Negotiate Every Job Offer! And How to Do It.

Never ever accept a job offer without negotiating it first. Here are some tips for doing just that.

gk on February 14, 2012 in Misc About a 3 minute read.

My first employer was a smart and generous guy who gave me several good lessons (among them that it's good to be addicted to coffee). One of his first was: always negotiate a job offer.

I was a Philosophy grad-school dropout eager to join the workforce. I'd always enjoyed hacking around on computers, so I was applying to every programming job I could find. Eventually a tiny software company called The Pacific Group actually offered me a job. I think the starting salary was around $22,000. I immediately and enthusiastically said "Yes!" and set out for a celebratory dinner.

Several months later, my boss pulled me into his office for a review. "When you took this job, you were a complete idiot and had no idea what the hell you were doing" he said. Of course, I assumed he was referring to my meager (if non-existent) coding skills and figured he was getting around to firing me. Instead, he continued, "Dude, you never, ever, ever just take a job offer without negotiating. No one in this industry is working for less than $30 grand a year. The only time you have any leverage at all over your employer is the moment they offer you a job and before you say yes".

Lesson learned... always negotiate a new job offer. Any and all aspects of a new position are negotiable - salary, options/equity, time off, bonus incentives, hours, responsibilities and title, start date, benefits, desk location or equipment, relocation bonus, anything. You don't need to be difficult about it, and you may not get what you want, but you'd be surprised :)

The moment your future employer makes you an offer, they are at the end of a long, exhausting, and resource-intensive search. They may well have gone through hundreds of resumes and interviewed a dozen candidates and you are the one they want. Not only that, but if an organization has an open job rec, odds are that they're somehow shorthanded or are otherwise scrambling around with a role going unfilled. Even in these economic times, the person receiving the job offer always has leverage at the moment it is extended. Believe me, I've been on the hiring end enough times now to know that once I've finally found that just-right person I want to hire, I'm willing to go the extra mile to seal the deal.

So, how do you go about actually negotiating? Negotiating well tends not to come naturally to many Americans (particularly younger folks) and it makes most people uncomfortable. Ultimately, negotiation is a skill that can be practiced and mastered. There are millions of resources out there to teach good negotiation tactics, and I'd encourage anyone interested in learning the nuances to look into some books. Ultimately, though, your ability to negotiate well does not rely on tricks or tactics or platitudes like 'make everyone a winner', but on your self-confidence and your comfort with negotiation and confrontation. So, practice regularly on little things -- go to a few garage sales/craft markets, etc. with a few bucks just to practice haggling. Don't worry too much about the outcomes (that's why you only bring a few bucks), but pay close attention to what works and what doesn't - eye contact, tone of voice, etc.

When it comes time to actually negotiate a job offer, be sure to get it in writing. If this is an issue, ask them to email you the details so you can review them with your family. Once you have the offer in writing, they generally won't be retracting it or making offers to the next person on their list (believe me, if they engage in these shenanigans, you don't want the job anyway). Don't protract the negotiation -- no more than 24 hours later, get in direct touch with the hiring manager and/or the person who's signed your offer. Have at least two reasonable requests that you want, and be sure that at least one is a 'soft' request that the manager has direct control over -- like getting to participate on a certain exciting project or assignment. Understand that most organizations are fairly bureaucratic and that the hiring manger may not be able to address all salary or benefit related requests directly. That being said, nearly all hiring managers have a budgeted leeway around +/- 5% that they have discretion to work with.

Also, be sure to at least ask for some equity upside even if none is offered -- it will make you feel better about, more invested in, and ultimately more effective in your new position.

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