The Secret Art of Salary Negotiation

Facebook added $25,000 extra to my signing bonus when I was negotiating my new-grad Software Engineering offer, and all it took was a 10-minute call with my recruiter.

Friends at companies like Amazon, Google, and Two Sigma managed to negotiate even more significant pay increases, often in just one or two quick calls. That’s why I believe one of the highest ROI things you can do is learn the Secret Art of Salary Negotiation.

Yet, most technical people don’t spend time on this, and come woefully unprepared. They think they know what they’re doing. They wing it. And so they inevitably stumble, leaving $$$ behind on the negotiation table.

This is not a surprising outcome, because recruiters negotiate for a living. You don’t.

So, to level the playing field for job-seekers,I teamed up with the salary negotiation experts behind Moonchaser.io to write this guide. Run by two tech industry veterans - a Software Engineer at Microsoft, and Senior Product Manager at Airbnb, Moonchaser.io has helped countless folks in North America WIN salary negotiations. On average, their clients walk away with a  $55K total comp increase per year💰.

Grateful that Moonchaser.io let me share some of their proprietary tips & exclusive scripts in this guide

The Secret Art of Salary Negotiation covers:

Learning the Art of Salary Negotiation Is Super Worth It, Even If You Don’t Have an Offer in Hand Today

Before we dive into the salary negotiation principles and share real negotiation scripts, we need to clear the air.  

It’s Not Just You - Salary Negotiations Are Scary For Almost Everyone

We can’t lie - negotiating your salary can be a nerve-wracking process. Before the negotiation, most people are filled with doubts like “What if they are low-balling me?” or  “What if they get mad at me during negotiations and renege my offer?”

Not everyone is as confident as this guy during the salary negotiation.

We get it. You’ve probably heard of negotiations gone wrong. You only run through the offer negotiation process once every few years - if ever. And you likely don’t negotiate for a living, like the way sales and biz-dev folks do.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. Like any skill, you can get better with practice. And the tips in this guide, along with services like Moonchaser.io for North American candidates, will help you immensely during this crucial phase.

Getting Salary Negotiation Right Is Worth It; Some Success Stories

Getting better at salary negotiation isn’t easy, but it’s worth getting right because there are large sums of money  - your money - that’s just waiting to be collected.  

Recently, Moonchaser.io helped a

  • new-grad PM go from \$145K to \$180K at Facebook
  • new grad Software Engineer go from \$160K total comp per year to \$230K at Google as an L3 Software Engineer
  • Senior Software Engineer get an extra $200K in stock over four years at Amazon
  • Staff Data Scientist increase their offer from \$430K to mid-\$500Ks at Airbnb. 
There are tens of thousands of Software Engineers making 250k+ in the US

Thought about another way, tech salaries are close to what professional athletes like MLS players or second-string NFL players in the US make. 

When you factor in that athletic careers only last a few years, whereas top tech talent can sustain these large salaries for years, techies often have higher life-time earnings than an average MLS or NFL player. 

SWE careers @ FANG can have higher lifetime earnings than most MLS, NFL, and NHL players.

These professional athletes have talent agents who negotiate on their behalf. And while services like Moonchaser.io help close the gap, the least high-earners in tech can do is invest a few hours reading up on salary negotiation before the job-hunt even starts.

It’s Not Too Early To Think About Salary Negotiation

It’s not too early to think about salary negotiation, because the things you do on day 1 of the job interview process can come around to bite you in the ass. That’s why Moonchaser.io offers free consultations to help you from the start of the interview process.

Early on, setting expectations with recruiters is crucial. Let them know about your recruiting timeline, because some companies are notoriously fast to give offers, like Amazon, and some are notoriously slow, like Google. Ideally, you want all offers in hand around the same time for maximum leverage. 

While coordinating multiple timelines seems difficult, getting offers in hand at the same time is surprisingly easy - you just have to ask! If you ask your recruiter how long it takes to go from a final round interview to offer in hand and then ask to delay your final round - most recruiters will allow it since they are flexible on interviewing timelines. 

Another aspect to consider when you start talking to a recruiter is making sure you are aligned on your potential job offer level. While not relevant for new-grads, this becomes paramount for mid-level and senior job-seekers.  Setting expectations early ensures you’re not wasting time and get a job at the seniority you deserve. Additionally, companies may put you in different kinds of interview loops based on what level and band you are gunning for.

Now that you know the what, when, and why behind salary negotiation, here’s

4 Key 🔑 Principles Of Effective Salary Negotiation

Principle #1: Get Multiple Offers and Interviews

Traditional Negotiation says it’s all about BATNA - the Best Alternative To Negotiated Agreement.

Put simply, it’s your ability to walk away.  Ideally, you have multiple job offers to walk away to, if the negotiation doesn’t work out. But even having other interviews - even if early first rounds - is helpful since it still triggers a recruiter’s FOMO - Fear of Missing Out. 

So, how helpful do we truly think BATNA is? Not very helpful!

Overly relying on the BATNA framework forces you to think about the minimum you are willing to accept and when a recruiter starts negotiating tactfully, it is too easy to anchor to your minimum and cave. It also isn’t great because no two companies are equal and certainly every team is different and everyone has a unique top preference that’s just too hard to actually walk away from.

Instead of thinking about BATNA, think about your goals for the negotiation based on your market value. Then consider how many alternatives you are actually excited about going to and use that as a benchmark for how liberally or conservatively you negotiate. 

Principle #2:  Be honest, to yourself and to others

Make sure you do your homework and find out your market value. But be honest to yourself and others about your level and ability. Check out Levels.fyi and r/cscareerquestions salary sharing threads to start understanding what your market value might be. You’ll see some crazy numbers in there, but as someone who's been around the block, they look mostly real. A word of warning: Glassdoor numbers are often way too low - sometimes 20-50% lower. 

Another aspect of honesty: negotiate in good faith. Be ready to work at any of those companies that you go deep into salary negotiations with.

Principle #3:  Avoid Reneging (but it is not the end of the world)

Play it clean because the industry is close-knit. But what happens if you do end up reneging? 

Most companies put it as a note on your file and some, and a minority of companies will blacklist you. If you are in college and renege on an internship or job you got through the university career services, you can get banned from future career fairs. That might not be a big deal if you’re good at cold-emailing.

Principle #4:  Recruiters aren’t your enemy, but they are also not your friends

Recruiters are paid to bring in the best talent: that’s you!

But they are also incentivized to get candidates to sign offers quickly and at the lowest fair market value. As a candidate, you may have multiple offers and you might have your own preferences that are making you lean in a particular direction, even if you haven’t yet expressed that. As a recruiter, they just have you as the candidate (they may have multiple candidates in the pipelines but their success depends on getting you to sign). It’s critical to be nice to your recruiter and respect their position. Being communicative will go a long way in buying you time and goodwill, but be strategic about what and how you communicate.

6 Tips To Live By On Every Salary Negotiation Call With A Recruiter

Now that you’ve got the 4 underlying principles of negotiation down, here’s 6 specific actionable tips to live by whenever you have a conversation with a recruiter. And because phone calls move fast, it’s important to etch these deep into your brain so you’re prepared the next time a recruiter comes calling.

“I know when that hotline bling, that can only mean one thing: Salary Negotiation Time”

Tip #1

The person who talks the least is almost always the “winner”. That is for two reasons. First, the listener is able to learn valuable insights they can use in their negotiation - recruiters will often reveal juicy information like “the hiring manager desperately needs you to sign as they have a big product coming out next quarter and need help”. Juicy information that you can use in your negotiation Second, the less you speak, the less likely you are to accidentally reveal information - like spilling a number - that a recruiter will be able to use against you.

Tip #2

Ask broad questions and then go deeper.  This let’s the recruiter do more of the talking, which is beneficial as explained in tip #1. 

An example of starting broad and then going deep: start with “Can you provide me information on benefits?” and then continue with a specific follow up of “How come there is not a 401K package?” instead of just asking a question like “Is there a 401K match?”. This is helpful because it is impossible to ask questions about the entire benefits package but the recruiter will often callout important details (that you didn’t know) during the broad questions that you can later drill down afterwards.

Tip #3:

Never speak badly about your current employer. If asked why you are changing jobs, and they reached out first to you, tell them you weren’t originally planning to, but the recruiter made you excited about the opportunity. 

If they didn’t reach out, then tell them that you are looking for an opportunity to challenge yourself where you can grow quickly. Enthusiasm wins.

Tip #4:

Awkward silences are good. After making an ask for X dollars or Y time off, stop talking and let it be awkward. Marinate in the awkwardness. 

Here’s a real story from the folks at Moonchaser.io on why it’s great to keep silent. 

An Amazon Recruiter pushed hard for a prospective hire to reveal details of his other offers. He said that he can’t reveal Amazon’s numbers, until the prospective hire revealed his competing offers. After politely declining to reveal the numbers several times, the candidate just kept quiet. This forced the Amazon recruiter to reveal the detailed offers that Amazon had for him. 

The candidate listened quietly. Amazon’s original offer: $240k. He kept quiet. 

Recruiter mumbles… “look I gave you the best numbers I could, I stretched it as much as I could, I jumped through so many hoops for this number, it’s a great big number”. The amazon recruiter went on and on, and the candidate just kept quiet. 

Then the magic moment happened. 

The Amazon recruiter goes “look...maybe, just maybe, \$255k is possible but seriously man that’s the best we can do.” By keeping silent, the recruiter negotiated against himself, and the offer went up \$15k in the span of 2 minutes, even though just 120 seconds earlier $240k was supposedly the best Amazon could do. 

Tip #5:

Don’t become emotional. Always be polite and appreciative, even when things might get heated or tense. When asking for more money, rejecting an offer, or disagreeing with your recruiter, you need to remain polite. 

Deferring is one way to keep calm and collected, and let the emotions subside so that cooler heads can prevail later.. For example, if a recruiter asks if you would accept an amount that you find offensive, just pause. Breathe. Then say “I will have to think about that, is it alright if I get back to you on it tomorrow?”

Tip #6:

Always be enthusiastic about the opportunity at hand, the company, and the team. Maybe you might be displeased by the offer, but limit that displeasure to the offer details. Show that you are willing to play ball, that you are serious about the job offer, and that only the compensation is holding you back from accepting. 

Salary Negotiation Scripts For The 3 Stages Of Recruiting

Let’s break your negotiation down into three parts - the pre-offer, the initial offer stage, and the haggle.

Pre-Offer Salary Negotiation Script

Anytime from your first chat with a recruiter up until the moment before a recruiter gives you an offer, they might ask you what your salary expectations are. If they ask before your interviews, they are trying to either

  1. Box you into a specific number to increase their negotiating power later on
  2. Genuinely figure out if your salary expectations match their ability to pay. For example, a startup might not have the ability to compete in terms of cash compensation

If they ask after your interview, then this is the equivalent of you giving a first number. Most of the time, you don’t want to give a first number - one of the few exceptions is when you know what the salary band is for your desired level and you can anchor high. 

Regardless of when they ask, you shouldn’t answer directly. 

Normally the recruiter will give in here. But some recruiters push persistently. Once Moonchaser.io had a client where the recruiter asked four times in a row! If the recruiter pressures you, tread lightly. You don’t want to cave but you also want to keep your relationship on great terms. How do you do that? Always say things respectfully and instead of telling your recruiter what to do, ask them if they can do it.  You could ask for a salary range or ask to use a placeholder number.

Now if the recruiter gives you a range, ask for the high end of the range to be the placeholder. It is critical that you call out your lack of understanding and that it is a placeholder to ensure you don’t box yourself in.

iphone-9Fkz - Fake Text Message

The Initial Offer Salary Negotiation Script

You will have a call that feels like “the offer call”. How do you know? Generally it is your first call with a recruiter after your onsite interviews. The recruiter will book the call with a positive note like “excited to chat about your interviews and next steps!”

Despite this being the offer call, we don’t want to talk numbers until the end. The majority of the call you want to ask about all of the non-number information. So what should you ask about? There are three categories:

Category #1: Everything you are genuinely interested in knowing. This includes questions about items that might be negotiable.

If the recruiter says yes then ask to learn more - you want specifics. If they say no you can ask more about why they can’t but unless this specific benefit is something you desperately want, it isn’t worth pushing further on 

Don't forget to negotiate perks & benefits - you can't put a price tag on those!

Category #2: Everything that gives you an edge in the later negotiation

If you happen to know the company gives less vacation then ask them about vacation. If you know there isn’t a 401K match then ask. A 401K match is, generally, better than cash so you should make a mental note that you need a stronger cash offer to make up for it.

Category #3: Ask how compensation is broken down.

If their answers don't align with what you researched beforehand, then ask them about it. For example, often recruiters will leave out the possibility of a signing bonus until you ask.

Now comes the actual numbers. The recruiter will rarely give the range but they will give you some details. Many recruiters will ramble here, let them - often they will let information slip.

If they share then you should know that top of range isn’t a real “top”. It is a loose guideline. We have helped candidates get above band compensation - at most tech companies this means getting approval from a special committee or the org director/VP. If they flip the question back on you, and ask you for your salary expectations, politely dodge it.

At this point many recruiters will give a first number. If they don’t you can respectfully push back. Remember to be polite. After they do give a first number. Pause. Wait. If the recruiter has more “optional” items to provide like a signing bonus, then the longer you wait the more likely they are to provide it. When you do respond, you want to ask a question to get them to keep talking and share more about the offer. The question can be as simple as re-stating their number but with a inflection in your voice, to indicate a question.

Boom. By getting them to talk you just got an idea on if they are flexible. Be sure to keep asking short additional questions to keep teasing out information. After everything you want to know is answered, you can ask for some time to reflect.

The Haggle Salary Negotiation Script

The haggle is more straightforward than you expect. There are a few basic rules you need to follow. Firstly, remember back to rule #1 - the person who speaks the least “wins”. That is especially true here. Secondly, know what you are worth - spend time researching it. Third, when you do give a number, shut up immediately afterwards. And lastly, stick to your number - don’t cave on your number during this call.

Let the recruiter keep talking. They will continue on expressing that it is impossible but you need to wait until they ask you a question. Stand firm on the number, and keep letting the recruiter talk. We want the recruiter to bump from \$240K closer to \$307K on their own. 

Now stop talking again. Let the recruiter talk. If the recruiter takes $307K back to the team to get approval - wonderful! Thank them. If not and they ask you more questions they will eventually ask you to reconsider. 

Now the team will likely not do \$307K but that is ok, this will essentially force the company to give back the next number - in essence negotiating with themselves. If the recruiter takes \$307K back to the team to get approval - wonderful! Thank them. 

If not, then you will have to think about another number and get back to them - don’t give a counter offer on this call because if you start countering quickly you can easily find yourself losing ground and quickly negotiate with yourself.

You won! Sign it, ship it!

Eventually, you got a number you wanted or at least drove a hard bargain and got close to it. Closing the loop is now the most important thing: Do not say no to others before signing. Once you sign, email/call every recruiter and explain your thinking. And email the new team and show your excitement. 

Oh - And don’t forget to celebrate your successful salary negotiation like expert businessman Tom Haverford. 

Need More Salary Negotiation Help or Career Advice?

Moonchaser helps tech workers in North America navigate the entire negotiation process, from offer to close. On average, moonchaser clients receive a $55,000 per year increase on their offer. Instead of charging a flat fee moonchaser only charges a percentage of the increase in your offer. Have an offer or an interview? Book a free consultation call to earn your full potential!

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