Negotiating job offers
Now that I've written this, I realize I was in over my head. Sorry about that!
by Josh Doody
There are tons of articles about why you should negotiate your salary, and the world needs more contrarian takes. So here are 10 reasons you should NOT negotiate your salary.
You applied, went through a number of interviews, finally got a job offer, and then asked for more than they offered. They’re so offended that you would dare counter offer that they just walk away and tell you the deal is off. That would be pretty frustrating!
But… this doesn’t actually happen because it’s expensive to interview people. Just as you’ve invested time and energy throughout the interview process, the company has invested its own resources. And they’re not just going to throw all that effort away because you counter offered. Worst-case, they’ll say, “Our offer is firm.”, but even that’s pretty rare. Best case, they’ll accept your counter offer. More likely, they’ll work with you to end up somewhere between their offer and your counter.
Shoot. Ok, let’s try another one.
They make a decent offer, and you counter offer, so they think, “Ugh. Why are they being so greedy? I don’t think we can work with someone who won’t just accept a good job offer.”
They could say that! But it’s more likely that their offer wasn’t their best offer and they left some wiggle room just in case you counter offered. And they may actually respect you more when you negotiate because it shows that you’re a business-savvy professional who knows how to maximize value. Chances are their business depends on employees finding ways to maximize value to the business, so this could be a very positive trait for them.
Hm. Let’s try another.
There are tons of books and even entire college courses on negotiation, so it must be pretty hard to do. There’s all this fancy terminology like “anchor” and “BATNA”, and recruiters are professional salary negotiators. How could you possibly “win” in a negotiation against a professional?
Negotiation is a pretty big, complicated topic. But we’re not talking about negotiation, we’re talking about salary negotiation, which is much simpler. As long as you avoid sharing your current or expected salary and follow these three steps, you’ll do pretty well.
Ok, so I guess it’s not that hard to negotiate salary. But stay with me—I’m sure I can find some reason you should NOT negotiate your salary!
You will often be in the uncomfortable position of negotiating your salary with your future boss. You don’t want to be adversaries with your boss - you want to be friends! That way, your relationship is strong to begin with and it will be easy to work together.
But is it an adversarial thing to negotiate your salary? Your future boss probably doesn’t think so because they probably make offers and negotiate salaries all the time. You certainly won’t be the first person to negotiate a job offer. So they probably see salary negotiation as a normal part of the hiring process. You might see it as adversarial, but that’s probably because it’s not something you do very often, so it feels uncomfortable.
Chances are you’ll endure a little discomfort, negotiate a better salary for yourself, and then join a team that invested in you by spending time in the interview process and working with you on your salary requirements.
This isn’t going very well, but we’ll find something eventually!
Negotiation can be stressful for everyone, and it’s an unnecessary dance we do to try to get to what we want. So why not just tell them what you want so they can say “Ok!”? Or maybe they won’t say “Ok!”, but at least they’ll tell you how close they can get to what you want and can discuss it until you find some common ground.
Or maybe it’s better to just let them tell you what they want and you can just say “Ok!”? But of course, if they tell you what they want and it’s not quite what you wanted, then you’ll still have to find some common ground.
Wait a minute. This is starting to sound a lot like a negotiation.
This seemed a lot easier before I really thought about it. Never mind.
This is a good one: Money isn’t the most important thing. I think we can all agree on that. So we’re done here, right?
Weeeelllll, maybe not quite. The thing is the reason the company can pay you any salary is they’re in business to make money. So money is important to them. Maybe not the most important thing, but it’s pretty high up there since money enables the business to continue existing and hiring people.
And it’s not like you’re going to show up to work every single day asking about money money money. In fact, focusing on money now, when you’re negotiating the terms of your employment, will probably keep you from having to think about money at all for quite a while since you’ll know you negotiated the best starting salary you could. You won’t have to constantly wonder whether you are underpaid because you made the noble choice to ignore money and just accept the job as offered.
Ah! I’m really sorry about this. I’m trying really hard to give you reasons you should NOT negotiate your salary and I’m failing miserably. Ok, let me try again. I can do better!
This is probably true for most people and it’s a legitimate concern. How can you negotiate your salary if you don’t even know what you’re worth? You might know about what you’re worth in your industry or even in your region, but you can’t possibly know what you’re worth at this company. They probably know a lot more about that than you do, so why not just let them tell you what they think you’re worth and accept that valuation?
That’s pretty sound logic. But! Not knowing your worth could actually be even more reason to negotiate. Like, what if the salary they offer you isn’t actually what they think you’re worth? Then your strategy of just accepting the offer doesn’t tell you anything new. But by negotiating, you could make more money and learn more about the current value of your skillset and experience.
I almost had one!
Right! If you like the offer, there’s no reason to negotiate. Just accept the offer and move on.
Well, unless you underestimate your value. It’s possible you’re happy with the offer just because you don’t have enough information yet. But what if you start working and find out someone else with a similar background to yours is making a lot more money? That could be pretty frustrating and you might not be as happy anymore.
Now we’re right back to negotiating to learn your worth! Drat!
This is a pretty good plan and it helps with a lot of these other items. No awkwardness, you don’t need to know what you’re worth, you won’t seem greedy. So we’re all set!
Well, except that most companies are pretty strict about how much of a raise you can get at any given time. And some companies literally have limits in place like “You can’t get more than a 7% raise in one move” and things like that. So, if it turns out you took a much lower salary than you’re worth, it may not be easy (or even possible) to get a big raise once you’re in the door.
You’re a good candidate, and they need you on the team pretty badly. So what if they offered you the absolute best, budget-busting salary they could possibly afford? Then there’s no way they can pay you more, and you would be negotiating against their best-possible offer. So why bother?
Hm. But how do you know they made their best possible offer? And what if there are other things you can negotiate in addition to salary?
Companies usually leave themselves some room just in case you negotiate. So they may be making a good offer, but it’s pretty unlikely they’re making their best offer.
I guess that complicates things a little. Come to think of it, a good way to figure out if they actually made their best-possible offer is to counter offer and see if they budge. And even if they can’t budge, you can always negotiate non-salary items like vacation, working from home a couple days a week, or a signing bonus.
Aaaaand I came up totally empty here. I promised you 10 reasons you should NOT negotiate your salary and I couldn’t make a good case for a single one. I’m going to rethink this piece and try again some other time.
Sorry about that.
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How to negotiate salary: 9 tips from a pro salary negotiator
I'm Josh Doody, a professional salary negotiation coach who helps Senior Software Engineers and Engineering Managers negotiate job offers from big tech companies. On average, Software Engineers and Engineering Managers improve their first-year compensation by $47,273 with my help.
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