Skip to main contentA logo with &quat;the muse&quat; in dark blue text.
Advice / Succeeding at Work / Money

What to Ask for When a Company Won't Budge on Salary, According to Negotiation Coaches

Hero Images/Getty Images

The offer arrives—the moment you’ve been waiting for—and you realize with a sinking thud that it’s lower than you expected. It’s within the market range, but it’s definitely on the low side of that range. You’re really excited about the position, the role itself is a good opportunity, a career advancement to be sure. Yet, the money isn’t what you’d hoped for, and you’re fairly certain that if you were to continue job searching, you’d find an organization willing to pay you more.

But starting that process over again? Let’s just say you’d rather not.

OK, first of all: You should always negotiate the initial offer. If you’re wondering how to go about that, these 37 tips should help. But let’s assume the company is unable to budge—much—and you’re still left with an offer that is less than awesome. The response doesn’t need to be, “Bye!” Instead, take your focus away from salary and see what else you can request.

Jennifer Fink, a career coach who offers negotiation coaching, says that you absolutely “should negotiate other elements that could significantly improve [your] satisfaction with their offer.”

Before you start listing off bargaining items—common ones include flexible work schedule, professional development, travel opportunities, and title—her advice is to “understand not just what you want, but why you want it.”

Fink explains that “uncovering your true interests can help you identify innovative solutions for you and your new employer.”

Think about your needs. What would help give you job satisfaction? Do you want to be able to work from home one or more days a week? Do you want to continue learning on the job? Do you want to work toward an end-of-year bonus?

Your concern could be with the job title. Maybe the organization isn’t in a position to pay you what you’ve asked for right now, but it can easily bestow you with a higher title in the meantime. Or it could be that you’re concerned with the cost of relocating for the job and were hoping for a salary to offset those costs? The compensation offered may be what it is, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t open to the idea of kicking in to cover your travel expenses.

Fink says to have a clear grasp of your wants and needs so you “understand what is important to you and whether your requests are reasonable before getting clouded by the offer in hand.” This, she notes, “can increase your satisfaction once you sign on the dotted line.”

And that’s what this is really about. You want to accept an offer that you can not only live with but ideally thrive under. Failing to negotiate any of the terms (if you’re unhappy with them) is only going to lead resentment, not good for you or your employer.

With that said, as you take a moment to consider what you’re going to ask for, be mindful of not going overboard. Annie Nogg, another Muse career coach who counsels on negotiation tactics, cautions against the over-ask. Worst-case scenario, the company could “take back the offer and wonder where you got the idea that you were royalty.”

But even if the offer isn’t reneged (and it probably won’t be), you don’t want to start the job on a note that suggests you’re super demanding and need everything to be just so. Nogg says to “prioritize your top one or two [items].” The key is to “figure out what would make the package feel worth it to you and go from there.” And on that note, it’s OK to “start with a bigger ask than you expect [to receive]”—just don’t ask for five really big things just because you’re annoyed at the low compensation.

And note: This discussion doesn’t have to only include in-the-moment requests though. Nogg suggests asking for a “timeline for a raise” so you have an opportunity to seek more compensation after a set amount of time—not just when review season rolls around or a full year after you’ve been employed. Maybe you accept the offer on the condition that you’re entitled to renegotiate your salary six months into the job.

It’s worth noting, however, that this discussion should not be left to email. Fink advises: “You should always have this conversation over the phone.” While you may be inclined to reach for the safety that email provides, Fink says it's a “bad idea” because “when you negotiate on paper you lose the back-and-forth of the negotiation, making it feel like your requests are demands” instead of a two-way conversation.

That said, Fink recognizes that the first step in initiating the call is to write an email. She recommends using this template:

Hi [Name of Hiring Manager],

I’m excited about the offer and was wondering if you have some time this week to discuss a few questions I have?

I look forward to speaking with you.


[Your Name]

Seriously, don’t shy away from this step. And remember that if your conversation stops with dollar signs, you’re not thinking creatively. Many companies, especially if they simply don’t have the budget to increase the offer, will welcome alternative asks. So, don’t limit yourself and be crystal clear on the things that matter to you.

What’s really going to make your life better? A few hundred dollars a month or the ability to start and finish your day in a way that allows you to be there when your kids get home from school? Is it really a fat paycheck you care about or a title that’s going to ultimately help you advance your career?

This type of self-awareness—and the wherewithal to communicate it—is likely to get you a lot further in the long run than a salary at the tippy-top end of the range.