How do I make a salary counter-proposal?

Question: “I’m not happy with the job offer. How do I make a salary counter-proposal?”

by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.

First and foremost, congratulations on receiving the job offer. Celebrate the fact that you successfully worked your way into the position of the job-seeker who got offered the job.

Perhaps one of the toughest parts of the job-hunting experience — and often one of the most important — is the whole salary offer and salary negotiation phase. Job-seekers are often so focused on getting hired that they overlook what happens when the job offer is made. So, the key for job-seekers is preparation.

Remember that your goal in job-hunting is not only to get the job, but to get the job with the best possible salary and benefits package possible.

So, what should you do if you get a call on a Friday afternoon with the job offer, with the employer asking for an answer on the spot? Well, first I strongly suggest you never accept any job offer on the spot. Everything looks better in the excitement of the moment — of hearing those words you have been dreaming of… “we are offering you the position.” Not only should you request time to review the offer, I strongly suggest you also ask for the offer in writing, along with enough time to review the details of it.

So, once you have the salary offer in hand, if you are not happy about certain aspects of the offer, how can you negotiate changes? First, do your research — ideally on the company, but also the industry and location. The worst thing you can do in salary negotiation is ask for a salary because you “need” that much. It’s so much better to show that someone with your credentials deserves to “earn” so much. But you’ll also need to know whether the company even negotiates salary; some do, but others do not.

While you are researching salaries, you should also consider all the other aspects of the job offer, including such perks as bonuses, stock options, health insurance, vacation time, relocation expenses, tuition reimbursement, and more. (See a complete list of potential fringe benefits employers offer.)

You have one shot at making a counter proposal, so be sure you include all the elements of the offer that you want to change. Be conservative and realistic; you will not be able to change more than a few of the components of the offer. And in reality, if the employer moves on salary, in the long-run, that’s probably the most important component. Remember that you are in a position of strength because the employer has chosen you over all the other applicants, but also remember that you do not want to ask for the moon.

So, make your counter proposal. Start by praising the employer and identifying how you know you will be able to make an immediate contribution. Then outline your counter-proposal, using research wherever you can to justify the changes.

For some ideas on what your letter should look like, see our Sample Job Offer Counter Proposal Letter for Job-Seekers.

Once you’ve made the counter proposal, the employer will do one of three things… accept your proposal, counter your counter proposal, or reject your proposal. If it is one of the first two options, you really have no choice but to accept or reject. If they reject your proposal, and you should realize going into this process that this option is a possibility, then it’s time to move on because the offer is off the table.

You can learn more about making counter-offers in this article: Job Offer Too Low? Use These Key Salary Negotiation Techniques to Write a Counter Proposal Letter.

This article is part of a series from The Career Doctor’s Cures & Remedies to Quintessentially Perplexing Career and Job-Hunting Ailments. Read more.

See a list of all the most common college, career, and job questions — and Dr. Hansen’s solutions.

Who is the Career Doctor? Learn more, read his current career column, or browse the column archives when you visit the Career Doctor’s homepage. Founder Dr. Randall Hansen Dr. Randall S. Hansen is a nationally recognized career and job-search expert. He is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of He is also founder of and He is publisher of Quintessential Careers Press, including the Quintessential Careers electronic newsletter, QuintZine. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal Website or reach him by email at randall(at) Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.

Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.

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