Companies expect you to negotiate. The initial offers are designed to make room for that. They offer the smallest amount you’d accept, not what is fair. I’ve seen candidates who had their offers doubled through negotiation. I’ve also seen people getting paid $100K/year less than their peers because they didn’t.
Negotiation is stressful. “How much should I ask for?” “Am I being lowballed?” “What if they rescind the offer because they think I’m being greedy?” In case you’re worried about the last question, relax. If you’re respectful during your negotiation, companies won’t rescind their offers. If they do, it’s not a company you want to work for.
When negotiating, it’s important to know how much other people are getting paid and how much you should get paid. The employer has this information since they’ve negotiated with many candidates before, but most of us only negotiate with a handful of employers during our entire life. This imbalance of information gives employers more leverage. It especially hurts candidates of underrepresented groups who don’t have access to people who can guide them through the process.
There are several ways you can gather more information:
- Ask your peers, especially those who have worked/received offers for similar positions at similar companies. In many societies, there’s a stigma against discussing money. If you ask your friends, don’t ask to satisfy your curiosity. Explain how their answers can help you make important decisions. You can also ask for their opinions without asking them how much they make. For example: ask them for level X at company Y, what’s the range of compensation you should expect, or tell them your offer and ask them if they think it’s fair.
- Check what other people are getting paid online. There have been several efforts to democratize the compensation information, most notable is levels.fyi where people can share their compensation details anonymously and you can see the range of compensation for certain levels at certain companies. There are also apps like Blind that allow you to anonymously share and get feedback on your offers.
- See how much other companies offer you. One reason to start your job search early is that you’ll have more time to shop for offers. If you can get one offer, you can get another offer. After three offers, you should have a rough idea. Having competing offers helps a lot with negotiation. Companies always match offers, even if they say they don’t.
When negotiating with big companies, it’s easier to negotiate equity grants and bonuses than base salary.
Look beyond direct compensations. You can negotiate for more paid days off, more flexibility at work, a better title, more conferences they’ll sponsor you to attend.