Negotiation Best Practices

As new developers we unfortunately don't have a lot in our court when it comes to negotiating leverage like prior experience, awards, etc. but there are still a few things you can do to give yourself a shot at increasing an offer or getting an extra vacation day.

I have to say that most of these recommendations have been adapted from an excellent article: 12 Tips On How To Negotiate A Job Offer To Increase Your Starting Salary In Industry, so take a peek if you want an even deeper approach with more examples.

If you'd just like a reference chart check this out, otherwise read on for a detailed tutorial:

Before an Offer is Made

Believe it or not, there is actually work to do before negotiating starts that can improve your chances of getting the best offer, the first being "creating leverage before negotiating starts" and "making the hiring manager/recruiter give you the first offer".

Creating leverage is all about applying to as many jobs as possible, therefore increasing the number of offers you might get at once. With more than one offer, you'll have the option to negotiate those offers against each other and so on but again, you won't have more than one offer at a time if you aren't applying to multiple jobs at once. Learn more about how to keep your job applications flowing by reading Baby Steps: Your Job Search Plan of Action.

Making the hiring manager/recruiter give you the first offer is all about withholding your preferred salary range for as long as possible to keep yourself from being excluded from consideration. There is always the possibility that your ideal pay range is too high or even too low for what a recruiter has been asked to look for. They have budgets too you see, and unfortunately asking for too little money can sometimes give the impression that you might not be very good at your job.

Another reason to get the other party to give you the first offer is you then put yourself in an excellent position to produce a counter offer that's a great fit for both parties. You have more power around calling the shots essentially.

Lastly - "the first person to bring up money in a relationship always looks selfish, it's human nature" ;-)

Getting past the salary question

Recruiters know just as well as we do that revealing the first numbers in a job interview puts that party at a disadvantage, so they will try their best to get you to state your number first. To politely avoid the question, prepare to do the following:

When asked in an application: How much do you expect to be paid?/What is your preferred salary?

Respond with:

  • Leaving it blank, if you can
  • $0
  • $1,000,000
  • "I want the next step in my career to be a strong move for me in terms of both responsibility and compensation. While compensation is important I'm more concerned with finding the right fit with a company's culture and values."

When asked during an interview: How much do you expect to get paid?/What is your preferred salary?

Respond with:

  • "Any reasonable offer will be considered."
  • "At this time I'm focusing more on finding a company that's a fit for me and me for them, but I'd be happy to chat more about salary options if we get to that point!"
  • "I'd like to find something that's comparable to the local going rate for this position and my skill level."

If you're still pressed for a number, the best thing you can do is research the local average before the interview so that you can give an educated range. This is in your best interest and will keep you from bidding yourself too high or too low. You can look up local salary ranges any time using the following sites:

When an Offer is Made

Don't be impressed with the first offer by saying things like:

  • "Thank you so so so much!"
  • "Oh wow, I've never seen so many zeros before!"
  • "I can't believe you're going to pay me so much!"

Responses like that already show that you're happy with the offer and confirm that the recruiter doesn't really need to work with you on any changes as you'll very likely ultimately say "yes" anyway.

Instead stay neutral by instead saying:

  • "I appreciate the offer."
  • "Thanks for the details."

Then ask for a few days to think it over at home. The recruiter will take any response from you to their hiring manager, so why not take their response to your "manager" whether that be your family, or yourself. This will give you time to carefully review the offer and to prepare a response if there is anything you'd like to try and change.

Evaluating the Offer

The goal behind "thinking things over" is to give yourself time to evaluate the offer thoroughly. Will the salary work for you? What do their benefits look like? Vacation time? etc.

When you've decided which topics you'd like to negotiate the next step is to figure out what changes you're hoping for and why. We want to be prepared to make a case for why we think we're worth more, deserve more time off, etc.

Perhaps you have a specific expertise that's difficult to find that you'd like to emphasize. Maybe you need more flexibility in your schedule for your kids and are willing to give up a vacation day for that. It could be that their offer is $5,000 below the current average for your location. Any of these are great reasons to back up why you think you're worth something more, just be prepared to give a reason why - no one likes to make changes "just because".

I would also recommend preparing an ideal result or number for each of these cases. We won't be giving this information out right away, but it's good to be prepared if we do have to share it. For example, maybe you'd like 1 extra day off, $5,000 more, etc. We'll talk more about this later.

Starting the Negotiation Process

First off, negotiating isn't meant to be tense. Always be friendly, polite and stay positive. Remember you already have an offer on the table. They want to hire you, we're just figuring out the best employment package to make it worthwhile for both parties.

Second - try to get as many people involved in the negotiation conversation as possible, preferably in person or on the phone, not via email. Give the hiring manager a call and schedule a time where everyone can be together to talk about the offer. This will result in faster decision making, better results and no middle man, since they'll already be there.

Focus on securing salary first, before touching on vacation time, benefits, etc. We'll talk more about ways to negotiate these other topics below.

Ask Open-Ended Questions

Asking open-ended questions is the best advice I've ever read and it's basically because it just makes sense. Let's talk about that:

So you're sitting down or on the phone with the hiring manager and any other prominent decision makers e.g. Director of Development, Supervisors, etc. Most people's next approach would be to say something like

  • "What do you guys think about increasing salary to $55,000?"

-to which they'd likely respond with:

  • "Unfortunately that's a bit out of our budget, but we could go with $50k?"

-and by that point the conversation's pretty much over. You've already expressed your limit and they've expressed theirs, so we either take it or leave it. Asking an open-ended question can change this.

A preferred open-ended question in this case would have been something more like:

  • "Is there anything we can do in terms of salary?"

That puts the ball in their court to offer a number first, but be sure not to add the word "more" to that response, as they could reply with:

  • "What did you have in mind?"

and then it's down to you to reveal a number, and remember we don't want to do that.

Bracketing Your Ideal Number

Recruiters do have a lot of experience though and it may get to a point where you have to reveal a number and this is where your prior research and preparation will come into play.

Say you did your research and realized their offer of $50,000 was $5,000 below the current average, what would be the best response then? Ask for $55,000? -> False. We saw before that asking for exactly what we wanted likely results in still less than what we asked for.

Instead, ask for double the increase you're hoping for, which in this case would be 2 x $5,000, = $10,000 or ultimately: $60,000. This is called bracketing as we're using the initial number: $50,000 and a higher asking number: $60,000 to hopefully get an in between response of $55,000. - In some cases they might even give you the $60,000 which is $5,000 more than you were hoping for! #win

The point is, we have no idea what kind of numbers they have to work with and everyone likes a good deal, so might as well ask for more to increase your chance of getting what you want (as they're getting a deal, since they're still offering less) OR you might just get what you ask for!

Always follow up a request for more money, etc. with those reasons why, or research we did during our couple days to think about things. People like having valid reasons for giving more.

You can apply this method to negotiating other things (after asking an open-ended question) like vacation days, equity, etc.

The Worst They Can Do is Say "No"

Even if you're happy with an offer, negotiating is about seeing what else might be available and increases your salary in general over the lifetime of your employment. Starting at $55,000 is a lot easier than working up to $55,000 over several years.

As always the worst they can do is say "No". It's highly unlikely they'll rescind the offer, so at the end of the day, you still have a great new job and it never hurts to ask.

No matter the result though, remember to stay positive. Again, they want you to work for them, don't burn bridges before they're even built.

Negotiating Vacation, Office Hours, Benefits...

Asking for a day or 2 more days off is one thing, but what about asking for less pay for more vacation days or looking into remote work options? There is always another way to look at a situation to potentially get the changes you'd like. Below are a few different ways you could approach negotiating when your first request for more money, more time off, etc. don't work out.

They Won't Budge on Salary?

Focusing on employee evaluations and potential future raises is a great way to get to higher salary in 6 months or so vs the traditional 1 year, especially when it's a job you really want, but would just like a little more pay. It also shows that you're willing to prove you're worth the extra money you're asking for.

Try asking:

  • “How and when will I be evaluated, and will there be an increase on the basis of that evaluation?”

and negotiate an initial review in 6 months with the potential for a salary increase based on that review.

Hiring Bonuses are another great way to at least make up short-term for a salary deficit.

A hiring bonus is usually a one-time-only cash advancement, often given to attract candidates to positions that are hard to fill.

If you do your research and can show a gap between market pay and what you are being offered, you may be able to convince your potential employer that an initial cash award is deserved.

Need to Move?

If your new job will require moving to a new location, asking for a relocation stipend might be a great option to bring up. Most employers will let you know beforehand if they do offer relocation stipends, but if they haven't brought it up, it doesn't hurt to ask.

Be sure to do your research first of course on how much moving will cost and how long it might take you to adjust to cost of living changes, etc. CNN Money's Cost of Living Calculator and Uhaul's Moving Calculator are great tools for this.

Love Vacation Days?

Bring to the table facts about the importance of work/life balance and how crucial it is for you

Then have a few options to propose to make it a win/win:

  • Can you take a slightly lower salary in lieu of more vacation?
  • Can you work remotely for part of the week or month?
  • Can you demonstrate examples of successful projects that you were able to monitor while working remotely?

Value a Flexible Schedule?

Some people really value and/or need extra schedule flexibility to meet family obligations. Others just like long weekends.

Taking a slightly lower salary in lieu of a more flexible schedule is definitely an option. You could also look into:

  • Coming in and leaving earlier
  • Requesting a schedule of 4 ten-hour days
  • Working remotely for one or more days a week

If you've done any of the following in the past, that's always great to bring up too, so they have proof that you can still be successful with this kind of scheduling.

Healthcare Benefits

Healthcare benefits are some of the most challenging to negotiate mostly because they've been setup company-wide and it's illogical to redraft entire plan with the healthcare organization just for one person.

If for example though, your new employer would be contributing less to your healthcare than your past job, you might be able to negotiate a higher salary to make up the difference. You'll want to make a strong case for this though and you can find advice on how to do that here.