To properly evaluate offers and counteroffers that includes benefits and whatnot, I'll need the proper tools - a notebook and a calculator.

HR : I'm sorry, but we can't do X. However, we have agreed to offer you X-2000, which we think is a fair enough compensation.

Me : Please give me a moment... crunches some numbers on the notebook and calculator...

Me : X-2000 sounds good, however, it doesn't meet my needs quite as much. If you can only give X-2000 maximum, maybe we can add an additional Y vacation days? (where Y=whatever the results of the number crunching is)

Would it be acceptable to do some computations while in a salary negotiation meeting?

Disclaimer : The above is just an imaginary situation... as of now.

  • 66
    It sounds like a particularly good way to annoy someone with the authority to say no. You should know up front what your minimums are. Spend the time on that rather than on theatrics.
    – Jane S
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 3:28
  • 4
    What if my minimum is X, but they offer less than that, but I'm flexible on the benefits? I would need a reliable way to evaluate the benefits rather than just thinking "Ehhh, maybe about 2 vacation days extra sounds good to me."
    – Zaenille
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 3:33
  • 16
    Do you need a calculator and notebook to work out if 2 vacation days are acceptable? :)
    – Jane S
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 3:37
  • 22
    If they offer less than your minimum but you'd still consider it, then that's not your minimum.
    – OrangeDog
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 16:37
  • 8
    I would suggest that you never base the minimum salary you want based on any factor other than how much money you want to take home. Decide what benefits you want separately. In particular never lower your salary desires due to bonuses or stock options. You need what you need to live on evey pay period not base it on pie in the sky amounts that may or may not be worth anything at the end of the year or when you leave. Many a stock option has turned worthless, many a bonus plan has been cancelled before the bonus.
    – HLGEM
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 21:19

5 Answers 5


Short answer: I would not take in a calculator and notebook to a salary negotiation meeting.

As an employer, it seems very confrontational and it gives an impression that financial compensation is more important to you than the job itself. It would immediately make me feel that you are not prepared to negotiate.

What I would suggest instead is to talk about options, then simply say, "I would like to think through this further before I make a decision." And go away for a day or two and do your calculations. If you need to discuss with a significant other, you can do this also.

You can then take your time, think about your options and then be truly comfortable in the knowledge that you are making the best decision without rushing!

  • 16
    I would say that a notebook is always fine - you need to take notes and remember their offer somehow.
    – David K
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 12:14
  • 15
    I agree that a notepad is a reasonable thing to take, but then again I take one into every meeting I go to :)
    – Jane S
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 12:31
  • 38
    Financial compensation is why we do the job in the first place.
    – Blrfl
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 14:09
  • 13
    @Blrfl Giving your boss the impression that you're only there for the money is generally a negative. Sets a bad workplace attitude and it isn't something I'm looking for in my subordinates. Commented May 21, 2015 at 14:40
  • 19
    @MichaelMcGriff: It's still the elephant in the room whether or not anyone wants to admit it aloud.
    – Blrfl
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 16:52

Would it be acceptable to do some computations while in a salary negotiation meeting?

While it might be acceptable, it would almost certainly come across as weird.

Instead, go into the negotiations with a clear understanding of

  • what you want
  • what you need
  • and what you are willing to settle for

That's only a few numbers you'll have to remember.

If you really aren't able to think things through on the fly, without the aid of a notebook and calculator, do the best you can and end the discussion with the agreement that you will need to take a day or two to think through the specifics of the offer and benefits before reaching your decision. Many (most?) folks wait a few days before accepting an offer.

  • 3
    I agree, it is much more acceptable (and common) for a candidate to explain the offer is lower than expected, explain what was expected if it hadn't already been covered, and if HR was unable/unwilling to meet expectations that it will have to be discussed/considered before the candidate decides. It would be better for a candidate to 'pre-crunch' some data, for example if you think you will need to evaluate stock options, profit sharing, etc (things which also require a bit of research to produce results from accurately) that to do it in the middle of a negotiation.
    – wilson0x4d
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 19:02

Taking a notebook and pen is perfectly fine. I have seen candidates make notes about my answers, and flip to a page where they have written in advance questions they would like answered. Nobody has ever said to me later "I liked that candidate, but the notebook thing, how weird!" In fact I think notebooks have been in the majority for most interviews I've done.

The calculator is weird though. The math involved is not that hard - every $x of salary you give up is worth a vacation day, say, or great health insurance is worth $y. Many people would do that in their heads, but if you can't, you can't. So I encourage you to do that math in advance. Then on one page of your notebook you can write the salary you want, the number of vacation days you would need if you're offered 5k or 10k less than that, the value of other random benefits they may have, and so on. Do the adding and subtracting there. Heck, make a little grid or table. Working this through in advance will make your negotiations more confident anyway. And now you're just glancing at your notebook, not crunching numbers on a calculator.

If they throw you a huge curveball and you can't evaluate the salary, relax. Once you get to the "negotiating salary" part of the interview, you're in a very good place. So you have already learned that this job has some amazing side benefit, like travel to marvelous places where they would prefer if you spent a few extra days there each time, not counted as vacation time, to save them money on flights or the like. And they've asked what you want to make and you've said X and they've said "we only have $X-5k". You can't figure out on the spot whether that travel is worth 5k? Smile sadly and say

Everything about this job technically is a great fit for me. I know I'll be very good at it. And the people and environment are fantastic. I even like the travel I'll have to do. I will need a little time to see if I can take a pay cut to work here. Can I call you tomorrow?

Then go home and do whatever crunching you need to do. When you call the next day it's not to say "yes" or "no" it's to say "I can make this pay cut work if you can (whatever it is you want from them) and I would love to work there, so is there a way you can do that?"


In my experience, salary negotiations are rarely done face-to-face. Usually they are handled by telephone and/or email. Naturally, you can have whatever you want in such circumstances.

That said, if you are going into a face-to-face (or video) meeting to negotiate salary, I generally agree with the recommendations that you don't want to take a calculator into the meeting. Know the minimum you're willing to accept before the meeting so that calculations are not necessary.

Before the meeting, think through how you will value your complete compensation package, as only you can decide how valuable a benefit will be. For example, to me, an extra week of vacation per year would be worth somewhere between 5% and 10% of salary (assuming I'm getting a market value offer), rather than the roughly 2% you'd expect in terms of time worked. Some people will find it valuable to have schooling paid for while others would have no interest. Having a good idea of this sort of thing ahead of time is better than figuring it out "on the fly". Also, it will make you look more prepared, which could even affect the negotiations; at least you'll avoid negatively affecting them by looking disorganized.

That said, let me offer a possible alternative if you feel you must be ready to perform some calculations: A tablet (e.g. Google Nexus or Apple Ipad). If you already use one for note taking, that would allow you to make your notes and you could do some quick, simple calculations. However, if you're going to do that, make sure they're quick and unobtrusive to the process - if you have to say something like "Excuse me for a minute while I run some numbers", it's probably too long.

Also, some portfolios, such as this one (not an endorsement, I just grabbed a random one from a search) come with basic four function calculators built in. This also would allow you to have something for quick, simple calculations without being obtrusive.

  • 6
    I would find it distracting if a candidate was "note taking" on a tablet -- most people can take written notes while looking at the interviewer and paying attention -- few people can type on a tablet while still paying attention to others, and it's hard to tell if he's typing notes or googling the answer to the question I just asked.
    – Johnny
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 15:26
  • 1
    @Johnny: I get your point if they're typing. I was thinking of using a stylus (or finger) to make brief, "hand-written" notes.
    – GreenMatt
    Commented May 21, 2015 at 16:20
  • 1
    @Johnny: why would someone Google the answer to a question asked in a salary negotiation meeting? Or, if they did need to, why would it be a problem if they did? The question isn't about skills tests. Commented May 22, 2015 at 17:44
  • The answer said If you already use one for note taking, that would allow you to make your notes and you could do some quick, simple calculations, which I assumed meant taking notes during the interview.
    – Johnny
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 18:36

Taking a notebook and a calculator to a salary negotiation is acceptable, but the wrong way to prepare for such a meeting.

While there may be certain unexpected circumstances where you may need to look up some obscure information, or they may offer you an unusual package where you might need to do more than basic arithmetic to calculate the salary change, you should not need either during the regular course of salary negotiations, and bringing them up during the meeting would be considered both rude and a waste of the negotiator's time (the calculator less so, though it does not reflect well on you to have to refer to one for determining the difference between two numbers).

What you should be doing is finding the base salary you want to aim for before entering the meeting, and setting a range of salaries in which you'd accept an offer, then using that as your negotiating 'tool'. You can look up the information you need to determine a fair salary online, but by making the negotiator wait for you to look these facts up during the negotiation itself, you risk not only making the negotiator impatient with you, but making yourself look unprepared for the negotiation.

  • 3
    The weird thing is that it's "wasting the negotiator's time" to make them wait a couple of minutes while you do calculations. But it's not "wasting the negotiator's time" to say, "I need a couple of days to think about this" and then resume the negotiation at a later date as others have recommended. Despite that prolonging the conversation will occupy more of the negotiator's time in the long run. I'm not saying those recommendations don't represent reality, just that reality is stupid. Commented May 22, 2015 at 17:42
  • @SteveJessop Sadly, your assessment of reality is completely accurate.
    – Zibbobz
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 17:47
  • The thing is is that base salary is such a small factor in the offer these days--at least in the United States. In the US, we have to factor in health insurance for ourselves (and often our family), fight for every hour of vacation time, and really pay attention to the type of retirement options available. The base salary, while important, is just a fraction of the actual compensation package. And when we're talking health care options, there can be incredibly complex factors one needs to calculate. This, of course, is likely one of the reasons we don't tend to negotiate offers face to face.
    – DA.
    Commented May 22, 2015 at 21:41

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