Salary negotiation after Hackbright

March 25, 2014

Update 10/15/14: I still stand by what I wrote in this series, but if you're interested in reading more, you really should check out this piece on how to ask for raises by Jocelyn Goldfein, former Director of Engineering at Facebook. 
Update 4/15/17: Also this two part series from Haseeb Qureshi, who is a bootcamp grad that went from 120k to 250k in total compensation in the job offer negotiation process.

In the past few months, I’ve tried to help a few friends gear themselves up for their first salary negotiations, so I thought it might be useful to get those written down and organized a bit into a series of blog posts. Some of these are a bit more Hackbright-specific for getting your first job as a junior software engineer, where you might still be a little bewildered by just getting into the industry at all, but I hope that most of the advice can be generally applicable to your own situation. As with all career advice ever, take everything that follows with the appropriate size grain of salt. I would also love feedback on whether any of it seems like particularly good or bad advice so I can course-correct my ideas if needed.

To start with, here are a few points to be considered before you even get the offer:

Some companies will just give you their standard offer with all the numbers in there already, while others will more or less try to ferret out what your expectations are at various points along the way. I like this piece of advice from Ramit on just using this canned line when you get asked about your salary expectations:
"I'm sure we can discuss salary when the time is right, but for now I just want to see if there's a mutual fit for you and me."
Sometimes if it’s clear there’s going to be a severe mismatch though, the non-jerk thing to do is not to waste anyone’s time, of course. Try to turn the question back on the questioner with “why don’t you let me know what the range you’re thinking of is, and I’ll let you know if that’s potentially workable before we go any farther with this process?”

Still, I’m just bad at not answering a direct question honestly when it’s put to me, like “what do you make now?” If you are unable to resist the urge to answer this question, please be smarter than I was and give a number that’s your total compensation, which includes your bonuses and estimated value of your benefits on top of your base salary. I didn’t think to do this and worry that I could’ve put a better foot forward here, having worked at Google where I got a significant annual bonus and the benefits are very valuable. I thought oh, I’ll just give the base salary and compare the benefits after I get more details but I think it would’ve been better to put a higher number out there to start. Don’t know if it would’ve made any difference, but I’d have more peace of mind from leaving no stone left unturned in that arena.

Similarly for evaluating your current offer, if you can, you should try to talk to an HR or benefits person who can give you more details on what’s included. For example, my offer letter was very general about the various medical benefits available, but I wanted more details on what exactly the options were and how much it would cover or not, to inform what I’d want to negotiate for.

To set the stage for negotiating your salary, I think it’s good to lead in to it with a general request to “discuss the details of the offer”, which most people will understand as implying you want to negotiate your salary. It’s nice and neutral though, and you can also make sure you’re addressing the right person for the requests that you want to make. And bundling in your salary negotiation with other general questions you might have helps it feel less scary.

Next up, I have a few posts on how to prepare for the salary negotiation.

Update: here's the full series of posts
  1. Salary negotiation after Hackbright
  2. Preparing for salary negotiation, part 1: general perspectives to consider
  3. Preparing for salary negotiation, part 2: what to even ask for
  4. Preparing for salary negotiation, part 3: practicing for the negotiation
  5. Salary negotiation: the day of