How to Counter a Job Offer: Avoid Common Mistakes

When considering how to counter a job offer, jobseekers risk making several serious mistakes. We overview three common missteps at the bargaining table and explain how to avoid them.

By — on / Salary Negotiations

women negotiating salary

Imagine that after a long search, you’ve just gotten an offer for a highly appealing job. You’re tempted to accept it on the spot. At the same time, the job offer isn’t a perfect fit: the salary and a couple of other issues fall somewhat short of what you had hoped for. What should you do? Here’s a closer look at how to counter a job offer.

Mistake No. 1: Rushing to “Yes”

Many people understand that negotiating a job offer can make a big difference in their career, not just in the immediate future but for years to come. When you negotiate successfully for a higher salary, for example, you can expect to earn exponentially more over the course of your working life than you would earn if you didn’t negotiate. Similarly, negotiating for more responsibility or a coveted job title right off the bat can point your career in the right direction.

But when weighing how to counter a job offer, many negotiators are confused about when to negotiate for more. Specifically, people often think they should accept the offer on the table and only then negotiate. They worry that if they don’t accept the offer right away, the employer will assume they aren’t interested and give the job to someone else.

Typically, that’s not the case: Employers expect us to take a little time to think over their offer and perhaps talk it over with loved ones. Besides, quickly accepting an offer isn’t wise from a negotiation standpoint. Once you’ve made it clear you’ll take what they’re offering, you lose negotiating leverage and decrease your odds of getting more.

So, when you receive an offer, express your excitement and gratitude. Then ask for a little time to think. A day or two may be sufficient, unless you have more complex arrangements to juggle, such as one or more other offers, a cross-country move, or your partner’s own job search. Give yourself time to plan your strategy.

Mistake No. 2: Focusing Exclusively on Salary

The size of our paycheck has a dramatic impact on our lives, so it’s not surprising that most jobseekers tend to home in on salary when considering how to counter a job offer. Salary also tends to be the most vivid and straightforward issue to confront in job negotiations.

But negotiating exclusively, or even primarily, on salary is usually a mistake. Instead, you want to keep a bigger goal at the forefront: setting yourself up for long-term career success. After receiving a job offer, consider where you would like to be five, 10, or even 20 years from now. “The job you’re applying for isn’t your final job,” says David Lax, coauthor with James Sebenius of the book 3D Negotiation. “Rather, it’s setting you up for the next job.”

 Recognizing this allows you to look for opportunities to build the expertise and experience you will need in your next job and the one after that. Then you can negotiate for the tools you need to grow and thrive, such as a strong support staff or a title that will set you up for a future position. Ideally, you will have engaged in this type of forward thinking throughout your job search, but it’s not too late to plan ahead after you have an offer in hand.

Employers generally should be indifferent about spending their money on your salary or on benefits you might value more. If further schooling would enhance your job skills, the employer might be willing to pay your tuition with pretax dollars at a lower cost than you would pay out of pocket.

In sum, when evaluating a job offer, be sure to consider the big picture. You can and often should negotiate for a higher salary, of course, but other issues may be even more important to your long-term goals and earnings.

Mistake No. 3: Not Justifying Your Counteroffer

The first party to make an offer in a job negotiation—typically the employer—anchors the discussion that follows in their favor. So, when considering how to make a counteroffer, keep in mind that you will need to present a compelling justification for changes to the employer’s offer.

“Never let your proposal speak for itself—always tell the story that goes with it,” advises Harvard Business School professor Deepak Malhotra in Harvard Business Review. If you want to negotiate to work remotely one day a week, for example, prepare to say why—such as, “My kids come home early from school on Fridays.”

And if you plan to ask for a higher salary, be sure you have relevant benchmarks to back up your request, such as information from recruiters, industry insiders, or an online job site such as Glassdoor. Any employer worth working for will want to do their best to accommodate reasonable requests, so make your request as compelling and easy to fulfill as possible.

What other advice would you give those who are wondering how to make a counteroffer?

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