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I've just been given a job offer, and the quoted salary is ~10% below what I'd like. They've verbally told me that I could expect a 10-15% annual bonus based on performance. If that's the case and I can indeed expect an annual bonus in that range then I'd be happy, since it'd bring the total amount to around 100% of what I'd like. All other details with the offer meet what I want.

However, I'm wondering how much I can trust the verbal "10-15% annual bonus", since I don't see the bonus mentioned in the contract. Is it reasonable for me to ask for the bonus in writing in the contract? Or should I just ask for a higher salary that's more in line with my expectations, and ignore the verbal bonus offer?

I think part of my uncertainty is I'm not used to bonuses as part of compensation, since they're not really the norm where I currently work (academia). So I'm not sure how much I can rely on it. I'd love advice for how to negotiate my way to 100% of the salary I want given this kinda nebulous bonus.

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    when it comes to salary, promotions, bonus or any money related things (leave enchashment policy) verbal promise is no promise. Always have things in writing. Once somebody has given you the promise send an email and get written confirmation. When things go wrong only this written communication will help. NOTHING ELSE will.
    – chendu
    Oct 21, 2022 at 6:30
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    a verbal agreement isn't worth the paper it's written on. Oct 21, 2022 at 15:46
  • Apply the same rules they would: if it's not in writing, it doesn't exist. If you offered to sign a contract stating you'll work 10 hours a week but promised you'll do 30 more, would HR accept that?
    – David
    Oct 27, 2022 at 11:33

7 Answers 7

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Typically bonus payment are governed by a "bonus program" that spells out the rules. Bonus is often dependent on employee tier, employee performance, company performance, department performance, etc. These all go into some formula and your bonus pops out, also sometimes adjustments can be made.

Ask to see the document that describes the bonus program. If they have one and it makes sense to you, go for it. You can also ask "what as the average bonus payout for my tier last year".

Keep in mind that bonus are not guaranteed and volatility depends on the specifics of the program. For larger corporations they are fairly predictable but can be all over the place for a startup.

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    And often some inputs into that formula are not hard KPIs, but basically manager feedback which is highly subjective. Oct 21, 2022 at 1:22
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Bear in mind that bonuses are not guaranteed, and (generally) you don't qualify for them until you've worked there for a certain period of time (often, a full calendar year). Push to get the salary you want, and any bonuses are then, indeed, a bonus.

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  • While that's generally true, I've been told that due to the bonus being around 1/3rd of pay even for junior people Wall Street will guarantee a minimum bonus for the first several years so that employees can include it in their income for things like mortgage applications. Oct 21, 2022 at 11:48
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The chances are it will not happen unless it is written on your contract. Many of us had to learn that the hard way. Ask for it in writing but keep in mind that bonuses are also not guaranteed.

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Is it reasonable for me to ask for the bonus in writing in the contract?

It's very reasonable to ask that the performance bonus range be mentioned in the contract. That's particularly true since it was mentioned verbally.

You should also ask more questions about the bonus process itself:

  • is everyone in the company on a bonus plan, or just you?
  • when does it happen?
  • how does the performance appraisal occur?
  • are individual performance metrics the sole criteria? Or does team or company performance have an impact on the amount?
  • does this bonus process occur every year, or just this once?

These details don't need to be written if you hear that it's a normal, standard process for the company. But the fact that you will be eligible for 10-15% should be written into your contract/offer letter.

Or should I just ask for a higher salary that's more in line with my expectations, and ignore the verbal bonus offer?

In my experience, you should always mentally pretend that the potential bonus doesn't exist when you evaluate the offer. You don't know specifically what you would have to do to achieve the bonus, nor do you know how often the bonus is granted.

Look at the offer without the bonus. If it's enough, then you could decide to just accept. If it's not enough, then you should indicate so, and ask for whatever it is that would make you want to accept.

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I've just been given a job offer, and the quoted salary is ~10% below what I'd like. They've verbally told me that I could expect a 10-15% annual bonus based on performance. If that's the case and I can indeed expect an annual bonus in that range then I'd be happy, since it'd bring the total amount to around 100% of what I'd like.

A 10% difference is not equivalent to a 10% bonus. A salary compounds. A bonus doesn't. Also, inflation compounds. A bonus won't.

Tell them that you're planning to stay at their company a long time and that compounding interests are important to you. Besides, even the best companies in the world let go of their employees 24 hours before a bonus is earned. A bonus is never guaranteed. And if they can avoid paying it, they will.

I know someone who was able to get his bonus written into his contract. His argument was that he was foregoing an existing bonus with his current employer, so the new employer guaranteed him a similar bonus to make him jump ship. And this was right before an economic downturn, so in the end, no one received a bonus at his new company except for him.

And this is what it comes down to, what are your other options? Are you willing to walk away? If you're willing to walk away, you have some potential leverage in this negotiation.

They've verbally told me that I could expect a 10-15% annual bonus based on performance.

And this is nice, assuming they have the power to grant it to you, but what happens if that person wins the lottery or gets another job. Then, you're potentially out of luck.

But even if you do get that bonus written into your contract, it's not going to compound. So don't pat yourself on the back too quickly if they give you that concession. By making you fight for this bonus in the first place, they changed the frame of the negotiation.

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I'm wondering how much I can trust the verbal "10-15% annual bonus"

You can't.

For all sorts of reasons.


Always get things in writing. Ideally in the contract itself, but as long as it's in eg an email and clearly part of the offer being made then that can also work.

People can lie. They will definitely forget. Hell, that person could leave the company 3 months from now. What are you going to do then?

Writing things down also lets you clarify what, exactly, is being offered:

I could expect a 10-15% annual bonus based on performance

What does that mean, precisely? How is it calculated? Do you need to deliver "above and beyond" to get that performance bonus or is it standard for everyone employed there? What % of employees meet the criteria every year? What was the actual average % paid out for the last 3 years?

(Don't forget to also get those terms in writing where applicable)


Investigate everything before you sign that contract. Pay, bonuses, hours, conditions, holidays, sick days. Ask to get a tour of the office and see the actual desk where you would be working. Get a copy of the employee handbook and read the entire thing.

Before you've signed the contract you hold a lot of power. It costs a lot of time and money to find suitable candidates so once they've decided they want to hire you then they're very motivated to get this deal done.

In a negotiation, everything is on the table.


As an aside, even if the bonus is basically guaranteed ask for the salary anyway. Salary has tons of extra benefits that bonuses often don't. It can get you higher pension contributions. Better terms on a mortgage application. It carries more weight in future salary negotiations. It doesn't disappear when you resign. It doesn't get cancelled if the company has a bad year. A vindictive manager can't take it away from you etc. etc.

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It depends what exactly is meant by "verbal promise". For example, I was on one bonus scheme where bonus was handled by performance, but the difference between "barely acceptable" and "superstar" was only about 10% of the bonus - people getting less than that would be on a PIP. So in that case, yes, you would either get at least 90% of the promised bonus, or you would get fired.

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  • If 90% is guaranteed... then what makes a bonus different from salary? Oct 21, 2022 at 11:20
  • Well, at some point in your career you would be entered into the bonus scheme instead of getting a raise. Effectively it was a good raise. And where you were between 90% and 100% of the full bonus was basically a performance feedback, and had very little, but not nothing, to do with money.
    – gnasher729
    Oct 21, 2022 at 13:07

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