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Decoding How Companies Arrive At Salary Offers

Written by: Jeff Altman, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

Executive Contributor Jeff Altman

Salary negotiations can be stressful for job seekers. When you receive an offer, you naturally want to understand how and why the company came up with that particular number. Asking the right questions can provide valuable context and information to help you respond.

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What factors do companies consider?

Several elements come into play when determining salary offers: Market rate – Companies review competitive salary data to see what similar roles at other organizations pay. This provides a baseline for calibrating their own ranges. Resources like PayScale,, and trade associations give benchmarking information. Internal alignment – Salaries for the same or comparable positions within the organization are analyzed to ensure consistency. Large discrepancies between employees with similar experience and duties can lead to retention issues. Budget – Each department is allocated a certain budget for compensation. Offers must align with what is fiscally possible and approved by leadership. Budgets are usually set annually. Candidate background – Your specific skills, qualifications, experience and education factor into the offer. Roles requiring highly specialized expertise often command higher salaries. Value to the organization – The more critical the role is to achieving business goals, the more companies may invest in salary to attract and retain top performers. Growth potential – If the position offers clear advancement opportunities within the company, the base offer may start on the lower end.

Location – Salaries adjust based on geographical location and cost of living. The same role pays differently in New York vs. Boise. Negotiation range – Many companies budget 3-5% above the initial offer, knowing candidates will counter. They leave room for negotiation.

How should you ask about the salary offer?

When the offer comes in, resist the urge to react right away. Here are some productive ways to discuss the components of the offer:

  • "I'm very excited about the opportunity, but wanted to understand how you arrived at the proposed salary. Can you walk me through the considerations?" This is an ideal question whether you are disappointed in the offer that was made or happy with it

  • "The offer is close to my expectations. Just so I understand, how was the salary determined for this role?"

  • "I appreciate the offer. Since the cost of living varies so widely between regions, can you share some insight into how the location you are in was factored in, if at all?"

  • "The salary range seems in line with my research on industry standards. Were there any other benchmarks used when creating this offer?"

  • "Thank you for the offer. I'd love to hear a little more about how my qualifications specifically contributed to reaching this compensation level."

Avoid framing the questions in a confrontational tone. You are seeking information, not negotiating (yet). Listen closely to the full explanation without judgment.

Key follow-up questions

Digging deeper with a few targeted follow-up questions can uncover key details:

  • Can you be a little flexible with the starting salary? You need to be prepared to answer with a salary that will make you say, “yes,” without them wanting to say, “no.”

  • What are the performance metrics and timeline for salary reviews and increases?

  • How do bonus and equity compensation factor in for total rewards?

  • What is the salary growth trajectory for top performers like me in this role?

  • Does the company offer benefits like a signing bonus or paid relocation?

Their answers will help you gain clarity about the offer and whether it matches your expectations, as well as how they see you. With this information, you can decide whether to accept or negotiate the final deal further.

Being forthright leads to more productive conversations around an offer. Make sure the company provides the context you need to properly evaluate a salary offer before moving forward. Remember, their answers should not be the only criteria they use when deciding whether to accept their offer. Pay attention to subtle signals such as impatience or outright hostility before deciding.

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Jeff Altman Brainz Magazine

Jeff Altman, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine People hire Jeff Altman to give them no bs job search advice and coaching globally because he makes getting a job much easier for people. He has written 11 books and guides to job search and hiring including "The Ultimate Job Interview Framework" and "The Right Answers to Tough Interview Questions” and is the host of No BS Job Search Advice Radio, the #1 podcast in Apple Podcasts for job search with more than 2600 episodes, as well as on YouTube.


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