Got A Job Offer But The Pay Is Too Low: Tips On Negotiating A Higher Salary

Plumeria in HAwaiiI recently came back from a vacation in Hawaii, and believe it or not, I got a job offer!  I didn't mean to get a job offer, but between eating some white puree mangos for breakfast and hitting the waves for some boogie boarding, I decided to reach out to the head of a major wealth management firm over e-mail.

To my surprise, he responded the same day and CCed his assistant to set up a meeting.  After an hour over coffee, he asked when I could start?  I told him I had to think things through since my roots are in San Francisco.  As any good blogger does, I wrote a post entitled, “Would You Take A Steep Pay Cut To Live In Paradise?” and allowed it to percolate and help me think.  Have a read if you want to know more.

In this post, I'd like to go through some mental exercises to do if you do get a job offer you like but feel the pay is too low.  I plan to go through some of these steps and so should you.  I'm meeting up with the gentleman next week (yes, I'm going back to Hawaii), and will report back my findings.


* Know your worth.  The worst thing you can do is accept a job offer out of desparation, and realize you're being severely underpaid after the fact.  Resentment will fester until you quit.  It's important to know your worth by checking online sites such as,, career forums and with financial bloggers.  Congruency is key.

* Know the market.  Hawaii is famous for paying less and costing more.  The reason for lower pay is because Hawaii is paradise.  Firms in Hawaii don't need to pay up to attract talent.  Salary for doctors in the boondocks are way higher than in major cities like New York City and LA to start, because the desire to live in the boondocks is lower.  You can't approach your potential employer and demand X, when the market is at X * 80%.  That will just show your ignorance.  Make sure you know the local market wages.

* Calculate expenses.  If you don't have to move for your new job, great, ignore this.  However, if you do plan to move, also take into consideration food, gasoline, taxes, and education costs.  Furthermore, you should peruse property you realistically plan to rent or buy in your area of choice.  Honolulu is actually about 30% cheaper than San Francisco on a like-for-like price per square foot basis.

* Calculate your total income and assess how you feel.  If you are taking a paycut to move closer to family, or to a nicer place, calculate what the environment is worth to you to.  Take your new salary and add on your various income streams to see if it feels right.  Have an salary idea in mind before the heavy salary negotiations.

* Talk salary last.  Do not give the impression that all you care about is money.  Money should be the last thing you bring up.  In fact, don't bring up money until they bring it up first.  Instead, you need to focus on the reasons why you are good for the job, what you can bring to the table, and your long-term commitment to the job.  Nothing is more maddening than a manager losing an employee just 6 months into the job.

* Anchor high.  When the inevitable topic of salary comes, always anchor higher than you'd be willing to accept.  The anchor must be within reason, obviously.  For example, if the offer is $100,000, and you know the market is $90,000 to $110,000, shoot for $130,000 and highlight the reasons why (your clients, expertise, your wife/husband, kids in school etc).

* Never give an answer right away.  Waiting is a very powerful negotiation tactic.  It shows you are level-headed, are not in a rush, and potentially have other job offers lined up.  Your distance will make an employer want you more.


Always join people, not firms.  Get to know your hiring manager and your future colleagues as much as possible.  They won't mind having lunch and drinks with you.  It's for your own good, and for their own good as well.  You will be spending more time with them than some of your loved ones, so you better get along!

I'm looking forward to meeting up with my potential new employer.  If nothing comes out of it, at the very least I'll make a new contact and eat some good food!


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Updated for 2020 and beyond.

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36 thoughts on “Got A Job Offer But The Pay Is Too Low: Tips On Negotiating A Higher Salary”

  1. Ms. Conviviality

    I just submitted an application for a position within my organization, which would be a promotion from a senior auditor to an audit manager, and was in a quandary about how much I should enter in the box for “anticipated salary.” I thought, I wonder what Sam has to say about salary negotiations. So I typed salary negotiations in the search box and ended up reading Colleen Kong Savage’s article on “Why is it so hard to ask for what we’re worth?” and Holly of Club Thrifty’s article on “Why Women Earn Less than Men – A Woman’s Perspective” as well as your article here. All were very good articles in identifying why I didn’t feel like I could ask for what I’m worth. The job posting listed $80K minimum salary but I know that the previous person in the position was making $90K which is the average for someone in the audit manager position in my field and industry so why shouldn’t I ask for at least that much?! Sure, the previous guy had retired at 65 with more years of experience but I’ve been working for this organization as an internal auditor for 13 years and I believe that I could do a job as good as or better than him despite being younger. It felt good asking for what I’m worth. Thanks for featuring articles that help people like me make good decisions.

  2. I used these tips to negotiate a 32% pay increase during my annual review. I appreciate the tips, thanks for that. I feel being patient and staying level headed really paid off the most. They originally counter offered an 18% pay raise when I asked for a 39% increase. I stuck to my guns and finally settled on 32%. It was tough for me to get this conversation started as it was my first career salary negotiation after my first promotion 3 years out of college. It worked!

  3. Sam,
    Great post. I particularly loved hove you emphasized on joining the people and not the firm. You’re absolutely right, and a lot of candidates get lost and forget about this important point. In the last two months I was contacted for 2 potential jobs. One was a great opportunity in the financial sector – downtown Toronto, near Bay St, but not on it….yet! After some consideration, a phone interview, I declined the job during the invite for the 2nd interview. It didn’t seem like the right fit, and more importantly I would have been making a lateral move in terms of money and few less perks. Even though it’s my dream to work in the downtown core, it has to make sense in many ways in order for me to make the move. Cheers!

  4. Hi Sam,
    I think you’ve found your ideal combination of corporate exec / blogger / vacation land resident. IMHO, based on your earlier blogs on the subject, you are not ready to hang it all up yet. In 15 years, maybe. I think you’ve got it all under control. You’ll get the salary that you can live with and make money while playing tennis, blogging and smelling the oh-so-gorgeous flowers. Best of luck to you, let us know how things develop!

  5. Great tips, but the best tip of all is “join people not firms”. I cannot echo this enough, you have work side by side these people for 8 maybe 12 hours a day. You have to like, respect and be willing to do this, no matter what the pay is.

    I left companies because of shitty people/co-workers, I’ve never left over pay.

  6. From Shopping to Saving

    Great post and I will be bookmarking this for future use. These are important factors in making any huge move or life decision!

    I read about the post on Untemplater too and it sounds to me like you would enjoy living in paradise! Did you make a final decision?

  7. All the jobs I love are voluntary. I write for an e-zine and even that doesn’t pay.
    People say: “do what you love and the money will follow” – not so in my experience!
    When it comes to talking money I notice the discomfort. Apparently my enthusiasm (and talent) is not worth paying for!? I don’t stress about it anymore but it does make me wonder…why money and my talents don’t go together??

  8. The only thing I’d add is to keep connecting and selling yourself until you are sure that you are the one the company wants (top candidate, ideally the only candidate)- then you can be sure to negotiate effectively.

    Realize that if you are viewed as somewhat ‘equivalent’ in a field of a few candidates then your negotiation power will always be marginalized. So it is up to you to stand out and show that you are the key person for the job. Besides connecting with the company and role, it is good to get to the point of having shared goals and a vision, ideally all prior to the heavy negotiations. The best time for seller (you) is after the buyer (employer) is sure they want to purchase, not while they are thinking about it.

    With this technique, I was able to negotiate a 60% increase early in my career, and a 100% increase mid-career when changing jobs.

    Good luck!


  9. Darwin's Money

    I just went through the motions with what I thought might have been a good gig. Rapidly growing hot company in pharma, US headquarters, I wouldn’t have to move, etc. Oh, and promo to full director, so I figured the pay would be a nice bump. Went through the motions with phone interview, about to go in for the full monte and bounced the notion of total comp off the headhunter before wasting everyone’s time. I don’t think of myself as highly compensated, nor is my company known for paying well. As it turns out, this new position with this seemingly strong gig had total comp about the same as what I’m making now. What a bust! Glad I didn’t waste a vacation day and their time going through a full day of interviews only to find out the pay wasn’t nearly what would be required to make a move. I’m happy where I’m at and primarily for networking purposes go through the motions once a year or so, but was surprised to hear they wouldn’t be paying a higher premium to current total comp.

  10. Well congrats on the job offer nonetheless. I once worked with a wheeler dealer type that told me never do anything for free. Someone is always getting paid. Even when it’s a fundraiser.

  11. Sometimes it is difficult to know the market for the particular job in which you are interviewing. I’ve negotiated what I thought was a great offer, only to learn I probably could have done better. Over time, I’ve learned to negotiate for more.

  12. Depends on one’s confidence in generating business. I would negotiate a higher base in the beginning, and then a higher commissions after at least a year or two of being in the field.

  13. I always try to negotiate but the salaries were in line with what I expected. I got lucky once and they offered above what I thought was market for the area and I even negotiated more vacation and a moving allowance.

  14. Good points, it makes me glad I no longer have to negotiate salary. One of the tricks I used was ask for a 60 or 90 day review. Another may be a bonus based on reasonable goals. You best bargaining position is when they want you so you want to do all this upfront.

  15. Sunil l Expedited Wealth Building through Entrepreneurship

    some good tips, particularly selecting the people you want to work with. seems like the couple guys I hired recently read your blog as well. two of these were just used on me :)

      1. Sunil l Expedited Wealth Building through Entrepreneurship

        sorry – was referring to the negotiation strategies…nice to see them at work

  16. I tried to negotiate a job contract once and wasn’t successful. I didn’t think my chances of getting more were that high but I tried anyway. I wanted the job and if I hadn’t taken it I would have been unemployed. I didn’t want to give up my chance at working there so I took the offer. Looking back I probably could have negotiated something else like more vacation days or something but I wasn’t smart enough to ask. Best of luck with your negotiations!

  17. Sometimes it is hard to get down to the people you will actually be working with – in an interview situation, especially if you are coming in from out of town.

    At my stage of life, I’d take this in a minute – as long as the job lets you have time to actually enjoy the paradise!

  18. Money Beagle

    All good advice. I really do like the part about working for the people, not the firm. I’ve learned my lesson the hard way that I thought I was working for a great company only to have a truly awful boss. The only problem here is that things can change, people get promoted, transferred, leave their job, etc. so this can only be a small part as it will likely change rather quickly.

  19. Congrats! Only you can land a potential new job while sipping mai tais.

    I agree on all but I disagree on the “talking salary last” point. If the job you’re going for is one where your compensation is directly tied to you generating revenue for the firm, some sort of commission pay scale for example, that would be the first thing to ask (say at the end of your first conversation for example, regardless if they bring it up or not). i.e. what is the comission formula.

    You’d waste a lot of time interviewing if you wait until the end of all your interviews or wait for them. But again, this is for roles where you’re getting hired to produce revenue. Meaning if they’re hiring you to generate revenue, they’ll like it that you ask the formula, because then they know you are focused on generating revenue for the firm (and that’s why they’re hiring you).
    Net net, different interview strategy if you’re a cost center or revenue center for the firm. I agree with you if you’re the former, but not the latter.

    1. The thing with me is, I enjoy meeting new people and it doesn’t hurt that he insists on buying even if I offer. I’ve already got a vague idea of the salary ranges. The nitty gritty will be hammered home at the end if anything.

  20. Nice article. I am glad you talked about the environment and cost of living aspects. You obviously do not want to take a higher salary in an area that has a cost of living that is comparatively higher than where you are, just for the money.

  21. DebtsnTaxes

    Very good advice Sam. This advice can go with any type of negotiations like buying a car or purchasing a home. Patience is key, as long as you don’t throw an offer out that is too ridiculous, it gives the seller time to think and doesn’t make you look anxious. I’m looking forward to hearing how your meeting goes next week. Have fun in Hawaii!

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