What’s your goal in an interview? To get the best job offer possible and to set yourself up to negotiate the best salary possible. You want the company to focus on “What do we have to offer to convince them to join our team?” as opposed to “What’s the minimum we can pay to bring them on board?” It’s a subtle but important distinction.

Occasionally you’ll ace your interviews and still get a lowball job offer, way below your minimum acceptable salary. Maybe they simply can’t afford you, or maybe their pay range for this particular job is so wide that they don’t know where to slot you in.

So what can you do to reset the salary negotiation? Here’s a tactic you can use when negotiating a lowball salary offer.

You could go straight to your minimum acceptable salary

Your minimum acceptable salary makes negotiating pretty easy because it allows you to draw a line in the sand, determine whether a standard negotiation strategy can get you past that line, and counter offer appropriately. Then you know whether to counter offer above your minimum acceptable salary, or just state your minimum acceptable salary as an ultimatum:

“I’m sorry, but I can’t accept this position for less than [your minimum acceptable salary].”

But declaring your minimum acceptable salary should be a last resort—you don’t want to do this unless you absolutely have to.

Fortunately, there’s were a way to significantly improve on a lowball job offer without counter offering at all! Here’s how Joe did it.

How Joe improved his job offer without counter offering

I recently worked with a coaching client—let’s call him Joe—who was pursuing a senior position at a very popular, publicly traded tech company—let’s call it ACME Corp.

Joe did really well in his interviews, and we were anticipating a strong job offer from ACME Corp.

“We would like to extend you a job offer…” Great news! But the salary and equity they offered caused us to do a double-take. That’s it? That’s the job offer? We were hoping for much better than that.

The offer was well below the minimum acceptable salary Joe had set before they made the job offer.

They explained that they were cash-strapped and working to grow quickly, so they couldn’t pay a high base salary. They hoped to make up some ground with the equity they were offering, but the equity was underwhelming as well.

Joe had been lowballed. It happens! But we didn’t panic because we had a plan.

When to use this tactic

But before I tell you what we did, let’s talk about when you should use this tactic.

The first thing to do when you get a job offer is to say something like, “Thanks for the offer! Do you mind if I take a couple of days to think it over and discuss it with my family?” Then you can take your time to consider the situation and plan your next move.

With a lowball job offer, the best move may be to use a very powerful negotiation technique: silence. The trick is to deploy it at the right time like when you get a lowball job offer.

Silence can sometimes turn a lowball job offer into a more reasonable job offer by giving the company a chance to reset the salary negotiation without making a counter offer. This is key because you really only get one “big” counter offer, and you want to save it until the baseline job offer is as strong as possible.

How do you know when silence is the right response to a lowball job offer?

If these things are true, then responding with silence may be the right move:

  • The company is impressed with you and has indicated they want you to join the team—Did they initiate contact with you and ask you to interview? Were you referred to them by a reliable employee? Have they said that they really want you, specifically, for this role? If any of these is true, you can check this off.
  • The offer is so low that your best response with a straightforward negotiation strategy is to deploy your minimum acceptable salary as an ultimatum—If their offer is more than 20% below your minimum acceptable salary, you can check this off.
  • You're prepared to accept a little uncomfortable silence and stand your ground—This technique is not for the faint of heart. It will feel awkward and uncomfortable, and it may not work. If you're ok with this discomfort, you can check this off.

Are all those things true for you? If they are, then this tactic may be good for your situation.

How to use silence when negotiating a lowball salary offer

You won’t be totally silent—you are going to say something—but you will be silent in terms of explicitly negotiating the job offer they made. Rather than counter offering their lowball job offer, you will give them the opportunity to improve the offer and reset the salary negotiation.

You’ll do that with this short email template you can use to respond to a lowball job offer. First I’ll share the email template, then I’ll explain why it works.

To: [Recruiter]
Subject: [Your name] - My thoughts on [name of person who made the offer]'s verbal offer

Hi [Recruiter name]

[Company name] seems like a great company and this particular opportunity is an exciting one for me because I’m a great fit for [company name]'s needs right now and it’s a great chance for me to continue growing as a [job title you're pursuing].

Thank you for extending an offer. It is somewhat disappointing as it seems to be a bit below what I’ve seen for similar jobs in my market research. This is an exciting opportunity, but I want to be sure this move is a step forward for me in my career.

Are there improvements that can be made to this offer so I can consider them?

Thanks for your time!

[Your name]
[Your email address]

Replace all the [bold text in brackets] with your own details and this template should give you a great starting point.

How this works

The company wants to bring you on board, so they’re thinking “What do we have to offer to convince them to join our team?” They’re probably thinking pretty narrowly—a little more salary, slightly better benefits, maybe a signing bonus.

This email tells them “You need to think bigger if you want me to come on board.” The second paragraph is key as it does two things:

  1. It let’s the company know you’re “disappointed” with the job offer. This is a diplomatic way of saying, “This job offer is no good. If you’re trying to convince me to join the team, this is a miss.”
  2. It tells how to right the ship. “…I want to be sure this move is a step forward in my career.” In other words, “This offer isn’t a big enough step forward for me.”

Translation: “This lowball job offer hasn’t convinced me to come on board. Want to try again?”

Joe improved his lowball job offer by 30% without counter offering

Joe sent a very similar email in response to his lowball job offer. We didn’t hear anything for a day or so, but then he got a call from the recruiter he had been working with…

“Hi Joe, we agree that our job offer was a little underwhelming. So we went back to the drawing board and here’s what we came up with…”

The new offer was still heavy on equity, but they increased it by 30% by adding a little to the base salary and increasing the equity portion by more than 60%! The best part was that the new offer was strong enough to meet Joe’s minimum acceptable salary and it gave him an opportunity to counter offer and see just how high the company would go.

What happens next?

This email will usually elicit one of two responses, and both are useful.

They may say, “Ok, thanks for considering our job offer. We look forward to hearing your response.” Essentially, they’re letting you know that they’re comfortable with that job offer and it’s pretty close to as good as it’s going to get. In this case, you would just proceed with your standard counter offer.

But sometimes they will try again! “Let us see if we can do better. We’ll get back to you.” That’s what you’re after!

Once they send a revised job offer, then you can proceed with a standard starting salary negotiation.

Beware that companies will often revise their lowball job offer to be pretty close to their best-possible job offer, which means your standard salary negotiation strategy may not yield as big a return when used in conjunction with this technique. The ultimate result is what you want—you’ve determined how much the company is willing to pay you to do the job—and you just got there combining two techniques instead of a single salary negotiation technique.