I’ve worked in the technology industry as an engineering manager for over two decades, and I’ve worked across several companies. So, I’ve had the opportunity to review several offers of employment.
There’s not a lot of transparency about how much companies pay, and that gives a lot of leverage to employers. If you’re willing to take a lower salary than someone else with a similar back ground and set of skills, why should they pay more? After all, if you had salary offers from two relatively identical companies, would you take the one that paid less?
I’ve learned a few techniques for fielding the, “So, how much are you making now?” question as well as the other aspects of negotiating your salary.
1 - Think Total Compensation
I titled this post, “5 Tips for Negotiating Your Salary”, but my first tip is to stop thinking about the salary portion of the offer. Instead, start thinking about total compensation. Salary is just one component of the package that companies pay for your employment. The other components include paid time off (PTO), 401(k) matching contributions, training, insurance, stock, options, etc.
By thinking of total compensation, you bring other levers to pull to the salary negotiation. You’ll also get a sense of where the company has flexibility in what they can offer.
2 - Do Your Research
Now that you’re thinking total compensation, you can conduct proper research. There are several sites and shared Google spreadsheets that list the salary range by level paid by companies. Those are nice to use as a reference, but you need to know more.
Find sites that describe the total compensation offered by your target companies. Of course, if you have a trusted relationship with someone who works there or has worked there in the past, ask them for as much information as they can provide.
3 - Answering the, “So, what do you make now?” Question
Most people reading this have heard this question. You’re either on the phone or in front of the person who is the gatekeeper to working at the company. Your mind races. Should you tell them the truth? Should you tell them a higher number hoping they match it?
Those are the wrong questions to think about. You shouldn’t answer the question.
Some states are making it illegal to even ask for your salary history. You should know if these laws are on the books in your area, but it’s possible you may still get asked the question. Again, you shouldn’t answer the question.
It’s not your job to help the interviewer research the market rate for the roles at their company. In fact, that’s information most recruiters pay to have. Why should you give it to them for free?
Here’s how you answer the question: “I’m paid a fair salary for what I bring to my current company, and I’m confident I’ll be paid a fair salary here.”
You may be wondering, “But, what if they continue to press for a salary figure?” I’ve found that this response always works: “You know, I’m really focused on making sure there’s a fit between what the company needs and my background and skills. I’m really not worried about the salary right now.”
This shows that you’re dedicated to making your case as a candidate based on the value you bring to the company in terms of your background and skills. You’re focused on job fit instead of salary fit.
Let them make the first offer.
4 - Offer a Set of Options
You get the offer, and your eyes go straight to the salary. That’s natural, but you need to assess the entire offer. Is there a 401(k) plan? If so, when can you start contributing to it, and does the company offer a match? Do you get any stock options? If so, how much and what’s the vesting schedule? Is PTO available immediately or do you have to wait for a period of time? In fact, are any of the components of the offer contingent on time served?
Once you’ve analyzed the entire offer, you know the aspects that meet your needs and the ones that don’t. It’s possible that the salary meets or exceeds your expectations. Don’t stop negotiating! You’re trying to get to the right total compensation level, remember?
Take the components of the offer and create a few options shown in this table:
This is an very simplified example, but let’s say Option Ⓐ in the table is the initial offer. It’s a salary number that’s below your target with 2 weeks of PTO and no training budget.
You receive that offer and describe Option Ⓑ: “This is a good offer. However, it’s a bit lower than I expected based on the value of my background and experience. If the salary can’t be adjusted, then there are a couple of things that can be changed to make this work. My family takes two vacations each year in the summer and in the winter. If we can increase the PTO to 6 weeks that would be fantastic. Also, I’ve had a lot of success in my career because my employers have invested in growing my skillset. So, I usually have an annual training budget of $3,000 for conferences, webinars, books, etc.”
However, you’re a flexible and reasonable human so you continue to negotiate and describe Option Ⓒ: “If we can raise the salary to something in line with the value I bring to the company, then I think I could accept just 4 weeks of PTO and a $1,000 dollar training budget.”
Getting option Ⓐ,Ⓑ, or Ⓒ isn’t the objective. The objective is to find out where the organization can move in response to the things you really care about. Their response will let you know how much freedom they have in each component of the total compensation package. You’ll be able to see where you can press and get a lot of movement and where there’s total rigidity no matter how you frame the offer.
5 - Consider Asking for a Performance Bonus
I’ve also had success asking for a performance bonus. This is cash or some other benefit you receive based on achieving certain objectives by a defined timeframe. I usually set it at the six month mark of my employment.
These objectives have to be things that are very important to the company. Also, they have to be outcomes you can achieve above and beyond the expected outcomes of my position. If any part of the total compensation package can’t be moved to an acceptable level through negotiation, you can ask to get the level you want based on your performance.
It’s important that the objectives are very clearly written down. They should be in the offer letter, and you should review them with your new boss on a monthly basis after you start working.
This post doesn’t exhaust everything you need to know in order to negotiate your salary. However, these are techniques I’ve used to successfully gain a total compensation package that meets (and sometimes exceeds) my expectations.