So, you’ve been offered the job.
There’s a problem, though. The offer comes with a salary that’s too low.
Now what? Can you decline the offer if the salary is too low? And can you decline and still leave it open to negotiation or does rejecting the offer simply close the door?
Can you decline a job offer if the salary is too low?
Yes. It’s perfectly acceptable to decline a job offer if the salary is too low—but don’t do it as soon as you get the offer. A low salary offer can hurt, and even if you think the number is insultingly low, you don’t want to respond angrily.
Before responding, make sure you know the going rate for the position. If you didn’t research this before, you may now find out that the offer wasn’t actually far off the going rate, but that your expectations were off.
If this is the case, a higher salary may not be possible. (You absolutely can still try. More on that later.)
Still, if a salary bump is off the table, you can negotiate benefits and perks: everything from annual bonuses to more paid leave. Depending on your situation, you could also negotiate for child care assistance or work-from-home and flexible schedule arrangements. Startups especially are often open to equity and stock options in lieu of higher base pay.
How to decline the offer if the salary is too low
Follow the communication path you’ve already established with your main contact. If you’ve been emailing the recruiter or hiring manager throughout the application and interview process, then email your response to the offer. If most of your conversations have been phone-based, then call.
And obviously, follow any contact instructions contained in the job offer itself.
In either case, make sure the first thing you do is thank them for the job offer.
The email or conversation can be very simple and straightforward, as in this template career success coach and strategist Jennifer Brick provides:
As we discussed, my range exceeded your budget for the role, and after considering the offer you extended, I regret to inform you I have decided to decline the job offer.
Thank you for the time you spent getting to know me and helping me get to know ACME Corp. I look forward to following ACME’s success and send my best wishes to you and the team.
How do you decline the offer but leave it open to negotiation?
Yes, but proceed carefully.
“When they really want you, they might make the budget work,” Brick explains, adding: “I have received boomerang offers after declining twice, once with a $25K increase on the total compensation offer, and once with a $40K increase on the base salary which amplified my bonuses as well.”
However, never reject an offer hoping for a counteroffer. Don’t count on them chasing you or offering a higher salary. It might happen, but most likely the hiring manager will move on to the next candidate.
If they do come back to the table with a new offer, that market research is your best friend when negotiating increased salary or benefits.
If you see that the salary offered isn’t competitive with similar positions in the same industry and area, you have a very strong argument. Your approach can be that you’re declining the offer only because the salary isn’t competitive. If the company is unable to offer more money, that’s when you can negotiate additional or fringe benefits.
The same approach can be used even when the offered salary is competitive, but still too low for you to accept. In this case, you would regretfully turn down the offer because the salary does not align with your expectations. Then, you make it known that you would be happy to consider added perks and benefits, so that the overall compensation package would meet your needs.
Brick shows us how to do that with this paragraph, which you can amend depending on your situation:
Your company seems like an exceptional place to work, and I know I would bring a lot of value. If senior roles are available in the salary range I spoke about with you, I am very interested in future opportunities.
What if they don’t budge on salary or benefits?
If there’s no room for improving the offer, either by increased salary or benefits, then you can simply decline.
When we asked Brick about this, she said you need to be “truly walking away.” In other words, you can’t change your mind the next day and tell them you’ve reconsidered and will in fact be happy to accept the initial offer.
About our source
Jennifer Brick is a career success coach dedicated to helping women in male-dominated industries get the pay, promotion, and praise they deserve. Through her YouTube channel, speaking, workshops, programs, and social media presence, she has served millions of career success seekers.