So you’ve finished a grueling job search and you finally have that offer in hand—hooray! While we would all love to just be done at this point, most everyone in your life is going to encourage you to at least try to negotiate. Not every company is going to be open to negotiation, but it never hurts to try, lest you leave money on the table. Some companies will pre-negotiate for you behind the scenes so they have a counteroffer ready if you ask for more, so it’s always worth testing the waters to make sure you’re well-compensated for your work.
While a lot of this will depend on the job, your level of seniority, and your own personal preference, I’ve often found that a friendly negotiation conversation generally feels better and will sometimes get you further than playing hardball. When a recruiter or hiring manager feels like you’re coming to the table in good faith and wanting to find a solution, they’re often more willing to work with you to figure it out. Although your hiring team is beholden to the company they work for, they’re generally incentivized to try to cut a deal that will make you happy because they want you to be excited to join and stay in the role, instead of signing and then quitting in a few weeks because you found something that paid what you wanted.
Negotiation doesn’t come easily to most folks, especially if you’re part of a historically underrepresented group (like me) or if you’re trying to break into a new field (like me a few years ago), so it can be hard to figure out what to say or how to phrase things when you’re asking for more compensation. There are a few key phrases that I’ve used with success in my own negotiations, and that I’ve appreciated from candidates I’ve worked with as a recruiter. You’ll still need to figure out exactly how much money you want to ask for and what you’re willing to accept (you can use Glassdoor’s salary calculator, salary.com, or payscale.com to get a sense of what that number should be), but these should hopefully help you deliver that request clearly and end up accepting an offer you’re excited about.
The “excitement sandwich”
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Getting a job offer is always exciting, and you don’t need to play hard-to-get for the sake of negotiation. It can actually be a good sign to your hiring team if you’re open about how excited you are; it signals that you want to join the team and you’re likely to sign—as long as the compensation works out. Hiring teams can start to get nervous when candidates don’t act interested in the offer at all, and they can be less likely to advocate for a higher compensation package for you because they think you’re not planning to sign or you’re using this offer as leverage in another conversation (even if you are, we don’t want them to know that).
We can balance out excitement with negotiation by employing the “excitement sandwich,” a phrase I just made up. When responding to a written offer, you can say something along the lines of:
Thank you so much for sending the offer details along, this is such great news!
I wanted to discuss the compensation piece…
I remain really excited about the opportunity and the chance to join the team!
Open by calling out how excited you are, shift into talking about negotiation, and then remind them again that you’re excited about the opportunity and want to join assuming things work out. This gives your hiring team some comfort that you do want to join the team and can make them more amenable to figuring out a plan that will satisfy you both.
“I would be looking for [NUMBER] in order to make a move.” or “I would be looking for closer to [NUMBER] in order to make a move.”
If you currently have a job, this can be an easy way to frame why you’re looking for the compensation you’re asking for, especially if just saying “I want [NUMBER]” feels a little daunting. Framing it this way makes the situation clear: I want to join your company, but I would be giving something up in order to do so, so I would need to get something in return.
If your current compensation package is higher than what you’re being offered, or if the healthcare coverage or PTO is better, you can share this context with your hiring team if you feel comfortable. All companies are different, but sometimes recruiters can use that information to better negotiate on your behalf. That being said, it’s all about your comfort and there’s no reason to share information about your current comp unless you want to. In many states it’s illegal for your hiring team to ask you for this information.
“I would love to take the weekend/the next few days to talk this over with my family/mentor.”
Usually your offer is going to come with a deadline, and, once again, all companies are different—some will give you weeks, and some will give you hours. If you’re trying to negotiate, you don’t want to be doing it within a few hours turnaround time, and you’re well within your rights to ask for more time. Typically it’s easier to blame this on other people in your life (kind of like saying your mom said no when you don’t want to go to a friend’s party).
Don’t have a mentor? Sure you do—it’s me, and they don’t need to know that you won’t actually call me. Mentioning that you want to talk things through with other people in your life can also set your hiring team up with the expectation that you’re going to come back wanting to negotiate, if you haven’t brought it up already. Taking extra time to consider your offer might mean talking to your spouse about risk and family costs, talking to your mentor (or “mentor”) about how much money you should be asking for, or just taking a moment to step away and think about what you want. All of these things can give you more clarity on how you want to negotiate, and the benefit of extra time to think is also that the company has extra time to deliberate once you share what you’re looking for.
Be transparent about how you’re weighing the offer and any competing offers (as much as you’re comfortable).
At the end of the day, your hiring team is motivated to get you what you need so that you’ll sign, so it can be beneficial to be transparent about what’s holding you back. Lots of things go into compensation beyond just your salary: Your health insurance, PTO, 401k matching, equity, and bonus structure can all factor in and act as levers you can use during a negotiation. It will depend on what your situation is, but you might say something like:
- “I’m excited about joining [COMPANY] but I’m nervous about paying [DOLLAR AMOUNT] more out-of-pocket on my health insurance compared to my current plan. Would it be possible to cover that extra cost in the base salary?”
- “I’m really excited about this offer but [OTHER OFFER] is coming in [DOLLAR AMOUNT] higher, which is hard to turn down. Could we meet somewhere in the middle?”
Important caveat: If you don’t have other offers, don’t make one up just for the sake of negotiation. You’ll probably get caught and jeopardize your relationship with this company.
“Could we cover the difference with a sign-on bonus?”
Early in my career I had no idea sign-on bonuses were as common as they are, but many companies will be willing to add on a sign-on bonus in lieu of making a change to your base salary. Base salary is also frequently tied to standardized compensation bands within a company and thus might be harder to move on, but a sign-on typically comes out of a different budget and can be easier for a company or hiring team to swing.
If it isn’t looking like you’re going to be able to get your base salary increased (or if you just want to offer options for what you’d be willing to accept), you can explicitly ask about the possibility of adding a sign-on.
“If we could do [NUMBER], I would feel comfortable signing today.” or “I would be excited to sign for [NUMBER].”
This is music to a recruiter’s ears. We want you to sign, and having a clear target for what will get you there is an important tool as your hiring team goes back to deliberate and advocate for an offer that will get you to join the team. Obviously don’t say this if you aren’t actually planning to sign, but if you’re feeling good about the opportunity and the comp is the only thing holding you back, it can be advantageous to just be upfront about that.
One other adaptation depending on how excited you are about the opportunity and how willing you might be to entertain the offer even if you can’t get to your goal compensation: “If we could get to [NUMBER], I would feel comfortable signing today. It’s okay if we can’t get all the way there, but if so I’d like to take the weekend to talk to my family/mentor.”
Go get paid!