When can you negotiate a salary offer and when should you not?

By Robert Half on 11 June 2019

If you’re not happy with a salary offer, don’t feel like you must accept the first figure that is put to you.

The thought of negotiating may be nerve-wracking, but you should always aim to get the base salary you deserve. Negotiating to try and get a better offer is common practice, so there’s no reason to shy away from it or to be embarrassed. In fact, some companies will factor in some movement to their salary package, to allow for this negotiation to take place.

Many candidates still ask the question “When can you negotiate a salary offer?” And are there some situations where you should just accept the offer on the table or walk away, without negotiating? This article aims to explain how you can understand your true worth and what situations you should and shouldn’t try to negotiate on salary.

Understand your worth

Before you even consider negotiating your salary, make sure you have done your research. This will help you understand what a “competitive salary” is for the industry you’re aiming to work in.

To get started, download Robert Half’s Salary Guide. This provides an up-to-date overview of salaries in Hong Kong for finance, accounting, financial services, and technology professionals.

When can you negotiate a salary offer?

1. If you’ve received a written job offer – Don’t start negotiating straight away after you receive a phone call from the employer. Wait for the job offer to be made official (given to you in writing) first.

2. If the salary you’re being offered is not competitive – If you are confident the salary being offered to you is below average, negotiation is an option. Explain your research and what the industry average typically is for the role you’re being considered for.

3. If you’re going to decline the offer – If you’re 100% set on turning down the offer, solely due to the salary, then it’s worth negotiating. You don’t have anything to lose and you may even be pleasantly surprised by an improved offer. Make sure you don’t take this route though if you are still considering the job, as playing devil’s advocate will not guarantee you a higher salary offer.

When should you not negotiate a salary offer?

Whilst you can always try to negotiate, there are some situations where it’s risky, as it could start you off on the wrong foot or call your commitment to the role into question. If you push the boundaries too far before you’ve even started, the company could become exasperated and even retract the job offer.

Here are three situations where you may not want to negotiate a salary offer, or you may need to tread especially carefully:

1. If the offer is acceptable – If you think the salary you have been offered is reasonable, it’s not necessary to negotiate. Pushing the limits to see if you can get a higher salary is a risky move. It can make you look greedy and you may end up losing the position completely.

2. If you’re aware it’s the best offer you will get - If the business is keen for you to work with them and they’ve told you that the offer being put on the table is their best offer, there wouldn’t be any benefit in negotiating. This could, of course, be just a tactic, but this is something you will need to weigh up in terms of whether it’s worth the risk of disregarding their comment and pushing for more. Perhaps you could see whether you can negotiate on other elements of the salary package instead. For example, work flexibility, holiday days, training opportunities etc. It’s important to remember that money isn’t always everything, so don’t be too greedy and make sure you take a step back to consider the bigger picture.

3. If you’ve already accepted the job and salary – If you’ve already said “yes” to the job offer and associated salary, this isn’t a good time to negotiate. Whilst it’s not impossible, think carefully about whether you want to do this, as it could frustrate your employers and give a bad impression of you.

There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to when you can negotiate a salary offer, but make sure you don’t undervalue yourself and you gauge the situation carefully before pushing too far.

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