“I finally got a job offer!”
“Congrats! Are you accepting it?”
“Yeah, I’m leaning towards accepting it.”

This is a pretty common conversation, and you may not even see anything suspicious about it. But keep reading and you will!

The problem is that both people are assuming there are only two responses to the job offer: “I accept” and “I decline”. Not only are there other responses, but those two aren’t even very good.

To be fair, this is often a deliberate impression given by the company. They want you to think your options are “accept” or “decline”. Here’s what the last line in a job offer email from Google might look like:

“May I kindly ask you to confirm your offer acceptance to start at Google on October 3 by just replying to this email so that I can inform the relocation team and contract team to get in touch with you and set up the contract.”

“…confirm your offer acceptance…” There’s some not-so-subtle pressure to simply take the offer, and it’s implied that your options are to confirm or not confirm—”accept” or “decline”.

Most people see a job offer as the job offer: the salary, benefits, start date, target bonus and all the other bullet points are all one package to either accept or reject. And of course, most people are inclined to accept big packages of money, vacation time, health insurance and things like that.

But there’s another response that can result in a higher salary and better benefits. When you break away from the “accept” and “decline” options, you can create a new list of options for the company to choose from. Before I tell you that response, you need to know why you have other options.

Imagine if we shopped for cars this way

“I would like to buy a car.” “Great! We’re offering you a red sedan with gray interior and no floormats for $25,000. Please confirm your offer acceptance so I can inform the sales manager.”

But you want a white coupe with tan interior and floormats, and your budget is only $20,000, and you just saw a car like the one you want on the lot. You have a lot more options than just “I accept” or “I decline”, and you know the dealer has a lot more offerings than the one they made you.

Companies have a menu of options to choose from and several of those options have a range of possibilities they can offer. Some things are take it or leave it—target bonus, health insurance plans—but other things are adjustable—base salary, vacation days, and start date, for example. And that means you have a menu of options to choose from when presented with a job offer, not just “accept” or “decline”.

How should you respond to a job offer?

Instead of accepting or declining your next job offer, you should negotiate the job offer. That will enable you to learn more about the menu of options available to improve the initial job offer they made.

By negotiating, you can determine if the salary they offered is really the highest they can pay for your skillset and experience. Or maybe you can get an additional week of paid vacation each year. But you won’t know if those options are available unless you negotiate.

Let’s loop back on the conversation at the beginning of the article to see how it might go now that we know there are other options besides “I accept” and “I decline”:

“I finally got a job offer!”
“Congrats! Are you accepting it?”
“I’m not quite to that point. I’m going to see if they’ll increase the starting salary, and I want to see about getting another week of paid vacation.”