from Guide to the Job Hunt on Aug 27, 2023
How I negotiated job offers
What does negotiation itself look like? When do you give up information, strategically? And when do you insist on more information? Here are a few rough guidelines, based on my own experiences.
In this post, I'll share how I negotiated job offers. This is now a step-by-step walkthrough of the negotiation strategy itself, along with a few how-to remarks. Overall, this strategy resulted in a nearly ~25% increase from my lowest offer to my highest, across companies.
Note that the below was just my particular approach to negotiating job offers. I'm not sure how well this approach generalizes to different situations and people. This is why — unlike my other posts — I didn't title this post "How to negotiate". It's very specifically "How I negotiated".
With that said, I do think this strategy is useful to share. Even if you don't use it, you'll at least have a starting point to start crafting your own approach. I'll try to include as much as I can about my mentality, at each step of the way, to help you derive some value from this post.
Negotiations were a fairly unstructured process, but in general, here was the rough three-step process I followed, to leverage multiple offers against each other:
- Get compensation bands to get a rough idea of the wiggle room I had.
- Provide minimum total compensation, in the event that the initial offer or the compensation band was significantly lower than my best current offer.
- Decline any offers I would definitely not accept. Early in the process, give them room to raise the offer.
Let's now dive into these steps in more detail.
For your first post-onsite call, it's likely the recruiter does not yet have specific offer numbers. So for the first step, I prioritized understanding my wiggle room. Concretely, this means getting compensation bands for the role, rather than offer details, directly or indirectly.
- Directly: I would ask directly for the compensation bands for the role. Pretty much every time, the recruiter didn't have it on hand and would promise to bring it next time. Of all the companies I chatted with, only Tesla kept this promise.
- Indirectly: I at minimum would ask for the level. If that was provided, I would then use that to indirectly find the compensation band. In a few instances, the recruiter had only a guess for the level and needed to confirm with the hiring manager.
To translate levels into compensation bands, there are two options:
- See online, crowd-sourced resources such as levels.fyi. For AI-related roles, there's aipaygrad.es, but numbers on that website have extremely high variance. There are also now mandates for salary transparency, which you can use to your advantage.
- Several companies have unofficial resources, which you can use. For example, Meta has a crowd-sourced resource, where employees can anonymously submit promotions, offers, and other information. Those statistics are then collated by volunteers. This is all internal, so you would need a contact. In short, find a connection at the company, and ask if there's a similar internal resource.
After this initial call, I then had a rough idea of the compensation range.
For the second step, I would provide minimum total compensation. It was likely at this stage that the compensation band was below my best current offer. In this situation, I would tell the recruiter that I was only considering offers above a certain threshold. The threshold was the total compensation for my best current offer.
- In my particular case, I didn't have particular preferences for equity or salary. Coming fresh out of graduate school, I had no particular needs to justify a minimum salary. If anything, I preferred more equity. This meant that I could simply summarize my preferences and minimum threshold as a single total compensation number. I did clarify this included equity, salary, and bonuses amortized over 4 years — notably, I excluded annual bonuses.
- Eventually, I would certainly need to provide more information, such as a breakdown and a vague idea of which company was offering (e.g., FAANG, or startup). However, I didn't ever provide a full picture until the very end of my negotiations, to the final three companies I was considering.
In a few instances, the recruiter would ask for specifics regarding the minimum. At a surface level, was I looking for more salary? Did benefits count in the minimum? Per the above, I didn't care much about these, but you may. The toughest question was the following.
Quite frankly, yes. However, I also didn't want to peg myself into a hole regarding compensation range. As a result, I would share vaguely that this was based on my current set of offers, without specifying exactly how.
If the recruiter asked for a breakdown, I would decline, citing other recruiters for providing just a vague, total compensation number. In some cases, the recruiter would press to better understand why this was a "minimum".
I would then simply forward the lack of information that other recruiters had provided.
In some sense, I've certainly holed myself in at a certain level of compensation. However, at this stage, I've already seen the compensation band and know that the minimum is advantageous to bring up. Here are some details:
- My minimum in this case was always my best current offer. My initial offer was strong enough to consistently exceed compensation bands for my other options, which is why this series of steps generally worked to raise my initial offers.
- I didn't update all
O(n)companies, every time the minimum was raised. Instead, I just carried forward the minimum with the next company I spoke with.
One final note: Technically speaking, even if you only have one offer, you could provide such a minimum and an arbitrary justification. However, you might end up in a tricky situation if your only offer refuses to budge or doesn't reach that minimum. I would say to not use this tactic if you only have one offer in hand.
For the third step, only for low-priority options, I would decline. Early in the negotiation process, any company that was significantly below the threshold, by more than ~20%, I would decline.
For these declines, I would explicitly state that the offer was far below the minimum I had provided — in other words, the offer was the reason for the decline, suggesting that was all they needed to revise.
Many would then walk back the lowball offer. In retrospect, I think these recruiters didn't believe my minimum was serious.
The calls were generally unhelpful. I would reiterate my minimum, and the recruiter would try to meet it.
- One particular company revised twice, leading me to decline thrice. After the second increase, the recruiter gave up and accepted the decline. Granted, the final offer was still well below the threshold, so this didn't end up "fixing" the lowball offer.
- Note I only did this for companies I already would not accept. This is naturally risky, as it's quite likely for them to simply accept your decline. Since I was already going to decline these companies, the move was low-risk.
- For the final few offers, after I'd made my final decision, I would include other non-offer-related reasons for the decline. This would prevent another unexpected revision upwards, giving me some kind of #fomo if the revision was substantial enough to make me second guess.
After these initial few steps, I had a set of strong offers that would slowly build on top of one another.
Start with this strategy as a boilerplate if it's helpful, but tailor the aggressiveness to your offers and comfort. I had a very strong initial offer, in my inexperienced eyes, and this resulted in a very bold strategy. However, even I may not follow this strategy the next time around. Depends completely on how my offers pan out.
Long story short, your mileage may vary. Tailor your negotiation strategy to your situation. If you have a strong alternative offer, pursue an approach like this one. If you don't yet have a strong offer on hand, finesse your way into stronger versions one at a time.
Want more tips? Drop your email, and I'll keep you in the loop.