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How to Negotiate a Job Offer That's More Than Just the Money

18 June 2019 , by Mihlali Tshikila

Excited to accept a job offer, but need to discuss a few details first? It can be daunting to pick up the phone and tackle that conversation, but it doesn’t have to be. As a talent advisor at OfferZen, I’ve helped many developers land their dream jobs. Here are my top tips on how to negotiate a salary offer, and navigating the conversation like a pro.

How to negotiate a salary offer

You’ve smashed your interviews and the tech assessment, and you’re already imagining signing that offer letter coming your way! That said, you may need to ask if the package can be structured differently, or for a bump in salary.

Before you start that conversation, take some time to think about the process from the hiring team’s perspective. This will go a long way to ensure that your intentions are clearly understood along the way:

How to negotiate a salary offer

The right mindset is key

Always keep in mind that the company you’re talking to is made up of people just like you, with their own hopes and worries about the process.

Keep their perspective in mind: Companies get many candidates who want to negotiate a salary offer, and a few hiring teams may have had a negative experience of being ‘burnt’ in the past. The same way candidates are afraid of being offered a lower salary than expected, the hiring team is afraid of candidates playing one offer against another.

The golden rule: You should only be negotiating a salary offer if you can realistically see yourself working at that company. Ask yourself if you would actually accept the offer once the company has accommodated you. If you negotiate just for the sake of it or go back on your word, you risk burning bridges with the hiring team after they’ve met your requests. When negotiating, show them you are serious and excited to accept the offer if they meet you halfway. Treat them the way you’d like to be treated, and not like a faceless entity.

With this in mind, let’s dive into the steps on how to negotiate salary, making the conversation as transparent as possible, and getting an offer you’re happy to sign.

Before the conversation

Benchmark your salary

Before you do anything else, it’s time to undertake the all-important task of benchmarking your salary. Here are a couple of tips to help you do this:

Do market research: As a start, check out our latest developer salary article for Cape Town, Johannesburg and Pretoria. Remember to also have a look at our latest State of the Software Developer Nation reports for South Africa and the Netherlands!

Talk to your peers: Reach out to developer friends with similar years of experience as you to ask if they mind sharing how much they earn. When doing this, keep in mind that your friends may be exceptions to the rule, rather than being a reflection of the market. Your research should never stop here, and doing broader market research is essential.

Determine your new asking salary: Once you have a good idea of where you stand in the market, it’s time to determine the salary you want to earn for your next job. In our team’s experience at OfferZen, asking for a 10-15% increase in your current salary is generally in line with employers’ expectations. This can, of course, differ according to factors like your level of seniority, specific skills, and the industry you work in.

Justify asking for more: If you want to ask for more than a 10-15% increase, have a good reason for doing so and the skills to back you up. Some good examples would be if you’ve recently upskilled in a new language, or had to take a pay cut due to COVID-19.

Understand the offer on the table

Once you’ve benchmarked your salary, it’s important to decide what type of job offer would excite you and to get a full picture of the job offer from the company. Remember, an offer consists of many factors besides salary.

Getting the full picture will help you make informed choices about your next opportunity. This shouldn’t happen at the last minute, either, but rather throughout the interview process.

If you need some help on how to get the full picture of the offer on the table, take a few minutes to read my recent deep-dive into this topic. In this article, I cover asking for a mock payslip, understanding your benefits, and scoping out the outlook for your role.

Pro tip: Make sure you understand the different types of salary that could make up an offer. Here’s a quick reminder:

  • Net: Your take-home pay after all deductions.
  • Gross: Your taxable salary.
  • Cost to Company: Your gross salary, in addition to all other contributions included in your payslip. This could include contributions such as medical aid, a provident fund, and benefits like internet or phone costs.

Know why you’re negotiating

Once you have a clear picture of the job offer that’s on the table, you can now decide if you have a fair reason to negotiate salary.

Examples of good reasons to negotiate would be:

  • Your salary is low relative to market data
  • The total job package is different to what you expected
  • There is something you would like to change or request

Pro tip: Make notes on what isn’t in line with your expectations, and why. Keep your notes on hand during the conversation, so it’s easy to refer to if you’re asked to expand on any points.

Tips for negotiating a salary offer

Talk face to face

It’s far easier to convey your message, tone of voice and intentions when you have extra face time with someone. For this reason, we recommend having your offer negotiation chat via phone or video call, or even in person (COVID-19 allowing), rather than negotiating your salary offer via email.

Lead with gratitude

Remember, this could very well be your new employer! Always opt for politeness and gratitude first, and show them that you are genuinely excited about the prospect of working there.

Start off by thanking the company for the offer:

  • Explain that you are excited at the prospect of joining the company. Add specific details around what exactly excites you about the role and the company itself.
  • You can then more easily lead into the aspects of the offer that you would like to discuss.

Know your walk away amount

As with every negotiation, there is always the chance that you and the company don’t come to an agreement. What’s important though, is that you know what your limits are and where you’d be unhappy to settle.

It’s always important to be as clear as possible in your communication with the hiring team. Knowing your walk-away amount will help you avoid settling on an amount that you’re actually unhappy with, and that might cause problems further down the line with your employer.

Suggest an alternative

If you’re not happy with the salary or total package, you can now communicate that the salary offer or package doesn’t work for you because of certain reasons.

  • Go back to your research, and suggest an alternative market-related salary. Explain that, if the offer was revised in this way, you would be happy to accept the offer.

Pro tip: Avoid naming an exact amount. If asked about your salary expectation, don’t name an exact salary figure that will limit the amount of wiggle room you have to negotiate if needed. Instead, refer back to the research you’ve done to back yourself up. Say something along the lines of: “I’ve looked up average salaries for this position on XYZ. For this role, and given my experience, it looks like XYZ per year is market-related.”

Demonstrate the value you will add

Developers are in high demand, and this is an excellent opportunity to remind them of your skills. Think about the value you’d bring to the product you’ll be working on, and to the company as a whole.

You have probably discussed this in the interviews prior to this point. Think back on what you’ve said, and make a list prior to the conversation so you can easily refer to it.

Pro tip: Don’t stop at “I think I’d be of great value to the team.” Go into detail to make it very clear why they need you on their team. For example, what experience do you have in delivering on projects, what tech stacks have you mastered, and why is it relevant for this company?

Last but not least, it is always important to bear in mind that every individual’s context is different. At the end of the day, your offer and salary is a personal conversation that should take place between employee and employer and should take into consideration the nature of work, perks, and other contextual factors like tech stack or industry.

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