How to negotiate a job offer in a recession

Myelle Lansat


Myelle Lansat

Myelle Lansat

News Editor

Myelle Lansat is a news editor at Policygenius, where she writes the Easy Money newsletter and covers insurance and personal finance. Previously, she was a personal finance writer at CNBC and Acorns, and a reporter for Business Insider.

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It may feel intimidating to ask for more compensation from a job offer in a recession. Regardless of the times, you should always negotiate a job offer, said Rich Jones, founder and CEO of Paychecks and Balances.

If a company extends an offer, they’ve signaled that they want you. “You’re in the driver’s seat more than you think,” said Jones. “A change in the economy shouldn’t mean a change in your worth.”

The pandemic shook the economy and slowed — or in some cases indefinitely stalled — salary increases across all industries. The exception? Job offers increased the income for new hires in by 0.8% in 2020, according to new data from Payscale. Some areas, like tech, are seeing more salary bumps and other business, like retail, are not.

In a lot of industries, the recruiter or hiring manager expects you to negotiate regardless of the economy. “You should approach the job search the same way you would have before the pandemic,” said Jones. “It’s OK to ask for what you want and what you deserve. What’s important is staying positive throughout the process.”

You should have an idea of what your strategy is going to be at the beginning of the process because once you’ve got an offer in hand, the real negotiation begins.

Have a goal in mind

You should have an idea of the salary and benefits you want before negotiating a job offer. Compensation is more than a salary, said Tracy Timm, a career coach. Consider a company’s benefits package, including the retirement plan, insurance, paid time off, remote work and stock options. Look for salary insights and workplace reviews on sites like and Glassdoor, she said.

If you’re not sure of your desired salary, review your monthly expenses before and during the job search. Consider what returning to work will look like, including commuting costs, pet sitters or childcare. “These things can eat into a perceived pay increase,” said Jones. If a company asks you to name a number, ask instead what they’re offering, he added. “I encourage job seekers to let the company throw out the first number versus providing your past or current salary as a starting point. You don’t want to anchor yourself based on what you made today or made recently.”

Asking for more compensation

If you’ve been lowballed on a job offer, don’t say yes or no immediately. Take a few days to consider the position and review the benefits package. Make a list of your target salary, additional needs and any nice-to-haves, like more vacation days. “Once you feel good, go back to the company and say, ‘If we can get to X, I’d be ready to sign the offer today.’ This tells the company you’re serious and incentivizes them to work with you,” said Jones.

You don’t need to get into all the reasons why you’re asking for more money, he added. “Sometimes people feel bad about the ask, so they feel a need to justify why they’re making it,” said Jones. “Stay focused on what it is you want, and if the company does come back and asks why, it’s as simple as saying: ‘After understanding the responsibilities expected of me and commitment needed in this role, that’s what I need to move forward.’” If a company says they can’t give you more money, bring up your nice-to-haves like additional vacation days, stock options or remote work.

You shouldn’t go more than two rounds of negotiating numbers and perks with a company, said Jones. It may take a few days before a company gets back to you with a final offer. Show continued excitement about the role, he suggested. “Following up is a sign of interest and by doing that you’re continuing to build a relationship with people at the company.”

Dealing with ‘no’

Remember that if a company makes you an offer, it means they want to hire you. The worst thing that can happen after negotiating for more compensation is being told no, said Timm. It's very unlikely a company will rescind your offer because you asked for more money, she added. “It’s easy to think right now it’s not possible to advocate for yourself but you have nothing to lose.”

If a company cannot offer you additional compensation, you’ll have to make a decision on taking the offer or not. Think about the short- and long-term implications of the job, said Jones. Ask yourself: Does the work make you happy? Will it pay the bills? Is there a clear promotion track? Can this job set you up for future success? “You don’t want to find yourself in a position where you’re unhappy and have to look for another job six months down the line,” said Jones.

Image: Alfred Gescheidt (Getty)