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Salary Negotiation: Make More Money, Be More Valued (2012) (kalzumeus.com)
420 points by Fiveplus 59 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 260 comments

> We’ve been talking about your employer as an abstraction, but in the instant case you’re talking to an actual person. Let’s call him Bob. It is Bob’s job to get you signed with the company as cheaply as possible, but Bob is not super motivated to do so, because Bob is not spending Bob’s money to hire you. Bob is spending Bob’s budget. Bob generally does not get large performance incentives for shaving money off of his hiring budget: you get a new Macbook if you convince Bob to give you $5k extra, but Bob gets (if he is anomalously lucky) a dinner at TGIFridays if he convinces you to take $5k less.

I've been saying this to people for years, and I'm glad to hear someone else say it. As a hiring manager, I'm not paying your salary out of my own pocket, so I don't give a shit if you want (and get) an extra $10k. My job is to fill the headcount that I've got, so as long as it fits within budget, whatever.

I don't think anything less, or more, of people who ask for extra - I usually forget by the time the person starts the job. It's not my money. I don't care.

And neither does "the company" - a corporation is an abstract legal entity that is incapable of human emotions. It's not going to get mad at you because it thinks you're greedy. Don't anthropomorphize it.

At least at my company (and from what I understand, most companies) it's a lot easier to get a pay bump when you're negotiating the offer, than it is to get a raise/promotion. When you're getting a job offer, you're a one-off special case and there are a lot of unknowns. When it's performance review season, everyone is potentially getting a salary increase, so there are tighter budgets to stick to. My advice is to get what you can up front, and worry a bit less during the annual cycle.

You (and the article) are ignoring smaller companies. In those, you often have the salary negotiations with the owner, or a partner. Your salary comes (effectively) out of their own pocket, and recruiting you is quite possibly a significant and risky investment for the entire company.

In these sorts of situations, negotiation is much harder on a personal level, since the company is not a faceless entity. The company does have a face, that's the face you have to look into when you state your salary request.

On the other hand, it's also harder to accept being underpaid, because if you don't get paid what you're worth, you know the extra profits will go (almost) directly into the pocket of a person you will see daily at work.

Small companies with smart hiring managers or owners should know that if they pay candidates, especially highly skilled ones, not enough, they will probably jump ship after one or two years which is exactly the period after which employees reach a level of productivity that brings enough value for companies to justify the hiring.

In all the places I've worked, every engineer knew there was another place where they'd likely earn significantly more. Yet, they didn't jump ship. These were not high turnaround places.

Either my experience is exceptional, or your implication that money is the only thing that matters about a job is wrong.

Yeah. I left a good salary behind and went 1/2 time for a super small company this year. Great decision. Money isn’t everything.

That's easy to say after having had a high paying position for a while, which would give you the opportunity to build some financial stability. Never having had any stability, money plays a much larger role.

There was a comment a few weeks ago about someone saying how money doesn’t matter - his family doesn’t care if his networth aged 40 was $2m or $20m.

Many people on HN, after a decade or so of amazon salaries, seem to have no concept of the real world.

Well, yes. It wouldn't have been a good decision for me 20 years ago. But it was a good decision this year. Context is important. Money is important, obviously. But once you have a certain level of stability in your life, other priorities begin to overtake it.

At one place I've been, the engineers held this same view but would need to move somewhere far off or to the parent company across the country. Also, some might have jumped to more money only for the new employer to learn they aren't very good engineers. I was IT and often was setting up or resolving EE dev issues because they wrote code with a gui and didn't actually now how the hardware worked or connected to their PC reliably. Or it was all on the one offline XP laptop that dual boots to Win2000. They might have an $8k+ engineer dev station with secure VMs for Xp an 2k but still used the old laptop because it was familiar...

I always traded up.

I have the feeling, that i'm still having a similar amount of fun/happiness when i do my current job vs. my previous job but with more money.

More money means for me: less working later or nicer things now or faster/more stability & safety.

I have also seen enough people being afraid of quitting, people unable to quit, people who did not pull their weight, still complaining, still not quitting.

I have seen people not pulling their weight and being able to find a new/better job where they will still perform the same now just another company doesn't know what to do with them and just having them.

money matters a lot until you have "enough". after that, it only matters as much as you decide. it's a lot easier to have a healthy relationship with work when the possibility of losing your job is no big deal. as a young person, having 2-3 years runway for your current lifestyle is pretty good. once you have this, it's no big deal to take a lower paying job for a few years. as you get close to the point where you want to retire, you want to have enough saved to maintain your lifestyle indefinitely. if you're already there, great!. if not, you gotta make up the difference real quick. you need about ten times as much money to maintain a lifestyle indefinitely as you do to maintain it for two years.

that said, I think a lot of young people have a poor understanding of how much saving early on can impact your retirement.

Maybe you have worked at decent companies, but if someone is "meh" about their job, they will bounce before long.

Yep, that was my entire point.

You don’t always need “good engineers”. Sometimes you just need yet another software as a service CRUD developer.

That's kind of true, but you should probably ignore it for purposes of salary negotiation. It's not really that different from a bigger company in most cases- they have a budget in mind, and you can probably negotiate up to the limit of the budget. This will sometimes be a hard limit btw - e.g. if it's a Dev shop, they often know how much they're getting paid for a particular project, and can calculate the maximum salary they can profitably pay.

Smaller companies are often more flexible on other terms though, which is worth knowing. Often they can give you eg work from home options, different configuration of vacation days, etc. This if useful to think any for negotiation purposes.

> Your salary comes (effectively) out of their own pocket, and recruiting you is quite possibly a significant and risky investment for the entire company.

So what? It's just like any other expenditure for the company. And it doesn't change the reality the owner is thinking about -- value of hiring you must be higher than cost of wages paid on a regular basis for it to work out. And probably high enough that they'd even bother trying to recruit anyways.

In a way, it's sometimes even easier to have negotiations in the owner because it's so much easier to up-sell them on added value you can provide because you are talking to the person who'd be willing to buy even more of just that. There's no one-size-fits-all HR determined range to deal with.

The corollary of working for smaller companies is once you are working there for a while and are contributing significant value... it is easier to get significant raises because your owner is thinking about "life without you" if they don't pay you well. IF you are really valuable to the company, you have a great chance of getting paid well, in proportion to your value.

I find it is easier to prove your value in these cases and bounds are much wider.

At my company I get headcount based on level, not raw dollars. Once I +1 a candidate at a level, it moves to HR and they are the ones doing the negotiation. At that point I become an advocate for them to get more compensation. It behooves me to have HR not play hardball and to max out their comp at the level I've specified as that makes it more likely the candidate signs. Once in a while HR will ask me "Are you sure?" and I always say "Yep, do it".

It does get a bit tricky if they're comp demands wind up out of band and then I need to decide if it's worth a higher level head count, but otherwise go for it.

A long time ago I worked for a company where I did the hiring and then HR did the salary negotiation, but I got to give a recommendation. One time I hired someone and they accepted the job, but I found out later that HR had negotiated a salary that was about 15% less than what I'd suggested. It really annoyed me. The guy was worth more.

The worst part was that he left after 8 months because he wanted more money (he didn't ask for a raise; he just found a better paying role) and I had to do all the hiring nonsense again.

HR people might be good for the company bottom line but they're not good at retaining staff.

I too never ask for a raise and rarely get one. Out of the last 6 companies I worked for, one gave regular raises of 3% and one seemed to alternate between 1% raises and 1% bonuses. I was around 50K and 85K respectively. As you can see, I've received much higher raises moving companies. Now I'm a bit over 100k in the midwest.

Current company brought me in as a contractor at a good rate. Contract house had decent benefits, decent PTO, etc. It was very similar to the companies, just PTO was a bit less.

They eventually wanted to bring me on as a regular employee and offered about a 10% pay cut. WTF? I'm not dumb. I know they are paying a significant overhead to the contract house. I was honestly expecting a small pay bump when I came on as a regular employee.

I asked to stay a contractor and told them if they couldn't do that I guess I would have to take the salary they were offering. I didn't say I wouldn't stick around, but we both knew. They eventually came back with an offer at the same as my current salary, which was still a pay cut after the new benefits cost. Not big, but maybe a hundred bucks every two weeks on my take home.

Now they've converted another contractor to employee, who maybe played more hardball, but I'm pretty sure he's topped my salary even though he's clearly not as experienced and was making a lower salary before.

I'm deciding if I should do anything because there are now 3 senior's and I believe I'm the lowest paid. The other two guys are single white guys, and I'm Hispanic with kids.

I've previously noted the newest guy seems to have some lowkey racial issues with me, which is why I think he bargained so hard on salary. We discussed salary when we were contractors. He's always seemed to measure himself against me in a weird way.

> I've previously noted the newest guy seems to have some lowkey racial issues with me, which is why I think he bargained so hard on salary. We discussed salary when we were contractors. He's always seemed to measure himself against me in a weird way.

You sure it's related to race? IMO bargaining harder makes more sense if/when you have extra information (e.g. someone else's salary), regardless of whether you love or hate that other person.

That part is based on our previous 8 months of interactions. The way he treats me and the way he poo-poos any sort of discussion that implies people of color should have any problems with how things are done.

He was also hired at a lower level and doesn't have my experience.

You sound bitter. You should be bitter. Your gut instinct is right and you probably are the least paid senior there. Not because you bring the least value but because you refuse to negotiate. Read the article, know your worth, and get outside your comfort zone.

I'm more surprised they hired him as a senior then whatever salary they gave him.

Why bother fighting over 4 or 5 percent when I can just get another job in afew months that pay 10 or 20 percent more? I don't see the value, and obviously they don't either. I'm more astounded by the number of people who stick around at jobs for years getting very little pay or loyalty in return.

Just out of curiosity, if a candidate asks what the salary range is for the position, do you tell them?

Yes, but I also explain how our HR dept calculates target compensation within a level and that ultimately the comp decision is out of my hands. I have a good sense for where candidates are in a band and try to set expectations accordingly.

If they're pushing for more than HR wants to give, like I said I'm an advocate but the final say isn't mine if they're pushing tooooooo far off the calculated target amount.

The premis of this article is that everyone should push more because it is assumed that the range (upper limit) is low bailed.

Does this create a perverse incentive to not encourage promotions because it will mean a lower headcount going forward?

Depending on the company, but yes if the company is not growing, the incentive would be to discourage promotion. At that point, if it is a good company, they would know it and will prioritize a different kind of employees.

For us no, that’s tracked in a separate bin from net new hires

> My job is to fill the headcount that I've got, so as long as it fits within budget, whatever.

Exactly, but the budget isn't infinite.

Assuming equal talent, I'd much rather hire 5 people at market rate rather than 4 people at 25% over market rate. The net cost is roughly the same, but we can get much more accomplished with 1 more person on the team. Even better, on-call demands are spread out over more people and vacations are easier to schedule.

In my experience, compensation requests are only loosely coupled to a person's abilities. Usually, the person's prior salary history is the driving factor, even when they don't reveal it (I don't ask). If you have a large enough candidate pool, it can often make sense to let the most aggressive negotiators go to the FAANG companies rather than jumping through hoops to overpay them relative to the rest of the team. The most aggressive salary seekers usually end up leaving for FAANG anyway, because they want the resume prestige as leverage in future salary negotiations.

Finally, handing out above market salaries isn’t without consequence for managers. When C-level execs look at compensation across the company and see a handful of managers with significantly higher compensation, they’re going to have higher expectations for that team. If a manager is constantly paying above-market rates but producing average or below average work, it’s going to draw attention. If I’m going out on a limb to give people above market compensation, the expectations are that much higher. I’m also going to be that much quicker to let highly compensated people go if they can’t live up to their compensation requests.

I'd much rather hire 4 above average people than 5 average people.

Having more people adds its own cost and there is a Pareto law in people's contributions.

Edit: Basically, IMHO, in terms of assembling the best team to deliver the best results it's better to keep things as small as possible. But in terms of internal company politics it's better to grow the team as much as possible.

I'm very skeptical you can tell from an interview who's good. As we build out our salary comparison startup, peerwyse.com, I intend to openly offer properly shit salaries but great "everything else": some level of budgetary autonomy, a family first mentality, option to work three or four days a week for (50% or 75% of pay) and 25% of accumulated total comp on the day you leave us (whether by redundancy, better job or start up). I think this will attract the people I want and reduce the toxic culture of key man dependency which cripples long term growth.

> As we build out our salary comparison startup, peerwyse.com, I intend to openly offer properly shit salaries but great "everything else"

You don't see any irony in offering "shit salaries" trying to build a salary comparison startup? What do you intend to do if and when candidates use your very popular competitor levels.fyi (which, just so you know, they already do)?

Knowing what you're trading for what is, IMO, the important bit. I want to find the things you value more than money and offer those.

I understand why that is your goal. What I don't understand is how you can credibly claim you offer something more valuable.

To actively hire at less than market range is to tacitly admit (whether intentionally or not) that you neither can afford nor adequately deploy the difference you're paying for. If that is the case, what kind of a message do you think that sends me about your serviceable obtainable market and your margins, your data quality, your growth, and how well you'll achieve competitive differentiation against your incumbents?

Don't take this the wrong way, but it almost appears as if you have resigned towards not being #1 in the space.

This is a great point. (Un)fortunately we have not had to but this into practice yet so when we do perhaps I will monumentally fail.

Based on my limited (10 years) experience I'm pretty convinced that there is little to no correlation between competence, confidence and compensation.

There are many people for whom work is not the most important thing in their lives. My expectation is that actively selecting for work not being the most important thing in someones life is an arbitrage that is under utilised and will create a much more sustainable company in the medium to long term.

> My expectation is that actively selecting for work not being the most important thing in someones life is an arbitrage that is under utilised and will create a much more sustainable company in the medium to long term.

Well, let's make sure to be specific about what we mean by those "for whom work is not the most important things in their lives." There are those for whom that's the case now, but who put in the work previously to attain the level of competence they need to do the job well. Then there are those who never reached competence because they never put in the work to attain it.

My guess is that you'll have difficulty attracting and retaining the former over the latter. Perhaps one assumption that's helpful to voice (and feel free to disagree with me here) is that most of folks in the former camp are going to have multiple offers and even a high FAANG/startup salary already -- that's because plenty of companies are fine screening for folks who want that and find sustainable work hours (== "work not being the most important thing in their lives") a key part of reducing burnout and the attendant organizational replacement costs. They just want the competence part.

And so that will leave the latter category. What I can say having interviewed hundreds of candidates (many as a hiring manager) at growth stage firms is -- it's hard to even recruit what you're willing to pay for, let alone getting more than what you pay for. Buying a lemon is expensive; you still pay the recruiting costs (either time or money) and you pay the opportunity costs to try and make a not so great candidate do good work. It's like trying to squeeze blood from a stone. It's a real seller's market for talent right now. I heartily encourage you to try and prove me wrong, and if you do, more power to you. But if you run into issues, perhaps consider a couple of the things I've pointed out.

There's no harm in trying to buy a lunch for less than the lowest median price, or for free. But you shouldn't be surprised if it's not possible. At a certain point, you'll probably get hungry enough that you'll realize that such a desire is penny-wise, pound foolish. The reality is that you need to pay market price for your lunch in order to eat.

Money is around the top of things people value in a job. It's very hard, to impossible, to make up for a crap salary.

At the very least pay market rate (i.e. an average salary) and then add benefits to turn average into good.

Money is at the top for many people, though I would claim on a household level.

In my case my income really isn't the primary determinant of my household income. As the secondary earner being able to support the primary earner fully is of much more value to my longterm household income than fighting tooth and nail for an extra $20k p.a.

Since many competent people couple up into two earner households actively targeting the secondary earners by offering the things that are more valuable to them than money feels like a "society-hack" that should be achievable.

> option to work three or four days a week for (50% or 75% of pay)

Work 60% for 50% pay or work 80% for 75% pay? Sounds like a raw deal to me.

Perhaps, but if my current employer would let me take a 25% pay cut to drop down to four-days a week I would bite their hand off. Differential preferences are, ultimately, what create a market.

There is, however, clearly something broken in the labour market though. The progressive income tax system in the UK means that someone working a five day week for ~$160k p.a. would only see a 12.5% reduction in net income if they could drop down to four-days per week.

> I'd much rather hire 4 above average people than 5 average people.

That's assuming that negotiation skill is closely correlated with the skill you're actually hiring for, rather than being correlated with having read an article like this, or some other somewhat orthogonal knowledge.

The level of salary you pay is correlated to what type of people you attract and what type of people you keep.

If you want better than average people you have to be prepared to offer better that average compensation.

That's what it boils down to. The actual negotiation only moves things at the margin and the initial offer already tells if the company pays well or not. The company's reputation also already told that to candidates.

Of course it's indeed important for the candidate to get the best deal because, as mentioned in another comment, that has a knock-on effect over time.

Absolutely agreed on all counts. To the extent this is a factor of the company's intended salary range rather than just the candidates negotiation skill, I'd agree that paying more for better folks is likely to pay off disproportionately in many cases.

> That's assuming that negotiation skill is closely correlated with the skill you're actually hiring for

People overestimate negotiation as a "skill." It's not. It's leverage, it's BATNA. Negotiation is having more than one offer and using that to explore the difference between the initial offer space and the maximum offer space between firms based on a basket of offers. The skill is in getting an offer from more than one company in the first place.

And I would wager that if you're hiring professionals, having that kind of ownership and thoroughness is often exactly what you want to hire for, even more than the direct experience.

For what it's worth, this is what Amazon's compensation philosophy is with how RSUs are backloaded. It's fine if you can't actually translate the extra talent you get from the more expensive FAANG level engineers into business value as long as you're upfront about it.

But for some tech companies, having 4 engineers at that level is way more useful than 5 engineers 25% less expensive. Your average per IC intellectual horsepower is higher. You often get to solve problems a different way -- to use your example, maybe the on-call burden ends up being lower even being a smaller team because those 4 engineers will find a way to make it so.

Yeah that’s true. So I should clarify that I do care about my department’s budget, but the sum of money we’re talking about here is like $5-10k, or about 2.5-5% of someone’s loaded cost. I’d much rather secure a good candidate than squabble over that. If they’re asking for an extra $50k, then it’s a different scenario.

I hear people justify not negotiating by saying things like “I’m worried what they’ll think of me” or “I don’t want to create trouble”. This is what people think I care about, but don’t.

And as others have said, absolutely this is different for small companies where they’ll feel it more personally.

The issue is that the non-salary costs routinely make up an additional 50-100% of a head count and many of these are fixed. Thus to replace a team of 4 with a team of 5, you might need to negotiate their salary component down 30% not 20%. Thus the manager hiring the team of 4 appears to be paying 42% more.

> but we can get much more accomplished with 1 more person on the team

Are you sure of that? Two people can usually accomplish much more than one person, but how much more do you achieve with 5 people rather than 4?

My guess would be that adding the fifth person to a team increases productivity between 5-15%.

It's never that simple, really. Is the extra person just "an extra pair of hand" or are they filling a spot that nobody is currently successful at?

I'm in a 4 person team currently, give me an additional project manager and productivity will soar as devs can focus on technical aspects, rather than being inefficient at PMing for a mediocre output (at least that's my expectation, you never know in advance I suppose)

Agreed, if people are in different roles, an extra pair of hands can be fully productive. As soon as the fifth person is eg working on the same codebase of the previous four, there arises necessary overhead and stepping on each others' toes.

It would depend upon the work.

If the work is embarrassingly parallel, then 25% more. (5/4 = 1.25, of course)

If there is too much work for four people to function effectively, perhaps more than 25%.

If the work requires a lot of inter-process communication, perhaps less than 25%.

You're right, thank you.

The don’t overpay because they are going to a FAANG anyway is a very good point. I am way to old to care about prestige (ie. the 74), but my company of 50 people in GA could never have offered me the $75K difference between what they were paying me pre-Covid pay cut and what BigTech offered me for my current remote role. Why try?

First, I think you and the OP are correct. It’s not Barbara’s money, and Barbara’s career is driven by hiring and developing productive people. If her group is shipping good product, nobody in a growth company is sitting down and asking why a group that ships 30% more product costs 10% more per head.

That will come much later in the company’s trajectory.

One small exception to this from my n=1 experience is that all other things being equal, when hiring Barbara would rather pay at the low end of the range and then be generous with a raise, than pay at the top end of the range and have to fight to get you a raise.

That first performance review and raise set the tone for years to come, and good managers want it to be a happy experience for everyone.


But that’s only if all other things are equal. Barbara doesn’t want to lose you to another employer by over-negotiating, so ask for what you want.

Let her worry about fighting for your first raise. That’s the job she signed up for.

That’s a good point, and How to do this depends on the exact rules for handing out raises at the company. Where I work it’s better to hire someone at a lower level and promote them later - what I said earlier applies within a single pay grade and not between grades.

The amounts of money never made any sense to me that some hiring managers will die on a hill over. In time I came to the realization that it’s very important for some people to have that “win” / upper hand in the new relationship, as like a tone setting sort of thing.

That's an incredibly cynical take. As a hiring manager, I want to stack my team with the best employees we can convince to join our company. Obviously, throwing more money at the candidate is the easiest way to convince someone to come on board.

However, the company doesn't have infinite money to pay candidates. Compensation comes out of our budgets. The more we pay each person, the fewer people we can hire overall. This is fine if you're really hiring someone with above-average productivity at above-average compensation, but it becomes a problem if you're paying above-average rates for average productivity.

Higher compensation cuts both ways, though. If an average candidate is demanding above-average pay, why would I go through all the work of getting authorization for higher pay just to hire an average candidate? If I'm going through the trouble of getting approval to increase the pay for an open job position, you can bet I'm going to search for higher performing candidates to match that higher compensation.

Usually, when a junior candidate starts requesting senior level compensation, I just give up and hire a senior candidate instead.

Also, higher compensation comes with higher expectations. Businesses have ups and downs and layoffs are a fact of doing business. When budgets shrink and headcount must be reduced, the first people to go are those with relatively high compensation for their productivity/skill level.

But no, it's not simply about having a "win" over the candidate or making power moves during the hiring process. You have to think of hiring as company vs. the entire candidate pool, not just yourself vs. the hiring manager.

I think we are talking about vastly different things on re-reading your post. I’m keying in, along with the parent, on offers being negotiated at figures like less than 5% on base salary (sometimes far less. talking 5-10k range)

> I’m keying in, along with the parent, on offers being negotiated at figures like less than 5% on base salary (sometimes far less. talking 5-10k range)

Right, but remember that you're not pivoting around the initial offer number.

The hiring manager is pivoting around their budgeted range for the position. If they already offered 20% more than expected to hire someone and that person comes back requesting an additional 5-10K bump, that could put them 25% higher than expected.

Generally speaking, the people playing hardball to get an extra 5-10K are the same people aggressively negotiating the base salary number. I've given people offers for the exact salary they requested, only to have them come back and request another 5-10K just because they're intent on negotiating more at every step.

Candidly, it starts to become easy to spot the aggressive salary negotiators. Many of us current managers grew up reading things like patio11's negotiation guide back in 2012, and we're basically experts at spotting people using it against us now. When aggressive negotiators come along without an obvious BATNA, the easy method is to offer them 5-10K lower than your final offer and let them "negotiate" back up to your target number. The hiring manager wins the negotiation, but the candidate gets to feel like they succeeded in the negotiation. Happens more than you might expect.

In my experience the focus is often on the budget and the potential employee but one overpriced employee can demotivate everyone doing the same work for [far] less. I think my current employer lost 50+ people worth of productivity by hiring a single lazy guy for 150%. The team spirit just evaporated then the effect propagated to other locations.

(what theptip said below)

And thus the cycle keeps going. As long as people suspect the hiring manager will offer a lower offer vs whatever market rate is, we will be in this mess of hardball negotiations (and you will lose everytime if you're competing against Netflix and any company intent on paying fair market value ).

Why not just offer the top range and be clear with the candidate that it's the top? If the candidate has a competing offer for more, it means you're paying below market rate and you should address that problem as a business.

That is how negotiating works. The candidate probably had other offers that were higher. Are they supposed to take your offer just because you were first?

The prevalence of this behavior makes negotiating more important... the company is lowballing you so you have to take what’s on the table.

> That's an incredibly cynical take. As a hiring manager, I want to stack my team with the best employees we can convince to join our company.

> Usually, when a junior candidate starts requesting senior level compensation, I just give up and hire a senior candidate instead.

I think the cynical thing here is not the take but the company you're working at. You use the weasel phrase of "the company doesn't have infinite money to pay candidates" but that just papers over the real elephant in the room: the correlation between what you pay candidates and how much value they generate for the company. If ICs are a cost center, then of course you'll treat them like commodities and try for min-risk rather than max-upside.

And then you'll lose those great junior candidates to companies like those I've worked at where they rocket up from junior -> mid level -> senior -> manager -> director in the time it might take for junior -> mid level at your company. Now if you were that junior candidate, is it a good idea to work at your company or should I assume that your company frankly isn't that compelling and as a savvy candidate I should bet on a better horse and a better jockey?

There's nothing cynical about saying that. But it will look cynical from your perspective.

The argument I was given by my mentor on this subject is:

If you allow candidates to negotiate, then the employees of equal caliber who don’t negotiate will earn less, and this will cause angst when (not if) they compare their comp bands.

Allow candidates to tweak their package by moving value around between the buckets for cash comp, equity, vacation, etc., but keep the total comp determined narrowly by your assessment of their level.

I don’t fully buy into this principle for startups (since leveling is really difficult without a large population to compare across) but I think this is a less cynical explanation for why a hiring manager might not negotiate at all. It’s a slippery slope.

I'm not very good a social cues and I miss alot, but I've slowly learned that this is often revealing some inherent biases. The managers are ok with paying other white guys, but they are surprised when the meet me in person. I have a white name, but I'm clearly not white. I'm Hispanic, but I'm often told I look Asian, "Filipino", or "Samoan". I think there is some weird internal lens that people are seeing me through.

I kinda flipped through some of your other posts (stalked! sorry), I’d totally believe that this happens. It sounds like you’re working for maybe smaller outfits? I’d consider asking during early hr interviews about what the company does around pay equality, but I come with 0 experience so this might just be terrible advice. One of the better things I’ve seen is that there are orgs starting to take this seriously, and who will make big adjustments when something not right has happened. This is, I’m sure, something that has to be regionally adjusted.

As with all advice of this sort, it really depends on the company culture. My current employer for example has a very hard salary policy (basically a fixed number depending on age and which engineering college you went to, with yearly raises negotiated with unions - a very common occurrence in France unfortunately). Unless you’re interviewing for a position with >100 reports they will never risk upsetting this mechanism (and opening the Pandora’s box of individual salary negotiation) however valuable the individual candidate

At engineer level (who are 'cadres' in French) there's always individual salary negotiation unless perhaps you work for the government.

Now, your manager might try to convince you that's this is not the case so as not to give you a raise but they obviously do have adjustment margins.

Not true for most of the big French companies. Try negotiating your salary as an engineer at SNCF or EDF or Air France :)

You can negotiate your salary in big French companies. State-owned ones like SNCF are may not exactly good examples...

Would negotiating be harmful to your chances to work there though?

Yes, it's harmful and if you appear a notch too aggressive they will probably dump you. (Reading articles about salary negotiation in the valley is possibly the most harmful thing a French person could do to themselves)

Assume it's French cheap staffing companies (90% of the employment market there), akin to tata or infosys for foreign readers.

There is a very narrow salary band for the position depending on university and age. They won't bulge for one euro. They'll simply keep looking for candidates to find a cheaper one.

They are well aware that their salaries are low. They see their offers refused time and again. They see candidates leaving in droves for better positions/industries as soon as they can. Doesn't matter, it's just business, gotta stick to the salary grid.

Why would you want to work at such company with such poor philosophy then?

Because that's all there are in a 50 miles radius.

Thinking you're going to work for Google after reading English articles, is really harmful when the closest FAANG office is thousands of miles away in another country.

Which city, country are you from?

I am from minor city in Europe, with no FAANG presence, but I found another company with similar engineering first principles. Nobody cares about education and promotions are fully merit based.

NVM you are from France, right?

You really don't have any such companies?

I've worked in multiple places, I am in London now. Jobs prospects are extremely variable by location. (It's near zero for most of Europe that could be qualified as deep countryside).

You're extremely lucky to have found a good opportunity in a good company. I will guess back that you live in a major metro area.

France has very little tech industry for many reasons that would be too long to cover. Even the largest national companies that need technology do not hire. If you're familiar with the myth that it's impossible to fire in France, in short that's true, once you have a job it's for life. One consequence is that no company is open to hiring, they only resort to staffing/outsourcing agencies.

I used to work for a well known software company. We had employees from all over the globe. Many were in rural towns from Eastern Europe to Switzerland to random towns in the US. Those companies are rare, but they’re out there (and this one was / is a great place to work). I hope that COVID has made this concept more acceptable to more companies.

> Assume it's French cheap staffing companies (90% of the employment market there)

This is caused by overly restrictive and rigid labour law. Companies offload that problem to staffing companies. This is a way to go around restrictions and to increase flexibility in the marketplace, but actually employees (at least very qualified ones like engineers) do not really benefits.

That being said, it is possible to find permanent positions and I never worked for a staffing company ('SS2I' as it used to be called) when I was in France.

I think companies under a certain size and it's a different story.


The comment's language is totally unprofessional and the tone is toxic. And that's the second edit - of an even more toxic previous wording.

One would call it Dunning–Kruger, but it's probably merely lack of self-awareness combined with arrogance.

> It's a lot easier to get a pay bump when you're negotiating the offer, than it is to get a raise/promotion

That's absolutely key and always true.

This is also compounded by the fact that companies often have salary bands and that annual salary increases are usually a percentage of the existing salary.

So negotiating the best starting salary is very important and has effects years into the job.

If what you describe is the case, and HR doesn't have veto power on your offers, why not hire at the top of the range, and take a kickback from the person you hired? (hypothetical)

Don't downvote me for suggesting this, I'm trying to expose a weakness. I suspect more likely scenario is what @jghn shares, wherein HR is the one with the offer power, to avoid the hazard I suggested.

Because doing this is illegal.

Also, would you actually want to work at a company where people are bleeding the company for their own benefit? I cannot even imagine the toxicity. Even hearing the offer I would be so gone.

> It is Bob’s job to get you signed with the company as cheaply as possible...

Strictly speaking, this is not necessarily the case (although it might be, but you probably won't make a career at such a company.)

Bob's job is to make the company money. If one guy is asking $300k, it doesn't necessarily follow that Bob could hire five guys working for $30k and come out way ahead.

  > Virtually any amount of money available to you personally is
  > mouse droppings to your prospective employer.
  > They will not feel offended if you ask for it.
Two comments.

(a) I interviewed with Wealthfront last year. They offered $160K, which was lower cash comp than any of my other offers. I tried to open the door to negotiation. The recruiter and the dev lead then got on the phone with me to awkwardly explain that no, they don't negotiate with candidates, and what makes me feel like their offer is inadequate? Would I really want to miss the opportunity to work for an exciting company over some marginal sum of money? Yes.

(b) The money you ask for is a pittance on the company's balance sheet, but you're not negotiating with the company. You're negotiating with someone in recruiting. From hanging out with HR, they talk a lot of shit about candidates who they consider difficult, and have a lot of ways of making the experience less pleasant for the candidate, even if it's not clear what this means for the company's ability to attract talent.

In the case of Wealthfront, it may be a cultural matter as their CEO specifically believes that negotiating your offer is a negative indicator: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/20130708151000-56725-offer-co...

Hilarious, a buyer telling sellers that the it’s in the seller’s best interest to not research their market price. In the finance sector nonetheless.

That post really doesn’t make sense to me. It’s always in your interest to shop around. The author calls them “collectors”, sounds like he’s upset he loses good candidates over money and wants to rationalize his loss.

Yep it makes no sense. In fact, normally if they can pay your more it's a good sign. The place with more money is more likely to have a better career, all else unknown, because they probably make more money (or are well funded) and therefore they desperately need the best people so are willing to stump up for it. There is a bigger causal link between your work and the impact on the company. In such places, expect to work with other good people.

The only reason it is a bad sign is if they are paying more money simply to compensate for insane working hours or bad culture. That should be sniffable on glassdoor, or with a few well placed questions. Or look for the warning signs. E.g. "We have an onsite gym because we don't want people to leave the building all day".

And it is funny how the comments there all lick up to the post's author. Nobody calls him out. It is all bizarelly disgusting.

Of course the buyer tells them that, since if enough of them believe him he saves double digit percentages on payroll.

Well said :) This is exactly it.

Like many others, I disagree with several points of that article.

First, even if you're dead set to work at company X, it's a good idea to get offers from companies Y and Z to help you negotiate. If X is primed for success, as the article recommends, then X should have no problem matching up because a good hire should bring in many times more revenue than what could be saved by pinching pennies on the offer. As a candidate, it's also great to be in a situation where you have multiple offers in the same range, because that allows you to take comp out of the equation and make your decision purely based on which company and role would be the best fit.

Second, it's OK if the first company you work at fails. Early in your career, learning as much as you can is more important than success or failure IMO, and failure can be a tremendous learning opportunity. The article recommends joining a company that's already almost certain to succeed; this means all the critical problems were solved before you joined, and all that's left is to execute. It's great to learn how to execute well, but it's also far from being the whole picture.

Well on CEO level that might be true (I realise that's not what he talking about though). It seems pay of top level exec positions follows very different patterns than normal folks. It's used for signalling status. I know of at least one instance where the head of the board said to increase the salary offer to a CEO candidate because "we want to be the company in the country who offers the highest CEO salary".

I don't know about the first negotiation anecdote, but I can kinda see what Andy means here. I don't think pay is the primary thing I get out of a job, they'll all basically pay enough to live really well. Feeling good about what I do at work, learning new skills for the sake of learning, having a positive environment are all far more important to me. I've met a lot of people in school and at work who are just there to make as much money as possible, and I've always found that incredibly depressing. I think both our views can be valid at once, but I don't think they're a good culture fit together.

Its also depressing to pick a job not based on pay, and see how friends with similar skills who do optimize for pay make a million extra over the span of a couple years.

Not a couple of years, but a valid point. I've always told myself I'm focussed on my compensation integrated over 10 years. This can allow for some trade off between money today and money tomorrow.

That statement is a textbook example of a domination strategy, and nothing else. People will lie through their teeth over money.

It makes his job a lot easier if he can increase say “we need 10 people” and pay them cookie cutter salaries.

BATNA is king. If you have a great alternative, you're not being difficult, you're just being honest. My second-most-linked negotiation post, after the OP, is https://haseebq.com/how-not-to-bomb-your-offer-negotiation/

I have troubles taking your article seriously. These whole paragraphs of text, nobody would say that over the phone (wouldn't even write that in an email).

I can't imagine the person on the other side NOT dropping you when you're being this incredibly difficult. I certainly would have.

Maybe you're in the valley and they're really struggling to get candidates?

Take it seriously, I've used this one and OPs to earn quite a bit more money.

The most important thing these authors are trying to teach isn't dogma to repeat verbatim, it's an overall mindset and high level strategy. And you're right that know one you know talks like that... So don't, make it natural by tailoring the phrases to your needs, it's a framework with examples not something to memorize.

Another good one is: https://medium.com/@bayareabelletrist/how-i-negotiated-a-sof...

It's certainly less refined but provides a rough draft on how to play offers off each other. I found his wording slightly rude in his text examples so I mixed and matched strategies with the other articles and adapted the wording for my needs. I ended up negotiating a 50% salary increase and a signing bonus by using this strategy.

To answer my question, yes, you are in the valley and you got offers from 6 large companies including: Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft (LinkedIn), Amazon.

Thus it is utterly inapplicable to anyone not living in the valley (or not having that many offers at once). The offers were tightly packed and half of the companies dropped off rather quickly as you noticed. You should understand here that there isn't that much room to negotiate when dealing with 2 companies that ain't Google/Facebook.

I think you give too much credit to yourself for negotiating while the outcome actually had fairly little to do with that. Don't get me wrong, it is great that you managed to get the job and it's fantastic that you wrote about it =)

They are standard offers in the area (the cost of living being insane). On a rather low to mid level actually? Looks like one of the company decided to bump you one level and that's why you got a better offer in the end (you both worked hard for it AND you got lucky).

Given how great you are doing at interviewing. You should go at it again within 1-3 years for the level higher (maybe L5 at Google/Facebook, ICT4 at Apple). Think of what you're having now as a stepping stone =)

I was reading this comment on my phone and had to jump on my computer to say: you should absolutely take this article/Haseeb seriously, yes people say these exact things over the phone.

I was looking for a new job in the recent past along with a family member (both software eng. roles), and spent a good chunk of time doing research - reading articles like this - and practicing (eventually via companies early in my "pipeline"), and while I didn't use these lines verbatim, the conversation was actually a lot closer to that than you think.

And we both received NON-TRIVIAL adjustments to non-negotiable offers. And we were both very surprised it worked.

It may seem stilted or awkward, but I think that's the point. Recruiters and experienced managers have their own script that is more-or-less designed to make you feel awkward; make you feel like you're getting a great deal and asking for more is greedy. If you get more comfortable with being awkward, while still remaining professional and having clear expectations (vs. saying "not good enough, want more"), and you have a good alternative, you can use these strategies.

And you're in the bay area as well?

I'm arguing against the specific examples, not negotiating in general (that is a good thing to do). I really don't see these long messages/emails getting anywhere, in my experience HR have dropped the ball for less than that. It's over the top to send them long messages in writing that you will never accept whatever number they give and reserve the right to disagree anytime.

Nope, middle-tier US city.

One of the offers was FAANG, but a small office. To be clear, I did not do most of this over email, but I used very similar wording in my phone calls.

I never had more than 2 offers at once, and I don't think you need to try and time everything so that you can bet everyone against each other. You really just need 1 other good offer, which was my case. And non-negotiable deadlines have always been extended. Some companies got annoyed that I didn't decide within a few days(especially startups, probably since they are trying to hire super fast), but others were very patient and willing to let me finish interviewing as long as I was upfront with the timing.

> It's over the top to send them long messages in writing that you will never accept whatever number they give and reserve the right to disagree anytime.

I don't think that is the take away at all. You need to be clear that you are still interviewing and thinking things over, and once I got offers from my top choices, I made it clear exactly what it would take to get me to accept immediately, and that counter-offer was not a fantastical number. If you set goal posts, you can always point to them as your reason for not accepting. It's definitely bad form to not provide any feedback on what you're willing to take once you get far enough into the negotiation.

If you're not a compelling candidate, and for at least one of the companies, I wasn't compelling enough, they absolutely will stop the conversation.

But I think it's a case-by-case thing. Not every company will respond the same. I also spent a fair amount of time researching what different companies probably paid for a generalist SWE, which for FAANGs is a lot easier these days, so I knew what some boundaries were.

Counter example: Got offer from two companies, the second a few weeks later.

Preferred the second but their offer was slightly lower. They could match easily (big company) but they didn't want to. I got calls by HR and by the manager to convince me to take the job but they wouldn't bulge on the offer.

Well. Went to work for the first company. I still got a call from HR after I started working at the company, to try to get me. I was upfront, I like your company and your project more, I want to work for you, all you have to do is to match £XYZ salary and I can start working for you on the XYth (notice period). They still refused to match the offer.

I use similar language in all my salary negotiations. Never had pushback, and every time I’ve gotten massive comp bumps as a result (up to ~50% increase, which happened twice).

I live in Nebraska and I've never interviewed with any of the companies you named.

Having alternatives when negotiating is not unusual

> Would I really want to miss the opportunity to work for an exciting company over some marginal sum of money?

The reply to this seems obvious. Do you really want to miss the opportunity to hire a strong and promising candidate over some marginal sum of money?

Hiring is HARD. Hiring good engineers is almost impossible.

If a company has a strong history of success and a positive work culture, good engineers will be knocking their doors down.

Think 37signals.

These places are super rare.

Some comments:

- I’m not sure about the extent to which this is scalable, especially at a VC-funded startup.

- I am not sure if Wealthfront falls into this category.

But the market for those good engineers is extremely hot. So other companies will be offering them better compensation.

Good engineers are never looking for a job. They are in their job when new better opportunities arise and they decide to move.

> good engineers will be knocking their doors down.

If good engineers are knocking their doors down then an army of average, mediocre, and bad engineers are knocking too. Identifying which is which is a notoriously difficult problem.

Good engineers are generally employed and happy, or at least satisfied. Changing jobs is an extremely high risk move. How often do good engineers change jobs? Not often.

Almost all companies hire heavily through word of mouth. Employee referrals are king. But eventually you exhaust that pool. It's a very hard hump to get over imho.

I personally view salary negotiation as one of my leading indicators of how a company actually views me as an employee.

I expect my salary to roughly follow the market trends. If I negotiate within that range and you don't budge at all, I find that's an indicator of poor internal views and culture.

I don't need you to exactly match another offer, but I do need to see you at least try to work with me to get a better place.

One thing that happened to me a few years ago that pretty surprised me, went something like this: I applied to 2 FAANGs, got offers from both.

The recruiter from the first company to give me an offer, told me it is pretty much non negotiable, "we have a little wiggle room but don't expect much, it's an amazing offer". It was higher than my then salary, but not by a huge margin.

Then company B got back to me with a significantly higher offer both in terms of RSUs (x2) and base salary.

Well, turned out the non negotiable offer was very negotiable after all, and company A quickly upped their offer above company B's. At this stage it just became a back and forth bidding war, that ended after a couple of weeks with two almost identical offers, 50% higher than the initial TC.

May I ask you how you approached this negotiation?

Did you just send an email to company A with "Hey, company B gives me X. Do you have a better offer?" and go back and forth for two weeks?

Pretty much, it was more phone calls but yeah. My dilemma was not related to money, I was really having a hard time deciding, it was very stressful (not to mention the stress of hiding this from my employer) and really not fun. I was really taking my time to think and these guys were throwing money at me and letting me meet with big names who tried to motivate me.

I understand you don't want to share many more details. I see you have made an account just for this post. Feel free to ignore this response if it may get you into trouble.

To have both of these companies compete for you in such a manner your resume must be really impressive. Can you share something else? What field of Computer Science are you in? Machine Learning?

I'm just a generalist engineer with some senior roles under my belt and apparently a good reputation. These were not super senior roles at those FAANGs and I'm not making millions, to make it clear.

It amazes me that, under the right circumstances, the wiggle room can reach levels as high as 50%. I wonder what they were thinking when they made you the initial offer.

They were hoping to discourage him from asking for more. It’s always negotiable if the company wants to hire you, they just typically don’t want you to feel that way.

It's only negotiable because he got an offer from the next FAANG.

Recruiters are not going to assume that you can enter any FAANG at the highest possible level. It was incredibly lucky from the OP to get 2 offers and at the same time.

You’re in charge of scheduling your job search and have influence over when that search wraps up. It probably wasn’t random that they interviewed at two FAANG companies in the same job search.

> It was incredibly lucky from the OP to get 2 offers and at the same time.

Not sure I agree there. I think it could be a deliberate way to engineer the process to create a leverage which most savvy candidates learn to do every time they're on the market. I've been doing this for the past 6 years. It just takes discipline, casting a wide net with a lot of firms in the initial interview process, and being thorough.

Yes and no. I wanted to go to company A, and went to interview for company B as a dress rehearsal or mock process, thinking it will increase my chances at company A and maybe even provide me with some leverage, but to be honest, I didn't think I'll need to negotiate or that I could squeeze more than a couple of grand out of it. So there you have it, lesson learned.

It's only negotiable because she said she had an offer from another FAANG. It would be odd to "ask for proof" though it could happen.

I think companies deserve to be publicly called out on outright lying.

I think you just need to realize you should never believe anything a recruiter tells you that is not legally binding. They outright lie, embellish the truth and manipulate you. That's their job.

Everything is negotiable. Proceed accordingly.



Speaking as a hiring manager for 10+ years:

If I've done my job right, I've sourced engineers experienced, confident and smart enough to negotiate and ask good questions around compensation. I want to make sure that we have an open conversation so that both sides can move forward to the actual job at hand.

Tip: California based firms are required to give you a salary range if you ask for it and they can't ask you for your salary history, just your comp expectations.

> California based firms are required to give you a salary range if you ask for it

I didn't know that! Do you know what the actual law says? Are employers required to give the salary range for any open position on request? Or is it more limited than that?

After you've interviewed. Here's the text (from https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/codes_displaySectio...):

"432.3. (a) An employer shall not rely on the salary history information of an applicant for employment as a factor in determining whether to offer employment to an applicant or what salary to offer an applicant.

(b) An employer shall not, orally or in writing, personally or through an agent, seek salary history information, including compensation and benefits, about an applicant for employment.

(c) An employer, upon reasonable request, shall provide the pay scale for a position to an applicant applying for employment. For purposes of this section, “pay scale” means a salary or hourly wage range. For purposes of this section “reasonable request” means a request made after an applicant has completed an initial interview with the employer."

Why haven't all the big company pay scales leaked yet?

Pay scale is great, but at least in the US, benefits cost can be a significant difference. I've seen offers 15% higher completely wiped out by a difference in benefits cost. It makes negotiating very difficult. Often the hiring manager or HR people have no idea what the costs are, because they are single and you are looking at the "family" benefit costs.

I'd love to see some sort of database showing benefit costs at different companies. The information is out there, it's just hidden. It's often a paint to get clear costs during the interview process. God forbid you're negotiating near the end of the year, because the costs change every year.

I have even better news for you, peerwyse.com. See the salaries of your LinkedIn connections, and build peer groups of people with the same skills or job title as you.

But nothing about benefits costs. Have you considered including that?

We're thinking about doing, "loves their job" comparisons next.

I have good news for you: https://levels.fyi :)

A better question might be, why doesn't levels.fyi include the actual pay bands that companies have to disclose upon request to candidates instead of just reported compensation?

Companies only have to disclose base salary. 30-50%+ of tech compensation is through equity, etc.

A few reasons (I say this as someone who generally speaking knows my company's pay scale because of well organized compensation transparency):

1. People aren't encouraged to share this information, there's no obvious place to do it.

2. The value of doing so is minimal

3. People are bad at it. It's difficult enough getting people to share the information correctly when you work at the company and can give them screenshots of what numbers to copy. Without that it's even harder. (Granted much of this is only hard if you're doing multiple roles and currencies)

4. The numbers that the companies share often aren't the entire scale. For example, as far as I know [disclaimers: not a lawyer, this is from indirect experience], if Google hires you as a new grad L3, you aren't given the L3 scale. You're given one number. They don't negotiate on this number. Because while you're hired into an L3 position, you're being hired as a new grad, which is a different pipeline with different comp and rules. I expect other companies are somewhat similar.

5. Salary is one, and only a small, part of compensation, and the law only requires you to share salary. Salary is also usually the most difficult part of the package to negotiate.

6. A lot of the information is public, if you know where to look (levels.fyi, /r/cscareerquestions salary surveys, etc.

We are encouraging people to share this information by guessing the salaries of your LinkedIn connections at PeerWyse.com, we then aggregate the guesses into ranges of individuals you know so you can compare yourself usefully to actual people you know something about.

Although most of the variation in comp for engineers is in equity, so a salary band will only do so much for you.

Is there anything to prevent that range from being given as "$30K to $999K/yr"?

This is a valid point. Some salary bands are very wide. For my former employer, it was $140k to $245k. The mid-point is a good starting point, but it’s such a wide band it doesn’t give you much to anchor to.

And this is not just “HR told me this”. It’s the actual number in the compensation scheme visible to hiring managers.

And there is significant overlap between levels. The next level up is something like $170k to $260k.

I am not an employment lawyer, but I suspect if the employer gives you a crazy range, it's a violation and could be reported. The law does clarify it's a range and doesn't need to include bonuses or equity estimates.

And to be frank, if you're interviewing somewhere and they come back with that answer, I think that tells you most everything you need to know about whether you should work there or not.

If they state 999K then that is what you should be asking for.

Tip: California based firms are required to give you a salary range if you ask for it and they can't ask you for your salary history, just your comp expectations.

Same is true in Massachusetts.

Does "California based" mean "your office will be in California"? Or does it mean "the company is incorporated in California"?

The former, I believe. Many companies are incorporated in Delaware, but if they have offices in CA are still subject to CA employment law for jobs located there.


I don't have proof but have a sneaking suspicion that there's a certain amount of gaslighting in the negotiation advice genre - all of them read like the sky is the limit if you were just good enough at negotiation, but they mix in anecdata of people who actually got high 5-6 figure improvements, vs the more likely outcome of a <20k/yr improvement.

don't get me wrong, this is still GREAT, and if all these pieces get you to do is negotiate at all, then that's a win. but I found myself being unhappy not managing to reach a 320k total comp recently (up from initial 210) and I realized my dissatisfaction with an otherwise great comp was due to the misleveled expectations from reading a lot of these pieces (which are better fit for extreme domain experts and independent consultants, than regular SWE employees that have to fit within a salary band)

And imagine how readers from other countries feel! Even in Canada, the salaries people throw around in this forum are almost not believable

Canadian here, just signed an offer (Not FAANG) for ~360k TC, 30k of that was negotiated up based on advice from this patio11 article. The opportunities are out there, especially now that companies are going remote.

At a Canadian company? A while ago I took a position with a US company who offered quite a bit more than the Canadian org I left. Would be happy to return to Canadian tech but haven't found shops where the money is comparable. TBF haven't been aggressively searching though, but curious about your experience.

US company, but that's just my point that there are more US companies willing to hire Canadians remotely.

Another anecdote. I'm in the Midwest of the US and you won't get that kind of comp without getting closer to the money than an IC.

But we can do this all day. Without larger studies or well run surveys it doesn't say much to those who aren't some combination of very talented, lucky, or well connected.

Edit: some, not done

so they started you out at 330k? what were the determinants going into that starting offer? that's pretty great

I fought my last employer to go from $17/hr to $18/hr starting, and they wouldn't budge. I'm 30, I have a degree, I had 2 years at the company (transferring to a different division) and another 4 years experience in a similar role. I've never in my life made more than $40k in a year.

People on this site have a completely bonkers perspective on what's normal.

This forum does select for particularly passionate engineers, that seem to be mostly in the US (assumption). The US happens to have the highest paying software jobs. Even still I feel like this forum selects for higher paid engineers through selection bias, and those willing to discuss salary are likely those on the higher end. I always forget this and feel a bit disappointed with myself when reading these discussions.

I checked indeed and it tells me the average US software engineer salary is $110k, and Cali being $136k. Indeed isn’t a perfect source but that seems more realistic than the idea you can get from here where people talk about $300k total comp

I spent several years underpaid at a lifestyle company as a specialist. I didn't want the golden handcuffs, I didn't want the pressure.

I've learned this was a big mistake

If you're paid at market value for your particular set of skills, your employer is making a commitment to use them. When they underpay you, you won't get to do the awesome thing that you do as much.

So by being paid more there's incentive for the employer to waste less of your time. This can include up to letting you go when they decide they don't want to do what's in your wheelhouse (a feature not a bug from my POV).

And none of that's to mention the long term financial downside. And the fact that the "lifestyle company" really wasn't fewer hours at the end of the day

I've managed to feel like my career has spiraled down while my salary has spiraled up after leaving a more "lifestyle"(let's say heavily culture focused, yet still performance focused) startup. I'm not sure anyone has a solid understanding of my work history..

Company was just acquired and I'm stressed AF trying to figure out if I can even make it to my 1 year RSU cliff to start seeing my retention comp. Not super interested in being back at a big public company working this far down the hierarchy(been working directly for company founders/C-level most of the past 8 years).

So, yeah.. I'm would tend to agree to an extent but certainly not absolutely true. I'll feel it's likely I'll end up back at a "lifestyle" business sooner or later.

But most people's job isn't making money, it's making something that someone else monetizes. Profitability is extremely weakly correlated to the work. Adtech pays better than research despite being easier and boringer.

What's a "lifestyle company"? Is it this? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lifestyle_business

Yes that’s what I mean.

This is all generally very good advice but I’m equally amused at the ridiculous portrayal of “businessmen” throughout this post; most people do not see themselves this way and it’s sort of goofy to think they do. But that isn’t terribly important to the message.

Oh, and one other thing, if you’re at a 10-person ish startup, definitely don’t act like a company that is 1000ish. You’ll lose. And so your hiring practices should generally not align with what is outlined here.

When I first read this post over 7 years ago, it led to me negotiating an extra 6k/year on my next job, for an employer with <5 developers and <20 employees.

The portrayal of "businessmen" was also valuable to me. You're correct that most people don't think of themselves this way – but they should.

Reading this post was one of my first steps of many towards feeling like an active agent selling a service, rather than a passive agent looking for a corporation to glom on to.

There are plenty of companies who want to hire active agents, and they don't correlate perfectly with employee count.

The point of the post is that you should see yourself as a businessman, even if it feels goofy: you're not begging for crumbs, you're negotiating price with another business.

As a UK based engineer these FAANG salaries seem huge. In some cases these salaries are 10x my own salary and I'm considered to be paid well. My UK cohort seem to think this is due to some difference in the cost of living but I don't think it adds up.

I'm interested to know what you guys would do if the main thing limiting your salary was geography. Would you start your own company? Move to the US? I'm early on in my career and I can make big changes.

I moved US->UK almost three years ago, and I took a 30% hit on compensation in the process (same job, new regional pay tables).

What I lost in raw compensation I more than made up for in:

- Holiday (29 days vs ~20 days)

- Sick time (unlimited vs coming out of holiday balance)

- Healthcare (I was just made redundant... but I still have the NHS, unlike my American colleagues)

- Employee Rights (e.g., "At will" employment versus a 3 month notice period, which would usually be paid out upon redundancy)

So while the compensation is higher in America, you also end up working quite a bit more and taking on more risk. Especially around notice periods and access to healthcare should things go poorly.

It's entirely possible to make a six figure base salary in remote areas of the UK. Personally, that's more than sufficient for the lifestyle my family and I want, so we're not champing at the bit to go back.

entrepreneurship comes with its own risks and uncertainties. do it if you have a compelling reason, not if you just want more money. many just don't make it but ofc some do extremely well. by far the higher expected value move for you is to come to the US. however I'd also point out that you'd be giving up a lot of the things you take for granted in the UK, in exchange for the higher pay and likely more lively career prospects.

you prob already know this but just in case, levels.fyi has realistic levels for faang

Also take into account that it's not a right to emigrate to the US. Most people won't be legally allowed to. You need to get lucky, and in most cases accept an unstable visa situation.

>>> Move to the US?

Moving to the US is almost never an option, because of VISA.

Even if you manage to get a VISA and find work there, you won't have the same career prospects as a local (culture, network, education, visa issues, etc...). Few companies sponsor VISA and when they do they know they got you by the balls because you can't change jobs without losing the VISA.

What's with the upper case?

> My UK cohort seem to think this is due to some difference in the cost of living but I don't think it adds up.

It doesn't add up in the slightest. In any case, high cost of living (due to high housing prices) can only be a consequence of high compensations, not a cause.

FAANG salaries are what they are because it so happened that the large amounts of available money and high demand for developers (compared to supply) came together at the same companies, at the same place and at the same time.

Starting to date an American would help

Forget about letting employers come up with a number first, in Singapore it's a common practice for HR/Recruiters to directly ask for your last drawn salary (so that they can match it/bump it up by a fixed amount). It's not illegal to refuse to answer, but it's also not illegal for them to ask in the first place. Companies legitimately view last drawn salary as a way to assess a candidate's market value here.

I got my favorite response from https://www.kalzumeus.com/2016/06/03/kalzumeus-podcast-episo... – variations on "It sounds like you’re trying to qualify me for a range, and if that’s the case, then I’m happy to let you know if your range is in the ballpark"

That's why you need a competing offer. Otherwise your previous job is your BATNA.

Previous conversation on HN: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=19262732

Patrick has done a lot of great work in his life, but thks blog post is one the most socially valuable, to help workers get more of the pie the billionaires hold.

You need to view this transaction for what it really is: a "value for value exchange". They aren't "giving you a job" they are exchanging (mostly) money for your precious time.

If you have a lot of relevant experience and the interviewer is also very experienced, you might try this:

I once told a client who was trying to negotiate a lower rate "I am not a commodity engineer (1) and judging from your experience, neither are you. There will be some jobs for which we will just not be cost effective." [The we is important.]

(1) commodity engineer: an engineer that can easily out be swapped for another engineer

I loved this article and it's honestly life changing. It takes a bit of time to realize how much you're in the driver seat as a candidate. Especially with competing offers, there's no way you should be accepting an offer with less (unless its a small startup) if you have another offering more.

A 5 minute call that can increase net worth by large multipliers is probably worth preparing for. With the help of https://levels.fyi and other salary tools out there, it's incredible how open a lot of this information is. You just need to put in a bit of time and effort.

Without leverage these negotiating techniques are empty bluff. I mean, they could help to get a 5k/year pay bump, but they won't get you from 150k to 750k. The really important ingredient is stakes, insider knowledge, network of high rank friends who help you behind the scenes. But once you have that, the negotiating skills will come naturally: even if you aren't as fluent in business-talk like the author, even if what you say sounds clumsy, the fluent and experienced negotiator on the other side of the table will quickly notice that lazy tricks don't work on you, that you see his bluff and most importantly that you actually have other options. In my experience, in many times my firm negotiating position ended up with offer being withdrawn (from reputable, not FANG, but very well known firms).

"other salary tools out there" -> I am developing one of them, called PredictSalary (https://predictsalary.com). To put in a nutshell, I try to utilize Deep Learning to predict salary range from job opportunities.

Whenever I look at staff that is not doing a good job, rightly or wrongly, I tend to focus first on the ones whom I feel are overpaid.

In short, there is some value in not squeezing every last dollar out of your employer. Don't be underpaid, but don't make the other size of the negotiation feel like he/she got a bad deal.

Companies will never overpay in my experience. The weight of the "budget", the HR limits and the CEO policy is just impossible to skip. These all set the upper salary range.

You work in fintech and you've never come across a grossly overpaid trader or salesperson?

You're not thinking of when "being overpayed" actually stands out: layoffs.

Huge fan of this article. It gets a ton of credit for helping us incept and start Levels.fyi.

Borrowing from Geico, internally we joke that 5 minutes can make you 15% or (way) more if you negotiate. And it's super true.

Thank you.

edit: Any idea why levels.fyi numbers are so much higher than glassdoor? I haven't been able to find any explanation for this phenomenon. The glassdoor numbers I'm looking at are supposed to be total comp.

I suspect it's a combination of several things.

1) Outdated data. For our aggregate salary values, whenever possible we try to ensure our data is from within the last trailing year of information.

2) Leveling. Our salaries are broken down more granularly by level, something that's a little more ambiguous on Glassdoor. Since levels aren't explicitly defined, salaries might get brought down by incorrect bucketing.

3) Stock compensation. Until recently, Glassdoor hasn't done a great job of capturing the stock component of total compensation. That has likely led to deflated aggregate values.

I'm sure there's probably more to it than what meets the eye, but our focus has always been to make sure we have the most accurate information independent of other salary sites. Also why we collect offer letters / W-2s to corroborate our self reported data: https://levels.fyi/verified/

Most salaries reported in Glassdoor are several years old as Zuhayeer said. However, Glassdoor doesn’t even adjust them for inflation. So any statistic based on them will be horribly inaccurate. From personal experience too I can tell you that levels.fyi is far more accurate than Glassdoor.

P.S. I’d also like to thank Zuhayeer for building levels.fyi. It’s an awesome tool and helped me greatly in negotiating.

This is a fantastic article, I really enjoyed reading it. A lot of stuff that I "knew", but have found hard to put together into a cohesive thought.

For those of us who are happy where we work, and enjoy our colleagues, work, and have satisfied with our compensation, does anybody have any recommendations for articles on how to work on our next salary negotiation opportunity? I know the jump will likely be below one that could be received if I jumped to somewhere else.

I believe California banned it, but there are services where companies can pull the current salary for prospective employees. That puts you at a serious disadvantage.

Those services should offer something to employees to spit out low, high, and median salaries for a specific job title at a company.

The rand(40000, 120000) estimates for current job titles is why we built peerwyse.com

Not useful advice. I need a way to signal how little money I'm willing to take to make me more attractive to bottom-feeding companies, because I unfortunately need to eat.

Intentionally signalling that you are worth less is also a signal that you are a risky or bad hire (for example: that no competitor is interested in you), unless you are looking for a minimum wage job.

Yeah, that's why it's tricky.

In that case, you've lost on potentially higher salary (assuming you've got the qualifications to be attractive to the company for the specific position).

most of my bosses have made me feel petty when asking for an extra $10k/yr

i've found that when working for corporations, it's all about the number you ask for up front. after that, it takes quite a bit to get more than the average 3-5% merit pay bump.

how FANG companies work with the $500k/yr total comp for average engineers, i have no clue... i think from what i've seen from levels.fyi the most common salaries are $160k-$180k/yr. after that, you get your salary again in stock options apparently... not sure what the interview process or job workload must be like.

how sustainable is programming? $75/hr to basically just write SQL tables and APIs that are advanced CRUD wrappers with light business logic on them? seems ripe for automation.

I think programming is moving away from automation. We're no longer writing code or fancy algorithms. We are plumbers connecting systems and APIs. However, the true value of the engineer in 2020 is that they're the one trying to make sense of idiotic product requirements. They're the ones turning shiny, half assed mockups into real products. That cannot be automated. If the value was only in pissing lines of code there wouldn't be a single engineer left in the US. There is a reason massive outsourcing failed decades ago.

But yeaj, if you're in there to build SQL tables its pretty boring.

I've read similar things about how most programming work is just plumbing together existing code fairly regularly on HN. Is that really what most people do? Is it a web development thing? That's not my experience at all, and it sounds mind numbingly awful.

How often do you write hashtables? JSON serializers? Mutexes? HTTP clients? Transaction managers? Connection pools?

In my last job as a mobile engineer I can claim that I wrote code all day, and that's true to a point, but most of that code is shepherding data from one format to another, using libraries that I didn't write, causing the UI (whose framework was written by someone else) to update.

And you know what? It's still a hard and rewarding job! Having pieces to plumb together hasn't made our jobs easier or dumber, it's just raised the level of abstraction at which we work day-to-day.

There is a “Red Queen’s Race” between the accelerating productivity gains of abstractions, frameworks, libraries, and other stacks we can leverage, balanced against the fact that each one is a leaky abstraction, and the leaks interfere with each other in weird, mysterious ways.

Programming with all these tools is wonderful. Debugging problems in such am environment, not-so-much. But net, it’s a massive win.

Last month one of my friend joined Amazon. At one point this person worked along with engineers who would implement highly optimized systems in C/C++. Now at Amazon his job will be to write little Javascript turdlets to call and parse ten different Amazon services and generate some sort of database table/report to be used by product managers.

The way this guy described his work made me (developer of half-assed micro services) feel like a rocket scientist.

> Javascript turdlets

thank you

To some extent this is how most engineering works. If you're building a bridge, you don't usually start off by building the steel mill first.

I don't want to necessarily draw general truths just from my XP. I think it's a spectrum :)

When I compare programming (as in, just writing code) today and 20 years ago, there is nothing really interesting to write anymore. We have libraries for everything, and half of them are clients to integrate with a SaaS that does what you want. The challenges I see that still makes the job stimulating are more found in the architecture design (we have all the building blocks now, but we still need to organize it all in a way that works) and the product (as I said, making sense of business reqs and turning them into something do-able).

Yes, plumbing together things because we don't want to reinvent the wheel every time, but on the next level of abstraction you're all on your own. What approach do you take, how do you represent your data, what kind of user interface, how do you negotiate the project scope - that's on you and your experience. Not to mention that there's always a corner of the project that needs a clever new approach or algorithm and you can do amazing things there.

I think the whole reason software is so productive (economically speaking) is that you can leverage software written by others. Depending on your mindset, you could call that “just plumbing”, but a more positive way to describe it is “using the best tool for the job”. The person who wrote the tool you are using could also think they are “just plumbing”. There’s always layers below you and often layers above you too. Nobody wrote their own stack top to bottom other than the TempleOS guy.

>Nobody wrote their own stack top to bottom other than the TempleOS guy.

He was the greatest programmer that ever lived.

He passed? I’m genuinely sorry to learn this. His work was a welcome reminder of unexplored possibilities.

He died in Aug of 2018.

Yeah, I believe he did die. From what I understand he was mentally ill and lead a fairly troubled life. Watching his walkthrough of TempleOS is pretty fascinating.

And for those who didn't get the reference:


I think the more successful shift in the last 20 years was to train non-CS Majors towards a minor in CS and inventing another dozen nonprogrammer "tech" roles.

That could be the end of a lot of local engineering jobs as people from other majors can now actually manage the offshore programming in their field without as much miscommunication. At any rate it seems like a very different landscape than back when even other parts of a tech company might not know the basics of what their developers do.

I’m not so sure a CS degree prepares anyone to program things - maybe some very light embedded work. I’ve interviewed many a person with a CA degree or even a masters degree that can’t code well.

> how sustainable is programming? $75/hr to basically just write SQL tables and APIs that are advanced CRUD wrappers with light business logic on them? seems ripe for automation.

The end of programming has been breathlessly predicted for at least the last 30 years (particularly with the whole 4GL thing). I'll believe it when I see it.

i think the answer is - come work for a FANG company. it's not a simple crud app, the engineers are not excited. they are above average, and they get paid more based on col and value add - for faang, the engineering is not cost center, it's the business value.

Is $500k really "average" engineer compensation at top tech companies? That's the average compensation for an L6 at Google, which has an average tenure of 13.2 years https://www.levels.fyi/charts.html. Many people will max-out at L5 in there careers.

Compensation is really good in tech, but I don't think saying "$500k/yr total comp for average engineers" is helping anybody.

Not even close to it. Anecdotally, most are between low $100k to $400k depending on level, luck and tenure. However stacking RSU appreciation and refreshers can skew those numbers a lot.

The $500k plus is L6+ or Netflix-like companies

I find it a bit strange that people count stock appreciation when reporting total compensation. It’s not very helpful for someone looking to compare salaries.

Those RSUs and refreshers are always granted based on a dollar amount that gets divided by current stock price, and that’s the value that the company recognizes in its accounting. Stock price increases are nice, but they distort the picture of how the company is valuing your compensation internally.

Plus, that stock compensation vests typically over 4 years then goes away. A few companies do “refresh” grants to partially make up for this, but you’ll never get up to the amount you got in your first 4 years. It’s not uncommon to take a 25-50% TC cut going into year 5 (ask me how I know).

When people come into HN salary threads and say things like “software engineers make $500k” what they really mean is: “Some outlier high level software engineers at a handful of FAANG companies in the Bay Area can potentially top out at $500k total compensation in year 4 if they are in a fast rising stock market, and if they are master negotiators.”

> Plus, that stock compensation vests typically over 4 years then goes away. A few companies do “refresh” grants to partially make up for this

This depends on the company. Amazon and Microsoft generally don't, but facebook and Google do. If I hadn't negotiated my initial grant upward, my refresh last year (year 3) would have been the same size, and the one I'll get in a few months will very likely be larger.

I'll still see a drop in comp year 5 due to an interaction between stock growth and my first year's grant being small, but ehhh.

> When people come into HN salary threads and say things like “software engineers make $500k” what they really mean is

Yes and no. Like L6 is certainly not common, but it's also not a particularly outlier level (I can crank of a list of 10 people at that level I work with on a weekly basis), and they're probably all pulling in something close to 500K, and will be forever.

Yes and no. Amazon, for example, takes future growth into account when providing refreshes. They have a target take-home in a calendar year, and if you're above it you don't get a refresh, if you're below it you may.

> Is $500k really "average" engineer compensation at top tech companies?

(from my own experience) Absolutely not.

What is average compensation at top tech companies if average compensation at normal companies is $120k-$160k/yr?

https://www.levels.fyi/ you can't scroll 15 seconds there without running into a $250k+ compensation package.

> average compensation at normal companies is $120k-$160k/yr

This also doesn't like up with my experience. It's hard to get true averages for things like this in America.

Also, 250k is a lot less than 500k. It's still a ton of money -- I don't mean to say that top companies don't pay you well. They absolutely do. But 500k is a TON of money.

"basically just write SQL tables and APIs that are advanced CRUD wrappers with light business logic"

That's a somewhat defeatist perspective. Don't think of yourself as "I ONLY do x,y,z", but rather as "of course I do x,y,z but more importantly a, b, and c too! (where a, b, and c are things that are very valuable to company).

> At nearly 7,000 words, you probably don’t want to try reading this on an iDevice. Bookmark it and come back late

what's wrong about idevices? i'm reading this one on android.

Guess that in 2012 the experience was poor. Maybe this website wasn’t responsive.

I just read it on mine. It’s not even that long…

At nearly 7,000 words, you probably don’t want to try reading this on an iDevice

Wait, what? For most people, their iDevice will be the best reading experience they have access to.

> For most people, their iDevice will be the best reading experience they have access to.

The article is from 2012.

iDevices were a lot less impressive back then.

Reading on an iDevice in 2012 was light years ahead of almost everything else, owing to their displays.

Wanna know what? Pretty good advice

Yes, but what are you making?

Imagine a world where you don't have to put on a show to get paid fairly.

Sure, I guess that would be convenient.

I think the field of game theory can help us to explain why salaries and salary negotiations are the way they are.

And who gets to define what is fair? For example, why do programmers get much much higher salaries than nurses or janitors? It might not be fair. But it’s simply supply and demand in action.

These talks are the mechanism by how society figures out what is fair, because the world is too complex otherwise.

Ot: I've been wondering... are lower taxes for lower salaries actually a good approach? If you imagine they are fines or punishments we should punish low salaries more.

I"ve seen a lot of employers minimize wages and hours to get as much of their budget into workers pockets as possible. It converts into productivity more efficiently like that.

(Tax here in NL is 39% with a discount over the first 8k or so)

> I"ve seen a lot of employers minimize wages and hours to get as much of their budget into workers pockets as possible.

How would that work? The tax bands are progressive, so you will never get less money from a higher salary and tax rate. That would be pretty dumb.

If you consider government benefits too, there are "cliffs"[1] at low incomes where an increase in income can result in less take home. But probably not at the salaries a typical developer would get.

[1] http://i.imgur.com/kM6yxab.png

The problem seems to be the cliff of those welfare programs, no? I'm sure they don't make much sense.

Policy makers are smart enough to not intentionally design welfare cliffs (usually). Most of the time it’s the result of complicated eligibility criteria, multiple benefits stacking together, and the program designers not anticipating large increases in the value of the benefit (e.g. housing subsidies).

That's a fascinating chart. I would like to reference it in the future, but I cannot find a source for the data. Did you compile it yourself? Have you written your data and methodology somewhere?

It's from this presentation[1], but you can find similar analysis for lots of different places if you Google around (e.g. this one[2] for Illinois or this one[3] for Georgia).

[1] https://www.slideshare.net/kevinkmac/welfare-failure

[2] http://nebula.wsimg.com/92d8ac7d5aaf3b2df9d4dfaaddcde435?Acc...

[3] https://georgiaopportunity.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/GC...

Thank you.

Poster said NL. Not US.

If the tax brackets are 0% for the first $5, and 50% for the second $5, then if you pay one person $10, $7.5 goes into worker pockets. If you pay two people $5, then $10 goes into worker pockets.

Oh I see. He meant “better for the employer”.

I read it as “better for the employee”.

> I"ve seen a lot of employers minimize wages and hours to get as much of their budget into workers pockets as possible. It converts into productivity more efficiently like that.

That's only if you assume minimal cost in having more people doing the same amount of work. Between hiring, HR overhead, training, team communication, number of desks, and a general need of staying on top of things, that might be a steep assumption. If twice as many people don't get the work done twice as fast, why would twice as many each working half as much do it in the same time as before?

Of course, I'm thinking of engineering here. I can imagine that employing several part-time workers in, say, a retail store won't have the same level of drawbacks.

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