In the January 22, 2019 Ask The Headhunter Newsletter a reader asks whether negotiating a good job offer would be crazy.
I’m a Senior Data Scientist and I just got a job offer, but the salary is about $1,000 lower than I expected. It’s a management position with less than a dozen staff reporting to me. They also offered a very generous signing bonus of about $50,000.
I think the salary offer is so low because in the interview I was bad at white boarding, and they told me that. But I explained that other skills like machine learning are far more important in this position, and they agreed that’s one of my key strengths. Obviously they agreed enough to want to hire me.
I understand they’re using the signing bonus to hedge their risk, but I still want to negotiate the salary. What do you think? In this situation, how crazy is this idea? Thanks!
Harvard Business Review has called Data Scientist The Sexiest Job Of The 21st Century. Forbes reports it’s the best job in America. Does that make you worth a lot? Probably.
Don’t negotiate out of greed
Does that mean you should be greedy? Absolutely not. Don’t let your market value go to your head, and do not discount the judgment they made about your white boarding skills.
The value of data science depends on the kind of business in which its practiced — something I don’t know in your case. (Is it marketing? Is it financial services, or consulting?) Apparently the value of white boarding is higher than you think, or this employer would not have made a point about it.
Would you turn down the offer?
I think you should ask yourself this question: If you tried to negotiate and they were not to budge on the salary, would you still accept the job?
If you would, then I would not bother negotiating for a $1,000 increase. Given the size of the starting bonus, I’m guessing the salary offer is way over $100,000. That means the $1,000 is a bone of contention of less than 1%. This is what I refer to as One big negotiating no-no. In a moment, I’ll tell you why it’s risky to be greedy.
How to judge the offer
But let’s put the $1,000 aside for a moment, because it’s still important to consider two of the key issues in any job-offer negotiation.
- Is this a good place to work, and are they demonstrating that they really want you?
- Is the compensation enough for you?
First, what I really mean is, Do you really want this job? Do you want to work with these people? If you don’t, then don’t do it for any amount of money. If you do, then calculate the future value of the job and the cohort you’ll join. (See It’s the people, Stupid.) Then ask, What does $1,000 mean in this context?
Second, what I’m telling you is, If the salary offered is not going to make you happy, then negotiate the offer or reject it.
That’s how I’d judge the offer.
Focus on key decision criteria
Now let’s focus on your particular case. It doesn’t seem the offer is inadequate — not if the difference is less than 1%. While that $1,000 may mean a lot to you — and I don’t mean to disparage your concerns –, I also have to be blunt: I think you’re being greedy. It seems to me you’re discounting the quality of the company and the people you’ll be working with. I’d focus my energy on how good a working environment this would be for you. That’s one key.
I agree the signing bonus is generous. Of course they’re hedging their bet — but it still indicates how much they want you. You’re wise to consider that a signing bonus is a one-time payment that will not affect future raises, your 401(k) basis, or other salary-based perks. But you’d have to work 50 years at a $1,000 higher salary to match that one-time bonus. And as my accountant would point out, if you invest that lump sum for the next 50 years, you’re effectively getting a raise every year on it. So the compensation package is another key — and it sounds quite good or you would be looking for far more than $1,000.
Risks of negotiating
If you would not accept the salary unless it’s $1,000 higher, then by all means negotiate and be ready to reject the total offer. It’s not my place to tell you what this job is worth.
Now here’s the risk I referred to: If you press for an extra $1,000, I would not be surprised if this employer rescinded the offer altogether. (Other risks include a delayed offer and unexpected competitors surfacing.)
If the hiring manager asked my advice, here’s what I’d say: After you showed this candidate good faith worth $50,000, the candidate is demonstrating a preoccupation with $1,000. That’s not good faith on the candidate’s part!
I usually side with candidates who believe they’re worth more money. But in this case $1,000 doesn’t constitute a meaningful negotiation. It’s chump change. I don’t think it’s worth jeopardizing this offer. If you invest that signing bonus at 2%, you’ll get the grand without negotiating anything.
Know when to stop
Knowing how to negotiate effectively includes knowing when to stop. So let’s return to the key question: If they were not to budge on the salary after negotiations, would you still accept the job?
If no, then negotiate. (Here are some tips to help you: Negotiate a better job offer by saying YES.)
If yes, then I think risking the job for a grand is indeed crazy. If other key aspects of the job are satisfactory and you want it, thank them for their offer and generous signing bonus, smile, and tell them you plan to demonstrate so much value to their business that next year they’ll want to give you a substantial raise.
I wish you the best.
How much more is worth negotiating for? Where do you draw the line? What’s your biggest negotiating win? Did you ever negotiate yourself right out of a job offer?