Can I negotiate an offer when I’ve applied directly?

Tune in for our latest blog in the ‘Ask a Recruiter’ series, where we share questions our candidates have about anything within and outside of the job search process. In case you missed it, our previous blog answered the question of if you should include a cover letter to support your application. This week we’ve decided to answer a question posed about negotiating an incoming offer when you haven’t worked with a recruiter and might not have that direct advice.

A VAT Manager based in London asks: “How do I negotiate an offer if I’ve applied directly to a company?”

The beauty of working with a recruiter is that this is what we do every day. We know the recruitment process inside out and we know what to ask and when. Often, however, candidates will find themselves in a position where they’ve applied directly to a job and they have to do the negotiating themselves.

So, how do you go about this? Here’s my 10-point guide:


1. At the early stages of the recruitment process, you want to ensure that you’re roughly on the same page with the hiring company. Nobody wants to waste their time interviewing, so provide a ballpark salary range of what you’re looking for and say you’ll be able to confirm after the first interview once you fully understand the task at hand. Who knows, it might be your dream job where you’ll be happy to take a cut or you might realise there’s a lot more work involved, thus increasing your expectations.

2. If salary isn’t discussed initially, try to understand what is on offer so you can determine whether or not it’s worth your time. I don’t know about you, but I certainly wouldn’t want to go through a 3-4 stage interview to realise at the offer stage that the salary is way less than I’d accept.

3. Be reasonable. It’s never received well when you pitch yourself at an outlandish salary with the expectation to be chipped down. You’ll most likely end up either shooting yourself in the foot and being ruled out by a more competitive candidate.

4. If asked about your current salary, you should politely question the significance of this. I’m personally concerned when employers ask this but, equally, don’t take offence and respond to their question once you’ve understood. If you’re underpaid, maintain the sentiment that to move employers, you’re looking to achieve the range specified in point 1. (Check out our blog discussing the question “What’s your current salary?”)

Offer stage:

5. Don’t allow yourself to be ‘closed’ on the phone (by the internal recruiter or hiring manager). Wait for the full details and request the fine print. Even if you’re ecstatic with the offer, come off the phone and think about it in your own time.

6. If the offer is below your expectations (hopefully we’ve avoided this by now), politely and professionally decline it and be honest about where it is falling short. For more advice on turning down an offer, read our blog addressing this decision.

7. If the offer is close but not quite hitting the mark, show your hand in terms of your other options/offers and make a reasonable counteroffer (as justified in point 3!).

8. Agree on the job role and salary first before you worry about the small stuff.

9. Once you’re happy with the job role and salary, then go through the finer print. Often, employment contracts are standard across the business and cannot always be changed. Or they can be changed but the employer wants to be fair to current staff, which is a good sign! But, in general, various things can be amended if you’re a good enough candidate. Be reasonable, think about what’s important, and discuss what you’d like to see with the internal recruiter.

10. The most important thing to remember with all of the above is to be reasonable. Don’t make a bad name for yourself before you start but, equally, don’t let yourself be closed on an offer you’ll regret later.

Tune in for our next instalment of ‘Ask a recruiter’. If you want to get in touch about a question you’d like to ask us, contact our team.

Alex Mann is a Director in the Tax Division at Harvey John.

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