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Closing the deal: Negotiating job offers

Elizabeth Wallencheck, associate director of coaching in career and leadership for MBA students and UNC Kenan-Flagler alumni, shares tips on the career journey. 
Job negotiation
Finding a job is difficult. You spend countless hours searching job listings, engaging in a string of interviews and enduring anxiety-filled days waiting to hear if you got the job.

After all of that work, accepting the first offer from the company can be tempting. Sure you thought your salary could have been a little higher or your vacation a few weeks longer, but you got a job and that is all that matters, right?

Wrong. If you are not happy with the initial offer, negotiate. You can use a number of strategies to improve your compensation package while maintaining a positive relationship with your future employer.

Negotiating is not a power struggle or a tug-of-war. It is simply identifying the gaps between the offer you got and the offer you want and sharing them with your prospective employer.

Taking time to respond

Once you receive an offer, there is no rush to accept it right away. Make sure to express your gratitude for the offer and show enthusiasm to keep the opportunity alive, but then tell the employer when you will get back to them. Do not wait for the company to give you a deadline because their urgency to close the deal might not give you much time to fully consider the offer. Instead give them a date – two, three or four days out – and let them push back if they want a response sooner.

Before jumping straight into negotiating, you might need to gather additional information. This could mean reaching out to the company with a question or two. You will likely want to keep the information-gathering separate from negotiating to give yourself time to create a strategy.


Similar to buying a house, the company does not generally start with its best offer. Employers expect you to negotiate, so they give themselves a little bit of room for discussion. If you do not negotiate, there is a good chance you are leaving money on the table.

Don’t worry about the repercussions of negotiating because it is highly unlikely the company would rescind your offer, especially if you approach it in a polite and understanding way. They would just say “no” and the original offer would still be on the table for consideration.

 Beginning the process

Start by doing research on the company. Websites such as, and provide information on salaries. Job boards and trade/professional associations might also provide insights into compensation for your job or similar ones. If you are negotiating with a nonprofit, the organization must file paperwork with the government stating salaries of the five highest-paid staff. You can find that information on and help ensure your expectations are in line with the employer’s pay structure.

Once you have gathered information, approach the hiring manager – versus human resources – who will know best how well you will fit the team’s needs and are the most invested in bringing you on board. That person also will be in a position to champion you with human resources and other parties involved in the negotiation.

When you start the conversation with the hiring manager, tell them that you have carefully considered the offer and would like to discuss it. There is no need to use the word “negotiate.” Start on a positive note by expressing interest in the job and sharing a few positives about the offer. Then let them know what falls short. Begin with the salary because it is typically the largest part of the package, and if the hiring manager is unable to match your salary request, she/he might feel more compelled to give more of something else.

Discussing salary

If you are asking for an increased salary, you might want to add some insight on why you think a higher figure is appropriate. Do you have more years of experience than the average new hire or have you experienced standout success in the industry?  If the company is not able to improve the salary, you might want to explore an increase in your performance bonus. It is easier for companies to justify paying you more if you are doing more work. You also can ask for an early salary review.

When discussing salary, the company might ask what you want. Avoid giving a specific figure. Instead, talk in general ranges like “from the mid 80’s to the upper 90’s” to give yourself some flexibility. Stating a specific number could lock you in at that amount when you could have gotten a bit more.

 Don’t be too concerned about taking your requests too far, as the employer will tell you if you have reached a limit. In most cases, keep your requests for further improvement to one or two requests on each point – do not keep going back and forth.

Remember most of negotiating is asking questions or simply sharing your concerns, not making demands. If you raise your points in a professional and polite way, the company will be much more responsive than if you make demands.

Understanding what’s negotiable

Most parts of a compensation package are negotiable. Aside from salary, you can discuss signing and performance bonuses, commissions, vacation, relocation benefits and more. The only two items that are not negotiable for the average employee are health-care benefits and 401(k) retirement plans.

By Kelly McNeil (BSBA ’19)