Getting job offers early on in your career is exciting. As a recent addition to the workplace, I can attest how overwhelming it is to go through the application process, phone calls, Skype interviews, in-person interviews and finally, finally be offered the position weeks later.
Time to breathe a sigh of relief….
Except…the job isn’t yours quite yet.
Yes, you might have been offered the job. The ball is technically in your court at this point; you just have to accept. But, before you do, you and your future employer have to agree on some terms…
• Your base salary
• Relocation stipend
• Signing bonus
• Flexible hours
• Telecommute options
• Vacation time
• Sick time
• Conference travel
• Education stipend
• And…anything else?
Clearly the ball still has to go back and forth across the court a few more times…sigh.
When you’re just starting out in your career, it’s daunting to negotiate with a potential employer. Especially if you’re a recent graduate or this is your first salaried position. And it’s not just your salary; you have to negotiate a whole list of things that you know next to nothing about!
All the while, you’re worried about overstepping your bounds because you don’t know what negotiating protocol is. And, the company you’re going to work for is quite literally assigning a monetary amount to how much you’re worth to them. The whole process can be overwhelming, anxiety-inducing, and exhilarating.
Where do you begin?
The negotiation is going to begin and end with you. You’re going to initiate the negotiation process and ultimately, you’re going to accept or reject an offer that is made. Before the initial job offer is on the table, you should seriously consider what terms you want to get so you know when you hear a great final offer.
Start with research.
You want to have a good idea of what a reasonable offer is for the position, company, and field you’re going into.
Ask around! One of the best ways to collect information is to access real life data. If you have a friend who is in a comparable position or works in the same industry, send them an email asking:
I recently got a job offer for a position that is similar to the one you’re in/the one you started in. If you don’t mind sharing, what do you think a fair starting salary would be?”
If you’re lucky enough to be friends with a hiring manager, reach out to them for advice!
I recently got a job offer for X position and I’m collecting some salary information. If you hired a ______ with ______ credentials, what would you offer them?”
Do some research online!
There are plenty of websites that will give you an idea of other people in your position are making.
• The Department of Labor Statistics: wage estimates by location and job
• Glassdoor: gives salary information by company
• Salary.com: you can search by job title and location to get a salary range
• LinkedIn Job Listings: browse through the salary information on similar job postings
• AngelList: primarily for tech related jobs
Once you’ve done your research, you can set some realistic guidelines before you go into the negotiation.
Figure out what is a priority for you.
The list of items you could potentially have to negotiate is long. Consider what is most important to you from the following:
Your base salary, equity, benefits, relocation stipend, signing bonus, flexible hours, telecommute options, vacation time, sick time, conference travel, and an education stipend.
*Not all of these will be relevant to every job offer or scenario, of course. You might be able to cross off relocation stipend if you won’t have to move, for example. The more things you can remove from the list, the more effectively you’ll negotiate the important stuff.
It is likely that you won’t get terms that you’re ecstatic about during each step of the negotiation. Figure out what matters the most to you so that you can negotiate more aggressively on those items, and let the rest go. For example, working from home one day a week might be more important to you than a signing bonus. This is good information to know when you’re negotiating, so you can push for the things you really want and make concessions on the things you care less about.
Define what you need, what you want, and what you’ll accept.
There are three scenarios that can happen during a negotiation: you are offered terms you absolutely won’t accept, you’re offered terms you can deal with, and you’re offered everything you ask for.
The first and last scenarios are very unlikely: hiring takes a lot of work on the part of your employer too; rarely will they make an offer so bad that their top candidate will simply walk away. It’s also unlikely that they’ll be unwilling to negotiate with their top candidate. If you make outrageous demands, it’s possible, but they’re most likely expecting you to make a counter offer or two!
The middle scenario, determining what you’ll accept, is the harder part.
Before embarking on a negotiation we recommend you write out the following statements:
The minimum salary I will accept is ___.
This statement should be determined by what people on the lower end of the salary range for your position are getting paid, what the cost of basic living for your location is, and to some extent—what you think you’re worth. If you absolutely know you can get a better offer from someone else, you might be able to set your minimum a little higher.
(Oh, and it goes without saying you should not share this number with the hiring manager, since they are incentivized to give you the minimum that you’d accept. If you tell them how low you’d be willing to go, that’s likely the number they’ll give back to you as their best offer.)
My ideal salary amount based on my credentials, experience, etc is ___.
This amount will likely be more subjective—it’s what you think you’re worth to this company—in addition to what amount you think would allow you lead a comfortable lifestyle (which varies from person to person).
These two statements will essentially give you a range to keep in mind when you’re negotiating. It’s pretty likely that even the first offer you’re made will be above your minimum amount (if it’s not, you need to evaluate whether your minimum is just unrealistic or whether this company really doesn’t value you enough).
Depending on how close or far away from your minimum offer the initial one from the company is, you’ll be able to tell how much negotiating you’re in for. If your minimum is $35,000 and your ideal is $45,000, and their first offer is $39,000, it’s possible that you won’t have to negotiate much to make both parties happy.
During the negotiation process….
Once you’ve done your homework, it’s time to actually engage with your potential employer.
The negotiation process will vary from company to company, position to position, etc. However, there are a few techniques you can use during ANY negotiation to keep things moving in the right direction:
Give yourself time to think and respond.
It can be really hard not to get swept up in the negotiation process, particularly if it takes place face to face. However, buying yourself some time is pretty easy with a little practice.
When the first (and every subsequent) offer is made, there are few things you want to do:
- Be courteous and thankful.
- Remind them that you’re excited for this opportunity.
- Ask for some time to think it over.
- And, ideally, get the offer in writing.
A good way to do all of the above at once is to have a statement prepared in advance. It can be something along these lines: “Thanks for getting in touch with me. Working at X is such an awesome opportunity. I’d love to look over the paperwork for the offer and get back to you, if that’s okay?”
Seriously, you can practice this out loud before going into the meeting or taking the phone call. In the heat of the moment, don’t get swept up and agree to something you won’t be happy with later; you are allowed to take your time, so be prepared to do so.
Even if the offer sounds amazing in the moment, it is usually useful to consider it outside of the context of the meeting or call.
Most companies will expect a response within 24 hours, but even just giving yourself 30 minutes to process the information can be extremely valuable for making sure you are getting what you want and need.
Just be sure to keep your statement polite, neutral, and positive! If you have a negotiation process coming up soon and you’re nervous about it, you can always send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll offer you advice on handling the negotiation. We love this stuff, and love helping people sort it out. :)
Take it one step at a time!
If your negotiation is going to entail a whole host of things, it’s always best to have a strategy for how you’ll get through them all. Here are a couple of methods you can choose from:
- One by one: it’s awesome if you can negotiate each piece individually. However, this method only works if you have a limited number of items to negotiate or if you really only care about negotiating a couple of key items.
- In stages: negotiating in stages essentially means clumping the negotiating items into a couple of groups and going through each group of items one at a time. You can group all the big items together (base salary & equity), then the day-to day-stuff (telecommuting, flexible hours, bonus schedule) and then everything else (stipends, conference budgets, etc).
- By importance: if certain items are an absolute priority, you can always start your negotiation there and work through your list by level of importance. This technique is best if you feel very strongly about one negotiation item but the rest are less critical.
You might not find out until you start negotiating that the company can’t budge on certain items. For example, they might have standardized salaries across the company. Don’t panic!
Instead, ask yourself if any of their strict rules are deal-breakers for you. It can be jarring to hear that the other side won’t budge at all, which can make you feel like you’re not getting a good deal and like you should walk away — but more likely, there are other opportunities for you to craft a good deal, even if it isn’t exactly what you had in mind, especially if you’re excited about the role.
Try to negotiate other items that the company has more flexibility with. Be willing to learn what constraints you’re working within and negotiate harder for other perks. Ask if they can offer some of the following:
- An accelerated review schedule
- Additional vacation time
- Parking or transportation coverage
- Conference stipends (or educational stipends)
- An altered bonus schedule
- Telecommute options or a half day each week
Use framing statements and appeal to logic!
Negotiations can feel very personal; it feels like the company is putting a price tag on you. However, the whole process will go smoother if BOTH sides can see why certain requests are being made. Instead of just asking for things (you’ll sound like you’re making demands), frame negation items.
Here are some good framing techniques:
- “The cost of city X is Y% more expensive than where I’m living/working now so ideally I would need ____ to accommodate that difference.”
- “I’m up for a pay raise at my current position in X months. It’d be great if you could also pay me Y.”
- “I was making X in my previous role. In my next role, I’m looking for Y.”
Keep calm (as much as you can)
Negotiations can (and often will) be long, tiresome, and can elicit emotional responses that you didn’t expect.
It’s important to stay level headed. You are excited about this opportunity. You are being offered an awesome job. This company picked YOU, which means they value you! You both want this to turn out well, so you just have to get through it.
Negotiations aren’t simple or easy most of the time. But they are worth it! They are also inevitable, so it’s good to get some practice doing them early on in your career.
Negotiations are standard and expected, so don’t hesitate to play ball. It’s a great opportunity to be assertive and take control of your career. And although it might be uncomfortable, it’s a good thing to do; you want to keep this job, which means you want to get that everything you need from it in order to succeed, which means making sure those things are accounted for before you sign the dotted line.
It’s worth it. And when all is said and done, you’ll be in a brand new job with amazing opportunities ahead of you.