5 Tips to Get Higher Job Offers

You just received a job offer. That’s great! But what if it’s not for as much money as you’d hoped for? In this post, I offer a few simple ideas for how to ask for — and often get — a better deal:

  1. Ask yourself, “is this the right job for me, money aside?” To me, that’s the crucial question. Don’t fall into the tempting trap of accepting a job you don’t really want just because it pays more money. My experience has been that doing so really hurts your career in the long run. The first decision you need to make is about the opportunity, putting the money aside for a moment. Only when you can genuinely answer this question with a “yes”, are you ready for the next step.
  2. Approach the negotiation in a spirit of good faith and be prepared to explain your position. Here’s a sample of how it might sound: “I really would like to work here. Almost everything sounds great. Unfortunately, I have to be frank, the offer you presented is making it difficult for me to accept, when you factor in: (other offers I have or have been given in the past / the higher costs of healthcare contributions at your company than I currently have / when I account for the costs of parking every month / when this is a lateral move and I haven’t gotten a raise at my current company either in the last two years / I’m having a hard time selling it to my significant other / I’m losing a 401k match / I’m forfeiting my soon-to-vest stock options, retention bonus, tuition reimbursement, etc etc) I appreciate your offer, but I’m wondering if there’s any flexibility you could have which would make it a lot easier for me to say yes to you?” The key is to position yourself and the hiring manager on the same side of the problem, working together creatively to facilitate your acceptance. Not with you and the hiring manager being adversaries. Don’t be greedy, just for the sake of being greedy. A successful ask is mostly going to be about having a reasonable suggested increase, along with the justification. Special counter-intuitive thought: Most of the time, I haven’t found quoting salary surveys to be very effective. They’re usually too general to carry much weight and applicability to any one person’s situation.
  3. Ask for a specific number increase in the offer, combined with a commitment to accept at that new figure. It’s not usually effective to say something vague like, “Can you do any better than that?” Hiring managers don’t like to spend their political capital going back to get a higher offer approved, when it’s unknown whether the increase they come up with will even work to land the candidate. Much better is to decide the minimum necessary specific dollar amount for your commitment. Then ask for it, and say you’ll accept if they can do it. Don’t just pick a high number for no reason, although if you genuinely need the offer to be much higher, get your courage together and ask for it. You don’t have to make it an ultimatum: “Give me such-and-such, or I’m walking away,” unless that’s actually the outcome you want. Ideally, you want to ask in a way that allows you the flexibility to continue considering the original offer, or a lesser increase than you’ve asked for. At this point, you’re not so much saying “no” to the offer they made, as much as saying “yes” to a higher, hypothetical offer. The commitment is a crucial part of this strategy: if they do their part in giving you what you want, you’ll do your part by accepting. That commitment is the ammunition the hiring manager needs to sell the increase internally.
  4. Remember that a “better offer” doesn’t always have to be about higher base salary. The hiring manager may want to give you a higher base. S/he might even agree that the base offered is kind of low. But their hands may be tied, due to internal salary equity (what others already there are making), budgets, or other reasons that can’t be changed. Is this the end of the road for the negotiation? Not necessarily. Here are just a few things you could try asking for: one-time signing bonus; stock options; more vacation time; flexibility of hours or work-from-home; specific equipment; paid conference attendance; tuition reimbursement. Be creative. But again, don’t be a pig. Figure out what is the minimum that will make you happy, explain why you want it, and couple it with an acceptance if obtained.
  5. Don’t burn bridges. Sometimes the negotiations will work, sometimes they won’t. But whatever happens, don’t ruin your credibility with the people who’ve made you the offer. Whether you might end up re-applying to the same company in the future, or discovering that those people someday are working at another company you’re interested in, but put the kibosh on you because they remember how much of a jerk you were, it’s a small world. You don’t need to make enemies. Keep in mind also that any time you try to negotiate, you’re running some level of risk that you might lose what you’ve already been offered. “Just asking” carries a pretty low risk — I can’t recall a single example in my career where someone lost an offer just because they dared to try negotiating it — but I’ve definitely seen many times where a candidate who pushed a little too hard, or who came back to the well one time too many, had the rug pulled out from under them, and the original offer was withdrawn.