Why is my job offer so low? Don’t they value me?

Two women are negotiating, sitting across the table from one another.

One of the most important lessons that women often learn the hard way is that a job offer is rarely an appraisal of your value. Unfortunately, many women internalize the low initial offering that most employers provide. This leads to self-doubt, a weakening of your confidence, and the strong potential that you will say yes to that terrible job offer. This is exactly what the employer is hoping for.

The employer will always offer you the lowest salary to which they think you might agree.

This is not an evaluation of your value. It is a calculated risk taken by the employer to offer you a low-ball offer (known as an anchor in negotiation terminology) to influence your behaviour. They do it because it works. And it works especially well on women who have been socialized to be humble and grateful for every opportunity they are given.

Here’s what happens in your mind. You think: “Wow, that’s a low offer. Like, really low. That’s barely more than I’m making right now. I expected it would be $20k higher; that’s the range of the position and I’m pretty experienced. But I guess I’m not actually that great. And this is a better offer/company/position than my current job. I guess the good news is I’ll have lots of room to grow.”

Your mind shifts in a split second.

You come to the conclusion that you have far overvalued your worth, and your mind starts to recalculate your own assessment. You begin negotiating inside your own head.

Maybe you reduce your counteroffer from a 20k increase to $7k without every saying it out loud. The employer either counters again (if they see your low self-worth on display) or happily accepts the $7k, getting a terrific employee at a helluva deal.

Or maybe you accept that terrible offer, believing that you are indeed, not worth what you had thought in the first place. You sign the offer, happy to be making a move, but feeling more insecure than ever. Your employer is happy. But when you don’t negotiate, they begin to wonder if maybe you aren’t as good as you seemed in the interview.

The employer expects you to negotiate

This is what nobody ever tells you. Every employer offers a low first offer because they 100% expect that you will negotiate your job offer. After all, it would be ridiculous for a highly qualified candidate to accept the offer at that rate. You are highly capable. You’ve come out on top of the competition. They want you. They just want you for the lowest price you’re willing to accept.

You have the most power before you sign the offer

Here’s the important thing I need you to remember. You’ll never have as much power in your job as you do right now – before you sign your name on that dotted line and accept the terms of your new job offer. This is the time to ask for everything that you want. The salary, the benefits, the vacation, the flexibility. Once you’re in the job, you will only be able to gain incremental improvements. The only point where you have the power to make substantial gains in your wealth, benefits and opportunities is now – before you sign that job offer.

But it’s terrifying

I know, it is incredibly intimidating to think about submitting a counteroffer 20k higher than what was proposed. But men do it all the time. They ask for the top of the wage scale, whether they are qualified or not. Yes, there is a confidence there that has been socialized in the same way we, as women, have been socialized to be humble. But the truth is, a part of the huge wage gap that exists between men and women exists because women just don’t ask.

Now I am going to caveat this by saying we absolutely need to advance wage transparency across corporations, public services, and non-profit organizations. But that will cost money to the establishment. (You don’t really think they’d reduce men’s salaries to the level of those of women, right? Wage parity is going to cost organizations billions just to equalize.) As much as I’d like to wave my magic wand and make that happen, I don’t have a lot of faith that it’s going to happen quickly. In the meantime, we can make progress as more women assume positions of decision-making authority and change the systems beneath them.

Just because you had to play nice in the old boys club to get where you are, doesn’t mean that you need to enforce those rules for the women and equity-seeking leaders who come after you. Use your power, privilege, and position to eliminate barriers and create new and equitable rules.

As I see it, the fastest way forward is through courage, preparation, and action. You can do hard things (I love you Glennon Doyle). And you can ask for what you deserve.

If you’d like to learn how to negotiate your next job offer with confidence and competence, check out Strategic Salary Negotiation – my digital course designed to help women like you negotiate for what you deserve and desire. It’s available 24/7, and in just a few hours, helps you put together a complete negotiation strategy that you can use to identify and prioritize the benefits that matter to you – and practice using strategies that harness your empathy and values to help you negotiate in a way that feels authentic to you.

Keep learning!

If you’re not quite ready to negotiate your salary, then be sure to sign up below for my weekly newsletter. Continue learning about the process of negotiation, the emotional blind spots that stop you from negotiating effectively, and the strategies that you can employ for success.

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