Finding A Job You’ll Love: Negotiating An Offer

So you did well in an interview and they’ve made you an offer. And now you just have to decide which offer to accept. Right?

Well, not quite. You can always go back to your top choice and ask for more. And now, when they’ve decided that they want you but before you’ve accepted, is the best time. Once you’re employed, you’ll have very little leverage. So, even though your value to the company goes up dramatically in the first couple years, as you learn more of the details of their code and systems, you won’t get much of a raise.

So you’d better negotiate now. Most companies will ask how much you’re currently making and offer you a small increment on top of that. They’ll even ask you what your “salary expectations” are, meaning they’ll ask you for the smallest increment that you’ll accept! I’ve heard it said that you should respond “I hope to be paid fairly” and otherwise refuse to give them a number. Maybe you can explain to them that you feel the process is unfair, and that you won’t give them a number any more than they would if you asked “What’s the most you’re willing to pay me?”

I’ve never done that, because I’ve been worried that I would come across as difficult to work with, or just generally being obstructive. But as much as possible, I try to follow the principals in Getting to Yes. You should all go out and read that now: You’re guaranteed to have to negotiate something at some point in your life, such as buying a house or a used car. The short version is:

  • Emphasize objective criteria. Look for salary surveys on the web. The tricky part is finding a job description that accurately describes your job, but you should be able to get a range of possibilities. Here’s a tip: most organizations believe they do a thorough job of interviewing people, and thus end up with people who are above average. So once you’ve found the salary range, you should be able to say “I think my background and skills match this position more than most of these people, so I think a fair salary is somewhere in the upper end.”

    Emphasize that you want to be paid fairly, not that you’re on the fence about going there. It’s not about “would I still work for you if you didn’t increase the offer,” it’s “I want to be paid what I’m worth.” In a market based economy, “what I’m worth” is more or less what the market is willing to bear, so…

    Get an offer from another company. This is part of why you can’t just let a recruiter do the whole search for you, they’ll only get an offer from a single company. When another company makes you an offer that’s a little more than what you’re making now, go back to the first company and say “If you offer me a little more than that, I’ll be happy to work for you.”

  • Invent options for mutual gain. Salary is the big one that everyone focuses on, but its often hard to get approval for more than a small increase in salary. Look at the benefits that other companies are offering. How many holidays, vacation days and sick days? Will they pay for parking or a subway pass? Do they have a 401(k) match? If you’ll be taking a hit on any of those, compared with either your current job or other companies you’re applying to, bring it up. If the company can’t address them directly (e.g. they can’t institute a 401(k) matching program just for you), you can use them to argue for greater salary.
  • And with that, and the info in the rest of the “Finding A Job You’ll Love” series, I hope you’ll be a little better and finding and landing that great job. Good luck, and please let me know if you found it useful!

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6 Responses to Finding A Job You’ll Love: Negotiating An Offer

  1. I hear that you got to be willing to walk away to get the best offer. If you need the job more than they need you, your negotiating power goes down drastically.

  2. Melissa Powers says:

    Or, you could work with a recruiter like myself who handles the negotiation and is trained on how to get you the best offer possible:)

  3. Here in germany it’s a defacto standard to tell the employer your salary expectation but for everyone I know this is really hard to tell :).

    For me it’s very hard, too but I have a little trick that really helps me to know what salary I can expect from the “new” employer. I simply ask for an exaggerated salary. They react with a shock and tell you their limit or their idea of your salary :).

    That’s your basis…!!!

  4. martin says:

    Andreas, that’s great! I wonder if that would work here in Boston. When I’ve heard people at work talk about applicants, and they asked for too much money, my work thought they wouldn’t take much less, and turned them down. But I think that was more about skill level. They didn’t want to offer a senior person a junior position. So, maybe if the salary was out of line for the skill set, that would work…

  5. Ghalib Suleiman says:


    Why would they turn them down? I’m probably missing something as this makes no sense to me.

    Surely, if they are good candidates, they should be given the lower offer regardless, on the off-chance that they’d take it?

  6. martin says:

    Hey Ghalib,

    Well, the risk of making a lower offer is that the good candidate accepts another offer before telling you “no.” In a lot of cases, you only have one chance to make an offer. A lot of people find the haggling when buying a car stressful and horrible. It’s the same with negotiating an offer. They’re used to “take it or leave it” offers. So if you offer too little, they’re likely to leave it.

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