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HR / Jobs / Technology

If you’re new to the corporate world, know this about salary negotiation

Is it necessary? Can it help? Maybe. Here's how to try.

Should you grab that offer, or should you negotiate? (Photo by Rodnae-Productions on Pexels)
When the time comes, will you be ready to negotiate?

Salary negotiation is possibly the scariest part of the job search process, especially if you’re moving from a low-paying industry to a tech or corporate job.

If you were making $15 an hour at your last job and are handed an offer for $60,000 a year — essentially double what you were making before — your instinct may be to accept it immediately, no questions asked. It may be more than you even hoped for, but depending on the factors involved, it may be below what you should be making. Companies may try to save money by making you an offer below what they actually have budgeted, because they know savvy employees will counter-offer.

Now, there’s a big caveat here: Pay transparency and fixed salary bands would remove the need for salary negotiation, and they’re becoming more common in the tech world. Here’s an explainer on how pay transparency makes companies more equitable and here’s a how-to guide for bringing pay transparency to your workplace.

And this, too: It’s still a job seeker’s market, especially in fields where skilled workers continue to be in demand. Despite all those layoffs at big venture-backed companies, postings for tech-focused roles are up 45% over the first six months of the year, per the latest Dice salary report. CompTIA’s monthly tech jobs report backs this up, too.

With these notes, here’s some guidance for navigating what could be a challenging conversation.

‘My way or the highway’ tactics may mean the highway

If you’re not accustomed to the corporate world, it may seem out of line to ask for more money, especially if you’re being offered an entry-level position. What if they don’t accept your counter offer and you lose the opportunity?

Losing an offer due to making a counteroffer is possible, but if you do your research and keep your counter offer reasonable, your risk of losing the offer altogether is low. And, even if you feel like you’d be happy to earn what they offer out of the gate, negotiating shows your future employer that you understand how the industry works and that you value your own worth.

“Try to find common ground with the person or institution you’re negotiating with,” said Burnett Coke, principal consultant at Silverback Human Resources, in a 2019 interview with Technical.ly. “Do not go in with a hard and fast position, ‘My way or the highway.’ It may be the highway.”

Avoiding the highway means knowing what is reasonable. That’s not a one-size fits all number. It may vary based on your location, qualifications and skills. And your counteroffer might not be all about money.

Beyond salary

“Base salary is just one piece of total compensation,” said Talia Edmundson, the founder and principal of HRnB Consulting, in 2020.

Other parts of your compensation include benefits — medical, leave and a retirement plan are important aspects of your compensation, but they may also include things like workplace flexibility, remote work, child care, continued education reimbursement, and perks such as fitness, food and discounts.

Benefits are generally standard and not negotiable for the most part, but the lack of a benefit such as child care could be a factor in counter-offering for a higher salary. If they stand firm of your salary offer, you can try and negotiate for a more flexible work arrangement.

At her workshop during Technical.ly’s NET/WORK Philly hiring event in March 2020, people ops pro Hannah Marks asked the audience what their biggest salary negotiation fears were. Rejection was up there, but so was the fear of coming off as greedy or selfish.

Women, especially, “are often fearful that negotiating with potential employers will put their offer in harm’s way,” Marks said. “An important step in overcoming this fear is to have open conversations about traditionally taboo topics such as money, salary and benefits.”

Doing the work

Researching the range of what people in your area earn in a position like the ones you’re going after is one of the most important things you can do to prepare for the job interview process. But where to start?

  • Some cities have their own local compensation reports, like Code & Supply in Pittsburgh, that can help clue you in on what your colleagues are earning.
  • US Bureau of Labor Statistics has a comprehensive database of US industry and compensation information.
  • Economic Research Institute has searchable data and analytics for thousands of jobs and locations.
  • Payscale is AI-powered compensation software aimed at helping jobseekers value their work.
  • Educate to Career is an online calculator that is aimed at jobseekers just out of college or certification programs to inform them on what they should expect for starting salaries in different fields.
  • Have a job opportunity in Europe? Talent.io is the European salary report.
  • Korn Ferry has a global salary report, too.

When negotiating pay isn’t an option

Negotiating doesn’t hurt unless you are asking, for example, for Google-level compensation from a midlevel startup. Smaller companies may be open to negotiation — but they may also have a hard cap on what they pay for different levels. If your prospective employer indicates that there is no wiggle room for salary, they’re likely being straight with you, and pushing for a salary they can’t swing won’t get you a higher offer.

If you get an offer from a company you love but you know you could make more somewhere else, it’s time to ask yourself what your priorities are. That mission-first, culture-rich company may pay less, but the trade off for an environment that fits you better may be worth it. Some technologists accept an offer that may be less than they’d get at another company, but the company that landed them offered a quick and easy hiring process that made it worth it for them compared to a long, drawn out, unpaid process.

Ultimately, like a lot of things, whether you should counteroffer is a “read the room” situation. But it doesn’t hurt to, within reason, try.

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