Find Your Dream Job, Episode 192:
How to Respond to a Lowball Salary Offer, with Lisa Gates
Airdate: May 22, 2019
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps professionals find fulfilling careers.
I believe that lifelong learning is the key to a successful career. And to get a better job, you need to learn the job hunting skills that will help you find the role of your dreams.
That’s why we’re here today. Every week on Find Your Dream Job, I interview a different career expert. We discuss the tools and tactics you need to find the work you want.
This week, I’m talking to Lisa Gates about how to respond to a lowball salary offer.
A hiring manager has just offered you a job. And you’re very excited. Now it’s time to talk about money.
The employer mentions a salary figure. It’s far below what you expected. You want the job, but you feel put off, almost insulted by the low number.
What do you do next?
Our guest today says you need to recognize that the conversation has only begun. Curiosity, not anger, is the best way to respond.
Want to learn more? Listen in now at the Mac’s List studio as I interview Lisa Gates about how to respond to a lowball salary offer.
Lisa Gates is a negotiation and leadership coach and co-founder of She Negotiates. Lisa helps women close wage and leadership gaps.
Drawing on her work as an actor and storyteller, Lisa helps you land the job, get that raise and promotion, and hit your goals out of the park.
She joins us today from Carpinteria, California.
Lisa, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much from Carpinteria, California, which most people have probably never heard of.
Well, it’s a pleasure to have you on the show and our topic today, as you know, is lowball salary offers. Now, Lisa, why do employers make lowball salary offers?
Because they’re evil.
No, I’m teasing you. They are not evil. It might feel like they’re being awful to you but we have to look at this as a business.
They’re in the business of making money, saving money, increasing productivity, whatever it is.
My first thought is, really it’s just a business decision, and it’s your job to find out what’s underneath that business decision. To come at it, first of all, from the perspective that they’re not doing something mean or evil to you.
I would ask, does every company do this? Or, is this something every job seeker should expect or is it something that some companies do more often than others?
Well, I think you do have to expect it. You do have to prepare for it and, no, not all companies do it. Some over-offer in order to get you in the door if your skill is in demand, if your strengths and skills and experience are in demand.
But I think one of the reasons people get…the main reason people get a lowball offer is that they don’t prepare well enough. They don’t take the time to prepare for the interview itself. So then, you can often pre-negotiate a lot of things before you actually get the offer.
If you know that, let’s say, for example, you’re going to be relocating for the job; you talk about relo money, you talk about what the company policy is, you ask questions about, “What are all the perks and benefits associated with this job? What is the culture of flexibility and remote work?”
All of these things that might be on your list of priorities or once, when seeking a new job, you can pre-negotiate so that you at least know where you’re likely to stand so that the offer does not come as a surprise.
You mentioned preparation and why don’t we go back to that? Because I know many people, either because they’re uncomfortable or they don’t know when to raise these topics, wait for an employer to bring up money and benefits.
Talk to our listeners, Lisa, about preparation and let’s also get into the sequencing here, that people should pay attention to. What kind of preparation do you recommend when you get that call, you’re coming in. either for, maybe your first phone screener or your first face to face interview? What should people do next?
Well, I think research is really imperative, so research on 2 levels. One is expected salary; so you go to all of the usual suspects, like glassdoor.com, payscale.com, all of the research sites and see what you can dig up and find. That’s one piece of research.
The other is to really understand the employer, to go to their website, dig around, see what you can learn. Look at who’s in leadership; are they all old, white, men? Or is there some diversity in their lineup?
Read news about the company so you can understand what their bigger pain points are and their goals, where they are in the market, where they’ve been struggling, where they’ve been doing well, so you have some info, have some intelligence on them and you will have obviously seen the job description, and you want to be able to speak to the main or the higher elements of that job description in the interview process.
You want to pair your strengths, skills, experiences, everything…kind of map them to those goals of the job description while also kind of dovetailing it to how you, in that role, will solve their problems, solve their challenges, feel their needs. And so doing that requires you to back up quite a bit and do preparation on interview questions, preparation…but also to take a little, take time to take a deep dive into what you’ve accomplished over the years and quantify those accomplishments.
For example, if you’re in sales at Google, how many millions of dollars did you bring in? Not just, “I’m really good at selling.” But let’s have some sort of quantified result that you can speak to. And often, there’s also a story that’s attached to that accomplishment that’s really great when you have the opportunity or you’ve got the cue from your interviewer that they want more information. They’re going to say, you know, “Tell me more about that.”
Walk into the room with an understanding of the employer’s problems and prepare to discuss how you’ve addressed similar problems in the past as well as outline your accomplishments in a quantifiable way. How is that going to help with salary negotiation, particularly, perhaps, for stalling a lowball offer?
Right, I think one of the things that’s hard for job seekers is to talk about themselves, and to talk about themselves in a powerful way, and really understand that you’re making the case for yourself for them.
A lot of people go in and they kind of wing it and they say things like, “Well, I’m sort of…and I’m kind of…what I think I’m known for is…” and they sort of unqualify themselves by the way that they speak.
I like to help people create an opening statement that includes their superpowers and memorize it. Get it down so you can speak it naturally and say it like you’re just thinking of it for the first time and it wows them, and shows that you do understand what your strengths and skills bring to the party for them. How you’re going to help them solve problems.
Number 1, it’s really nailing the beginning of the interview process. And how that helps you in your salary negotiation, they’re getting an understanding of who you are and what you bring to the party. The way you talk and speak about yourself conveys a sort of depth or gravitas or capacity, at least, and will set you up, at least, to be seen and heard in a way that benefits both of you.
Do you find, Lisa, that when people stand out like that, that employers don’t default to whatever budget line item they have for this salary but they think, “Okay, this is someone to pursue. We’ve got to find ways to persuade this person to come and work for us.” Is that what happens?
No, I don’t think so.
Sorry to disappoint you.
I think that a lowball is still possible.
Regardless of how good you come across because we don’t often know what the constraints are that an employer, or let’s say the recruiter, whether it’s external, internal, is dealing with and so they may be just trying to make the company happy. They may be following the rules and just sort of checking off boxes, and, “Here’s how we start all of these offers.”
And so your preparation, again, is to anticipate all of the possible push backs you’re going to get during the interview process or perhaps in your counter-offer conversation. Anything from, “Well, nobody starts at that rate.” Or, “This is where we start all of our “manager of X” positions.” Or, “It’s just not in the budget. Maybe when you’re 6 months down the line or a year from now, we might be able to consider that salary.”
Let’s talk about that because you’ve done the preparation, you’ve had the interview, there’s an offer on the table, and here comes the number. As the job seeker, you’re disappointed to hear that figure. What is the best way to respond?
Well, first of all, the offer most likely came by email, so you want to prepare kind of an outline for your conversation. I call it sequencing the conversation and everyone’s is different; it really depends on the conversation. But what I would be prepared to do is to ask a series of what negotiator and mediators call, “diagnostic questions.” They’re open-ended questions that help you understand why they’ve given you this lowball offer and what you said before, Mac, was great, you need to express your disappointment.
Something like, “Wow, I am so excited to get the offer but I have to tell you, I’m really disappointed that it was so low. Can you help me understand what your constraints are or what happened?”
Let’s pause right there, Lisa, because I’m fascinated by this idea of these diagnostic questions and I want to take a quick break and let’s, when we come back, we’ll talk more about this.
And we’ll return in a moment with Lisa Gates, who will continue to share her advice on how to respond to a lowball salary offer.
As Lisa makes clear, you need to ready to discuss salary when you look for work.
Many of us, however, especially at the start of a career, avoid talking about money altogether.
Sometimes you may fear that asking about salary will disqualify you for the job.
You might also think an employer can pay only one amount. Period.
Or you hope that your past work and qualifications alone will lead to the best offer possible.
In fact, discussing money is a normal part of hiring.
And most companies have some flexibility in making a salary offer.
An excellent resume by itself, no matter impressive, won’t get you a great deal.
If you’re feeling awkward about discussing your salary needs, I’ve got a new free guide that can help.
It’s called How to Talk About Money in an Interview.
Get your copy today. Go to maclist.org/moneytalk.
You’ll learn how to research what the job you want pays in the city where you work.
You’ll get talking points to discuss money, benefits, and office culture with every hiring manager you meet.
And you’ll get an answer to a question that unsettles many job seekers:
“What are your salary expectations?”
Go to macslist.org/moneytalk.
Don’t settle for a lowball offer.
Go to macslist.org/moneytalk.
Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Lisa Gates. She’s a negotiation and leadership coach.
Lisa is also the co-founder of She Negotiates. She joins us today from Carpinteria, California.
Lisa, before the break we were talking about how to respond to that lowball salary offer and you were encouraging people to express both their excitement about and interest in working for a company but their disappointment at the number.
Tell us more about that. What happens next?
Right, like I said, you want to prepare a list of questions to help you unearth the reasons for the disappointing salary. And these are questions, open-ended questions, that start with who, what, when, where, why, how. Less on the “why” question because very often why can be interpreted as judgment. Like, “Why did you give me such a low offer?”
You want to prepare some questions that will help you understand what their interests are, what their goals, fears, preferences, needs are so that you can then reframe and make a counteroffer.
It may be that you revisit that opening statement and say, “I bring skills of X, Y, and Z to this position that will help you solve this most pressing issue that we’ve been talking about for a couple of weeks. What I was thinking was more a salary, say, in the 90s.”
Not a range, but a semi-specific number and then ask them to carry forward your request. You are going to hear a lot of…depending on what you hear from their answers, we’ve often, when I’ve worked with people, we’ve scripted lots of things for comebacks or for reframes, potential reframes. You kind of have to improvise with that prepared list in order to pivot and say the thing you need to say the most, to make that counteroffer and to get them to reconsider.
There’s always wiggle room. There is more money in that pot, for sure. It’s just a matter of how willing you are to move past that original no, and I meant to say this in the beginning, that offer that you receive, the lowball offer, is, in a sense, a form of no. We’re not giving you what you asked for or what market value or what your expectation was.
No is the beginning of your negotiation, not the end. Otherwise, you’ve just been having a conversation and the answers to your questions have all been yes. Now you get a no, now you get to cobble your way through what the reasons are and try to understand things. Use negotiation as a problem-solving tool.
Okay, and a couple of tactical questions: You said a moment ago, “Don’t use a salary range,” and I know there are listeners out there who are wondering, why is that, Lisa? Why mention a general number like something in the 90s? What is the benefit?
Well, if you say, “I was hoping for something between 92 and 100.” They’re going to pick 92.
Human nature is sort of built that way. They’re going to go for the bottom number and another thing, because of the way that the world of work works right now, we’re getting an offer by email.
We rarely have the chance, unless we take it during the interview process, to anchor first, to say the number first, and the person who lays down the first number is most influential in the conversation.
That number that you land early on will influence your conversations for as long as you’re in conversation.
You mentioned at the start of our interview that negotiation can happen before an offer appears. Do you recommend, when people are having face to face meetings or having conversations by phone, actually bringing up the subject of salary and mentioning a particular figure?
Of course, and I think that if it doesn’t get mentioned at all, that that’s a pretty rare thing to happen, I think. Recruiters will often ask you, “What are your salary expectations?” And you may want to take that opportunity to say, “I’m looking for something in the low 90s, but I’m really most concerned about the right fit, and the culture of this organization, and learning more about it before we dig into that.”
I’m sure you hear this from job seekers, too. They’ll respond to a posting that says, “Salary depending on experience.” And some managers or employers, for better or worse, don’t bring up salary until the offer is on the table. What do you recommend the listeners who might find themselves in that situation, when should they bring up the topic of salary?
I think they should bring it up before they know an offer is imminent. So you’re in, let’s say, your last interview round and you want to bring it up then. “Let’s talk about compensation. Certainly, I’m flexible but what I’m hoping for is a market-value salary that also takes into consideration my experience and what I bring, my future potential for this company. I’m hoping for something in the low 90s. What’s possible?”
Ask an open-ended question again.
Okay, so you’ve got an offer, you want to make the number higher, you’re asking these open-ended questions; in your experience, typically what happens next?
It’s very rare that you get an absolute, “No, there is no wiggle room,” unless you are at the very beginning of your career. It seems to happen to brand new hires, I had a client who was a construction, just graduated from Berkeley in construction engineering, and she got her first job and I worked with her, (she’s actually my son’s girlfriend) and it was absolutely no. Huge company with deep pockets, no.
I think for the job seeker getting a lowball offer, you have to be willing to walk away and to understand that there are more fish in the sea. If money is really your primary objective in this particular move, in this particular job-seeking round, and it should be. I mean, it’s your whole future, but if it’s not your whole priority, you’d rather get some new experience. Maybe you’re diving into a different industry, maybe you can tolerate that for 6 months or a year.
You really have to know what your bottom line is or what they say in negotiation, “Your best alternative to a negotiated agreement.” Is it to walk away, or is it to set aside your desire for that salary now in trade for what you might get in the future?
Okay, and you know that there’s research out there that shows there is a difference between men and women in negotiating styles. Women, research shows, may accept the first offer. Do you have special advice about how to overcome this gender gap?
Oh, that’s such a big, loaded question.
I think that there’s so much advice for women about how they must twist themselves into a pretzel shape to conform to their fears or conform to the expectations of the other person or the company or whatever and I say to women, just be yourself. Just be more of yourself. Grow your skills, grow your chops in negotiation through practice, but if we start shape-shifting and trying to become quieter and more docile when our nature is more loud and obnoxious, like me, it’s going to backfire.
I think that preparation and practice really help women get through the door with more confidence and ease. In fact, that confidence factor that everyone talks about, it’s not like a costume you can put on. It happens through repeated practice.
Anything you’re confident about, think about tennis, think about running a marathon; you become more confident on your feet, and in your gait, and in your stride, and your potential for winning, the more you run. I think practice is a big thing.
Then, finally, how do you bring the negotiation to a close? Should people walk into these conversations with a figure in mind based on the research and preparation you recommended and if they can’t get that number, as you suggested earlier, consider walking away?
How do you coach your clients on this?
I often say that if you’re unsure, if you’re just not sure what to say, or your gut says, “This is not right,” choose to thank them and appreciate them and say, “You know, I’ve got to think on this. Let me think on this for a day or so.” They might pressure you to answer right now. Just hold your ground and say, “It’s really just something I have to think on.”
What I’ve found in my experience is, often they will come back an hour later, a day later, with a sweetening of the pot. In essence, it’s like silence in negotiation, which is one of the most powerful tactics you can use.
Let’s say you’re face to face in a meeting, and they’re saying, “No, it’s just not possible.”
You could simply look at your conversation partner and be surprised and say nothing. And they will get nervous and start talking and they’ll start to explain themselves, which is what you wanted them to do in the first place.
The other way to answer your question, how to end it, just end it with grace and gratitude and say, “ Thank you, I really appreciate it. I love the company.” If you’re not yet in agreement, say something reassuring like, “I know that with all the moving parts, we’ll find our way to an agreement that makes us both happy.”
Okay, well, great.
Well, great conversation, Lisa. Now tell us, what’s next for you?
What’s next for me? There are so many ways to answer that question, but I think something I would love the listeners of your great podcasts to know is, where they can get resources and negotiation coaching, is from us. From what we do day in, day out.
If you have an interview coming up, get prepared. Don’t wait for the last minute; that’s the worst thing and we can support you with that.
Well, I know people can find those resources at your website, shenegotiates.com.
Lisa, given all the advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want our listeners to remember about how to respond to a lowball salary offer?
Right, thank you. I think it is to become a student of diagnostic open-ended questions and I say that because 94% of negotiators do not use them when to do so would change your results dramatically. It is the simplest thing you can do to turn around your result.
Be curious, ask questions. Before you double down and defend yourself, ask questions so that you can learn the interests and needs of the other person.
Great advice, Lisa. Thank you for being on the show today.
You’re so welcome; it was a great pleasure.
I enjoyed that conversation with Lisa.
Here’s the one thing that stood out for me, and that was her point about the importance of preparation because when you do the research that Lisa recommended and you understand what an employer does, and what their challenges are, and you know what the market pay is for the skills you offer, you’re going to be so much better prepared. Not only for your interview but for your salary negotiation.
She mentioned the importance of having an opening statement that describes your superpower and the value of that is, not only do you stand out in the interview but when you’re ready to negotiate about money, you can keep coming back to that. In short, it’s why you want the job and why you’re the best candidate. But that doesn’t happen unless you do the research.
You’ve got to be prepared and we’ve got a resource that can help as well.
It’s called How to Talk About Money in an Interview.
If you’re looking for practical tips about how to research your market value, in order to get the salary you deserve, check out our new resource.
Go to macslist.org/moneytalk.
Well, thanks for listening to today’s episode of Find Your Dream Job.
Join us next Wednesday. Our guest expert will be Lida Tohidi. She’ll explain how to break into tech even if you’re not a techie.
Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.