Advice on making a counter-offer for a job

I’m going to try to walk a tightrope here…

I was offered a job a couple of weeks back. I guess I didn’t shoot high enough when they asked for a target salary (mistake #1), because the offer is lower than I asked for (expected, I suppose), and after crunching the numbers, it’s not enough to fund the lifestyle my family’s settled into over the last several years. The upshot is that they give substantial bonuses at the end of the year. I’ll also be traveling a lot more than their other employees (my choice), and they’re going to cover all of my travel expenses. When I was given the official offer, they cited the bonus and the travel as reasons the offer was lower than I’d asked for, although I was aware of both things when I laid my target salary on the table and had already factored them into my request. I’m not sure I made that clear to them, though.

The problem is that I’ve made the cardinal mistake of falling in love with the job. I like the company, I like the work arrangements, I like the work, and I really don’t want to work anywhere else. I’d honestly rather take this lower offer than make 15% more than what I’m asking for anywhere else.

So here’s my dilemma. I think if I ask for more, there’s a good chance I’ll get it. I’m willing to tell them that I’ll do whatever I can to keep travel costs down if it means more money in my pocket. If they don’t bite, though, then what? I really don’t want to lose the offer. If they just say no and I have to accept the original offer, I’d do it (great position to be in when negotiating, eh?), but I’m worried about how that will set the tone for the rest of my employment. Any insight on how small companies respond to counter-offers would be great.

Also, I’d honestly like to insist on my initial request. Should I drop that by a little bit as a sign of good faith?

I would keep travel expenses out of the negotiations. That’s just a business expense, not part of your compensation. Unless you have some weird situation where you can claim more than the actual expenses.

Is the size of the bonus alone enough to offset the reduced salary? I’m guessing not, but maybe you just like having a steady stream of income.

I would point out that travel costs should be off the table. So you’re getting reimbursed for travel. So what? You don’t gain anything, other than the ability to travel, and presumably you won’t be doing a lot of sightseeing.

ETA: Damn you, Hutz!

Judgment call. If it was me, I’d make a counteroffer I found acceptable. They’ll either accept it, counter your counter, or reject it. If they reject it, I think you’d likely still have the option to accept their original offer. Negotiation is part of the hiring process, and I’d expect the employer to understand that.

Well, they told me the figure they estimated for my travel expenses, and it seemed high. It’s one of those things where if the company’s paying for it, I take the most convenient flight and stay in the most convenient hotel, and it sounded like that’s what they based their estimate on. But if I’m just going on vacation I may fly at an off-time into a different airport and stay in a Motel 6, or even drive (which is an option) for a fraction of the price. But I see your point… they’re demanding that I be somewhere at a certain time, and that’s their business if they want to pay extra to help guarantee that I don’t get stuck in traffic or in some other city. So, point, taken, I won’t bring up travel.

The bonus does offset the reduced salary actually, but 2 things on that. One, it’s a bonus, and I don’t want to be in a position where little Cindy needs braces, only to find out that the company’s not doing so well so I guess no braces for you. A bonus should be a bonus, the way I see it, and I would have to rely on it as part of my budget, which I’m hesitant to do. The other thing is that I knew they did bonuses, and when they asked my what I wanted my salary to be, I told them what I wanted my salary to be, not my salary + any bonuses. But I worry now that I may not have made that clear, and they might be thinking they offered me what I asked for.

Thanks for the replies so far!

If they don’t guarantee the bonus in your contract, then that should not factor into your salary. The same sort of thing happened to me when I started my job last year. I told them what my salary expectation was and the CFO offered me that amount, split between salary and “expected minimum bonus”. I responded that my family’s standard of living, savings and fixed expenses were based on a regular monthly salary; unless my “expected minimum bonus” was contractually guaranteed, I needed the salary offer to be at least $X. They gave me what I asked for.

What Dotty said. If they aren’t guaranteeing your bonus, there’s no point in involving it in negotiations.

I agree with the posters above. Travel should be off the table altogether. As to bonuses, tell them, “We are negotiating salary, not bonuses. This is my minimum salary requirement.”

Agreed with everyone on the bonuses - you’re absolutely right that they can’t be counted on. Since you love the job, you could try countering at slightly lower than your original statement (which, by the way, you should not have given), with Boyo Jim’s tactic. I guess you need to decide what you’ll do if they stand firm - get a second, part-time job? Sell one of your cars or whatever it is that is making your expenses higher than they can be at this job?

What’s up with the travel? It should be off the table, but from both sides. Are they really saying “This position requires a lot of travel, so we’re reducing your salary to pay for it?” That’s like saying “This position requires you to debug a lot of hardware, so we’re reducing your salary to pay for all the testing tools you’ll need.” If that’s really their position, you may want to rethink you much you’ve fallen in love with this job.

Man, I’m glad I started this thread. All replies so far have been very useful.

Dotty, Really, Boyo - I double checked the offer, and no bonus is mentioned, so now it seems perfectly fair to take it off the table.

Cat - I wouldn’t even have to do anything as drastic as that, I’d just have to tone down a few of our more expensive habits. I don’t think we really live anything close to a lavish lifestyle, though, so I’d rather not. But I could, which is what makes asking for more money even harder.

muldoonthief - With the travel… I was casually offered this position months ago, but I decided to move to a different city. I left it up to them if they still wanted to hire me, which they clearly did, but they want me to report in every once in a while. The way they put it is, “Well, we’ll have to offer you less than we would have if you stayed local because there will be additional travel expenses,” but at this point I have no idea what they would have offered me if I hadn’t moved. As far as I know, they’re not really doing any math at all and just figured they could lowball me. I don’t think that’s what’s going on, but who knows.

I agree with this. Even reading what you’ve updated in the post past this one, I can’t see why they’re factoring travel into the equation of how much to compensate you.
Travel isn’t a bonus to you. As you said, you’re not sightseeing. You not getting extra perks having to stay in hotels all the time. This is a service that you’re providing. This is something you’re doing to help them that no one else in the company is doing. It would be like you saying “I don’t mind working three extra hours a day most days, as long as you reimburse me for dinner.” and they come back and say “hey, no problem, but because we’re kicking in for dinner, we’re going to have to lower your salary to compensate for that.” Yeah, no. The “compensation” is that you’re going above and beyond anyone else and they should be grateful, not trying to balance out the ledgers.

They want you. They want you so badly they’re willing to hire you from a different city and pay for you to come in. Clearly you’re a qualified candidate and more so than any local one applying for the job.
So let them prove that to you. They’re not going to kick you to the curb for asking for what should be a routine part of the business hiring process.


And if they do kick you to the curb for negotiating salary, is it really someplace you’d want to work?

Of course go back with a counter-offer. If they really want you they’ll find some way to make you happier with the salary (travel and non-guaranteed bonus are irrelevant as others have said). If they refuse to budge, then you have to decide if you’d still take the offer. When you make the counter-offer be sure to state an amount that you can live with if they agree to meet you half-way between what they’ve already offered and your counter-offer. Good luck.

Bonus are…bonuses.

Unless, like the quote above, there is a guaranteed minimum (which really isn’t a ‘bonus’ then) then the bonus is irrelevant in salary negotiations. Now, if you have a choice between 2 near-identical jobs then you would consider bonus…otherwise, irrelevant.

Too many times I’ve been/seen people enticed by a bonus that they never received.

I remember one time (long ago at a previous job) getting a call from someone who said they were interviewing at my company & had an offer… and they found my name in a book. She asked me many questions about the company than, almost as an aside said “The salary is a little low but the bonus is a real plus!”.


I asked her what bonus? She said that the employees routinely received as much as a 30% bonus. I responded that I worked there for 3 years and have never received a penny in bonus and wasn’t aware of anyone else that did either.

She was shocked. I noticed she didn’t take the job.

Never trust a bonus.

Yeah, I’m remembering my husband starting a job five years ago - the company promised him banked hours off with pay, to make up for being salaried and being expected to work some unpaid overtime. He had (if I recall correctly) about 30 or 40 days worth of banked time before his supervisor left and the new one didn’t know nuthin’ 'bout no banked hours. He didn’t take the job just based on banked hours, but it just proves that if it isn’t in your employment contract, you may or may not get it.

Actually, in this situation, it makes more sense why travel costs are on the table. They’re paying more in travel costs for you than for someone else, because essentially they’re paying your long-distance commuting costs. My suggestion is do some math yourself and see what the real difference should be. Then you can decide what kind of counteroffer to make (if it seems the travel costs are nowhere near the difference, you could for example offer to pay the travel yourself if the salary is what you originally asked for.)

I would be very sketchy on a bonus, as they have a nasty habit of never being given in many industries, especially in this economy. At my last job, they hired me in at one salary, then forced me to take a 25% pay cut a year later with the promise that I could make it up in bonuses up to and even exceeding the original amount I was making for new work I won. I was also put under a gag order where I was not allowed to discuss this arrangement with other employees

  • Oh, except ‘new work’ with the same customer didn’t qualify for a bonus.
  • And work where someone else helped land it didn’t count because “I” didn’t win it, it was “we” who won it.
  • When I won brand new work by myself, with a brand new customer and was told “Oh we won that because a guy who likes the company was on the proposal evaluation board, so that doesn’t count”, that was when I took another job and they looked dumbfounded at me handing in my two weeks notice.

When the other employees asked me why I was leaving when I was so successful at my job, you can bet I told them about all about the magical ‘bonus’ program.

With regard to the OP though, I might come down just a hair on your counter-offer to show some level of compromise if you love the job, but VERY LITTLE. Bonus and travel should be off the table.

Make the highest counter-offer that you think they’re likely to accept–probably somewhere around 7-10% more than their initial offer. (Of course, by naming “your” price first, you have effectively set a ceiling on what you can do–you can’t really go back and ask for more a second time!)

I am just going to offer a little word of caution here. I would be wary of trying to negotiate too much about salary with the unemployment numbers the way they are, especially if you really want THIS job. You don’t mention what occupation/business this is so it may be it is not an issue. However, in most professions their is definitely an excess of available workers right now. Unless you feel you are in a real strong position and are offering the company something no one else can, there is probably multiple candidates that the company could offer the job too, and at least one of them will be willing to accept the offer that the company has put forth to you.

I would still negotiate, but I definitely would be looking more towards a compromise versus a mandate.