How To Renegotiate If The Salary You Ask For In A Job Application Is Lower Than What The Company Was Willing To Pay

Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC
August 24, 2022

Columbia Career Coaches Network's Caroline Ceniza-Levine '93BC answers a question on how to renegotiate when you quote a salary at the start of a process and it’s too low.

Some job applications require a salary number to be filled in before you can proceed, or the first-round interview requires you to disclose a number or range to the recruiter before they’ll pass you on for more interviews. In these situations, job seekers throw out a number just to move forward and hope to rectify the situation later, if the number turns out to be too low.

CJ asks this very question about how to renegotiate when you have already provided a lower number:

I don’t know if I broke a no-no in negotiation, but I did throw out a number as a salary range…which it sounded like the hiring manager was able to do. She did say that [50% more than number] would have been out of their range, which left me thinking, “Ha! I should have given a range or a higher number!“…Should I try to negotiate higher, or leave well enough alone?

When a job application asks for salary expectations, it puts the job seeker at a disadvantage because whatever number you say will be a strong anchor in the minds of the employer, and yet, you don’t have enough information to make a reasonable estimate. Sure, you might have a description of the role from the job posting but job postings are often incomplete, outdated, or even incorrect. Job postings alone aren’t enough to help you discern what an employer really needs, and you want to focus on that employer's need to figure out the value of the job—and therefore how it should be compensated.

You can always renegotiate

Even signed contracts get renegotiated, and the beginning of the hiring process is so much less defined than a signed contract! Renegotiation is appropriate when circumstances change from what they were when the original negotiation took place. In the case of a job search, there’s no real negotiation that took place in that job application or first interview. You threw out a number based on the circumstances at the time.

These circumstances are your understanding of the job at the very beginning of the process. Now that you’re later in the process, you know more about this job – what the company needs, who you will be working with (and therefore who will benefit from your fabulous skills!). All this new information can easily change salary expectations. No need to worry about what you said before. Circumstances have changed—you have more information.

Get the offer first before negotiating

Not only do you have more information about the job, but the company has more information about you. As you move through the hiring process and the company becomes more interested in you, you become more valuable to them. The level of interest a company shows in you is leverage to renegotiate, so you actually don’t want to focus on the negotiation. Instead, focus on increasing your value by getting the company to fall in love with you enough to give you an offer.

Another point of leverage for you once you get to the offer stage is that the company has now invested in you. It takes time, effort, and money to fill a job. The recruiter, hiring manager, and other colleagues have spent time recruiting you, instead of doing other work. If you decline the offer, they have to start all over again. This means they are invested in you accepting the offer. The later in the hiring process, the more leverage the job seeker has. The offer stage is as late as it gets so don’t start negotiating till the company has extended an offer.

Expand the job to expand the offer

Remember that renegotiation typically happens when circumstances change. New information is a change of circumstance. In the hiring process, new information is about the scope and scale of the job opening. If you estimated one number at the beginning and are now targeting a bigger number, then a compelling justification for that bigger number is a bigger job.

During the interview process, you should have learned how important this role is—focus on how you’ll be contributing to key priorities. Hopefully, you have learned more about the company’s financial position and forecast for what this role will contribute—point to the bottom line impact to increase the number. Ideally, during the interview process, you have a better sense of why the company is interested in your skills, expertise, or personal attributes. Use your unique background to negotiate for more.

How much more can you earn by negotiating?

If you’re still worried about negotiating because you don’t want to seem like you’re taking back what you said before, change your worry to what happens if you don’t negotiate. If you don’t negotiate now, you put future salaries in jeopardy – remember that tomorrow’s salary increase is often a percentage jump from where you are now. Your inability to negotiate compounds the problem over time.

If you don’t negotiate now, you won’t get any additional advantages that are tied to your salary. Bonuses are often a percentage of salary. Titles are sometimes inferred based on how much someone makes. Life insurance, disability insurance, and severance calculations are all tied to salary. Not negotiating and getting a lower number now means a lot of other benefits will be lower as well. Finally, think of the confidence you will gain by advocating for yourself. Like dollars in the bank, confidence compounds. If you negotiate now, you’ll have that much more experience at it—and confidence in doing it—for future negotiations.


Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a longtime recruiter turned career coach and media expert on the job market. She has coached executives from Amazon, American Express, Condé Nast, Goldman Sachs, Google, McKinsey, Tesla, and other leading firms. She has been a repeat TV guest on CBS, CNN, CNBC, and Fox Business and has been quoted in major media outlets, including BusinessWeek, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Inc, NPR, and Success Magazine. Ceniza-Levine is a career columnist for Forbes and formerly wrote for,, CNBC, and Portfolio. She is the author of three books, including Jump Ship: 10 Steps To Starting A New Career.

Learn more about Caroline Ceniza-Levine and the Columbia Career Coaches Network.