Big Tech negotiation
by Josh Doody
The key question to ask about a Google job offer is “How much can this offer be improved through negotiation?” In my experience coaching software developers through Google salary negotiations, the answer varies from “somewhat” to “a whole lot”.
The main driver for the difference seems to be how narrow the engineer’s specialty is, and how well that specialty aligns with Google’s core competencies.
For example, Google needs lots and lots of experienced software developers, and the supply of generalist software developers available to hire is pretty strong. So Google will offer competitive salaries with some room to negotiate to get quality software developers in the door.
By contrast, machine learning experts and data scientists are key to Google’s ability to dominate search and other aspects of its business and there are fewer of those experts available. So Google makes very, very strong offers to machine learning experts and data scientists and has lots of room to negotiate those offers to get the right candidates.
The bottom line is that if you have a job offer from Google in a technical role, you likely have room to negotiate, and may have substantial negotiation leverage depending on your specialty.
Once you actually get through the Google interview gauntlet, you may receive a job offer. Let’s look at an example to see what you can expect.
Google’s offers are pretty standard:
They may also include other components like a Target Bonus, and they may even share an estimated value of other perks that Google employees get.
They will often roll all these numbers together to describe the offer in terms of “Total Compensation”, which may seem like a big number.
Here’s an example taken from a modified version of a real Google job offer from one of my clients (all numbers are $1,000s):
|Component||Year 1||Year 2||Year 3||Year 4||Total|
Let’s look a little closer at the main components of a Google job offer.
As with most job offers, this is the stable, predictable component that you can use to pay your mortgage or car payment. You can’t know what company performance might look like in the future, so it’s hard to estimate how much of a bonus you’ll get or what your RSUs will be worth when they vest.
Google’s base salary offers tend to be pretty competitive with 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, Google will move on base salary, but not very much. And they’re more flexible when you have not disclosed salary history or expectations.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask for more base salary, but it means that request may result a smaller move in base salary coupled with other more aggressive moves that are not related to salary.
Bonuses are usually pretty standard among employees and are probably based on things that are out of your control like “company performance”.
So your Target Bonus is nice to know, but not very useful for negotiation purposes. It helps make the Total Compensation number larger and does give you a sense of a nice annual windfall that may come your way if things go well at Google.
They’re generally not.
The equity component of a Google job offer can range from “not very much” (as with the example above) to “wowzers, that’s a lot of equity!” depending on the role.
For Google (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 Google, the market risk for equity is very similar to the market risk for your base salary. (If things suddenly get very bad for Google, their stock would probably drop, but the bigger problem could be that your job might be in jeopardy).
Potentially very flexible. This is their most used bargaining chip. Depending on the candidate, position, and other factors, they may be willing to improve the equity component of the offer significantly during the negotiation.
Some of my clients have more than doubled their equity during their negotiation. Sometimes the equity component of the offer will be larger than the base salary component when we finish negotiating.
This is one reason the base salary component of their offers tends to be merely “competitive”—they have more flexibility on equity and will often use this as their carrot to entice exceptional candidates to join the company.
Even if there’s not a sign-on bonus included with your initial offer, there may be one available. sign-on bonuses, like equity, can range from a nice little amount 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 pretty common. I recommend focusing on base salary and equity before negotiating sign-on bonus.
The salary negotiation with Google will begin earlier than you might expect.
Your Google 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 Google?
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 Google’s business, you would only be guessing. You will practically always guess wrong and cost yourself money later on. So just don’t guess.
Google 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.
As a final note on this, I’ve worked with clients whose Google recruiter told them they could not move forward with the interview process until my client shared their salary expectations. Eventually, they did move on despite my clients’ refusal to share this information. So, in my experience, this is a bluff.
Learn more What to say when asked for your salary expectations during an interview
Although Google isn’t typically very 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—we 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 slightly 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 are examples of results I've helped others achieve in their negotiations with Google.
The $3000 upfront fee was my biggest concern about hiring Josh. I was worried that maybe Google would be unwilling to negotiate or perhaps even rescind the offer and I would end up with nothing. I ended up negotiating more equity (and it more than covered the coaching fee). I know that I got the best possible offer. I also learned about negotiation strategy and how to handle this situation in the future.
Josh helped me negotiate with Alphabet to get an additional $160k in annual compensation.
It’s like professional sports — if you don’t have film on your opponent and you go into a game without any scouting report, you’re in big trouble. Josh has ‘the film’ on Alphabet and other tech companies. He knows who you’re dealing with and that’s a huge advantage.
Bringing on Josh made a huge difference for me — no way I would have ended up with that number without his help. Whether you’re a mid-level engineer or an executive — to me it’s a no brainer to work with Josh.
I’m very nervous about negotiating. Working with Josh made the whole process a lot less stressful. I think I got a substantially better offer than I could have on my own. I went from a vague offer of ~$200k first year total compensation to $258k. At a rough guess, I think I could have gotten to ~$220k on my own? So that’s a big win and a good cost/benefit.
We negotiated $11,000 more salary and $55,000 more in equity, plus a front-loaded vesting schedule (33%, 33%, 22%, 12% as opposed to 4 x 25%).The compensation already seemed very generous before we negotiated, but a total increase of $99k over 4 years will make a huge difference in my life.
Quantitative User Experience Researcher
I had multiple offers arriving a week apart and Josh helped me navigate my situation without burning any bridges. He helped me write a strong counter offer. I negotiated $14,000 more in salary and $90,000 more in equity vesting over a four-year period. Josh also helped me deal with my nerves throughout the process, which made the whole process less stressful.
I wanted to negotiate without the risk of getting an offer rescinded. I had successful negotiations with two companies (one of which was Google) to raise the offers past what was originally offered – $2000 more in salary at one and a $10,000 signing bonus at the other. Having Josh as a coach gave me reassurance after every engagement with a company that everything was going alright despite my own perceptions.
Josh prepared me for every call and every email during my salary negotiation. His help repositioning and rephrasing emails not only helped with this negotiation, but helped me see how rephrasing an email can paint it in a much different light.
Site Reliability Engineer
In the end, the most impactful thing Josh did was a line in a two-paragraph email that essentially said, “Instead of $211k per year, I want $250k.” That doesn’t seem like I paid for much!
However, there’s a lot of things that went into that email. Where do we want to pressure them? Which dimensions do we want to go on? It was knowing the correct things to ask for (cash or equity), knowing the correct amount to ask for, and knowing how to come up with a narrative around why they should try to reach my number. That email wasn’t just a number, it was a story.
I’ve set myself up for compounding increases in incoming cash by starting my Google salary and equity higher than I would have otherwise. I feel like I got the best deal that was available to me and I didn’t leave anything on the table. If I hadn’t hired Josh, I probably would be sitting here today still wondering, “Man, could I have easily bumped this by a bunch of more money?”
Software Engineer L4
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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