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How to Negotiate a Job Offer

Jan 31, 2018 5 min read Sheila Olson

Key Takeaways

  • Most employers expect you to negotiate your offer, so don't be afraid to counter with what you really want.
  • Benefits and perks are a big part of the picture, so set your priorities and know where you can compromise — and where you can't.
  • It's okay to walk away, and in fact, your employer will thank you if you decline an offer that doesn't meet your needs.


Getting the job offer seems like the last step in a grueling process, and it's tempting to just sign the offer and breathe a sigh of relief. But if you want to get the best possible package, now is the time to negotiate.

Don't feel like negotiating? You're not alone. A study by CareerBuilder Opens in new window showed that 49% of job seekers take the first offer on the table. But here's the really shocking thing: Nearly the same percentage of employers are willing and actually expect to negotiate the offer.



In her book, "Women Don't Ask — The High Cost of Avoiding Negotiation and Positive Strategies for Change," Linda Babcock did a study that revealed just 7% of women negotiated their pay, while 57% of men did. But those women who did negotiate added about 7% to their salary.

Maybe 7% doesn't sound like much right now, but Babcock did the math and discovered that if you and the person who negotiated a 7% higher salary were treated exactly the same over the next 35 years in terms of raises, you'd have to work 8 years longer than that person to make the same amount at retirement. So it's definitely worth getting over any discomfort you may have about negotiation. Here are some tips to help you get started.


Know what the role is worth to your employer

There are lots of online resources that let you compare salary ranges across industries, and even within specific organizations; hopefully, you've done your homework before the offer even arrives. You should have a specific salary number in mind before you open a negotiation.  

Don't use a range, because that gives your prospective employer an opportunity to lowball you. If you say, "I'm looking for a salary between $70,000 and $75,000," you're basically asking for the lowest number. Know the precise figure you want based on your experience, qualifications, and the requirements of the job.


Use the 12 "magic" words

Karen Catlin, a tech veteran and leadership coach, describes a 12-word phrase Opens in new window you can use to get the salary you want. "If you can get me X, I'll accept the offer right away." Why are these words so effective? Because they let the hiring manager know that you are motivated and really want the job, and they give the company a tangible figure to meet. Backing up your request with a promise to accept encourages the hiring manager to advocate for you and gives you a better shot at getting what you want.

As an added bonus, it shows your prospective employer that you're a decisive person, which is always a good attribute in an employee.


Evaluate the whole package

A job offer usually includes much more than just your salary. Ask about the usual menu of benefits, such as health and other insurance coverage, paid time off, and 401(k) match, but don't be afraid to ask about other perks such as flexible scheduling, work-from-home days, paid parking, commute assistance, wellness plans, and training and education reimbursement.

Don't get bowled over by lavish perks — you need to prioritize your must-haves and your nice-to-haves. An extra day to work from home each work may be tempting, but if the salary isn't what you need, it doesn't really matter. You can't pay your mortgage with flex time.

On the other hand, if your salary figure really is negotiable on your end, and perks that affect your happiness and work-life balance aren't, you can try the 12 "magic words" to get those, too. "If you can get me four 10-hour days and an extra five days of PTO, I'll accept right away," can be just as effective to get you what you need.


Relocation packages are almost always negotiable

Although your new employer is under no obligation to help with your move, most companies do expect to provide some type of relocation assistance. Before you negotiate a package, spend some time calculating what the move will actually cost you, so you know whether the company's offer is adequate — or where to open negotiations if the company doesn't suggest a number.

Most relocation packages include some or all of the following:

  • A house-hunting trip prior to your start date to line up a place to live.
  • Expenses associated with selling your old home and buying a new one.
  • Actual moving expenses, which may include packing and unpacking your household goods, and perhaps even storing them while you are in temporary housing.
  • Temporary housing and living expenses for a short period of time in a hotel or short-term rental.
  • Job search help for your spouse if applicable.

Be sure to present your ask in the form of a benefit to your new employer. "I'll be able to start sooner and be more productive right off the bat if I can get my moving details settled first," is a good way to frame it. Get your relocation package details in writing so that both you and your employer understand the expectations and obligations.


Ask about a signing bonus

A recent study Opens in new window showed that about 33% of employers do pay signing and/or retention bonuses, so if you're in a fairly high-demand niche professionally, don't be afraid to ask for one. Keep in mind, you may not get the bonus until you've worked for a period of time, usually between two and six months--and some companies require you to pay it back if you don't work at least a year.

If you can't get the figure you need for relocation expenses, or if your salary is just a couple thousand lower than you'd like, you may be able to make up the difference with a signing bonus.


Know when to walk away

A job negotiation isn't a time to be coy. Know your bottom line and what you can accept in order to get there, and then lay your cards on the table. If after a couple rounds of negotiation, you don't have what you need, be prepared to walk away.

A company puts a lot of effort into making a job offer; your recruiter or hiring manager may even have gone out on a limb for you during the negotiations. No one wants to feel as if they're being played.

If you've reached the point where you know you can't accept the offer, thank the hiring manager and gracefully bow out. Don't blame the offer; instead, suggest ways why this particular job wasn't a good fit for you. That way, you leave negotiations on a good note and you haven't burned any bridges in case another job opens with this employer in the future — one that may more closely align with your compensation package requirements.

The bottom line when it comes to job offer negotiations is that there really isn't one. What is the perfect job (or even an acceptable one) for you isn't the same for the next person. If you're currently employed, you have the luxury of weeding out offers that are less than ideal. On the other hand, if you've been out of work for a while, you need a paycheck right away, even if the package doesn't exactly meet all your needs.


What you can do next

Take the time you need to evaluate what's offered and what you must have, and make sure they in agreement before you accept. Walking away isn't the worst thing in the world — your employer would rather you declined the offer now than accept and leave after a short time, forcing them back into the recruiting process. If the offer does check off all your personal boxes, go ahead and pop the champagne, because you and your new employer have made an excellent match.


Sheila Olson is a Charlotte-based freelance writer specializing in investing, personal finance, entrepreneurship, and retirement planning. She is a regular contributor at Investopedia and the Motley Fool and writes frequently for the banking and consumer credit industry.


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