How to Counter a Job Offer & Get What You Want

You got the job. Yay! But the offer isn’t what you were hoping for. Boo.

So what do you do? And how do you do it? And what do you say? We’ve turned to the experts for advice on how to counter a job offer and get what you want.

Sleep on it

Decide exactly what needs to change about the offer—whether it’s the salary, title, responsibilities, or benefits, or a combination of those—in order to respond appropriately.

Understand it

It’s worth knowing employer costs so you can negotiate intelligently. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, salary is only part of your compensation package, coming in at nearly 70 percent. Benefits account for the remaining 30 percent.

What that means to you is that your salary isn’t the only negotiable item on the table. And when it comes to benefits, cast a wide net. In addition to asking for more paid vacation time or a better health insurance plan to make up for the lower-than-expected salary offer, you can talk about signing bonuses, commuter assistance, and a flexible work schedule.

Signing bonuses are common, by the way, offered by more than 75 percent of companies surveyed, and typically awarded to professional staff and mid-level to upper management employees. Katie Shonk, editor of Harvard Law School’s Negotiation newsletter, says it pays to be strategic when thinking about a signing bonus. You can in fact use it to renegotiate the offered salary.

“Let’s say you…agree to reduce the $5,000 signing bonus to $1,500 and add $2,500 to your annual salary ($4,000 total). You would earn back the reduction in the signing bonus in under a year, and earn at least an extra $2,500 every subsequent year. If an organization wants to hire you, it may adopt a short-term mindset and pay you less now in exchange for potentially more later on,” she explains.

First things first

Career happiness coach Emily Liou recommends getting the base salary adjusted first. She tells us you’ll be in a better position to negotiate once you know that number. 

“Regardless if they budge or not, after you’ve settled the base salary, you can absolutely negotiate all of the other monetary and non-monetary rewards. These can include having a stipend for professional organization dues or tuition reimbursement, additional vacation days, or sign-on bonuses,” she explains.

How much should you care about the title?

While “chief party officer” and “sales rockstar” may be interesting job titles, the true value of job titles is how they are perceived and understood by everyone, from hiring managers and HR to work colleagues and the general public, says career coach Ashley Stahl. Your title demonstrates your level in a company’s hierarchy, which matters to clients and fellow employees. It matters for career advancement and salary too.

For example, one candidate’s job offer was perfect, writes Ariel Schur, founder and CEO of ABS Staffing: “The pay, benefits, and work responsibilities all aligned perfectly with her objectives. What held her back was the ‘assistant’ title: She felt it didn’t capture the importance of the contributions she’d be making to the firm. I negotiated on her behalf and secured the title of ‘specialist.’ She accepted on the spot.”

Liou recommends asking the company to adjust the title if you feel strongly that the job responsibilities are better aligned with another title. “Many companies create titles based on Bureau of Labor Statistics’ guidelines. Take a look and see if your target title fits the same amount of experience and responsibilities as requested,” she suggests.

Sample wording

Most job offers are written, so when responding, you should reply in kind. Your email doesn’t necessarily have to include your counter, though—you can just ask for a meeting.

If you’d rather put your counter directly in your response, the wording would look something like this:

Bottom line of countering a job offer

If you’re afraid you’ll lose the offer by countering, Liou says to go for it anyway. “In negotiations, so long as you ask in a polite and flexible tone backed with data, the worst that can happen is a ‘Sorry, this is our best offer—take it or leave it.’ In which case, you don’t fare any worse from when you didn’t ask!”

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