with relatives and not having to pay a cent for hotel, it was approved.)

  10. Marcela*

    Hey friends, are you still here? I need help with the negotiations. I was offered a job today, and I want to negotiate for an extra week of holidays (the offer is for 15 days of holidays and pto), and also I need to ask for time off next october for my parents’ visit. I do not want to mess up this and I’m sweating to find words to describe what I want, considering that perhaps I won’t use the company’s health benefits, so I could ask for more money too(?) :( Could I ask your help with words?

  11. Tammy*

    I was offered a promotion at my current company that is 2 levels higher than where I currently am. The offer wasn’t pulled, but it was cut in half (went from 15% increase to 7% increase). Their final offer was less than their first offer (10%), and their final offer was less than what they told me the base level was for the position.

    Has this happened to anyone before? I’ve negotiated salary for every position I’ve had (~10 years experience in the science industry), and I’ve NEVER had a company take money off the table.

    I declined the position, and ~2 months later, they offered it to me again. No increase in base pay. I asked to negotiate other items in lieu of a higher percentage. They offered me 1 week of PTO.

    If I don’t accept the position, they will post it externally. This is a lead/experienced position in a highly regulated environment, and the thought of that happening would be a nightmare. Likely what would happen is that this external person gets the measley pay, and I do all the work.

    I have a hard time accepting the position based on principle. I feel completely disrespected. Do I just need to get over it? What are your thoughts? If you think I should accept, is it okay to let them know that I am unhappy and basically chose the lesser of 2 evils?

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