How to negotiate your starting salary with a compelling counter offer email
Salary negotiation email templates to deliver your counter offer when negotiating starting salary
by Josh Doody
You have a job offer, which means you successfully navigated the tricky job interview process. Congrats!
You know you should probably negotiate your salary, and that means starting with a counter offer. But how do you reply to an offer letter or verbal job offer to begin negotiating your salary? What do you say? Should you send a counter offer email or negotiate on the phone?
The brief phase of the negotiation between the time you get a job offer and when you make your counter offer sets the table for the entire salary negotiation and will have a substantial impact on your final compensation.
This guide will show you how to negotiate your salary over email with a step-by-step process. First, we’ll discuss why you should bother negotiating your salary at all. Then you’ll learn whether the best way to negotiate your job offer is through email or on the phone. Then you’ll get a detailed example of a counter offer letter along with a simple process to build your case and write your own counter offer email.
In this article, you’ll learn how to…
- Ask for time to consider your job offer
- Negotiate a lowball job offer
- Send a standard counter offer email
- Counter with your bottom line
- Disclose other offers in your counter
- Follow up after counter offering
Just in case you’re not convinced that you can or should negotiate a higher salary after a job offer, let’s start with a few common questions about the process.
Should you negotiate your job offer? Even if it’s already pretty good?
But you were probably looking for a little more information, weren’t you? 😉
Yes, because there might be room to negotiate.
If you interviewed well and avoided sharing your current or expected salary, then the company’s offer is designed to convince you to join their team (as opposed to being the minimum they think you’ll accept).
But most job offers—even strong ones—have some wiggle room in case you decide to negotiate, so you should counter offer to see if there’s wiggle room and how much wiggle room there might be.
Yes, negotiating your starting salary is a good way to get paid what you’re worth. Yes, negotiating will give you the best opportunity to get other additional benefits like vacation time or signing bonuses.
But the best reason to negotiate is that you could literally be leaving money on the table if you don’t test the company to see if there’s room to negotiate.
Should you negotiate your salary through email or a phone call?
I recommend negotiating salary over email as long as you can, but you’ll end up negotiating over the phone by the end of the process.
Sending a counter offer email is better for you because you can be more deliberate with every word, you can carefully articulate your counter offer and make your case, and because emails can be circulated internally among the decision makers who might need to approve a higher salary for you.
When you counter offer on the phone, you’re more likely to make mistakes due to nervousness or a simple lack of familiarity with the negotiation process. It’s also difficult to succinctly state your case for why you’re an exceptional candidate for the position when you’re nervous and feeling rushed on a phone call.
And even if you articulate your case well, then you’re at the mercy of the recruiter to clearly communicate your case to the other decision makers. You’re literally playing “The Telephone Game” with your salary negotiation, miscommunications during a salary negotiation aren’t nearly as funny.
Already counter offered and need to prepare for that final phone call? Here's a guide to your final salary negotiation: Salary negotiation script example
Hopefully you’re convinced that you should negotiate your salary and that a counter offer email is the way to go.
Where to begin? The first thing you should do is ask for some time to consider the job offer so that you can regroup and use this article to write a compelling salary negotiation email.
Your job offer will probably be of the informal variety, and you’ll either be told the details on a phone call with a hiring manager or recruiter, or the details will be emailed to you.
Here’s what to say to get some time to consider your job offer when it’s shared over the phone:
Thank you so much for your job offer. Do you mind if I take a couple of days to consider your offer and discuss this opportunity with my family?
They’ll almost certainly say, “Sure! I look forward to hearing what you think, and please let me know if you have any questions.”
And now you’ve moved the conversation off of the phone and into email.
Sometimes, you’ll get the job offer via email and you can just respond to that email and ask for more time. You can also respond with an email to a verbal offer made by the hiring manager or recruiter with an email.
Evaluate the job offer
There are many components to most job offers, but base salary is usually far more important than all of the others. Base salary is what you can use to set your budget, pay your mortgage, make your car payment, and put food on your table while you work for this company.
Base salary is also the gift that keeps on giving: You’ll get that salary every year and your raises, promotions, performance bonuses, and stock grants will usually be based on this number. You also get paid vacation time every year, but that doesn’t tend to affect your raises or bonuses. Signing bonuses are nice, but they’re a one-time thing.
Because it’s so important, we’ll primarily focus your counter offer on the base salary component.
Does the base salary component meet your minimum requirements?
Now that you’ve gotten a job offer and asked for time to think it over, you should… think it over.
Specifically, you need to determine if the offer is close enough to your minimum acceptable salary to negotiate as-is, or if it’s too low to work with.
As a general rule of thumb, if the job offer is more than 20% below your minimum acceptable salary, the offer is too low to negotiate using a standard approach. I call these “lowball” job offers.
If you’ve gotten a lowball job offer, it’s possible you won’t be able to salvage it, and you may end up simply telling the company what your minimum requirements are to see if they can meet them.
But first, you can use a technique that may encourage them to revise their offer and try again. The technique is pretty simple: tell the recruiter or hiring manager that the offer is disappointing and ask whether they can make any improvements.
Essentially, you’re trying to get them to negotiate against themselves to improve the offer before you counter offer. This will often induce the company to improve your job offer and try again, hopefully with a base salary that’s closer to or even above your minimum acceptable salary.
Now it’s time to counter offer. Here’s how to write a counter offer email.
The best way to counter offer is with an email. Not only does an email give you time to carefully outline your reasons for counter offering, but an email can be circulated within the company in the event that they need to use the financial approval process to allocate additional funds to grant your request.
Here’s a standard counter offer template, based on a real counter offer letter used in a real salary negotiation. I’ve changed the names and numbers, but otherwise it’s copied and pasted from my Sent email folder.
Let’s review the essential components of a strong baseline sample counter offer letter section by section. Then we’ll look at variations on the baseline template for specific situations.
Open with a greeting
You’ll usuall address your counter offer email to the recruiter you’ve been working with throughout the hiring process, not the hiring manager who extended the verbal job offer. Ultimately, you’ll address it to whoever has been your primary point of contact throughout the job interview process because you will probably negotiate with that same person as well.
Including a personal comment like “I hope you had a great weekend!” can help build rapport with the recruiter. That could be beneficial later when you need them to go to bat for you.
Suggest that you want to counter offer, but do not name the amount yet
Then cut to the chase quickly so that this section shows up in the email preview pane if possible: You’re pretty happy with the job offer, but you want to talk about the base salary component. In other words: you want to counter offer.
Don’t state your counter offer yet because because you want to make your case before you make a specific ask.
Make your case
Now you’ll write the longest paragraph in the email: your case to justify your counter offer.
Why spend all this time making your case instead of just getting to the point and making your counter offer? There are two main reasons:
1. Makes your counter offer more compelling and easier to accept
By making your case before your counter offer, you’re reinforcing the fact that you will add significant value to the company in this role. The better your case, the more reasonable your counter offer will seem.
This is the longest paragraph in the entire email because sometimes a wall of text can work in your favor. After one or two sentences, it should be pretty obvious that this is a long list of compelling reasons that you’re a good fit for the company. It’s one of the few times it’s a good thing if the recruiter doesn’t read the entire paragraph. This paragraph is specifically designed so the recruiter will eventually think, “Ok, I get it! You’re the perfect candidate for this job! 🙄 What’s it going to cost to bring you on board?”
Don’t go overboard here, but it’s ok if this paragraph is a little long. Six or seven reasons that you’re a good fit for the role should do it.
2. Gives the recruiter a written case to circulate internally
Sometimes, the recruiter will have an approved salary range they can accommodate and they’ll have authority to negotiate with you directly without further approval. Other times, they’ll need run your counter offer up the approval chain to see what’s possible.
When they need further approval, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to make a strong case to justify the additional salary. You could state your case verbally—on a phone call—but then you’re counting on them to remember everything and convey it to Finance or whoever can approve additional budget for your salary.
Instead, give them a well-written counter offer email that they can circulate along with their request for additional budget. You will make your own case much better than they will, so giving them your case in writing allows you to make your best case to whoever needs to approve your final salary.
How to write a compelling case to support your counter offer
Ask yourself, “What are five or six ways I can contribute to this team and make an impact right away?” Then write the answers down as bullet points or sentence fragments. All you need is the ideas to start with.
Once you have five or six good bullets, turn those bullets into sentences. Then turn those sentences into a paragraph and make sure it makes sense by reading it aloud. Once you can read it aloud and it makes sense, you’re all set.
Re-state the job offer
Briefly summarize the job offer so there’s no confusion or miscommunication. If you received a verbal job offer, you want to be sure the recruiter is aware of that offer and that it matches what they were told by the hiring manager. If you received a written job offer letter, then summarizing the job offer is just a formality, but it’s still useful.
If there has been any miscommunication around your job offer, now is the time to find out.
State your counter offer (finally!)
State your counter offer in a firm but neutral way. “I would be more comfortable if we can settle on $56,000.” is a good way to phrase your counter offer. It’s not combative, but it is firm and makes it easy for the recruiter to simply reply with “Ok, we can do that.” if it’s within the approved salary range.
Need help determining your counter offer amount? Use this counter offer calculator to get started: Salary negotiation counter offer calculator
“Are you sure you can’t do any better?” is not firm or neutral. That makes it very easy for the recruiter to simply say, “I’m sorry, we can’t.” By stating the actual amount along with “…I would be more comfortable…”, you’re forcing the recruiter to acknowledge the amount you counter offered and respond to that specific amount while making it tougher to simply say “No.”
Confirm or request next steps
If you haven’t already set your next meeting time or discussed other next steps, be sure to ask about them. “Thanks for your time, and please let me know our next steps.”
In this example, I had already scheduled a follow up call to discuss my job offer with the recruiter on Monday at 10:30 AM, so I simply confirmed that meeting time.
Salary negotiation email samples—special cases and unique situations
The baseline sample salary negotiation letter we reviewed above will work for most situations, but there are a few unique circumstances that might require a slightly modified version of the template.
Sometimes, the lowball technique will result in an improved job offer that you can negotiate with a standard counter offer. But sometimes the company will stand pat, indicating their offer is already about as strong as they’re comfortable with.
This usually means you won’t take the job because the offer is so far below your minimum acceptable salary that you can’t negotiate up to your minimum using standard techniques. Still, it can’t hurt to give them one last opportunity to meet your minimum acceptable salary by explicitly telling them what it will take to bring you onto their team.
When you’re countering with your minimum, it’s important to be sure you counter in a way that makes it clear you cannot accept the opportunity if they are unable to meet your minimum requirements. You would typically send this after you have gotten a response to the lowball technique described earlier in this article.
The wording in this version of your salary negotiation letter will be much less collaborative and more firm: “…the base salary needs to be…” as opposed to “…I would be more comfortable if we could settle on…”
That so you can be absolutely sure the recruiter understands that this number is no longer negotiable.
One of the most common questions my coaching clients ask about negotiating salary is whether they should get multiple job offers and use them as leverage in their salary negotiation with the company they really want to work with.
In general, I don’t think that’s a good tactic. But! This moment in the salary negotiation—when you’re delivering your counter offer—is the perfect time to alert the company that you’re considering multiple job offers so they are incentivized to improve their offer to convince you to join their team.
It doesn’t take much, and you can do this very subtly.
Before your signature, include a note that you’re considering other opportunities. This will send a strong signal to the recruiter that they not only need to make you a strong offer, but that it needs to be strong enough to compel you to accept their offer over the other company’s.
You don’t need to tell them which companies have made you offers or share the details of those offers at this stage. You might share those details later if you’re strongly leaning toward accepting another company’s offer and you would consider working for this company if they can meet or exceed that other offer.
When you’re negotiating salary over email, simply mentioning competing offers is sufficient. No need to go into great detail.
Send your draft counter offer email to someone you trust for review
After you use the counter offer letter sample above to write your own email, send it to a couple friends or family members for review. They might find typos or suggest some ways you can tighten it up or make it better. You can always remove the specific details of your job offer and counter offer if you’re not comfortable sharing them.
As soon as you hit Send on your counter offer email, you’ll breathe a small sigh of relief because your work is done. Then about 30 minutes later, you’ll feel nervous and think, “Why haven’t they replied yet?!” It’s normal to feel this way, and it’s normal for the recruiter to take a while to get back to you.
Most recruiters are communicating with several candidates at any given time. They’re very, very busy. So it could be a few hours before they even see your counter offer, and then they’ll likely need to compare it to the approved salary range for the job you’re pursuing, and possibly go talk to Finance or the Hiring Manager about your counter offer to see how much they can accommodate you.
These things all take time.
Of course, you’re focused on this particular offer and it’s extremely important to you because it will literally affect the next several years of your life in many ways. You care so much that you read a long article on how to negotiate your salary over email, carefully selected the right counter offer for your situation, wrote and edited your own counter offer email, sent it to friends or family to get feedback, edited it, and finally sent it back to the recruiter.
You’re laser focused on this one negotiation, whereas the recruiter is bouncing from offer to offer, just trying to keep up.
All that to say: Be patient and give it some time. They’ll get back to you eventually because their job is to fill the role you’re interviewing for.
But if you haven’t heard back from them after two or three business days (weekends don’t count!), it might help to send a short email to touch base, move your negotiation to the top of their list, and make sure you didn’t miss an email or phone call at some point.
You don’t need to akd how they feel about your counter offer, whether they can accommodate it, or anything like that. You don’t want them to know you’re sweating the negotiation—you’re just casually checking in to make sure they’re not waiting on you.
What happens next?
Once you send your counter offer email, there may be a short delay—typically less than 24 hours—and the recruiter or hiring manager will respond with something like, “Thanks for considering our offer. Do you have some time later today or early tomorrow to talk?” They want to move the conversation to the phone because it’s faster and because it favors them—they’re a lot more comfortable having this conversation than you are.
So as soon as you send your salary negotiation email, you need to prepare for your Final Discussion. This is what most people mean when they say “salary negotiation”. It’s a very short call—usually only 3–5 minutes—where they’ll respond to your counter offer and you’ll hash out all the final details of your compensation package.
Are you ready for your Final Discussion? Use this script to get the most out of your final call with the recruiter: salary negotiation script example
You should negotiate your job offer even if it already seems pretty good. The best way to begin the salary negotiation is by sending a counter offer email. Eventually, the negotiation will move to the phone, but it’s best to negotiate over email as long as you can because it’s easier to manage the process and avoid mistakes.
The first thing you should do when you get a job offer is ask for some time to think it over using this template.
Then, evaluate your job offer relative to your minimum acceptable salary to determine if you can negotiate using standard techniques or if you’ve received a lowball offer that might benefit from a unique tactic you can employ with this template.
Once you’re ready to counter offer, use the salary negotiation email sample to build your case and send your counter offer. There are also a couple of minor variations that may come in handy if your situation is unique.
If you don’t hear back after a few days, you might want to follow-up to make sure you’re still on the recruiter’s radar and that you didn’t miss any emails or phone calls. This template will help you check in.
Then it’s time to prepare for your Final Discussion, where you’ll hash out all the final details of your compensation package.