Everything is Negotiable, Especially at a Startup

Photo by Lou Levit on Unsplash

If you like this, read another by Robbie: Employees Should Have Short-Term Guaranteed Contracts Like Pro Athletes

While I commend the sentiment behind the post, Why we don’t negotiate offers, ultimately it is misguided. A common quandary for anyone hiring is how much you negotiate with a candidate versus sticking to your guns and not budging on your offer. The main issue is that salaries inside of most companies are not a simple calculation. Employees are not created equal. They each have a unique set of skills, experience, and expectations. We had salary bands (i.e. ranges) at Automated Insights for each role and tried to be as scientific about the compensation equation as possible, but ultimately it was difficult — especially in a small company with a small sample size. Even the bands allowed for some wiggle room depending on the employee.

A common argument against negotiating is that you are actually hiring a specific position, which has skill and experience requirements, not a person, so you should have more control over figuring out how much those are worth to the company. That’s a great plan until you interview your first candidate. At least in the startup world, where I advocate hiring more generalists over specialists, you never know what you are going to get. Rarely do you find the candidate that has the exact set of skills and experience you are looking for. In fact, I always tried to hire candidates that were a little left or right of the job description as that helped add more flavor to the culture.

Unless you are like the few companies that have posted their salary targets for every position, then you don’t really have a “best we can do” offer sight unseen. I’d love to know in practice (not just via public blog post) how it is going with Stack Exchange’s salary calculator internally. That’s the only way I can think you can legitimately not negotiate. Salary info needs to be public and never deviated from. Otherwise it really is a judgement call with a lot of wiggle room depending on the situation.

I don’t view negotiating as a sign that you are trying to lowball or are holding out, just as I don’t think that about any negotiation. It is business after all. An initial offer can be a starting point or it can be the final point depending on the situation. Unless you are clear with candidates before they interview about how salary is computed, I don’t think you buy any points by sticking to your guns and not negotiating. You’ll have just as many people say that you are inflexible and not willing to compromise as you will that say you were being open and direct.