Red Flags Behind Low Ball Job Offers


Imagine for a moment that you’re on the hunt for a job. You’re invited for a couple rounds of interviews and about a week or two later you get your offer. Congratulations!

But there’s a catch. Your salary is far below competitive. You research on PayScale and Glassdoor and discover others in a similar role are making more elsewhere. So, you call your new boss to negotiate.

You might get several different excuses behind the low ball offer. Many of them are red flags that you seriously can’t afford to ignore.

Possible Excuse #1: “The salary may be low, but we have great benefits.”

Red Flag: Skewed Priorities

Unless your benefits include free food and guaranteed income when you retire, they aren’t really benefits. Health insurance is no longer a benefit in the US—it’s a mandate.

And as fun as they are, foosball tables and espresso machines don’t pay the electric bill or for your kid’s braces. You’re an adult with real world responsibilities and possibly a spouse and children counting on you. You owe it to yourself and them to get what’s fair for the value you plan to bring to the table.

Possible Excuse #2: “We are a startup/small business that can’t afford to pay competitively.”

Red Flag: Instability

This might be an indication of the health of the organization. The last thing your resume needs is an employer that is probably failing or stagnating. Not only will you likely be back on the job hunt soon, you also might not have any helpful references either.

I once came across an advertising agency that paid all of its employees nearly half the national averages. While they worked with some impressive brands and espoused a great culture, the red flag arose when I saw that they had been in business for almost 19 years. A firm that old that can’t pay near national averages is a clue to look elsewhere.

On the startup side, it may indicate the company isn’t funded enough. That shouldn’t be a turn-off completely, but it will mean a lot of hustle, late nights, and instant ramen on everyone’s part to reach profitability as soon as possible. If the salary is low and there’s no attractive profit-sharing package on the table, as well as a contingent if the company is sold and those shares made worthless, it might be better to just walk away.

Possible Excuse #3: “Your experience level is a little lower than what we were hoping for.”

Red Flag: Lack of Direction

So why did they offer you the gig? Are they saying that of all the candidates they interviewed, you’re the one that sucked the least? Do they even know what they are hiring for? A response like this is at worse insulting and at best a waste of your time and the company’s.

Something that’s (sadly) often forgotten is that companies are people—not conglomerations of skill sets. If a potential employer is hung up on the lack of what you’ve done elsewhere versus the potential of what you can for him, he is likely not going to understand or appreciate the value you bring. Your salary may start low and stay low.

Possible Excuse #4: “It’s based on what you made at your last position.”

Red Flag: Undervaluing Employees

What if you were underpaid at your last position? You were probably on the job hunt in the first place because you wanted to grow your career and sought fairer treatment.

Forbes columnist Liz Ryan says that whatever you made at your previous job is actually irrelevant to potential employers. If it’s rude for friends to ask what you make at your job, then it’s rude for strangers (including recruiters) to ask the same.

The only reason someone would want to ask for your last salary is to bargain hunt rather than to invest wisely. Bargain hunting is great when you’re acquiring socks and toilet paper—not for on-boarding amazing talent.

Bottom Line: You’re Worth It

When it comes to salary, you should definitely be realistic and not arrogant. Asking for more than what your experience and expertise calls for is entitlement—regardless if you’re a millennial or not.

Maybe you just need the paycheck for now to keep your house while you finish a degree or certification. Or the job is a strategic part on the path to your dream job. Or the work you’ll do is meaningful, helps others, and makes you a better human being. In that sense, it’s perfectly okay to take a low ball offer.

Whether you’re starting your career or have decades of experience under your belt, you know best what sacrifices you and your family had to make to get to where you are now. You’re a unique individual with life experiences and perspectives that no one will ever be able to duplicate.

You shouldn’t be afraid to ask for what is fair. After all, if your work is really as good as you know it is, then whoever hires you will reap benefits far beyond the cost to bring you into the fold.