I’ve worked with countless professionals in negotiating offers with tech companies. What follows below are the notes I send to help coach individuals through this process — enjoy!
First thing: the purpose of negotiation is to match your compensation to your value. This means your goal is NOT to get the most money possible. Your goal is to get a compensation package that allows you to support yourself (let’s be real!) and values your skills, experience, and education fairly in the context of the industry, domain, and company size/maturity.
The thing people often forget in negotiation is that you and the employer have (or should have) a shared objective! You both want fair compensation, a package that you each value and will retain you as an employee. Particularly in the tech market, it is hard to hire and retain good talent — trust me when I say they want you to stick around.
Receiving an offer
At the moment you receive an offer, your only goals (usually) are to convey enthusiasm for the role, express appreciation, and get an offer in writing. Once it is in writing (usually via email), it’s gone through all the approvals and you can be assured that the position has been established and that they want you in the role. Basically, a written offer is more concrete and easier to review in detail.
The most important thing to remember about receiving an offer is that you do NOT want to negotiate during this initial conversation. The employer is coming in with all of the information and you’re learning it for the first time! Never go into a negotiation from this disadvantaged position.
Action: Be gracious, express enthusiasm for the role/ team/ company/ opportunity, thank them for their effort, let them know you look forward to getting the written offer so you can review. Why express enthusiasm?
- The person telling you about the offer is expecting you to be excited (they are giving you great news!) and they will be disappointed if you do not act at least a little happy about it.
- If you express enthusiasm, they will know that you are genuinely interested and will be more willing to put in extra effort to get you a good offer. In order for them to be interested in negotiating, they need to think it will be worth the effort (i.e., that you will accept).
What if they ask “What do you think?” In this case, you can say something like “I’m really excited about the possibility of joining the team” — basically something positive but not related to the offer. I’m a huge fan of honesty in negotiations (for obvious reasons), so it’s fair to also add: “I did some research on what I was thinking for in terms of an offer, but I really need to look this over in detail. Can we connect next week — I’m sure I’ll have questions and a better sense of how this fits with what I’m thinking. I’m sure I can make a decision really soon!” (or whatever else feels honest)
Do not express feelings/thoughts about the offer itself — unless:
- It is very low. In this case, it can be good to ask right away how they arrived at this level of compensation. Having this information can help your negotiation later.
- It is very high. In this case, you may just want to express enthusiasm for everything and go for it! You can still negotiate, but it’s really your choice (in every situation).
Your other action when receiving the offer is to ask questions. You’ll have more opportunities to ask questions — but it’s still good to try to get some clarity right away.
Determining your value (and what you value)
This may be the most critical part of the negotiation — and the part people tend to skip over. It’s common to determine your value as “as much base compensation as I can possibly get!” There are two things wrong with this valuation.
- It limits your compensation to salary alone, which is often the least negotiable part of the offer.
- It doesn’t take into account that there are many things which affect your job satisfaction and engagement.
Here are a few steps to get started on determining your value and what you value:
- Conduct research on common salaries for your industry and role. If possible, research salary levels for the organization you are considering joining (if you know anyone at the company, you can ask them their thoughts on salaries for people in X roles).
- Also conduct research on the company’s needs. How many people are they hiring (e.g., if they are hiring many roles, they have a high need for each person), do you add a specialized skillset/value, what are the company’s options besides hiring you.
- And finally, research on yourself! What is your minimally acceptable offer, what are your deal-breakers, what does the company offer you (as a total package)?
My advice on salaries:
- Glassdoor and other sites (check blind!) can give you information, but it’s really up to you to determine your value.
- It’s relatively easy to negotiate up at least $2–5k base salary and stock is easier to negotiate than base salary (because it’s a one-time allotment). People generally won’t give you more than a 20% bump over the original offer and I generally would ask for at least a 10% bump. I prefer to present my ‘ask’ as a range, with the bottom end being something I am comfortable with and the top end being something that I also feel is in the realm of possibility.
Justifying your value
Let’s start with a common assumption: people think you need to have a competing offer in hand — you don’t. The only reason to have that is if the company is like Google (which pretty much requires a competing offer for them to negotiation) or if you need CONFIDENCE in your worth.
“But what if the company says NO or pulls the offer?? What will I do then? Don’t I need a BATNA or something?”
Unless you are a complete jerk (don’t be), the company isn’t going to pull the offer. So, worst case scenario — you accept what they offer in the first place with the assurance that it’s the best you could get — that IS the “Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.”
My advice is to do your research and go in with reasonable and fact-based rationales for requests. Never voice a request, or give a number, in isolation. It should be coupled with logical justification, such as:
- Equity-based fairness: What you get out of a situation should be commensurate with what you put in. (E.g., I’m requesting X because I am bringing unique skills & expertise to your organization.)
- Equality-based fairness: Everyone should get the same amount. (E.g., I’m requesting X because that is what others are making in this position. It is what the market dictates.)
- Needs-based fairness: Resources should go where they are most needed. (E.g., I’m requesting X because I need to pay off my student loans and relocate.) ←I’m not a huge fan of this type of rationale, as it isn’t as relevant to the company.
The actual conversation
In the negotiation, you want to state your request and rationale and then follow-up with an open-ended question (one they cannot answer with a yes or no). For example:
“What are your thoughts around this salary?”
“Do you have any thoughts or ideas on how we can close the gap between the initial offer and market value?”
After you ask the open-ended question comes the MAGIC part: silence. This sounds simple, but it’s very important. You want to ask the question and then be silent. Give them time to respond! People tend to fill the silence, and you want them to actually consider and respond to your request.
If they say “this is the salary, and that’s it!” or something similar, you can:
- ask them how they came to these numbers,
- say I understand your constraints and I hope you understand that I have a need to ensure I’m paid market value,
- offer to follow-up with written information on your rationale so they can take time to consider or talk to others.
Final note: You can generally ask for more money twice (they give an offer, you ask for more, they say no, you ask again) and then you have to either take it or leave it. Otherwise, it’s considered greedy/bad form.
Do not feel like you are trapped in any decision. Love the company but the salary is low…and you still want to take the job? I say go for it — for most of my career, I’ve been paid peanuts and I’m super happy. Want to walk away? You got one job, you can get another! Feel like you got trapped into a low salary and you’ll be stuck there forever? People go up and down in salaries all the time in the tech market — don’t worry about it! Be sure you can support yourself, but beyond that — our value and success aren’t measured in dollars. You do the best thing for you at this moment and call it a win.
Thank you to: Holly Schroth, Ph.D. whose workshops on negotiation were foundational to my understanding of the practice. The late Denise Brouillette whose workshops geared towards women in leadership and negotiation changed the lives of so many people (including my own).