"Nevermind!": Can you negotiate your way out of a job offer?

Feb 27, 2023

5 mins

"Nevermind!": Can you negotiate your way out of a job offer?

When the economy feels shaky, getting any sort of job offer can be a relief, especially when you’ve been on the hunt for a while. And with talks of a recession looming, negotiating your new offer might feel like an inappropriate thing to do. After all, shouldn’t you feel grateful that someone wants to hire you?

Negotiation can be intimidating, and mastering it is an art form. Taking a misguided approach could leave a bad taste in the mouth of your potential new employer—and maybe even botch your offer altogether. Still, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Negotiation is a normal part of the interviewing process, and more often than not, it pays off. A 2022 study from Fidelity Investments found that while 58% of the working Americans surveyed accepted the first offer at their current position without negotiating, for those who did negotiate, 85% were successful.

To find out how to get the most out of your next job offer through negotiation, what steps you need to take, and what to avoid so you don’t come on too strong, we spoke with the founder and owner of The Salary Negotiator, Brandon Bramley. Leveraging his professional negotiation experience with companies such as American Airlines and Amazon, Bramley ventured into entrepreneurship to coach candidates through the negotiation process and provide self-paced courses for new grads. Here’s what he has to share.

Why do job seekers shy away from negotiation?

Despite being an acceptable and expected practice, some people find negotiating to be a daunting process, or maybe even a futile one. Bramley believes this has to do with myths about negotiation. Some common misconceptions he’s seen include:

  • Believing the employer will say no
  • Feeling like you don’t have enough leverage to engage in a salary negotiation
  • The recruiter already said that the company won’t negotiate
  • You need another offer to be taken seriously
  • The company will rescind the job offer if you negotiate
  • The offer is already at the high end of the salary range the recruiter provided
  • Attempting to negotiate will harm the relationship.

These points aren’t necessarily truths and shouldn’t deter a candidate from trying to negotiate—even if, in the worst-case scenario, the company does say “no.” A strategic, actionable, and data-driven approach is the key to combating these myths.

How should a candidate start negotiating a counteroffer?

Bramley outlines five steps that set the stage for rock-solid negotiation and preparing an enticing counteroffer:

  1. It starts with understanding the complete offer. Ask for the details so that you have them in writing. You’ll want to review and understand the total compensation beyond your base salary, including annual bonuses, equity, sign-on bonuses, vacation time, etc. Once you have all the information, you can determine what you want to negotiate.

  2. Then, research and strategize.Review the offer and details of the company benefits, cross reference with research and data points, and ask strategic questions. For example, you might say: “I noticed there isn’t a sign-on bonus; is that something you would consider offering? This seems to be common with companies similar to yours.”

  3. Focus on data. Companies have already researched compensation specific to your role and pre-approved a salary range. You want to find out the low and high end of that range so that you know how much more to ask for and don’t come up with an unreasonable figure that could jeopardize the relationship and potentially the offer altogether. Resources you might use to research include PayScale.com or Comparably.com. Opt for multiple resources to draw averages instead of relying on one as the authoritative resource for what the role should pay.

  4. Draft and send your counteroffer. Include the data points you found during your research to draft a strategic and creative counteroffer. Send it via email to help avoid pushback you might receive in real time over the phone; this will also give you the space to review/edit it and set/control the tone, which should always be professional and courteous.

  5. If you get objections, handle them with grace. Recruiters are often trained to deter people from negotiating. They’ll typically give a variety of reasons why you can’t counteroffer; see them as objections and respond by asking them to take your requests back to the hiring team.

What kind of negotiation approaches might backfire?

Without a strategic negotiation plan, it’s possible to fall into some outdated practices that could cost you the offer. Here are a few old-school approaches to negotiation that Bramley suggests avoiding:

  • Bartering. Going too high without doing your due diligence and tossing out numbers before understanding the total compensation might result in a lower offer than you hoped for and compromise the relationship.
  • Coming on too strong. It’s not about who can talk louder or assert dominance; avoid taking an all-or-nothing, take-it-or-leave-it approach. Remember, the company is also looking at how you’ll fit in with the team. This is the first chance to display your skills, so keep it professional.
  • Using the wrong tone. You’ll always be better off keeping a friendly tone. Think about talking like you would with a new friend.

Why might a company push back, and how to handle objections

You’ll want to be prepared to possibly be met with excuses or reasons why negotiating is a no-go. “They might say that you’re already at the top of the pay range, or they could just be telling you negotiating isn’t possible because that’s what they’ve been trained to say,” notes Bramley.

But don’t let them deter you. “You want your counteroffer to go to the decision-makers, which isn’t the recruiter,” Bramley says. “Push back gently, respond calmly, and say you would greatly appreciate them taking your offer back to the hiring team.”

What are some things a candidate can negotiate other than salary?

Remember that salary isn’t the only thing you can negotiate. This is where the second step is important in your negotiation process—see what’s already on the table, what’s missing, and what other forms of compensation you would value.

Some other areas to consider when creating your counteroffer include:

So, can over-negotiating cost you a job offer?

Potentially, but not if you do it right. If you come on too strong and don’t have research and data to back you up, you could risk losing the offer. Solid preparation is key. In addition to Bramley’s steps for building your negotiation foundation, some other things to keep in mind include:

  • Avoid sharing salary expectations too early.Pay transparency is common these days. However, it sets a precedent for what you’re willing to accept and then holds you to that amount. If you’re asked early in the interviewing process what your expected salary is, don’t share until you’ve done your research. You can flip the script by turning it back on the interviewer and say: “I’m focusing on interviewing right now, not compensation. What range do you have in mind for the compensation in this role?”
  • Show enthusiasm. The biggest thing Bramley coaches in his practice is to show gratitude and interest in the role. “As long as that’s the precedent, the ask is reasonable, and you maintain a friendly tone, you’ll set yourself up for success,” he says.
  • Don’t be afraid to negotiate. It’s a lot more common than you think. The worst case scenario is you’ll get a “no,” and you can at least feel good knowing you attempted to negotiate before accepting. But more than likely, you’ll end up with a better offer.

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