April 17, 2023

The Art Of Demanding Your Worth: How To Negotiate Your Software Engineering Job Offer

smiling young Black man pointing upwards. Orange background

Maybe you’re new to the software engineer job hunt. Maybe you’ve been in the industry for some time and are trying to keep your interview skills fresh via the concept of “Always Be Interviewing”. You’ve optimized your resume for software engineers. You’ve cleared the technical interviews. But now it’s time to increase your compensation in the offer stage. 

Studies like this one from Harvard Law School on negotiation biases have shown that, in many instances, Black candidates were given fewer concessions when negotiating. Does this mean you should just give up? No. In fact, I would argue that it gives more reason for you to increase your leverage. This way, you can DEMAND more and have the ability to walk away if you’re not given what you need. You must keep a few concepts in mind to make sure you’re paid competitively for your time and skillset.

Competing Offers

When looking to get your next role in the tech space, I always recommend to folks that they create a list of companies that they could see themself working at. Because the technical interview has so much room for bias, it’s pivotal that you keep your options open when looking for a role. An inevitability in keeping your options open and interviewing at multiple places is that you may get more than one job offer in your search. Some may think of this as a problem because it gives you yet another difficult decision to make, which can cause stress. Despite that downside, tremendous upsides can come with competing offers.

gif - weighing up choices

As an employee, you usually have little to no leverage in a negotiation with a multi-million/billion/trillion dollar organization. For the most part, you need that job to feed your family, access healthcare, and more. Although they want you, it’s not the end of the world for them if they can’t get you to agree to their offer. But when you have a competing offer, now you have something that can be leveraged. With several rounds of interviews, the organization has already invested time and money into you (which can be quantified). 

On top of that, if they don’t negotiate with you, the organization will lose you to a competitor. This, for obvious reasons, is not ideal because the organization wants the best talent working with them. Let’s say you are looking to get an offer from Google, and they already know you have a competing offer from Facebook. This tells Google that you clearly have the talent because you were able to clear the Facebook bar and get an offer. It raises your value even more in the company’s eyes.

Strong Interview

Now with all those competing offers, you should be set, right? Wrong. Imagine you start interviewing at a company when you already have an offer. You come into the interview with confidence bordering arrogance. And unfortunately, you do poorly on your interview, setting a bad impression. More important than having other offers is a strong interview.

gif - that was a pretty good impression though

By having a strong interview with the engineers and hiring manager, you get their buy-in such that they advocate for you with the compensation teams. If you’re lucky, you may even get some of the biases that affect hiring and firing to work in your favor by showing your best self. For example, a role that was only intended to pay 150K on the top end could have the hiring manager going to war with the compensation to increase that number significantly to secure your talent. 

Write down two numbers: your minimum number and your nice-to-have number.

Know What You Want

How can you get what you want in a negotiation with an employer if you don’t even know what you want? A common thread in all the YouTube videos on negotiation is that they tell you to write down two numbers. First is your minimum number, which would be the least you would accept before walking away. The second is your nice-to-have number. This is the number that would make you excited about accepting the role. Writing these numbers down, in addition to whatever other demands you have, will help you keep your eyes on the prize in the heat of back-and-forth negotiation. 

Gif - well, I try to make them an offer they can't refuse

Now, should you share these two numbers with your potential employer? It depends. They, too, have a minimum and a nice-to-have number for your salary. Ideally, you’ll get an idea of the pay range before discussing what you’d like for compensation. If the salary range hasn’t been listed, you could ask the recruiter to share the pay range for someone with your skillset and experience. 

“Because we had that rapport, they were willing to share the numbers they knew about pay bands for my potential level.”

If a recruiter is not willing to share these numbers, you could try to even leverage your network to gain information. When I was interviewing with Amazon, I remember having a few people who were just a text away that worked at Amazon. Because we had that rapport, they were willing to share the numbers they knew about pay bands for my potential level. This information-seeking is pivotal because you’ll have a bit more information and will avoid lowballing yourself, a common phenomenon. When you do eventually tell the recruiter what you want, you’ll already know it’s within the range and that the organization can pay that if they value you.

The Confidence to Walk Away

Now, this last point is not to say you should be difficult for no reason. But in my experience, there’s just something about recruiters that lets them smell the desperation in the air. So, if you have a recruiter that’s just not willing to budge on an offer and they insist on keeping you under what you know you can get on the open market, you must have the will and confidence to walk away.

gif - confidently walking

Well, how do you get this confidence to walk away? Part of it comes from actually knowing the numbers on the open market (like when you have competing offers). Part of it comes from having a strong background and interview skills. And lastly, knowing exactly what you want will help you recognize when an organization is falling short of that.

Chuma Okoro

Senior Software Engineer at Bloomberg, MBA Student at Baruch, ex-Amazon, Etsy and Mastercard | Supporting people in tech and business with their career goals for 5 years and counting.