Ask a Recruiter: I Got a Salary Offer That’s Way Too Low. What Can I Do?

It's never too early to talk about compensation in the interview process, says recruiter Emily Durham
Emily Durham, senior recruiter at Intuit (Photograph: Emily Durham)

Welcome to CB’s work-advice column featuring Emily Durham, a Toronto-based senior recruiter at Intuit, public speaker and content creator known for her funny and relatable TikToks about all things work. Each month, Durham will answer reader questions on topics that affect our ability to thrive in our jobs, and she’ll offer her real-world insights on how to handle even the most rock-and-a-hard-place conundrums. Have a work-related question? Send it to [email protected].

Q: I am in the middle of negotiating a salary at a new job and the hiring manager has offered me an amount that is below what I’m comfortable with. How do I negotiate a higher salary without turning off the employer and potentially losing the offer?

As a recruiter, I see firsthand that conversations about money can be uncomfortable—especially with folks early in their careers. Candidates often shy away from asking questions about salary in fear of being perceived as only in it for the money. But your compensation matters—after all, most of us wouldn’t be working if we won the lottery. (And, guess what: A good recruiter actually wants to talk about compensation.)

One of my top rules is it’s never too early to talk about salary in the interview process. As early as the first outreach from a recruiter or hiring manager, ask what the budget is for the role to ensure you don’t price yourself too high (or too low). Do this before you share your salary expectations. If the company insists on you providing a salary range first, this might be due to them not knowing their budget internally. Although not a great practice, let them know the starting point of your salary range only—not the upper limit. Use language like, “It would take a minimum of X-amount of money for me to consider a move.”

When recruiters ask what your expectations are, come prepared and be confident. Candidates should always back up their ask with data from sites like Glassdoor and PayScale on salary averages in various industries and roles. Ranges can also be specific to your geographical location—salaries in Toronto, for example, may differ from salaries in Vancouver. I recommend having these numbers written down for you to easily reference when in job discussions.

If you’ve done all this and the salary offered to you is still too low, it’s time to negotiate. Salary conversations are always best done over the phone, video call or in person whenever possible. This helps avoid the potential for misunderstanding that an email can bring. Start the conversation with the recruiter or hiring manager by expressing gratitude and appreciation for their time and consideration. Emphasize your passion and desire to grow your career by joining their company. Then, clearly communicate that you’re looking for a salary in a specific range. Ask the question directly: “Is there any opportunity for us to align on this?” 

“Salary conversations are always best done over the phone, video call or in person whenever possible”

Many people use this time to reiterate their skills and experience to further emphasize the case for a higher salary range. Silence is also one of the best negotiating tools as research shows it forces the other person to absorb what you’ve just said, and come up with a more meaningful response. After you make your case, pause and see what the recruiter has to say.

Remember, negotiation is part of almost every job offer so do not feel guilty or shy to advocate for what you deserve. And know you’re not alone: Today, the percentage of job seekers willing to be paid less than what they are currently making is the lowest it’s been in five years. On average, job seekers are expecting to make 34 per cent more than their current salary in their next role. Employers should be aware of this, and willing to compromise.

After you’ve shared your expectations, it’s the hiring manager’s responsibility to take your ask back to the company’s executive team to see what’s possible. Often, there are several decision-makers that need to approve any adjustments to an offer, so it can take a couple of days or more to hear back. The employer may come back with your dream offer… or they may not. If they are not able to meet your expectations, however, they should never rescind your offer because you asked for more money.

Knowing when it’s time to walk away from a job opportunity is just as important as knowing what you are willing to accept. If you’re in the position to say “no thank you” to an offer, remember to do so with gratitude. Again, having these conversations in real time, such as over the phone, is ideal. You can use the opportunity to thank the employer for their time and express your desire to stay in touch—you never know when your paths may cross again. 

Remember, negotiations play a big role in the interview process, so any organization that does not support you advocating for your salary is likely not the place for you. You can feel good knowing that you’ve given them the data and tools to counteroffer and respond. After all, if you don’t ask, you’ll always wonder what could have been. Go after it! 

Emily Durham
Emily Durham
Emily Durham is a Toronto-based senior recruiter at Intuit, public speaker and content creator known for her funny and relatable TikToks about all things work. Follow her on TikTok and Instagram at @emily.the.recruiter