A reader doesn’t know how much is too much to negotiate for, in the September 29, 2020 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter.


negotiateI’m on the cusp of getting a job offer for a position in another city, doing accounting for a large law firm. It’s not a high-level professional job by any means, but it is something that could lead to it.

The supervisor of the department said to me “tell us what we need to do to get you here” or something to that effect. My question is, what do I ask for? I’ve never really negotiated anything except salary before, so I don’t know what is “too much” to ask for, as far as moving costs, or an advance for an apartment deposit. I know companies pull out all the stops for higher-up folks (management, lawyers, etc.), but I’m not sure what is common for the level I’m at now (mid $50K, I hope).

Would I be out of line to negotiate for help on a deposit for an apartment? This opportunity is very sudden and unfortunately I don’t have the funds saved up for getting a new apartment right away. However, I don’t want them laughing at me if I ask for too much. However, they do seem like they want me pretty badly. Any thoughts are appreciated!

Nick’s Reply

Congrats on impressing this firm. It seems what you’re trying to negotiate is salary, of course, but also your relocation, in a way that keeps you whole in a new city.

First, check moving.com, a useful site about relocation. Second, sit down and figure out the answer to the question you were asked: What do they need to do to get you? It seems clear you’re not looking for the moon, so I’m worried less that you’ll ask for too much and more that you won’t negotiate for what you really would like.

Before you negotiate

Break this into a short list for yourself. What are the realistic costs of:

  • Moving your stuff: moving company, truck rental, gas, storage, etc.
  • Travel including two round trips later if necessary
  • Getting a new apartment, including the deposit
  • Cost of living difference
  • Leaving your current job (lost bonus, vacation time, etc.)

I would not share this in detail with the employer unless they ask for a break-out (I don’t think they will). The point is to understand what you need and want. If your total number is reasonable, that may be all that’s required.

Make it easy for the employer

Here’s a little accounting secret about how to negotiate everything other than salary: Employers hate to grant recurring payments, like a higher salary, but they’re often willing to incur a one-time cost, like a signing bonus or a relocation expense. Many companies see that as reasonable. Be flexible and make it easy for the employer to satisfy your needs.

For example, consider whether you need a loan or a “signing bonus.” A loan payable via payroll deduction may be sufficient to get you moved. But I’m not saying you should not ask for an outright payment.

Be careful about any relocation agreement: Is there a claw-back, where if you quit in less than, say, a year, you’d have to give the money back? There are all kinds of ways to structure this.

Negotiate for more by asking for less

Smart negotiating keeps things simple and brief. You can actually ask for more by enumerating fewer line items. Most employers don’t care about the specifics. They just want to know “how much?”

For example, you need not break out the apartment deposit as a line item; just bundle it into the “moving cost” figure. You can also include the costs of a trip or two back home to wrap up personal matters that your sudden move might require. Do the travel on weekends to avoid eating into work time, or don’t do it at all — but it may be reasonable to request the price of those trips.

The key is to not get overly detailed unless they ask for details, and to provide just a few line items that make sense along with figures that aren’t off the wall.

Negotiate by making a commitment and discussing the terms

My suggestion is to negotiate through discussion, not by begging or demanding. It helps to make it clear that you’re ready to accept the job and start work if they can provide for your reasonable needs. So, start with a commitment and a thank-you for their flexibility.

“I want to accept this job with you, and I appreciate that you’re trying to make it attractive to me. Why don’t we discuss what would work for both of us?”

This tells them they’ve won you over and that it’s worth their while now to work out the details with you.

How to Say It

Here’s how you might discuss salary and the cost to “get you there” in one fell swoop. Please use this only as a guideline. Use only what you’re comfortable with and put it in your own words. Raise only as many details as you think you must.

“I appreciate your offer to do what’s necessary to help make this happen quickly and painlessly, and I’m open to discussing any of these items. The cost of living difference between your city and mine [check this on moving.com] is +10%, so I’d like to discuss a salary of between $55K and $60K. Since you asked, my actual move will cost $2,500. If you need me to start as soon as possible, I will need to make two weekend trips back in the first month to wrap up some personal matters, and economy airfares would total about $400. If I leave my job before they pay my bonus, which is due in two months, I’ll be leaving between $1,000-$1,500 of bonus behind. If you can do anything to compensate for even half of that I’d be very happy. To answer your question, to bring me on board quickly, in addition to salary I’d ask that you consider helping me cover these transition costs that come to a total of $3,500. I’m ready to start!”

Include only items that you think are justified. The items I’ve enumerated are just examples. Just make sure that, overall, you’re covering your costs, no matter which items you’re actually listing. For example, I’d bury the cost of the apartment deposit. I wouldn’t list it explicitly because it might sound odd that you’re an accountant but can’t swing the deposit on your own.

This firm has already indicated a commitment to hiring you, so treat them like family, and have a friendly, candid discussion about what they have to do to get you.

I hope this helps and I wish you the best.

What would you try to negotiate in this situation? How should this reader tally up and discuss requirements to make this move attractive? Have you ever tried to negotiate for too much… or not enough… and then regretted it?

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  1. Having received many corporate relocation packages over the years, this strategy makes perfect sense. I would add to your list the possibility of income tax gross up. You will pay taxes on monies paid by employer so consider asking for a gross-up to cover taxes. Also keep all moving related receipts so you can file for tax deductions if you qualify. The other is a one-time payment for incidentals. I usually would receive one month’s pay grossed up as well.

    • @Paul: Good additional tips! My guess is that given the salary level in this case, the employer is not likely to offer a gross-up payment, but it’s worth asking!

  2. My only addition here is to offer another confidence booster: A law firm will likely have experience with this type of request, so this won’t feel unusual. Their past experience in granting these requests should work in your favor.

    Otherwise, everything Nick said makes sense.

  3. I’ve relo’d several times. The writer doesn’t say, so I assume it’s a solo move, not with a family..
    and doesn’t sound like there’s experience with moving.

    No matter how simplistic it seems, moving is usually a character building exercise. Never ran across anyone who says with enthusiasm.. Oh boy I get to throw everything I own on a truck and find some place to put it, in by a certain time.

    1st work your network. for someone who’s done it, and/or someone who’s familiar with your destination. Ideally both in one person(s) Armed with info from Nick’s suggestion consult moving.com for cost of living differences. Your comp negotiations & offer acceptance need to incorporate this info. And reasoned tested by someone who’s lived there.
    Example. Back in the day I relo’d to, lived & worked in California. Moved from Ohio. Big difference in housing costs. Shocking difference. Much higher in CA. We did our homework…and found something that fit our budget. But..I’ve seen many people who took what they thought was a hit-the-jackpot salary jump, accepted an offer to find they actually took a cut when the house was factored in.

    2nd sit down and make sure you know what you you need/want. Again talking with someone who’s made a similar move will be a big help. then translate it into $ and time. For example, As an apartment dweller you may need $ for breaking a lease..and most likely will need a deposit on the other end.. It’s Fairly routine to ask for those costs to be covered & usually they are.

    3. Nick’s point on making it easy is on the money. 1 time cost hits works well with companies. and the example of boiling it down to one # is the way to go, but be prepared if asked, to break it down. The biggie is the physical move. Start with asking for the use of a moving company, billing your hiring company. Trust me, it’s so much less painful if professionals do the move..including packing and unpacking & possibly storage for which they are accountable. If the company balks, fall back to a start up moving kicker, so you can rent a truck and/or hire your own mover.

    4. Haste makes waste. Some $ for a temp residence/motel/hotel for 2 weeks to take a more knowledgeable look around & experience living there before you commit to a perm living spot is very useful. So you can get a feel for traffic, conveniences etc.that are important to your quality of life. Related to this is what Nick noted…a “look around trip” before you commit. This is time separate from an interview trip. A few hours to “look around” doesn’t get it.

    5. It’s fairly common to ask for/be given a flat X$ for “incidentals” It can be part of moving costs or stand alone. An example is cost of drapes. If it’s not a furnished apartment. You can assume you’re going to buy new ones…for measurement or decor reasons, what you own now will be tossed.
    Companies usually know this..and don’t want details. so they hand you a check. You may be surprised how little things add up.

    6. If you’re landing in a big city..and you ow a car. don’t forget parking, you may be facing parking garage costs. This is something to consider in your basic comp.

    7. Overall you need to know if the hiring company has experience with relocating people. Just because they are large, doesn’t mean they do. If they don’t, there are pros and cons. If as Nick noted you’re reasonable and ask for X..they’ll just pony it up because it’s too much trouble for them to get into the moving business. the con is any $ you give may sound like too much. If they do have experience..
    you’ll want a cc of their relo policy. Don’t assume they’ll give you one. If it misses something you need, then negotiate for a deviation. Hiring managers often have a lot of latitude in those.
    For example. I relo’d from NC to TX. From a house rental to buying a house. I didn’t have to sell a house, hence no selling costs & I could move quickly. I asked for the company to pay the closing costs on my house in TX. It was the hiring manager that told HR to approve it.

    • @Don: I think you just wrote the cheat-sheet for moving!

  4. There are 2 significant components associated with this request. #1. Is this person a CPA? #2. What would the higher professional position be? The answers to these two questions form the basis of how to negotiate with this law firm and make the process more simplified and to this person’s advantage.
    Concerning question #1. CPA’s are professionals and as such have a history throughout all business categories of monetary compensation. If this person is a CPA he/she can use the established guidelines as a foundation for negotiation. Experience level factors heavily into the final compensation package. So, how experienced is this person?
    This person’s statement that this job “could lead to a higher position” is interesting and potentially the crux of all negotiation concerning this job. To answer this question, this person MUST think in professional terms and NOT MONEY. Part of the negotiation process is to find out exactly what possible position this would be; does this person have the necessary skill set to be considered for that position. Again this goes to his current experience level.
    In essence this person’s mindset is critical to obtaining this position and getting all he can at the beginning and not later down the road. Hence the focus on negotiation. The very definition of the term is based on exchange, discussion, agreeing on specifics. As such this is not money, nor should it be relegated to that lower level. Sooo, what does his person want for his future? Is this job a fill-in, a lateral move or potentially a vehicle for true advancement to climb up the food chain of his chosen profession.
    I would take what the supervisor said about what does it take to get him there as the open door to discuss and truly negotiate on the better aspects of the job and not merely the money. This is an opportunity to exhibit his skill level and also determine the true intent of this law firm. Traditionally law firms have a history of being cheap to the hired help, ask ten paralegals and they will give you insight you didn’t know existed. The same with legal secretaries. This person should find a way to talk with one of the legal secretaries or one of the paralegals and get their insight as to how the firm really operates.
    True negotiation always involves the key components of any business deal. Money comes later in the process. The initial process reveals who has the upper hand and holds the trump card. Once this is established, that person then makes the monetary demand(s) from the position of power.
    This individual should test the waters, put aside fears about money and determine his leverage level and then proceed. The time worn cliche of “power talks and bullshit walks” is appropriate in this scenario. Who has the real power and how far can you take it is the foundation of this issue, not moving expenses and things that really are secondary to what is available here.

  5. I’m going to second and emphasize Don’s comments re the cost of housing. Do your research. When one of my former students learned that her AD AF husband would be PCSing to Hanscom AFB from the west coast, they started looking into housing (didn’t want to live on base) and got serious sticker shock. She called me to ask if this (what it costed to rent as well as the prices of houses) was normal, and gave me some the prices she’d been quoted. When I replied “yes, that sounds right” and didn’t express shock or keel over, she said “holy cow, both of us are going to have to get second jobs, and maybe a third job.” I suggested living on base, which she said they didn’t want to do, but would if they couldn’t find anything reasonable/affordable. They ended up living on base because they couldn’t find an apartment or house to rent that they could afford.

    So the same advice follows here, minus the military part. If the LW is moving to Massachusetts from a less expensive part of the country, he’s in for serious sticker shock both when it comes to renting or buying. That “excellent” salary offer may not look so great once he factors in the cost of housing, and it might not even be doable at all.

    Another matter to consider is his commute, the cost of owning and maintaining a car in his new locale, whether there is good public transportation or not, the cost of parking both at his new employer and his apartment. When my brother worked at MIT, it cost him $250.00 per month to park there, as an employee. His last employer, UMass/Lowell, only charged him $250.00 per year to park, and parking was close to his building (no walking a mile or further from the parking lot to the office). Car insurance may be higher in the city, and there might be other unexpected costs (e.g., in Massachusetts, drivers are charged a yearly excise tax, payable to the city/town in which they live, based upon the value of the car. The newer the car, the higher the excise tax. The more expensive the car, the higher the excise tax. The rate will also vary depending upon where you live–you’ll pay more if you live in Boston compared to Heath.)

    His landlord may also charge for parking. He should take into account the kind of commute he will have to work. To use my brother as an example again, when he worked at MIT, he lived in Belmont, a mere 7 miles from MIT. He said that on a good day, meaning no accidents, etc., it took him 45 minutes to commute to work and the same for the home commute in the event. He said it could easily be over 2 hours if there was a bad accident (or several accidents), or if a Red Sox game got out in time for the evening commute. 7 miles sounds like it is really close, but this is something to research. If the LW knows anyone who lives and works in the area he hopes to move to, he should ask that person what the average commute is like on a good day vs a bad day.

    He should research other costs–groceries and other costs of living, then factor that into his salary negotiations.

    I’m also seconding Don’s excellent advice to make a look-see trip before he commits to anything. Do runs to and from work during rush hour traffic. Visit grocery stores, other places to get a sense of what things cost in the area. Research other factors, such as the cost of heating, etc., especially if he is moving from a warm locale to one where there will be a winter with snow, ice, etc.

    The employer probably won’t care about LW’s line item budget, but that doesn’t mean he can’t do one for himself, then add the higher (assuming that they will be higher) costs into his salary negotiations without going into the nitty gritty details.

  6. Edited to read: the same for the home commute in the evening.

  7. All but one of these comments are pure nonsense. The only one with a clue about what’s really at stake is Mr. Schafer. Everyone else is focusing on the crumbs and not the bigger cheese ball. Hey, all you lame brains, read Mr. Corcodilos’ question and try to understand it. The key is what the hiring manager told this person. He literally gave this nerd a golden ticket to get something more than a raise, moving expenses, etc. The hiring manager opened the door for this nerd to strut his stuff. The advice given is nothing but nonsense and closes that golden door of opportunity. These comments show me not a single one is really good at negotiation becuse you think inside the box, where it’s controlled by the employer. What a bunch of clueless dudes! Hey you mental midgets, do some research into the art of negotiation, maybe you can improve yourself.

      @The Negotiator:

      “you lame brains”
      “bunch of clueless dudes”
      “you mental midgets”

      If you look around, you’ll see the standard of conduct here is very high. If you will not address others respectfully, leave. A good way to test your words: Would a seasoned 2nd grade teacher remove you for saying it? I will, too.

      Nick Corcodilos
      Ask The Headhunter

  8. Just a note about moving and moving companies (if the firm does not have relocation services for you), make sure the moving company is reputable and has an actual brick and mortar office. The industry used to be well regulated, it no longer is.

    My friend (a savvy guy) just moved out West and the moving company left a small open balance on his invoice “in case of miscellaneous charges…” you know, if there was bad weather and they had to stop for a couple of days and store the stuff, etc. and then – they did not deliver his things.

    After more than a month of calls and emails and being put off, (they said they couldn’t get a hold of the driver, etc., my friend called the driver, no call back and then the number was no longer working) my friend finally got the cops involved who were nice enough to refer him to a great PI (ex-FBI) who really nailed these guys – tracked their phones, found out their real names (yes, they all used fake names) and then they finally delivered the boxes- in two different deliveries more than a week 1/2 apart. With different drivers.

    Get references, check and double check, get at least 3 quotes and do your research!

  9. Wow. Thanks for that.