How Do You Handle the ‘Low-Ball’ Salary Offer?

InterviewJob SearchPersonal Branding

Editor’s Note: This blog is a modified excerpt from professional “headhunter” and bestselling job-hunting book author Skip Freeman’s next book in the “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets series of job-hunting books, Career Stalled? Publication is scheduled for late fall.


You literally breezed through all the preliminary “screening” steps in your quest to land a GREAT new job at a GREAT company that’s a recognized leader in your industry. And three months after beginning your quest, you have just completed your third face-to-face interview with the hiring manager. At every step along the way you clearly branded yourself as the candidate of choice. You feel absolutely certain that a job offer is imminent!

Several days later your feelings are justified. The hiring manager calls you and offers you the position! There is, however, just one tiny little “problem” with the offer—the annual salary being offered is nearly $5,000 less than what you earn at your current employer!

Welcome to the wonderful world of the “low-ball” salary offer. While somewhat of a rare occurrence, it does indeed happen in today’s job market, particularly among the larger companies that are leaders in their industries. Why do some of these leading companies engage in this practice? The quick, easy answer is, because they can! Or at least they can until there is a greater equilibrium between the supply of candidates and the number of available career opportunities.

To say that you are totally flabbergasted by the salary offer is of course a gross understatement. What happened?! How could you and the hiring manager be so far “out of sync” on salary?! Certainly, by the time an offer is made, both you, the candidate, and the hiring manager should reasonably be on “the same page.”

When you (diplomatically) express your “disappointment” with the salary offer to the hiring manager, here is how she explains her (and by implication, the company’s) rationale:

“As I am sure you are aware, since we are a leader in our industry, we have a constant influx of top-notch candidates seeking positions with us. And, while our salaries for new employees are not necessarily the highest in the industry, they still are very competitive. Once these new hires prove themselves within our company, the sky literally can be the limit, though. That’s the kind of opportunity we’re offering you.

“We understand that you are going to have to take a slight step backward in order to ultimately move ahead with our company, but once you do prove yourself to us, we offer unparalleled career opportunities.”

Your initial reaction (silent, I hope) to the hiring manager’s “explanation” about the salary offer is likely to be something along these lines: “Bull feathers” (or words to that effect). My professional advice? No matter how tempting it may be, no matter how “insulted” you may feel, do NOT automatically dismiss the offer out of hand. Thank the hiring manager for the offer and tell her that you will need a day or two to seriously consider it. Then, after you hang up the phone, take a deep, deep breath and ask yourself these key questions:

  • Is this career opportunity really so tremendous that you should seriously consider taking two steps (or more) backward in order to (possibly) later make a quantum leap forward in your career?
  • What effect, if any, will taking a salary “cut” have on your professional brand, particularly at your new company, if you decide to take the position? (“We were able to hire him/her ‘on the cheap.’”)
  • Is your level of dissatisfaction with your current job so high that you will consider any new position with a company you perceive as “better,” even if it involves a reduced salary?
  • What other career opportunities have you developed (or are you developing) during your new job search that also have potential for coming to fruition? How do these opportunities stack up with the one you’re currently considering?
  • Do you think (or believe) that there might be at least some room for salary negotiation with the hiring manager? If not, here is another suggestion: Try negotiating a “signing bonus” of $10,000. That would make up for the salary reduction for two years and give you “breathing room” until you can “prove” yourself on the job?

Make Sure Your Final Decision is an Informed One!

Once you have asked, and then answered, all of these (and similar) questions honestly and thoroughly, you should be able to make an informed decision about the job offer. Remember, this is your career, your life, we’re talking about here! So make sure your final decision is indeed an informed one, not one where you’re merely “flying by the seat of your pants”!

Let’s suppose that you conclude that, yes, this is a GREAT career opportunity, “money aside.” And yes, even though you don’t like the idea of taking a salary cut, you are so thoroughly dissatisfied with your current job that you believe, in the long run, you will actually be “money ahead” if you take the offer. Plus, even though you have other career opportunities in various stages of development, clearly your company of choice would still be the one that just made you the job offer. And, although you don’t think there is a lot of room for possible negotiation on salary, you believe that there may be at least some room for negotiation.

In this case, your decision would be to try to negotiate a somewhat better salary offer (or a “signing” bonus), and if that proves to be impossible, then accept the position anyway!

On the other hand, what if your current job certainly is not your “ideal” job, but is nonetheless still a highly “acceptable” job? Does the new company you’re considering really offer so much more potential, so much more job “prestige,” that it’s worth taking a reduced salary? Do you believe (or at least strongly suspect) that, if you are unable to negotiate a better salary and still end up accepting the offer, that you will begin your employment with the new company “under a cloud,” with feelings of resentment and of being “deceived”?

If these are your feelings, your conclusions, then my advice is to politely thank the hiring manager and move on to other career opportunities that you have developed (or are developing) during your new job search. In other words, you should move on to “greener pastures.”

Continue to brand yourself as being among the very top candidates available for key positions with GREAT companies and it’s extremely likely that other GREAT job offers will certainly be forthcoming, sooner rather than later.

Believe that with all your heart and soul!


Skip Freeman is the author of “Headhunter” Hiring Secrets: The Rules of the Hiring Game Have Changed . . . Forever! and is the President and Chief Executive Officer of The HTW Group (Hire to Win), an Atlanta, GA, Metropolitan Area Executive Search Firm. Specializing in the placement of sales, engineering, manufacturing and R&D professionals, he has developed powerful techniques that help companies hire the best and help the best get hired.