How to politely reject a job offer because of the salary

By Robert Half on 12 October 2023
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

Job hunting in Singapore requires a lot of your time and energy to find a company that is right for you.

Finding out at the final hurdle of job interviews that the company is offering a salary much lower than you expected can be a huge disappointment. But it doesn't always mean it is a bad thing. 

Fen Teo, associate director and specialised financial services recruiter at Robert Half Singapore explains the reality of sometimes having to take a pay cut to enter a preferred business, or upskill for your future development.

"I just closed a deal recently, whereby the client gave the candidate a pay cut. The reason for this was because the role would be smaller than what the job description spelled out and the client felt that the candidate's Microsoft Excel skills were not up to scratch, but they were prepared to train her. Thus taking these few factors into consideration, they gave her a 10% pay cut. The candidate understood and felt that it was reasonable, while also recognising how this small sacrifice would benefit their  long-term skills and career development."

Whether you find yourself in the above position but feel like the pay cut is unjustified or an organisation is not willing to negotiate or be flexible with their remuneration package for you, this blog explains how to politely reject a job offer because of the salary, and how to pull it off in a professional manner.

Before you reject a job offer because of salary

Before rushing into rejecting the job offer, take some time to carefully consider your options. Weigh up whether a higher salary is crucial to you, or whether it’s something you can compromise on.

Remember there’s more to a job than just the salary, so review the whole salary package. There may be other perks that you can benefit from, such as annual bonuses, additional holiday days, flexible working hours, or learning and development opportunities.

Do some research to understand the industry average for the role you’re hiring for and location too. Robert Half’s Salary Guide is a good place to start.

Fen's advice to candidates is to consider the non-financial aspects, as well as the financial ones.

Non-financial would be benefits like:

  • Working from home options (this would be a game changer)
  • Career development opportunities (opportunities for job rotation and/or overseas opportunities, company investment in continuing professional development of staff, sponsorship of courses relevant to the work they do etc)
  • Benefits like comprehensive medical coverage – even better if they cover family which could be a strong attractive factor

At the same time, assess other variable financial components like bonuses, long-term incentive plans (which would contribute to a significant uplift in compensation).

1. Contact the employer in a timely manner

If you’re offered a low salary, you may want to instantly reject it, but don’t make a snap decision. It’s unlikely that you will be able to retract your decision if you later change your mind.

Thank the employer for making the offer and ask for some time to consider it. Be mindful of time though as taking too long could look unprofessional.

Respond with your decision promptly, giving the employer the opportunity to continue with their candidate search as soon as possible.

2. Be polite and professional

Having to reject a job offer because of salary can be frustrating, but you must be tactful and remain polite and professional.

Being rude or unprofessional can leave Singaporean hiring managers with a negative impression of you.

Burning bridges is not wise as you never know when you may come across the hiring manager again in the future and you may even want to apply for another job with the business.

3. Decide your communication method

Once you’ve made your final decision, choose how you will communicate it to the hiring manager.

Choose the method you feel most comfortable with. You may be more confident sending an email for example. Alternatively, you may decide to call, so you can explain your decision more clearly.

Remember though that if you call, it’s advisable to follow up with a quick email afterwards, to ensure your decision is official and you have something to refer to in the future if you need to.

4. Plan what to say

Regardless of whether you decide to email or call, you should communicate your decision clearly and leave no room for misunderstandings. If you’re writing an email, carefully check it for spelling and grammar.

If you’re calling, consider writing down what you’re going to say first, so you remain concise. Here are a few pointers to help structure your conversation:

  • Thank the hiring manager for the opportunity and highlight that it has been a difficult decision to make.
  • Show your gratitude by saying something positive about the experience, business or role.
  • Explain that you have decided to decline the job offer and share a couple of reasons why. Be honest i.e. if you believe the salary isn’t competitive, say so. You could even mention the research you have carried out into salaries. Keep your conversation short and to the point though, so avoid going into too much detail.
  • End on a positive note, such as suggesting they get in touch if any other roles arise in the future. This helps to leave the door open to future opportunities.

5. Be prepared for an improved offer

If you reject the job offer solely because the salary is too low, there is a chance that the hiring manager may come back to you with an improved offer.

Be cautious with counteroffers, as they may set precedents for the remainder of your employment with the company.

Learning how to politely decline a job offer because of the salary can not only ensure you leave a positive lasting impression of yourself, but it can keep potentially valuable doors open for you, helping to progress your career further in the future.

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