Lowballed Your Target Salary? Yes, You Can Ask For More?

In the first interview, you quoted a number that’s too low. All is not lost. Here’s how to renegotiate

A reader recently shared a scenario that I’ve experienced often as a recruiter. After lowballing his target salary in his first meeting for a job he wanted, he now realizes he won’t accept pay that low. Can he change his salary target? Does he even have to address his original quote—do employers actually remember what you said in earlier interviews? Here are 3 strategies to renegotiate successfully.

Blame it on the role

Your Strategy: If you’ve discovered substantial differences in the role since you quoted a salary, use this new information to justify better pay. Perhaps the role entails managing a larger team than originally outlined. Or you will be given fewer resources (less budget, smaller team). Maybe low morale or departmental infighting will add political complexity.

Say This: If an offer comes at the lower salary, you might say, “$100,000 is fair for a typical marketing manager role. Based on what we discussed, this is a more complicated role that entails [itemize the additional responsibilities and targets]. For what you want to accomplish, $120,000 is more in line.”

Point to new market data

Your Strategy: If you find additional salary data points—from competitors or roles similar to the scope, culture, or circumstance of this one—share that as the reason for increasing the salary. You don’t have to share the name of the company or the name of your source (believe me, the employer will ask). You should however say enough about the company (a Fortune 50 in the consumer products space) or the role (a marketing director spot for a similarly sized product) that the employer knows you’re serious.

Say This: “Since we initially discussed salary, I’ve seen new data that point to salaries higher than $100,000. A similar role at one of your competitors is targeting $120,000.”

Fess up

Your Strategy: If there hasn’t been a change in the role or in the market data underlying your initial salary quote, you can simply say you’ve had a change in heart.

Say This: “Yes, I did quote $100,000 when we first spoke, but on further reflection, I’m looking for $120,000.” Point to a change in circumstance—“I’ve heard I’m line for a promotion. I’m now targeting $120,000 to make a move.”—or admit that you lowballed the salary to make sure you weren’t priced out before the interview even began—“To be honest, I didn’t know enough about this role to estimate a salary and I didn’t want to price myself out because I am very interested in your company.”

Whatever strategy you use, be prepared for pushback. Employers have a budget for each role. That isn’t to say that the budget doesn’t change (sometimes it gets lowered!). Because the initial salary you name is frequently used to gauge feasibility, employers do remember what you said. Online applications often require you to divulge desired salary in writing.

Even if it your new salary doesn’t bust the budget, it calls into question your word—where else are you going to change your mind? What else did you say that isn’t actually so? How serious are you about the employer? Are you just practicing your interview and negotiation skills? Are you using this offer to get a counteroffer elsewhere? Using the strategies outlined above can help legitimize your request.

Salaries are negotiable, so you can recover from an initial lowball estimate, but be prepared for the fact that the budget just may not be there or the employer may be unwilling to change. Have additional options, and be ready to walk away.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert with SixFigureStart® She is a former recruiter in management consulting, financial services, media, technology, and pharma/ biotech. Connect with Caroline on Google+.

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