Salary Negotiation for New Grads in Tech

Wanna make it rain every payday for the rest of your career? Ask for mo’ money!

Salary negotiation is one of the best things you can do for your career. If you’re an engineer, you’re in a strong negotiating position by default. While liberal arts skills can really pay off, a degree in those subjects doesn’t always put you in the apple of a potential employer’s eye. Engineering, and in the current market especially software engineering, is a field where even as a relatively inexperienced new grad, you have companies dying to hire you.

At my university, I was a corporate relations director for my honor society, and over the course of my tenure I got to know dozens of recruiters from big-name companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, and Intel. I’ve had discussions at length with several of these company representatives about how a new grad can best negotiate their starting salary and benefits. Read more to see what I learned.

Wait Until You Have the Offer In Hand

Do not start the negotiation process until a formal offer has been extended. You do not know if they really want you until they actually make the offer (usually, this means they’ve given you a paper/pdf letter stating the salary they want you to start at and other specific information). Starting before this point means you’re in the weak position of not knowing whether you’re worth any salary to them, let alone a higher one than you’ve currently agreed upon.

It Never Hurts to Ask

People are always scared that if they ask for a higher salary they’ll get their offer rescinded. I’ve never, ever heard of this happening in an in-demand engineering field. You might get told “no,” but they won’t suddenly hate you for asking. That said, be sure that all of your negotiations are done in polite, business-like language, because nobody wants to work with an asshole. Avoid statements like “You’re really low-balling me here!” or “Are you serious?” and don’t be manipulative. This means no playing games with salaries by asking for one number, then after they concede asking for a second, higher number because now you know they’re willing to move on it. There are legitimate reasons for asking for a second salary hike, but they are few and far between (some examples are: if you get a new competing offer, or if you didn’t have all the relevant information about benefits when you negotiated the first number).

Know Your Number (But Don’t Tell Them if You Can Avoid It)

This is oft-repeated advice, but it has rung true for me in all of my negotiations. Wait for the company to give you their best offer first before revealing anything about your expectations. They might surprise you and offer you more than you were going to ask for! However, if you had put your number out there first, they might have just matched your request instead, meaning you lose out on some serious cash.

Don’t be afraid that the company will give you a lowball offer if you let them put a number out there first. You’re in a strong position as an in-demand engineering graduate, and will be able to ask for the number you think is right no matter what their initial offer is. How do you find the right number?

  1. Ask friends about their past offers. Some people aren’t comfortable sharing this information, but many are (especially if they’re talking about offers they didn’t wind up accepting).
  2. See if your department or college publishes information about new graduates’ salaries. The more specific the information, the better it is for you! Try to at least narrow it down to other people in your major.
  3. Look at websites like SalaryTalk (lists salaries for various companies and locations, mostly data reported to the U.S. government for foreign workers) or the usual Glassdoor (self-reported data which I’ve found to be roughly accurate for most tech companies). Again, the more specific you can get, the better (so look at data for your company, at your location, for your position).

Your desired salary will help guide your discussions in the right direction. Sometimes companies won’t quite be able to make it up to your number, but you shouldn’t be afraid to get them to try.

Avoid Email

Email is scary for hiring managers and recruiters. If you’ve put a promise in writing, people can more easily hold you to it. So, in the early stages of negotiation, avoid emailing the people who plan to hire you and instead call them, or meet with them in person. This gives them the leeway they need to discuss different possibilities without committing to anything before they are able. You should get your final offer in writing, but prior to that stage it can actually be a boon to you to let the recruiter make verbal promises, then go back and check with their superiors to ensure that number is acceptable before confirming with you.

Figure Out Where They’re Flexible

Some companies, especially larger ones, will have a standard salary that they always start new grads at, and it might be completely non-negotiable. They will often tell you flat-out that this is the case (although if you have a higher competing offer, you might be able to persuade them). You can try asking politely, “Are you sure you have no room to work with me on this number?” but if they say no, it’s likely that their hands are tied.

Never fear! There is a lot more to an offer than just the salary. Try asking, “If you’re unable to work with me on salary, are there other areas where you can be more flexible?” Their answer might surprise you! Typical areas include:

  1. More Restricted Stock Units: Many companies, especially in tech, will include a stock grant upon hire. See if they’ll give you more stock (which, after it vests, will mean more money!).
  2. More Relocation or Signing Bonus: Some companies will give you a cash bonus to be used for moving expenses, or simply for signing your offer. While a one-time payment probably isn’t as good as a salary hike, it’s better than nothing, and is often an area in which companies are extremely flexible.
  3. More Vacation: this is less typical for a new grad, but it is a common point of interest for experienced hires, and you can always try asking!
  4. Schedule a Sooner-Rather-Than-Later Performance Review: If you were initially not going to get a performance review for another year, move that up to 6 months! Performance review time is raise time, and raises mean more money.
  5. Education Benefits: If they won’t give you money directly, see if they’ll pay for your graduate degree instead!

Have Competing Offers, and Use Them

The best thing you can do for your offer negotiation is to have another offer (or several other offers!). The more, the merrier you’ll be with your eventual pay grade! Keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to apply to a company. Even if the company is only tangentially related to your interests, or isn’t your dream employer, you might want to pursue a job offer with them anyway so you can it as a competing offer. Having another, stronger offer puts you in a great position to ask for more money! That said, this is one of the areas where your wording can make you sound pretty obnoxious if you’re not careful. Here are some suggested ways to present a competing offer:

  • Your company is my dream employer. I really want to work for you, but unfortunately I need this offer to make financial sense for me, too. I have another company offering me X, do you think you’d be willing to match that?
  • Thank you so much for working with me through this process, I know I’m putting you in a tough position, but no matter how much I want to work with you, I don’t want to take such a steep salary cut to do so. Do you think you have the flexibility to bring your offer up to meet Company Y’s offer of X?

Whether or not you mention the name of your competing company is up to you, but in my experience it makes the recruiter take the competing offer more seriously if they hear it’s from one of their competitors.

That’s all for now! Get out there and negotiate!

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