I wrote this post from my perspective as a cis white male, with all the privilege that includes. In my experience and based on anecdotal evidence from my peers (mostly other white males), there's little to no downside to negotiating. But that's because white men have nearly unlimited options in tech. If I don't like the company I'm working for, I know I can go out and get several offers within a month or two. I know that my demands for more compensation will be treated with respect. Any company that doesn't, isn't one that I would want to work for. But that's simply not always true for underrepresented minorities.
For someone without my privilege, they may only get one offer and negotiating just isn't worth the risk, especially with so many stories of women having their offers rescinded for daring to do so. If you're not a cis white male, please take this advice and anything like it with a huge grain of salt. What has worked for me, may not work for you.
I chose to include "Always" in the title because (if you're a white man) you should absolutely always attempt to negotiate your salary and overall compensation. I think it applies broadly to almost any industry, but it is especially true in software. There is always some amount of wiggle room in the budget. In my experience, negotiating is not a turn-off for companies and is in fact expected at most companies. Without following any specific tactics, simply asking for more than the initial offer is all but guaranteed to get you an additional $5-10K. Any company that would rescind an offer or absolutely refuse to budge over $5K is not a company I would want to be working for anyway.
These are the tactics that have worked for me. Are they the best? No. Are they the only option? No. I'm just sharing what I know so that hopefully you can apply what works for you and maybe combine it with tips from someone else. Ultimately I just want everyone in tech (and outside tech) to know their worth, understand the game of negotiation, and get paid what they deserve.
The first step is to make yourself desirable. This starts long before negotiation, or even applying for the job. In order to get the compensation you want, the hiring manager has to really want you. Here’s some tips for getting through the resume and interview screens:
Ideally, you want to be working towards multiple offers at the same time. This can be really difficult to time, but an offer from a competitor is a huge BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement). Even without another offer, your BATNA can be strong:
Having a BATNA can be as simple as imagining a better offer in your mind. Regardless, you need to know your worth. Do the research to discover market rates on sites like Levels.fyi, Payscale, Salary.com, Comparably, or Glassdoor.
Never tell the recruiter or hiring manager your current or past salary. Why? Anchoring and leverage. Besides, it’s illegal for them to ask in many states. There are lots of tactics for responding to the “what's your expected salary” question:
Companies always have a target salary in mind. It could be based on existing bands or by doing the exact same research you can do on Glassdoor, etc. Either way, your goal is to get them to tell you their number first. Anchoring is a psychological effect and negotiation tactic, where the first number “anchors” the future discussion near that number. If you are the first person to suggest a number for your salary, they will now look to offer you that exact number, plus or minus about ten percent. There are times when you can benefit by naming number first, but it’s extremely rare. If you know the company will struggle to afford you (but still want the job), naming a high number to the negotiation first could help.
With an offer in hand, its time to use your leverage:
People often get FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) here, but it’s unfounded! Very rarely will a company pull an offer because a candidate tried to negotiate. Plus in my opinion, any company that does pull an offer is not worth working for. You’ll be dodging a bullet if that happens. No matter how high the offer is, there’s always room to negotiate. The amount HR will go outside “standards” depends on how strong a candidate you are, but know that they can make exceptions. Don’t leave tens of thousands of dollars on the table out of fear.
Another common but unfounded fear is that asking for and receiving a high offer will either A) create animosity with who you negotiated with or B) place high expectations on your workload. Has anyone ever proven that to be true? At any company with more than a hundred employees, your manager probably won't even be part of the negotiation process. Also, asking for what you are worth, should not and usually is not seen as a bad thing. Just remain positive and show your excitement for the position while negotiating.
For B) I’ve found that high workload does not equal high pay. I’ve worked plenty of lower paying jobs with terrible expectations. Companies that burn out employees tend to fail. There are exceptions, but they are company-wide and not specifically for those that “dared” to negotiate.
This stage is when your BATNA is most important. If you have an actual competing offer, let both companies know this. Push one to match the other. Knowing that you are in demand will make them more interested in hiring you. In your counter offer, remain flexible. Consider alternate forms of compensation:
Remaining flexible is important because it shows the company you are willing to work with them and opens other pathways for reaching your desired compensation. A salary band might be limiting, but they have no problem cutting a one-time check, for example.
How much negotiation is too much? It’s a fine line, but if you ask for X and they offer X, you should be ready to sign. If a new offer comes in at X+Y, this is where being flexible is important. It might be hard to get another $10,000 in salary but $10,000 in stock options is usually easier. There’s so many nuances to salary negotiation and lots of different tactics that I can’t cover in one post. Here’s some more resources that have helped me:
Follow me on Twitter if you want to hear more on salary negotiation. Send me a DM if you're looking for specific help!