Big Tech negotiation
by Josh Doody
The key question to ask about an Apple job offer is “How much flexibility do they have to negotiate my specific offer?” In my experience coaching software developers through Apple salary negotiations, the answer varies from “not much” to “a whole lot”.
Apple tends to make offers that they consider strong, which means a careful negotiation strategy is needed to get them to improve their offer. In-demand engineers with specialties in areas that are crucial to Apple’s business and skills that other firms need can often push harder than generalist engineers.
For example, Apple needs lots engineers with experience in embedded systems, machine learning, and AI, and the supply of experienced engineers in those areas of expertise is relatively tight among the big tech companies. So Apple will offer competitive salaries with some room to negotiate to get quality software engineers with that expertise to join their team.
By contrast, many junior generalist software engineers are eager to join Apple and there is an increasingly large supply of those engineers as more and more people shift into software. So Apple’s offers for more junior engineers are often pretty close to their best offer right out of the gate. That doesn’t mean there’s no room to negotiate, but their offers are tuned to a competitive baseline, so smaller improvements are more typical than larger ones.
The bottom line is that if you have a job offer from Apple in a technical role, you likely have room to negotiate, and may have substantial negotiation leverage depending on your specialty.
Once you finally get through the Apple interview process, you may receive a job offer. Let’s look at an example to see what you can expect.
Apple’s offers are pretty standard:
They may also include other components, but these are typically the components with the most flexibility.
Here’s an example taken from a modified version of a real Apple job offer from one of my clients (all numbers are $1,000s). This client was a very experienced software developer with substantial background in embedded systems. This offer is for $210,000 base salary, $400,000 total equity (vesting over four years), and a $100,000 sign-on bonus:
Let’s look a little closer at the main components of an Apple job offer.
Base salary is the most stable component of your job offer, and the one you can budget around for the coming year. My clients often focus here first because it’s the most predictable component, and because it impacts their bank account immediately and indefinitely.
Apple’s base salary offers tend to be pretty competitive with, and are often slightly higher than other big tech firms. If you’re wondering whether the salary you’re offered is competitive, blind and levels.fyi are good places to start.
In my experience, Apple will move on base salary a moderate amount, meaning that they’re not totally rigid on base salary, but that they typically don’t make big moves on base salary. They’re generally more flexible when you have not disclosed salary history or expectations, or when you have a competing offer with a higher base salary (more on this below).
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for more base salary, but it means that request may result a modest move in base salary coupled with other more aggressive moves in the other components of the offer.
The equity component of an Apple job offer can range from “not very much” to “Whoa, I had no idea that was possible!” depending on the role and the candidate.
For Apple (and most of the other big public tech companies) I tend to model equity as more or less fungible with base salary since the value of that equity is public and the company fundamentals appear to be pretty strong.
The difference, of course, is that there’s a vesting schedule and you’re taking some level of market risk by counting on equity.
But for a company like Apple, the market risk for equity is very similar to the market risk for your base salary. (If things suddenly get very bad for Apple, their stock would probably drop, but the bigger problem could be that your job might be in jeopardy).
Potentially extremely flexible. They will sometimes make very big moves with equity to attract the right candidate with the right skillset to a particular role. More generally, they’re moderately flexible on equity, often improving that component by half or more.
Some of my clients have more than doubled their equity through negotiation, which is a fantastic result, but not quite as big an improvement in equity as I’ve seen with some of the other big tech companies. This is most likely because Apple’s salaries tend to be slightly higher, which means they don’t have to be quite as aggressive with equity to offer similar Total Compensation to other big firms.
But equity is still a big lever that Apple will use to persuade well-aligned candidates to join their team.
Even if there’s not a sign-on bonus included with your initial offer, there may be one available through negotiation. Sign-on bonuses, like equity, can range from a low five figures into six figures.
I like to think of the sign-on bonus as a way to help bridge the gap between your first paycheck and your first RSU vesting date.
Moderately flexible. They will often use this as a sweetener to close the deal. Five-figure improvements in sign-on bonus are fairly common. I recommend focusing on base salary and equity before negotiating sign-on bonus, but asking for a sign-on bonus to finalize your negotiation will often be a nice later addition to your compensation.
The salary negotiation with Apple will begin earlier than you might expect.
Your Apple recruiter will ask for your salary history, or at least your current salary if it’s legal where they are. Do not tell them your current salary. If you do, the base salary component of your job offer will probably be slightly above your current salary and it will be challenging to negotiate a substantial increase once they make your job offer.
They will also usually ask for your salary expectations. That request will sound something like this:
So what were you hoping for in terms of compensation if you come aboard here at Apple?
Do not tell them your salary expectations because you will essentially be guessing what they might pay someone with your skillset and experience to do the job they need done.
While they might have a good idea of the value of that job to Apple’s business, you would only be guessing. You will practically always guess wrong and cost yourself money later on. So just don’t guess.
Apple will hold on tight to these numbers and it can be very, very challenging to get them to move once they know what they are aiming for. So avoid sharing that information if at all possible.
They may also ask you to tell them about any competing offers you have because they “need more data”. I generally recommend that my clients confirm that they have one or more competing offers while being vague about the details of those offers. It’s ok to mention that other big tech companies are interested, but sharing the specific companies or details of the offers could work against you in the early stages of the negotiation.
Learn more For a deep dive on how to avoid sharing your current or expected salary when asked, see this guide:
Although Apple is typically only moderately flexible on base salary, I prefer to begin by negotiating base salary to see how flexible they are in the other components. By pushing on base salary—even knowing they aren’t very flexible—you give them an opportunity to show where they are the most flexible.
They will often respond to a request for a higher base salary by moving moderately or not at all on base salary, while suggesting a significantly better equity or sign-on bonus component.
Once they reveal where they’re flexible and how flexible they are, you can use that information to focus the negotiation on the most flexible components to maximize your offer.
Learn more More salary negotiation strategy and tactics...
I offer full-service 1-on-1 support to help Senior Software Engineers and Engineering Managers negotiate the best offer possible and with more confidence and less stress.
Here is one example of the results I've helped others achieve in their negotiations with Apple.
I felt I was on the high end of my bracket already with Google, and I wanted to make sure I could get at least as much in my negotiation with Apple.
Apple came in low with their original offer, so Josh helped me bring the offer up to a level that I could accept. We ended up negotiating $35,000 more in base salary, $300,000 more total equity (vesting over four years), and $25,000 more sign on bonus.
My past negotiations have honestly been terrible where I never felt like I had the upper hand. Josh’s coaching gave me confidence in the negotiation process. Because I knew Josh had gone through this before, I knew I wasn’t asking anything too crazy / offensive of Apple. I got to see first-hand how much I could press and I feel I did get the best offer I could from Apple.
Working with Josh was a fantastic experience. I appreciated his attentiveness, thoughtfulness, as well as his reassurances along the way. I felt it was a collaborative experience where he really was coaching. I got to see what Josh was thinking and why approaches were taken. It wasn’t a complete “black box”.
Josh’s personal attention, collaborative nature, and coaching style is very approachable for anyone. Folks will learn a lot from working with him.
Software Engineering Manager
I'm Josh Doody, a professional salary negotiation coach who helps High Earners negotiate their job offers. On average, High Earners improve their first-year compensation by $47,273 with my help.
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