Nine Easy Steps to Negotiating a Lowball Job Offer

What can you do if you receive a lowball job offer you don’t want to accept?

The Internal Equity Negotiation

Consider using employers’ favorite argument to control the high end of salaries for new hires — internal equity.

The argument goes like this, “We know you might be able to command a higher salary in the market. We would like to pay you more, but doing so would upset our internal equity. We would be paying you more than we pay your peers.”

In my experience, employers mean it when they say this to candidates. They do want to hire the person. They do want to offer a salary high enough to get to yes.

However, they don’t want to upset the person’s peers, and perhaps their entire salary structure, by offering the person more than they’re already paying their peers.

In fact, a 2016 recruiter survey conducted by RiseSmart found that 44% of participants are reluctant to consider candidates who don’t fit their budget parameters. That also means over half will.

Nine Steps

Thus, if you receive a lowball job offer you won’t accept because of the money, consider this approach:

1. Tell the negotiator that you are very excited about (a) the company, (b) the job, and (c) the people.

2. Reiterate the benefits the company would experience by hiring you.

3. Express your disappointment about the offer.

4. Ask the negotiator about the salary range for the job. You want to assess your upside.

5. Ask the negotiator if their offer is in line with what the company pays the people who would be your peers.

6. If the negotiator won’t answer your question say, “I would like to do this job. I will say yes to an offer of [this amount].”

7. If the negotiator answers your question, and the offer is equitable, consider it.

8. If it’s not equitable, ask, “Do you really want to pay me less than you’re paying my peers?”

9. Close with, “Internal equity is important to me. I want this job. I will say yes to an offer that is line with what you pay my peers.”

Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained. If the money is the only thing holding you back from saying yes, make the counteroffer.

How to Play Hardball

If you are an AWESOME candidate (close to a 10), then read a superb post on how to play hardball here.

Image: Fotolia/DragonImages
Updated June 2017

© 2010 – 2019, Donna Svei. All rights reserved.

Comments 8

  1. Donna,
    I like the train of thought, and would add two comments:
    I think the candidate’s value in the marketplace could be even a stronger arguement than what the company pays his/her peers: “Based on what I am seeing for similar positions, I think you may be undermarket for a person with my skills and experience. I’ve seen other positions that are $xx thousand higher.”
    Also, I think the TONE of the negotiation is as important as the content. The candidate has to be careful to emphasize the value to the employer of paying what he/she is asking, not just the value to the employee: “Wouldn’t it be to your advantage to achieve internal parity between peers; wouldn’t you want to know that if a recruiter calls me in a year, I won’t take the call – because I have no issue with my compensation?”


    I appreciate your additional perspective.

    Thank you,


  2. Donna, I don’t know how I missed this one. I love the whole thing: great insights re: addressing suboptimal offers but also very practical steps a candidate can follow–as usual. I particularly liked the suggestions to summarize with “I heard…”. So important in avoiding miscommunications!

    Another great one, Donna!

    Thank you Ed. Hope you’re finding a way to stay cool. Donna

  3. Donna, I might take a slightly different shorter approach. Just thank them for their time, wish them good luck, and ask them for other positions we might be able to explore together. After all, if it is truly a lowball offer, then why waste time negotiating over 10’s of 1,000’s of dollars?

    Aidan, If you would take the job for a higher number, I’d give it a go. Many offers do turn out to be negotiable. Donna

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