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I just got an initial programming job offer for $75k + benefits. It's an initial offer, so I feel like I should give a counter offer ($5k - $10k/year more) to avoid unnecessarily leaving any money on the table, but I've never negotiated a salary before and I don't have any real reason for requesting more money other than, "I shouldn't just take the initial offer." Questions...

  1. If I'm happy with the initial offer, would it be smart to give a counter offer and ask for more money and risk losing the job offer?
  2. If so, how should I approach asking for more without any real justification?

I should mention that I already have a job (at a very prominent software company), but it pays $16k/year less with no benefits. As such, I don't feel already having a job strengthens my position any when asking for more.

Thanks so much in advance for your wisdom!

UPDATE: After taking Kevin's advice, my new employer came back with a new offer of $82K + $2K signing bonus and I happily accepted. Thank you, everyone, for all your guidance!

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This post and answers were automatically converted to community wiki for going over 15 answers. The answer was flagged as not an answer and removed. As a result, I removed the CW status from the question and most of the answers; however, I left the CW status on posts that look like they could use some TLC in the form of helpful edits. Please see this Meta Workplace SE post for more details on the 15 post threshold. If anyone would like to edit the posts and flag them for review, we can possibly revert the CW, notices, or remove the posts –  jmort253 Feb 20 '13 at 3:11
    
It's great to see feedback about the advice used and how it worked in this particular situation. Would love to see more people do that. –  superM Feb 28 at 9:01

10 Answers 10

up vote 58 down vote accepted

Always, always, always ask for more. It makes them respect you and you're likely to get it.

In your specific case, I'd ask for $10K more plus a $2000 starting bonus. Here's how I'd phrase it (or something similar):

"First, thank you so much for this offer. I appreciate that it shows you have confidence in my ability to succeed here. Thanks again. I'm seriously considering the offer, but to be honest I'd like it to be a bit higher. Would it be possible for you to bump the offer to $85K and add a small signing bonus? If so, then I'm certain I'd accept immediately."

You don't have to turn down their offer directly unless they push you. Just say you're not sure and would like the offer to be higher. That's all you need to say. Seriously.

Here's a great, detailed discussion on reddit dealing with exactly this issue. Here's a snippet of the discussion:

Don't be afraid to ask for more, it's not insulting or in any way going to affect your ability to be hired (we can always say no)

When you ask for more, give a number! If you let me pick, I will continue to lowball it.

Ask for raises, confident people get them more often than high performers in a heavy bureaucracy.

On a small sidenote, the one person who got the most out of us was a highly aggressive, very smart, very confident woman. She nearly doubled the initial offer, which due to how she marketed herself was already pretty high.

I'd add a side note which is always ask for a signing bonus as well. Since I began doing that I've almost always gotten one.

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Thanks, Kevin, I appreciate you helping me phrase my response and I took your advice. I'll let you know how it works out. And if doesn't work out, I'm blaming you ;) No, seriously, thank you, I feel confident it was the right thing to do, regardless of how it turns out. –  BeachRunnerJoe Aug 22 '12 at 4:37
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I wish you the best of luck! I hope you get it! –  Kevin Bedell Aug 22 '12 at 4:47
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They came back with a new offer of $82K + $2K signing bonus and I happily accepted. Thank you, everyone, for all your help! –  BeachRunnerJoe Aug 24 '12 at 2:51
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Dude - I am so happy for you. What a great lesson and a happy ending. –  Kevin Bedell Aug 24 '12 at 16:33
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Is this advice specific to the culture of the country in question (in this case I assume the US)? –  Burhan Ali Aug 27 '12 at 12:59

You should have a reason to justify asking, especially if you want to accept the offer regardless of whether you receive a higher salary. Everyone naturally wants more money (who would ever turn down a 10% increase in salary for the same job responsibilities?).

Think of different ways to phrase this request and which you think would be more effective, assuming you did not have any serious salary discussion prior to the actual offer - either your expectations OR your current salary:

  • "I propose 5k more in salary"

or one of:

  • "I would like 5k more because I can bring the following skillsets to your company and allow you to increase value in the following ways, X, Y, and Z."
  • "I really like your company and would like to work here, however the current market value** for someone with my skillset and experience is $X. Is there any way we could come to a more mutually beneficial agreement?"
  • "I would love to work here, however I am currently living in an area which has a lower cost of living** - is there any way this could be reflected in the salary offer?"

Just imagine this from the perspective of a recruiter/manager and it becomes pretty clear how you should phrase a request. The risk with any of the latter three is significantly less than the first. Also consider the additional information about the company you get if the company either accepts (or rejects) your counter-offer containing justification. If you find your offer is below market rate, and the company doesn't care, that tells you something about the company.

** Don't make stuff up, find actual information for this if you intend to do so

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Put in a counter-offer in a confident but polite manner, and if they accept that offer, take it.

This Kalzumeus link contains a great deal of good quality information regarding negotiation. One thing to be well aware of is that the extra money is not significant compared to the amount that you cost just by being an employee (in terms of support infrastructure, costs of necessary equipment, etc.). It's also comparably expensive to the cost of not hiring you and then finding a new candidate to fill the position, in terms of hiring time, etc.

They've spent a significant amount of budget "getting to Yes-If". If they now have to spend a little more "Getting to Yes", they'll do it.

The key here is not to think "Without any real justification". If they want to employ you, that means you are of value. If their perception of your value is less than the extra you ask for, then you can always say "Yes" to the original offer, because they already SAID you were worth that much. You won't drop in value just because you demonstrate basic business negotiation skills (in fact, if that Kalzumeus article is correct, then the reverse is generally true).

Edit: As stated above, and emphasised by the comments, the key here is to be both confident and polite. If you start issuing ultimatums to them, or act as if they're victimising you, then it's not unreasonable for them to re-evaluate your people skills and decide you're a potential liability. Also, to be honest, if you say you won't accept a job at $30k, and then accept it, they know damn well you'll leave if you're offered more money, which is no use at all and embarrassing to whoever hired you.

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+1 from me too... just don't shoot yourself in the foot by making it a demand. I had a job applicant say "I know I'm worth more than X, the offer has to be at least X+5." I had to say no, I can't do X+5, thanks and goodbye. At which point he said "okay, I'll take the job at X". I had to tell him, "you already refused the offer at X, I can't give it to you now." –  Hellion Aug 21 '12 at 16:40
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@DJClayworth yes, absolutely. That leaves the door open to the original offer. –  Hellion Aug 22 '12 at 11:51
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@Angelo, I made an offer. He (a) rejected my offer and (b) made a counter-offer. I rejected his counter-offer and declined to make a new offer. He then tried to take back step (a). If he had not performed step (a) in the first place, there would have been no problem in going ahead with the original offer. But he had already rejected it quite firmly and clearly. –  Hellion Aug 22 '12 at 14:06
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@Hellion, It is anecdotes like this that make really good people terrified of negotiating what they're worth. Very mean, I think. –  Angelo Aug 22 '12 at 14:27
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@Angelo, as deworde said, POLITELY is a huge key. If you must have more detail, the guy said (again, paraphrasing from distant memory): "I can't possibly accept the offer at X. I know I'm worth at least X+5, and if you want to hire me, you need to make me an offer in line with that." I simply took him at his word, and then held him to it. –  Hellion Aug 22 '12 at 14:40

I have to strongly disagree with the crowd here, and I think in general it's a tendency of programmers to be too polite with money that leads them to be underpaid relative to the business value they create.

This is a basic cost-benefit analysis. You analyze the risk they will pass over you just for asking for more money vs the benefit if they say yes. Recruiting is very expensive and I doubt they will flat out reject you just for asking. Making it a demand is obviously more risky but you're not even at that stage yet.

The advice that you should negotiate for a Safari subscription instead is absurd. That's not even a benefit, it's a commodity good with a cash value of a few hundred dollars per year. Health insurance is a benefit because you get better rates than as an individual. Vacation is a benefit because you can't buy time online. You can however buy Safari books subscriptions and I'd rather decide how I'm going to use my own cash than let my employer decide for me. Most importantly, they are suggesting you give up asking for thousands of dollars by asking for something closer to $100.

But programmers have a long and proud history of being satisfied with job perks worth a few hundred dollars in lieue of salary raises in the thousands, so it's not a huge surprise.

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It sounds like - not getting extra money wouldn't slow you down from taking the job & you're not desperate for a job, although this would be a significant upgrade in pay & benefits. In this one, I'm not sure there's be enough for me, personally, to rock the boat with a counter offer. The one thing I see missing here is whether you've given the thought to whether this is a life improvement - for example, commute, work/life balance, technology and process in the new vs. old jobs - all of these things can be so significant that an extra $10K is meaningless in comparison.

Reasons for asking for more money:

  • You can get away with it. Who doesn't want more money?

  • To stay competitive with the market rate

  • To guarantee that if the job isn't all you hope for, you are at least compensated well enough to put up with it for a few years.

  • The commute, work/life balance, incentives or benefits are substandard

  • The job is riskier than is typical.

Reasons against asking:

I can't tell that you've considered these... so I'll throw them out since it sounds like you don't have a driving motivation for asking for the money, so it's good to be ready for the liabilities...

  • Long term relationship - someone in your chain of command will end up authorizing or declining your request. Your interview behavior and your pre-first-day behavior are the first impression these people will have of you. Fighting for what is fair or what your family needs is respectable, trying to drag out the last dollar and center is not. They probably won't retract the offer, but what will their impression of you be?

  • Expectation setting - if you raise the bar to the upper end of "fair market rate" in terms of salary - you also raise it in terms of expectations. If you expect to work like a dog anyway - and the expectation is already mega overtime, heavy travel or other work/life challenges - then go ahead and raise that salary - you are already meeting high expectations.

  • Raises and promotions - if you push your salary up and out of the norm for your pay grade, you limit your options in terms of raises until you get promoted. You will likely not get promoted in the first year as it's expected that you will be learning how to do things - not performing above your existing grade level. There are weird cases where this doesn't apply - but if you push now, you can likely expect a lower increase later - particularly if you are vastly ahead of existing employees.

If one of the reasons above really applies - go for it. You deserve to be paid what you believe is a fair market price for your skills and for the time and energy you commit to the job. HOWEVER - if they knew your salary was $16K less, and willingly offered you the current salary -- plus the total compensation increase of way better benefits - then they are playing fair - they probably don't expect a negotiation, they are making a good faith offer and one or more of the reasons not to ask may apply.

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On the other hand: 1) Asking for more money up front is better than demanding a raise later on, especially with a smaller company where negotiations are more personal. Negotiating right the first time is less likely to leave hard feelings than trying to renegotiate midstream. 2) In a larger company, raises are often based on percentage over existing salary, so starting out lower can put you permanently behind the curve. –  Nate C-K Aug 21 '12 at 18:07
    
Lots of good food for thought here. I could however imagine a different situation than the last point. If a company knew a candidates salary was relatively low, the company could figure that a $16K raise would be seen as generous enough even though they may have expected to pay more for the position. –  eflat Nov 1 '13 at 4:28

Having a job generally is a position of strength. If they want you to leave they have to offer some mix of:

  • more money (Check)
  • better benefits (Check)
  • better working conditions (only you can judge)
  • better job security (only you can judge)

If you were unemployed, or facing a getting laid off, then then your would be comparing their offer to zero.

They gave you an offer of more than a 25% increase and benefits. Compered to your current job which has no benefits. They are most likely aware what you currently make and the benefits you get at the current company. If they know they have the first two points covered it will be hard to get them to budge.

The best chance to negotiate is the working conditions. This could be being allowed to work a modified schedule (10 hours per day for 4 days a week), or 1 day a week from home. You don't need a huge justification: I like to go camping, I have to watch the kids, it will save on computing costs. It also won't really cost them any money. Of course you might find out that those conditions are available for everybody.

Current employment is a strength only if you are willing to reject the job offer. The more demanding you counter offer the greater the risk they will go with their next choice. They might not be able to offer you more money, the pay may be locked into a budget, or contract. If that is the case any counter offer for money or benefits will be bad.

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Let me make an important point:

No company in the world is going to withdraw an offer just because you ask for more as long as you do it politely and in a reasonable timeframe. If the company thought you were worth $75K, then they will still think that after you've asked for more.

So feel free to ask for more money, even if your only justification is "I'd like more than that". I should point out that the chances of it being accepted are small, but you won't suffer from making it.

Note: It's important not to phrase this as a rejection of the offer -just tell them you would like more. Only reject the offer if you really don't want it.

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There's already one example in the thread of an offer lost to a counter offer. You can ask as much more as you want as long as you're willing to miss out on it. –  Jeff Ferland Aug 21 '12 at 21:12
    
I disagree. For some companies, if you ask for more than they feel you're worth or more than they can afford, they might doubt your commitment to them at the rate they are willing to offer you and figure you're just accepting the lower salary until you get a chance to jump ship. However, it's always a gamble when you negotiate, and there are a lot of other companies out there. –  Nate C-K Aug 22 '12 at 4:06
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To be fair, a company that will only employ you on exactly their terms may well be a company you'd be uncomfortable working for... smoothjazzy.files.wordpress.com/2007/09/dontforget.jpg –  deworde Aug 22 '12 at 9:50
    
@JeffFerland As you can see from the (sigh) comment conversation on that post, it was more a matter of approach than the counter-offer itself. –  deworde Aug 22 '12 at 14:42
    
This is not true. I have had it happen to me several times. I know what my number is and will and have walked away from offers over a less than 1% difference so it does not bother me, but it does happen. –  ReallyTiredOfThisGame Feb 21 '13 at 14:35

If you haven't done that already, I would try to find out how much similar positions are generally paid in your area. It could be that the offer they gave you is still below average even though it's more than you are paid now, and then you can use that knowledge to negotiate a higher salary. Or maybe the offer was really good and then you will know that and don't have to worry that you could have gotten more just for the asking.

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glassdoor.com/about/index_input.htm may be of help here. It provides anonymous information about average salaries etc. –  deworde Aug 22 '12 at 9:42

I am in your same situation just a little different industry. Here is my response e-mail to my offer letter:

*Mr. First Last,

First off, thank you very much for the employment offer. I am excited about the opportunity to be part of the XYZ Company team. XYZ Company seems like a great company to work for with a good atmosphere and competitive benefits. I am seriously considering the offer, but to be honest I would like it to be a little higher. I would like to request a salary of $XX,XXX/year. I feel I bring a lot to the table as I not only have experience as a (your position) but I am also cross-trained in XXXXXXX, XXXXXXXX, XXXXXXX, and XXXXXXX. Because of this experience and training I know what is expected and how to work adeptly with other engineering disciplines. Also as manager at my recent employer I learned the value of an honest, hard-working, and committed employee and I know how to be, and will be, that type of employee. I am very dedicated to my work and as any of my references and previous employers can confirm I am a top performer and a very valuable team member. Please let me know if this is a possibility and if it is I would be more than happy to join the XYZ Company team ASAP!

Thanks, First Last*

I know every person is in a different situation but I hope I can help someone else make a little more.

Update, It worked and we met in the middle with a 5% increase from the initial offer! Not too bad for a 10 minute e-mail response when the initial offer was already very generous.

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Accepting the offer without counterplay will make it hard to achieve higher payments in future. As we all know there is some "inflation" every year, so the payment must increase each year... Or you'll have less "effective" reimbursement for your work.

Don't be too greedy, when asking for more. But don't talk about peanuts (at least 3% more). E.g. you could speak about "how is the usual rise in salary handled each year?" in the company?

Show interest, be honest and fair... never exorbitant!

Hint: Don't answer too quickly... but don't let them wait for too long. Maybe a week waiting time is fine... If you answer too quick, they'll know you are just taking it at any price.

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