So, you’ve received a job offer, but the salary isn’t good enough. It’s so important to start a new job with a high salary because that’s what your future bonuses and pay increases will be based on. Starting a job on a good salary gives you even more room to improve. But, is turning down a job offer without burning bridges possible?
It’s a fine art. If you get it right, you might receive an even better offer by the morning. If you get it wrong, you could be missing out on a fantastic opportunity. So, it’s crucially important that you learn to walk that tightrope as best you can.
Our guide starts with a brief look at when to turn down a job offer due to salary. It’s not always a good idea to push for more money, for many reasons which we address below. On the other hand, you have to balance that with how much you believe your work to be worth.
We’ll then provide some tips on how to reject a job offer. Plus, for your benefit, there’s a section on what to do if things go wrong. After all, negotiations don’t always work out, so it’s best to be prepared.
When to Turn Down a Job Offer Because of Salary
If you’re not sure whether to turn down a job offer or not, all you have to think of is one thing. It’s all about knowing your worth. Do you think you’re worth more than they’re offering? That’s a sure sign that you’re being low-balled. Consider the points below and see what you think of their offer after you’ve read them.
1) Negotiate a Better Salary
Everyone walks away from job offers during a negotiation: it’s a basic tactic.
Of course, in specific jobs, there’s little room to negotiate. In a minimum wage job, for example, there’s no use holding out for higher wages. If they wanted, the employer would find somebody else quickly. But if your expertise is valuable, negotiating is wise. Rejecting a low salary offer is something they expect to happen.
But negotiation isn’t always worth it. There are a few questions you have to ask yourself before you go all-in with this tactic.
2) What Do You Earn Now?
Sure, you might not like the offer they’ve put on the table. But, whether you like it or not, how does it stack up against your current earnings? You might aspire to earn a certain amount, but is that a number you should be aiming for at this point of your career?
Maybe you should take an improvement of 10% instead of digging your heels in for 20%. You might get knocked back, after all.
3) What Are the Industry Averages?
Another salary-related issue. How much do you currently earn compared to industry averages? And how much would you earn relative to your industry averages in a new job? You might be surprised at just how much (or just how little!) you’ve been offered.
The average depends on many other factors, too, like:
- Your age
- Your expected career path after taking the new job
- Your location (i.e., working in San Francisco, your salary should be higher)
There’s no golden rule as to exactly how much you ‘should’ be earning. But weigh up these factors before you dismiss the job offer out of hand. Bear in mind that even different cities have different minimum wage laws.
4) What Would It Take to Uproot?
According to the American Moving and Storage Association, the average U.S. home move costs $2,300 locally and $4,300 long distance. That’s no small fee.
Even aside from money, though, you have to consider how happy you are at your current workplace. Do you love working with the people you work with? Or do you work in an amazing location, right in the heart of a city?
If so, even if the salary is right, you might want to consider whether you’d miss your current employer. This is especially the case if you’d have to move to a new city since moving can be exceptionally stressful.
5) Balance Opportunity vs. Salary
So, last but not least you have to think of the opportunities you could grab hold of by abandoning ship.
Even if the salary isn’t what you wanted, consider whether:
- The job is with an industry leader, where you could make a name for yourself
- The job is well-known for being a springboard to bigger, better things
- The job offers plenty of training opportunities that could advance your career
- The job seems like great fun, compared to your current dull position
All of these factors, put together, can make up an awful lot of ground on a lower salary than you’d like. But what if it’s just not enough? Well, then, you’ll have to learn how to turn down a job offer. Let’s find out how.
How to Turn Down a Job Offer Because of Salary
How do you tactfully turn down a job offer because of salary? There’s an art to it, that’s for sure. It’s not as simple as firing out an email saying “Not interested: thanks but no thanks!” If you’re only turning down the offer because of salary, then it stands to reason that if they offered enough, you’d take the job. Right?
That’s why you have to make sure that you push the door closed, but leave it ajar. By being clear that you’re turning down the job because of salary, you give the other party a chance to negotiate. If they do, then you could have a great opportunity at a new job and a salary you can be proud of. So how do you do it? Here’s how.
Decide on Your ‘Minimum Salary’
You might be certain that their offer isn’t good enough. At least, it’s not good enough yet. But have you thought about what the minimum is that you’re willing to say ‘yes’ for? Before you start any negotiation, it’s wise to set out what you want and what you need.
Depending on your preferences, you might want to consider:
- Total guaranteed yearly salary
- Any bonuses you might receive. What might you earn, and how often?
- Any training available to you once you start
So, what’s your minimum ‘yes’? Is there a figure in dollars and cents that you wouldn’t be willing to earn less than? Or, even if the salary is top notch: what about bonuses? Would you prefer to work somewhere that offers a better commission on sales, for example? There’s also the issue of training and career progression. For example, would you like certain reassurances on where the position leads? Will there be internal promotions you can take advantage of to move up the ladder?
Set out your absolute minimum, but aim higher when you negotiate. That way, even if you get knocked back, you’ll still be comfortable.
Turn Down the Offer in Writing
You might prefer doing business over the phone, but as you’ll know, sometimes you need a record of what was said and when. That’s why you should reject any offer in writing. If you’ve already called, it might be wise to send an email as well.
There’s a good chance you’re wondering why. Well, if the recruiter offers you a higher salary over the phone… Who’s to say that their offer won’t magically disappear when it comes time to put pen to paper? If you do want a higher offer, it’s wise to conduct your business over email. That way you can be certain it’ll be waiting for you later.
Tell Them Why You Rejected a Job Offer
By far the most important thing in negotiations is honesty. You have to be upfront about why you’re saying no. Put yourself in their shoes for a moment: you’ve offered a job to two different people, and received two rejections back.
One of them goes like this:
“Thanks for the offer. It seems like an excellent opportunity, but I’ll have to say no. Thanks again, and best of luck in your continued search.”
This one’s a pretty clear ‘no.’ It’s so clear that the rejection is even offering you luck in searching for someone else. By comparison, what might you think if the second candidate sent you this?
“Thanks for the offer. It seems like an excellent opportunity–one that I’d love to take on. However, I’m not sure that the salary is quite enough to tempt me away from my current role. Please feel free to contact me should you have any further questions.”
In sales and similar jobs, this is what’s called a ‘soft no.’ Sure, you’re saying no, but you’re clear that that could change. This gives the recruiter an opportunity to get back to you with an improved offer.
Be Direct: Get to the Point
So, honesty is essential, but what else? Well, you can be as honest as you want, but if you don’t get to the point, then it won’t come across. You don’t owe the recruiter anything, so it isn’t like you have to let them down gently. It’s almost better if you do the opposite. Get to the money: tell them straight away what the problem is.
Consider the same scenario as above, where one rejection goes like this:
“First of all, thank you so much for the offer. Before I say anything else, the position does seem like an excellent one. I’d go as far as to say that it would be an excellent next step in my career. However, on this occasion, I’ll have to say no. Unfortunately, my current circumstances prohibit me from being able to take on a new role. There are many reasons why: relocating would be stressful, taking on a new role would be difficult at this point in my career, and the salary isn’t quite what I would expect. That being said…”
Now, if you were saying no to a friend or relative, this might be a normal-enough response. You can see what the candidate is trying to do. They’re trying to sugar-coat their ‘no’ in as many nice ways as possible. What you have to bear in mind is that this recruiter is a busy person. They didn’t want to hear your life story, and they’d prefer if you got to the point.
Be Decisive: Don’t Delay Responding
It’s difficult to say no. Everybody knows that. But the worst thing you can do is to delay, ‘um’ and ‘ahh’ about how to respond. If you’re certain that you want to say no, then don’t waste any time before you respond. Why? Because if you do, then the job might go to somebody else anyway. If it does, then what does it matter how carefully you plan your rejection?
The best thing to do is to start by writing out the very first things that come to your head. Talk to the recruiter, in your head, as you type: that way, you’ll at least have some words on the page. It doesn’t matter if it’s terrible, and it doesn’t matter if what you’ve written sounds stupid. You can refine what you’ve written once you’ve got it out. This will help you avoid delays, and pushing it to the back of your mind.
How to Turn Down a Job Offer You Already Accepted
Plenty of jobs these days are only offered with ‘competitive’ rates. In other words, they won’t tell you exactly what the salary is until you accept. This puts you in a difficult situation: you’re unable to weed out the lower-paying positions before you start searching, and you’re unable to tell recruiters ‘no’ before you say ‘yes.’ So how do you turn down a job offer you already accepted?
It’s an awkward situation, but bear the following in mind:
- You don’t owe the employer, or the recruiter, anything. You don’t have to say ‘yes’ if you don’t want to.
- If you enter a negotiation without the option of saying ‘no,’ you’re setting yourself up for failure. Great negotiators aren’t afraid to walk away when necessary.
So how can you turn down a job offer you already accepted? The answer is deceptively simple: be honest. Again, there’s nothing as important as honesty. Tell the recruiter that while the opportunity seems excellent, the salary on offer doesn’t seem to match it. The same applies if you’re saying ‘no’ because your circumstances change. Just be honest and upfront, and you can’t go wrong.
What If Rejecting a Job Offer Goes Wrong?
You’ve sent your rejection email, and followed our guidelines above. But what do you do if things go wrong? If you really wanted the job, but just wanted to negotiate, it’s a real shame if they treat your rejection as a hard ‘no.’ Just remember: all’s not lost. Let’s take a look at what you can do if a recruiter takes your attempt at negotiation as a solid rejection.
Replying is Difficult, But Not Impossible
After you sent your rejection, the recruiter emailed you back almost straight away. Unfortunately, they didn’t read too much into your email.
They responded with this:
Thanks for your interest in the position so far, and for letting me know that you aren’t interested. Best of luck in your future career.
That seems an awful lot like a templated response, which means that they might have missed the point of your rejection. At this point, you probably think it’s impossible to come back from their response. But it’s not impossible, just tricky. What’s holding you back is a feeling that it might be awkward or odd to reply at this point.
Awkwardness aside, isn’t it worth doing anything you can to further your career? You have to be prepared to reply, no matter how socially difficult it might seem.
Be Straightforward and Ask for What You Want
Becoming tired of the dance of negotiation is easy. And, yes, it is like a dance: very few people as for exactly what they want. It’s far more common to dance and tip-toe around the issue, in the hope that they’ll eventually offer you something that’s similar to what you wanted in the first place. You can avoid the dance by just asking for what you want.
Let’s say that the recruiter emailed you with the email in the section above. What do you say to them in response? You could send a cryptic message like the following:
“Thanks for your response. If you were keen to chat any more about the position, all you have to do is email me or give me a call.”
That’s some great dancing, but can you say that’s clear? You could want anything. And because you’re not clear, the recruiter doesn’t know how to respond. They’ll focus on a different candidate instead, one who knows what they want. Consider, instead, sending the following:
“Thanks for your response. Would it be possible to negotiate the salary? If so, I would certainly be interested in the position.”
See how that’s different? The recruiter knows exactly what you want. And, who knows, they might be in a position to offer an improved salary.
What If the Salary Offer Still Isn’t Good Enough?
There’s nothing more frustrating than getting an offer back that still isn’t good enough. You can negotiate further, but if they’re not willing to budge, you’re stuck with the same two options as you were before: accept it or move on. What should you do?
Compromise should never be out of the question. It’s only a rare occasion that negotiations end with one party getting everything they want. Bear in mind that no matter who you’re negotiating with, the odds are that you’ll probably still have to compromise. It’s an unfortunate part of life.
At the same time, you can always negotiate further. Nothing is stopping you from sending back another counter-offer. After all, they’re asking you to uproot your life and start again somewhere new. That isn’t something you should take lightly. Ask them what else they’re prepared to offer, and see what they say.
If you feel the offer still isn’t good enough, don’t be afraid to tell them no–again. The last thing you’d want to teach an employer is that they can low-ball you. It sets you up for a career of disappointments, which it would be best to avoid.
The first thing you have to do is assess your decision. Are you sure you’re doing the right thing? Consider things like national industry averages, as well as potential career progression, before you turn down any job–regardless of salary.
If you’ve made up your mind to push their offer aside, then be as direct as possible about it. Don’t tip-toe around the issue. Be straightforward and tell the recruiter exactly why you’re saying no. That way, you’re firm in your rejection, but you leave the door open to negotiation.
If things do go wrong, and the recruiter accepts your rejection at face value, don’t be afraid to message them back. Be clear and ask them to start negotiations. If they say no, what have you lost? You could be on your way to a job with an excellent salary.
If all else fails, remember this: there are plenty more job offers out there. Make a great start on your future job search by letting the recruiter know that you’d be interested in any other positions they might come across. You might not get this job, but there may be another one just around the corner.
If you’re unsure whether to leave an existing job due to the wage, here are some ways to get a raise at work.
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