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Lowballing a job offer, a recruiters secrets


job offer

shhhhh, the recruiters secrets of the low ball job offer

Just how little do I need to pay when I make a job offer?

I recently spoke to a class of graduating students on the topic of job offers and interviewing where I was asked a great question that I thought was worth sharing. The question was:

“How often is the hiring company trying to make a job offer for as low a salary as possible? How often does a company want to pay as little as possible for my skills?”

Great question, and one I would have never thought to ask. The short answer is,

“It is more the exception than the rule that companies are trying to cheat a candidate with a job offer.”

In my opinion most companies want to make a job offer that includes a fair salary for the work and the skills you are providing. It is the exception when a company wants to cheat an employee. Now what you think you are worth and what the company thinks you are worth may be two very different numbers. But remember, I am comparing your number to 50 other candidate numbers for this position, and 20 positions before you this one, so I have some idea what this position is worth. Candidates rely on numbers from or feel they were underpaid at their last job, and this is not a realistic baseline. 

Just because you didn’t get a raise in the last few years, doesn’t mean you are underpaid.  It could mean that the job market is flooded with candidates, the economy isn’t doing well, or a little bit of both.

When I gave my answer, I think I surprised most of the room. Most of the students were locked in the mindset that if the hiring company can save a few thousand dollars when making a job offer, it will. I understand this. It also makes sense that when hearing responses to the interview question “how much are you looking to get paid” I receive the most evasive, cagey, non-answers one could hear. 

“I would rather wait till I learn more about the position until I give you my answer” or the classic, “I am more concerned about the entire package vs. just a salary. I would like to wait and hear what the benefits are worth before I give you my answer.” Both sound fair in theory, but at the end of the day, we are all worth what we are worth, and that number falls within a pretty narrow window.   

Pssstt. . . For the record, the above are answers that make it awkward to continue the conversation. I asked an interview question and I didn’t get an answer.

This of course brought on the question “Why doesn’t the company give me the salary they are going to pay first? Why do I need to give my number to the hiring company? I will address this question in next weeks post. 

So I explained the business logic behind my answer to the question “Does a company want to lowball me when offering me job offer? 

When I give an offer, I do not want to low-ball anyone. Of course I don’t want to highball anyone, but I really do not want to low-ball anyone. 

Why I don’t want to highball a job offer

Lets say you are working at Beefy Burgers and the going rate of pay at Beefy Burgers for the role of French fry guy in your area is 9.00 an hour.

If you accept a job at Beefy Burgers as the French fry guy, of course you would love to make $13.50 (50% increase over $9.00) an hour or even $18.00 (double the $9.00) an hour. But unless you can pump out 50% more fries or DOUBLE the amount of fries than the guy next to you who is making 9.00 an hour than you are setting yourself up for failure. More importantly, the HR guy who offered you the position is setting YOU up for failure and I do not want to do that.    

Why would McDonalds want to pay you 18.00 an hour when you can only get the fry machine to pump out X amount of fries per hour.  We cannot rush the fry machine. Fries take 3 minutes in the deep fryer and paying you 18.00 an hour doesn’t get BeefyBurgers anything. Beefy Burgers will look at you, look at the guy next to you getting 9.00 an hour and realize Beefy Burgers needs to sell a hell of a lot more fries to make up the additional 9.00 an hour after profits. You are going to get replaced before you can say “2 all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese on a sesame seed bun” by another guy willing to take 9.00 and there are plenty of ‘THOSE guys” out there. The HR guy who offered you the position just set you up for failure and I do not want to do that.         

Why I don’t want to Low Ball a job offer

I put a lot of effort into recruiting every person I make an offer to. 

  • I had to work with the hiring manager to create a job posting
  • I had to pay $400.00 to to post the position, and if I wanted to use Indeed or, that costs me more
  • I had to sift through 100’s of resumes and whittle that pile down to 15 that looked like they had potential.    
  • I worked with the hiring manager AGAIN to figure out what 4 I am going to call for a phone interview.
  • I needed to arrange schedules with these 4 candidates to have an initial phone call and then arrange schedules with 3 of these to meet with myself and hiring manager in person. This is a mini act of god.    
  • The hiring manager will then pick two of the candidates and I need to arrange interview schedules with the hiring team which could easily be 4 different interviews or more. This will take a Major act of GOD and a lot of luck.  I cross my fingers and hope that no one cancels or the candidate doesn’t withdraw their application.
  • If all goes well, I have the beginning of a job offer forming.

Giving you a low-ball offer and taking a chance that you will realize you are worth more than what your peers are making doing the same job will get the low-balled candidate pissed. If I really low-ball you, you may even think about the HR nightmare of nightmares.   Going postal.

  • Guess who deals with a pissed off candidates attitude?
  • Guess who has to find someone to replace you when you quit in disgust?
  • Guess who hears from the CEO when you post your dis satisfaction up on
  • If you do not quit, your pissy attitude will leach out to the rest of the employees because when someone thinks they are underpaid, they want to verify it and ask everyone else on the team. 

If I give you a low-ball job offer, I run all kinds of risks:

  • If you were making more money in the past, I run the risk of you only giving me a percentage of your best effort. If you were making 10.00 an hour in the past and I offer 8.00 an hour, I may get 100% during the honey moon period of the new job, but will probably only get 80% effort moving forward. Your mentality will be that the low-ball pay is worth low-ball effort or low-ball attendance.   
  • As a manager, I don’t want to see 80% effort and I don’t want the rest of the team complaining to ME that Johnny is only putting in 80% effort. This is how the entire teams production eventually goes to 80%.  (Johnny isn’t making 10 widgets an hour, why should I?)   
  • The number 1 reason employees justify company theft is that they feel like they were underpaid and they were “owed” what they lifted from the company.

Guess who will be involved in every employee issue named above? Me, the HR guy. 

So you see, low-balling a job offer has nothing but downside for the company and will ONLY create more work and heartache for me the HR guy. Saving the company a few thousand dollars a year just isn’t worth it at TOO many levels. With so many companies thinking about creating great work environments and making the “Best Place to Work” lists, low-ball job offers don’t make sense.    

Before I leave you with these cheery thoughts, I want to clarify. Every company has a pay scale philosophy. Google’s philosophy is much different than a government agency’s pay philosophy, which is much different than a non-profit or a small private company.  Google has enough money that their employees can wipe with hundy’s and when money is no object, you go with your strengths.  Google’s philosophy is going to lean towards a mentality that pays top dollar for the top talent. A small start up will probably pay much less to the same Google candidate because they are not able to afford the Google philosophy, and a non-profit may pay even less for the same candidate.   

As the HR guy, I have a philosophy on pay that I am going to do everything I can to stick to across all of the offers I push out the door. I want everyone in the company to feel good about their offer because if someone is treated inconsistently, then they will probably feel like they were cheated.

Your offer may feel low compared to other companies and other industries, but it should be a consistent offer within the hiring company for what you bring to the table, and that my friends is the secret of the low ball offer.  

See you at the after party,


nasty:  an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, something that is ridiculously good, tricky and manipulative but with a result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone that is good at something. e.g.  “He has a nasty fork ball”.

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  • Chris Wang

    Employees aren’t stupid. Sure, nobody would share their salary with anyone, there are indirect ways that an employee could find out (other than Glassdoor or PayScale) that they are not paid what they are worth. For example, how can a coworker afford rent AND have fun while the employee struggles to get by? Or how can one even afford a child on the salary they are getting, when the other spouse isn’t working? It’s things like that that can leak out the truth ever so slowly and eventually turn an otherwise great employee bitter. Lowballing an otherwise great candidate will only lead to consequences to the employer in the long term.

    Consider the following scenario. A star employee who previously made $82,000/yr. at a former company for a couple years has gotten laid off due to budget cuts, has been out of a job for 6 months, frantically job searches and researches the market rate thoroughly based on his/her experiences and KNOWS how much he/she is worth. However, when he/she gets another job with the same duties where the salary range is $75,000-$85,000/yr. but only gets $65,000 because the hiring manager refuses to budge on a higher salary (“either take the offer or you’re not getting a job” scenario) even though the job candidate does everything right during the negotiation process, guess what? You will have one pissed-off employee. Sure, the employee will take the pay cut because he/she is desperate for a job because bills need to be paid, and you will save money by hiring a great employee. He/she will accepted being lowballed because he/she needs a job. But knowing that he/she has been cheated, the employee will be nothing the references say he/she is. Your employee will go through the motions, do the bare minimum, and continue looking for a better paying job because he/she is angry of being short handed money and not being paid what he/she is worth. And because of this, the employee is unable to focus due to anger, makes a lot of mistakes, and doesn’t give a damn about your company. Your new employee will become a disgruntled employee. And you know what you just did? You turned an otherwise star employee into a bad hire. The employee will eventually jump ship much sooner then you would like to, or you would have to fire the employee. Either way, the employer loses. Sure, employee may have lost the job, but the employer would also need to refill the position again by spending even more money on the hiring process.

    Why does this matter? Because it costs the employer 1.5 times the previously employee’s salary to hire someone knew than to keep the employee at a higher salary. So if you do the math, $65,000*1.5= $97,500. So would you hire the employee at $85,000, or waste even more by lowballing the employee and spend $12,500 more a year when you lose the employee? I would go with the former, but most importantly, I want a happy employee if I were the manager.

    So the next time a company wants to lowball an employee and pay much less than what he/she is truly worth, please consider that you are doing yourself more of a pain than a pleasure. Sure, you may save money, but cheating an employee with a significant pay cut will only cause more problems, has the capability of hurting the company, and ultimately waste more money. It’s a serious backfire that employers must take into account.

    • Mr. Wang,
      Thank you SO much for weighing in here. I completely agree. It really isn’t in the companies interest to low ball a candidate for all the reasons you listed. We turn good hires or star hires into bad employees. The employee will take our offer till they find one better, and if they are a good candidate, they will find another offer. After all, their resume is still floating around on all the job sites. Now, the recruiter has to start the outlined hiring process all over. Really appreciate you clarifying this with math and logic. Thank you! HRN

  • TotallyNotCool2016

    My interview experience with navstar and my perception of the company is that they are cheap, play games, waste of time, and the newly hired recruiter was being dishonest throughout the entire process. Made insultingly low ball offer based on perceived vulnerability of candidate, this speaks volumes about how the company conduct its business. Respect and loyalty goes both ways. I declined.

  • Tim

    The author comes off as being a bit arrogant and I question his business accumen. To quote “Beefy Burgers will look at you, look at the guy next to you getting 9.00 an hour and realize Beefy Burgers needs to sell a hell of a lot more fries to make up the additional 9.00 an hour after profits.” The after profits part of the quote does not make sense as it is currently written. You don’t pay employees with profit. The cash brought in from selling fries would be recognized as revenue which would be used to pay expenses such as employee salaries. Profit is determined after expenses are paid. I think what he is trying to say is that the profit margin on fries would be reduced by increased labor costs. Assuming that the typical cost breakdown for a $5 order of fries was:

    Material $1.00
    Labor time 5 minutes 5/60 = .0833
    Labor rate $9/hr
    Labor cost = .0833 * $9 = $0.75
    Labor OH rate 150%
    Labor OH = $0.75 * 1.5 = $1.125
    Profit = $5 – $1.125 – $0.75 – $1.00 = $2.125

    You can see that doubling labor costs without a reduction in labor time would significantly impact profit, and I believe this is the point that the author was trying to make. Management would no doubt question the labor rate of an employee making double their peers for the same statement of work.

  • Chris Hansen

    Corporate HR people get paid a salary to deal with the human conditions, and yes, sometimes it’s not fun. That’s why you’re part of HR. The funny thing is, you people think you’re in sales, and it’s pretty rare these days to find a recruitment professional who isn’t pissed off about dealing with the human issues of being in a HR functional role. That’s why this doesn’t work the way you want it to.


    Your peers and contemporaries are the people who cheapen the value of your role, not your candidates. Your companies are the ones who are choosing to not fix a system that is inherently and fundamentally broken at just about every level. Recruitment is now ‘click here please, and we’ll get back to you if we’re interested’. Professional keyword searching in an ATS isn’t Recruitment. Talking with people and understanding how/if to sell them as a product – THAT’s recruitment.

    If you’re a corporate recruiter, why do you care how much it costs to post a position? Or is the answer that you’re an outsourced provider to a company working ‘as-if’ (subcontract/vendor model) – because your highlight/complaint is a Tell.

    In own a business and I don’t complain about business operating expenses. That’s what I signed up for. Surely your Hires will contribute more than $400 to the company’s bottom line over the course of their employment.

    Bottom line is this:

    As a country we love to commoditize everything, because individual commodities are worth more than the sum of their parts. This is borne from a Sales-focused mentality that has pervaded everything we do, including Labor.

    If you don’t like searching for the perfect candidate, maybe it’s time to stop commoditizing your human resources. Hire people and then train them, and then keep developing them. Get back to the concept of a career vs. a job, bring back career development and preach bi-lateral loyalty. Start paying for things like better healthcare coverage and retirement benefits.

    You can’t have it both ways.

    If companies continue to commoditize their labor force, they have to reset their expectations. Problem is, you folks are not changing your expectations. We all have less than we did 10 years ago. Real wages have not kept up with inflation, so the $100k you made in 2000 is really worth about $85k in ‘real’ spending power, while our costs have increased exponentially for things like benefits. The absence of any kind of longevity in todays’ market place means you got just what you asked for. You got the Yugo, but still expect a Cadillac. Imbalance.

    And you wonder why no one like HR or Recruitment? You’re the face of corporate Greed, plain and simple. When personnel start charging you a premium for a task or goal (and you have to pay it), we’ll have a level playing field.

  • That is incorrect analysis, the simple fact of the matter is they lower the pay rate to the point when an inadequate number of candidates apply for the job, then they raise it just enough to get an adequate number of candidates for the job and that’s where the pay rate is set nor can you compare an hourly wage with a salary rate there both totally different for the same principle applies. And that nonsense you’re spewing about one person able to produce $10 worth of fries versus $8 worth of fries per hour that was gobbly gook considering as you said the machine can only produce so many fries per hour, also as you know labour is it busy biggest expense in business and they base the overall labor cost on the profit ratio margin that the company expects to receive. So please stop lying to people.

  • bklyngirl

    I came across this post after doing a Google search…today I got a low ball offer. Very low-ball. Fully 25% less than I was making at my last job (I’ve been unemployed one month now due to a huge company layoff). The thing is, I don’t believe in wasting anyone’s time, so on the very first HR phone call I answered honestly about what my salary expectations are and I asked if what I was making is in the company’s range – I was told I was “at the top of the company’s range” so we agreed to keep talking. I met with a bunch of key people including the CEO (I’m a VP level candidate), and it was a love fest, went amazingly well. Today the offer came in and I was completely floored that they would go that low. We are not talking $10K, it’s a big big cut. Am I out of line for thinking that this is nuts, and the reason why we talked salary range in the first place?

    • bklyngirl,
      sorry about the company lay off and thanks for checking out the site. I think it was the right thing for you to do by explaining what your salary ranges are right from the start. I have a couple of questions which I will list below, but I do not think you are out of line with your expectations. At this level, especially if you are talking with the CEO, I believe they should have had a conversation with you explaining where the company was financially and where their offer was going to come in.
      My initial question was did we give them a range or a single number. Sometimes when a candidate gives the company a range, it makes it easy for the company to present an offer that is in the ball park of the bottom of the range. Lets say your explained your range is between 150K to 175K. I can see where the company heard 150K and came in under 150K. Not very professional, but it becomes very easy for them to justify.

      The other question I would have is around base and bonus. Sometimes candidates give number and candidates interpret that number to be base plus bonus. So if the candidate says they are looking for 150K, the offer could be 75K base and 75K bonus?

      I would ask for a bit more info to pin this one down, feel free to email me directly at

      My recco is to go back to them and nicely, rationally, explain that: we talked about salary expectations in the first conversation and although you knew you were at the top of the range, the offer makes it sound like I was a LOT out of the range. I appreciate the offer, i really like the team and the product. I want to understand where the company (not “you, the CEO”) is at on this offer.

      And then let them do the talking. You want to be silent after this because we don’t want to make excuses or feel like we had to justify anything. You explained your expectations at the beginning, everything was going well and you were under the impression that although high, we were close and there would be a discussion.

      Hope this helps,


  • payequity

    This article highlights why laws are needed re: pay equity.

  • Postagilist

    The McDonalds Comparison is patently offensive and non germane to software engineering as an example.

    The rest seems self serving, like the leaches telling us how they really are a benefit and leaching takes so much time

    • Nick Lechnowskyj

      I agree, I love me some McDonalds fries!

  • Kim

    It would save a ton of time and effort for job seekers and employers if the job announcements just included a salary range. If that range is too low, people who won’t take it won’t apply, and the employer doesn’t get its heart set on someone it can’t afford while letting the second choice who can work within the range get taken by another company.

    • Kim, you make a great point, it would save a lot of time and hassle. What the company is trying to do is to find the perfect match. There are candidates who may be interested in taking a lower rate of pay not because they want to but because they are FORCED to because of the economy and their financial situation. Candidates that take lower offers are not happy in the long run and this is why it is important to the company to find out what the candidate is looking for. Hope this helps,


      • hrssuckdball

        your full of shit no one wants to take the lower pay ever what kinda crack rock are you smokin

    • Anastasia71

      I’ve received offers from 3 jobs in the last decade ALL of which gave me an initial offer BELOW (one of them a LOT below) the MINIMUM in the pay range of their ad. In hindsight that first position told me everything I needed to know and had I not taken the job I would have saved a crap ton of stress and resentment over the last 9 years. A low ball offer – which is anything the applicant sees as low ball or feels insulted by – is ALWAYS something to avoid. Why would you want to work for a company that blows sunshine up your bum (as my current potential employer is doing) about how amazing YOU are and offers an amazing job description and then BAM….offers you below minimum wage. Below McDonalds minimum wage, much less what’s appropriate for someone of your resume and decades of experience. Current economic climate be damned…. If you offer ANYTHING lower than median, in hopes the person will take it, then you don’t want that person, you don’t value that person, and why would you feel even remotely gratified if they were dim or desperate enough to take the offer? Hr and hiring would go a lot more smoothly if businesses thought about what average would be and then cranked it up a notch. People would be so surprised they might actually take your first offer and avoid all the bs “negotiation” we all have to suffer through after a pointless insulting low/mid ball offer. Sorry, just disgusted with capitalism, employers and hr lately…….

  • Saif

    I once declined an offer from HR Manager offering 20% less than my ask. Next day, I got the call from the Hiring Manager upping the offer to my ask. What would you say to that?

    • Amy Ala

      Did you take the job? 🙂 I really don’t know why that would happen. I can’t imagine seriously offering someone that much less, especially if there was budget to offer what you were asking.

    • Saif, sorry for the late response, took a vacation. Thanks for stopping by. I would say good for you and that it isn’t the way I want to do business. I realize that HR folks work with what they have, but trust me, no HR person wants to work this way. They may be forced to, but it isn’t their first choice. FWIW, Mrs. HRNasty has been lowballed a couple of times and I suggested she NOT to take it. (Thankfully, she was in a position to have the option to decline, and I realize not everyone is) Sure enough, the company came back with a higher offer. But again, is this a company that you want to work for? You are always going to be suspicious of everything the company offers you moving forward. Which is why this is NOT the way I want to operate.

      Appreciate the great perspective!


  • anilkups

    Hi HR Nasty,
    I have been unable to read your posts on feedly. I was earlier able to read it on feedly. Have you changed the settings? Or, do you want me to read only on your website? 😉

    • Anilkups,
      Sorry for my delay in replying. I was on vacation. Thanks for the heads up! I haven’t changed any settings. Are you using RSS? FeedBurner? I will double check and then check in with you on Friday if you don’t mind. I plan to post this Thursday. Happy to send you a t shirt or Vinyl decal for your trouble. Thank you again for the heads up!

  • Amy Ala

    The more I read this the more I love it. 🙂 Such a great and necessary post. I’ve been thinking about tackling a salary discussion post myself and this has, once again, inspired me Mr. Nasty! Thanks so much for shining a light on such an important topic.

    • Inspired? You are the muse here @alarecruiter. Yes, please do post something because I think that when candidates go into an interview with the mentality that they are going to be cheated or are not trusting. . . the hiring company will sense this. Who wants to hire a candidate that doesn’t trust the hiring company from day 1? Thanks for the support as always!

  • Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

    Great post as per usual, Nasty. Many hiring organizations and managers should take note and adopt your philosophy about salary and job offers. The ideal offer will always be at the intersection of what the candidate wants and what the market/hiring organization will bear. It’s in everyone’s best interests to find and meet that optimal number so that the opportunity is compelling all around. Any candidate that requires compensation above market had better be prepared to justify the premium. The magic of building the right offer requires that both employer and candidate know what the going market rate is for a similar candidate and understand the risks of going over/under said rate. And as Nasty as highlighted, the risks are great when you lowball an offer.

    • WTF! Thanks for stopping by and the support. Coming from a professional executive recruiter, this means something. You are absolutely right. If a candidate requires a premium salary, they better be prepared to deliver premium results long term, or both candidate and hiring company lose. Thank you!

  • gander2112

    Good post, and I believe your responses.

    But, I have to disagree that there isn’t a concerted effort to reduce the range of pay across the board. My last job, when I was seeking candidates, the pay scales and the expected deliverables were severely mismatched. They wanted to pay sub what a brand new to the role (product manager or product marketing engineer) person would expect to make, yet be able to attract very senior people. Needless to say, I got dinged because I couldn’t find qualified people at 80K who were used to making $130K.

    I doubt that this is an isolated experience, because I have seen it pretty consistently since 2007 (at the first whiff of the economic meltdown), and the company I worked for then pounced to not just reduce what new people were paid, but actually lowered salaries on people already there. Not temporary, permanent reductions.

    Not surprisingly, when the economy began to pick up, a mass exodus happened, but I suspect they cheered with glee and lowered their pay scale even more.

    Sorry for the rant.

    • Larry McKeogh

      Everybody wants as much as they can get without having to pay full price for it. You want it in laundry detergent, a car, why not a new employee as well. Especially when you hear how much talent is on the street. (supply v. demand) As mentioned in the past eventually some of them have to eat and they will take the 80K position. I know from first hand experience.

      The thing is, if that is the corporate culture and it really is a cultural thing, you don’t want to work there. The penny wise – pound foolish mentality will challenge you every time you turn around. These are the companies that are sitting in place or going backwards while the competition is leaving them behind.

      One great quote that I always keep in mind regarding a capital expenditures by Henry Ford is – “If you need a machine and don’t buy it, then you will ultimately find that you have paid for it and don’t have it.” I think a similar mentality could be applied to OPEX costs, especially when the 80K knowledge worker takes their knowledge somewhere else. This goes to the breakdown of the longer term view and implicit contract in business. It’s the new norm and we’ve got to adjust or die.