Have you ever been told to “take what you can get” and “ be grateful you have a job”? These phrases might come up more often than we’d like, especially during an era of economic uncertainty and a saturated job market. Start to hear them a few too many times, and it might even shift your mindset completely, leading you to underestimate your worth and what you deserve.
Finding a job today requires putting in work; a 2023 report from Zippia shows that job hunters send anywhere from 21 to 80 applications on average before receiving an offer. If you’ve been job hunting for a while, and an offer finally comes, you might be happy to have something land, even if it falls below your salary expectations. But should you accept it? The answer isn’t straightforward, and it comes down to personal circumstances, like assessing your current financial situation and what the company can offer regarding growth and your long-term career goals.
To examine the nuance and what to consider on whether you should accept a job offer below your salary expectations, we spoke with Jenna West. West is a dedicated career coach and communications expert who helps individuals strategically manage their careers and achieve their professional goals. She shares with us the complex decision-making process when being low-balled on your salary, what to consider, tips and strategies for negotiating, and how to set yourself up to get ahead of a low-salary offer—and ideally, avoid it in the first place.
What are common reasons a job offer comes in below your salary expectations?
Before diving into how to approach receiving a job offer lower than your salary expectations, let’s figure out why it happens in the first place. Receiving a lowball job offer might feel disheartening, even personal, but according to West, it comes down to communication and clear expectations.
“In my experience, it’s not common for job offers to come in below a candidate’s salary expectations,” she begins. “However, what I’ve observed is that there can be a lack of transparency regarding salary information, which may lead to uncertainty for candidates. Sometimes, it takes until the second interview or later stages of the hiring process to determine the salary range. Once this information is disclosed, I’ve found that job offers typically align with how well candidates confidently communicate their salary expectations.”
As for what you can do, West notes that candidates should make sure they are prepared to answer the question that always comes up during interviewing but still manages to trip many of us up: What are your salary expectations? “[Candidates] should confidently convey the salary range they’re seeking based on their experience, education, and other relevant factors. It’s also important that candidates don’t undervalue themselves by aiming for the lower end of the range,” West says, further suggesting candidates should determine a fair and competitive salary based on their qualifications and ensure they advocate their worth during the negotiation process.
What are the potential advantages or disadvantages of accepting a job offer below your salary expectations?
Is something better than nothing, or are you leaving money on the table? Even if you feel inclined to say yes to the offer presented to you—whether it’s because you need a job, you want to jump on the chance to work for this company, or you can see the growth potential—West advises against accepting a job offer that falls below your salary expectations without negotiation.
“Negotiating salary is a crucial step in the hiring process,” West affirms. “It’s essential to build trust with your prospective employer. If you’re in a situation where the offer is lower than expected, I recommend initiating a conversation to understand why.”
She continues that you can start by asking why the offer is low, which helps foster transparency and communication—a benefit to both parties. “You want to be compensated fairly for your skills and experience. If you believe you deserve a higher salary, I assist clients in preparing a response that includes relevant information supporting their request,” she adds.
West also notes to keep in mind that interviewing is a two-way street. “You are also interviewing [the company] to ensure the alignment of expectations and mutual satisfaction. Effective communication plays a pivotal role in this process.”
How can you negotiate a higher salary when faced with an offer below expectations?
It’s time to roll up your sleeves and start negotiating. It can feel daunting, but it’s crucial to remember negotiating is normal—and expected. According to West, you need to advocate for your worth, but there are a few key things to consider before diving in.
“First, do your due diligence to establish industry standards and the salary range for the role. If your offer falls on the lower end of this range, use this information to your advantage,” West says.
Align your job responsibilities with your relative skills and experiences and showcase your added value, relating how your unique skills, experiences, or qualifications would add to the team. Build your case and rehearse your key points and responses; you’ll likely face potential objections or counteroffers, so be prepared to address them effectively. For more on negotiation tactics, check out our complete guide.
Can compensation packages and benefits justify accepting a lower salary?
If negotiation didn’t help you achieve a higher salary, but the perks, compensation, and benefits are pretty enticing, does this make a low salary worth it? Per West, this is where you need to trust your intuition, evaluate your individual circumstances, and reflect on your financial needs and lifestyle requirements.
“Consider whether the offered salary, in conjunction with benefits, can adequately support your living expenses and future financial goals,” West suggests. “Additionally, inquire about other aspects of the compensation package, such as performance bonuses, salary reviews, or potential for growth within the company.”
When making your decision, take your time. Accepting any job offer—even if it checks all the boxes—should not be a hasty decision. Create a list of pros and cons and review the compensation package in detail to ensure you’re comfortable with it before making your final choice.
Reg flags: What to watch out for with a low salary offer
One last review before making your decision: look out for any other potential red flags that might be hidden in a low salary. If you’ve decided that benefits, perks, and overall opportunity are enough to drive you when the money isn’t up to par, you should still do one final assessment of what you’re getting into.
West notes that significantly low pay, lack of transparency, limited growth prospects, excessive workload, inadequate benefits, unclear performance metrics, high turnover, and unwillingness to negotiate should alert you to proceed with caution. Also, check what others are saying online, and always come back to your instincts. “Negative company reviews and your gut feeling are also important factors to consider. These signals suggest potential issues with compensation, job satisfaction, or work culture, making it crucial to evaluate the opportunity thoroughly,” she says.
Key takeaways: Should you accept a job offer below your salary expectations?
The answer to that question is nuanced. If you find yourself in this situation, here’s what to remember.
Evaluate your circumstances. Not everyone receiving a job offer is in the same boat. And remember, nothing is permanent. That said, this doesn’t mean you should jump on the first offer you receive, but it is worth reflecting on your situation and priorities.
Negotiate first. Avoid taking an offer without at least trying to negotiate what you want. You might just be surprised at what you’re able to get. If negotiating salary is a no-go, remember you can negotiate on other aspects of the offer. Prepare a rock-solid negotiation strategy first to set yourself up for success.
Assess the entire package. A job offer is more than your salary. Factor in bonus packages, PTO, benefits, growth potential, and even work-life balance to see if these aspects can make up for a smaller paycheck than you expected.
Take your time and trust yourself. It’s age-old but sound advice: when in doubt, go within. If something feels off, trust that feeling. You’re in no rush to say yes or no right away. Accepting a new job is a big deal, so take the time to assess and do what’s best for you.
Photo: Welcome to the Jungle
More inspiration: Job interview follow-up
How to ask about disability accommodations in an interview
Here's to knowing what you're entitled to, and then getting it.
Oct 24, 2023
Exiting gracefully: Navigating a withdrawal from the hiring process
Not a good fit? Salary below expectations? Got a better offer? There are plenty of reasons to pull out of the hiring process. Here’s how to do it.
Oct 18, 2023
Job hunt: Here's what you can negotiate beyond salary
PTO, equity, health insurance, student loan repayment ... yes, please!
Sep 21, 2023
Fur the win: Negotiating pet-friendly perks in your next job
Ready to fetch more than just a paycheck? Here's your guide to negotiating pet-friendly perks with your next employer.
Sep 21, 2023
Ace your interview follow-up at every stage of the recruitment process
An email, a phone call, a reminder of your existence ... There are many ways to follow up post-interview, but exactly how do you do it?
Sep 13, 2023
The newsletter that does the job
Want to keep up with the latest articles? Twice a week you can receive stories, jobs, and tips in your inbox.
Looking for your next job opportunity?
Over 200,000 people have found a job with Welcome to the Jungle.Explore jobs