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Ask the Headhunter: Job offer too low? Here’s how to ask for more.

Question: After three interviews and giving yet another lengthy presentation on how I would do the job, I was offered the position as director of tourism for a town near a major city where rents average $1,800 a month.

Since it’s a director role, I figured the position would pay $70,000 or more. I currently make $63,000 with good health insurance that I don’t have to pay anything for.

To my shock, the offer is $45,000 a year and I have to pay for benefits. I cried. I literally cried. I am 33, 11 years out of college, and my resume rocks. Do they think I am stupid or are employers that clueless? $45,000 is an entry-level, out-of-college salary here in this booming metropolitan area.

Should I even try to negotiate for $20,000-$30,000 more? It sounds like a joke!

Part of me wants to tell them to screw off. This problem is that this director-level job sounds really great. But I would lose my apartment because I couldn’t afford it, and I’d not have much for gas or for food. Maybe they think I live with my parents?

Where do they get off offering entry-level pay for a director role to someone with 11 years experience? Any advice? My family, my friends and I are in shock. Help!

Nick Corcodilos: I’m not as surprised as you are because, even though employers across the nation complain there’s a talent and skills shortage, and that good workers are hard to find, wages are not going up appreciably.

Employers are doing two things. They’re bargain hunting and they’re keeping more of their profits rather than sharing them with employees.

I imagine you did not ask the salary range on the job before you invested your time interviewing. That’s a huge mistake. Make sure you and the employer are on the same page from the start. Don’t engage in wishful thinking!

I give you a lot of credit for using the interviews to demonstrate how you’d do the job. (See “The Basics.”) That’s how to interview, and I’m guessing that’s why they chose you! (The salary offer is another issue.)

But I see you are already rationalizing taking a job for half what you think you’re worth because “this director-level job sounds really great” Really? Many employers try to substitute impressive job titles for fair salaries. They count on candidates talking themselves into an undesirable deal because the less meaningful aspects of the offer sound exciting. Please be careful not to sell yourself short.

If you are ready to walk away from this, and have nothing to lose, then do not say “No” to them. Say “Yes, but…”

It seems you really want the job — so why not try to get it on your terms? I’d go back at them with the following.

How to say it:

“I showed you I could do the job profitably for you, and I’m glad you were impressed enough to want to hire me. I want the job and I’d love to work with you! So I accept the job. But I cannot accept the terms you have offered. I’m ready to start work [tomorrow, or whatever day you choose] at $72,000. I will leave it up to you.”

Do not say anything more. They already know all the reasons they want to hire you. Now let them consider whether they are willing to pay to get what they need, or whether they’re willing to lose you. (It can be a very long way to the next great candidate!)

They will probably say no. But when they realize you know what you’re worth, and that it’s now on them to make a decision, they may come back with a better offer.

If they don’t, and you really are looking for a $70,000 job, politely tell them the following.

How to say it:

“I am worth upwards of $70,000 in today’s market, where employers are complaining about a talent and skills shortage. I’ve found that your competitors are very determined to hire hard-to-find talent and to pay what I’m worth. I wish you the best – it was wonderful to meet you and to learn all about your company.”

You don’t owe them any explanations at this point, so don’t let them drag you into a debate. Remember: They’ve already settled the main question: They want you. Now they must decide whether to accept your terms.

You ask how such employers “get off offering entry-level pay for a director role to someone with 11 years experience.” They do it because they think they can get away with it.

If you think you can get a good job that pays $70,000 or more, you should not waste your time trying to talk yourself into a deal that you’re clearly unhappy about – even insulted by. And I would not waste time negotiating with a company that’s going to offer you less than you want.

Look, if you need to pay the bills, and you need a paycheck of any size, I’m the last person to criticize you for talking yourself into a lower salary. Do what you must to live. But if you feel as strongly as you suggest you do, don’t fall victim to a company that’s bargain hunting.

On to the next!

(For more on this topic, please read “How can I go back and ask for more money?”)

Dear Readers: Where do you draw the line on a lousy job offer? When you know you’re going to walk away anyway, don’t say “No” to a low job offer. Say “Yes, if you’ll pay me what I want.” How would you advise this reader?

Nick Corcodilos invites Making Sense readers to subscribe to his free weekly Ask The Headhunter© Newsletter. His in-depth “how to” PDF books are available on his website: “How to Work With Headhunters…and how to make headhunters work for you,” “Keep Your Salary Under Wraps,” “How Can I Change Careers?” and “Fearless Job Hunting.”

Send your questions to Nick, and join him for discussion every week here on Making Sense. Thanks for participating!

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