Data Science #2.4: Offers and Negotiation

So maybe congratulations are in order - you have been made an offer for a job! Or maybe things went even better than you had ever hoped and ... you have multiple offers! Yahoo!

Don't be caught unprepared! 
You'd think this is the great golden hour of job hunting - when you finally get that phone call saying 'yes, we want you'. It's actually not. Sure, you will have a thrill go through you and suddenly the future seems even brighter than when you got your first SQL query to work without errors. However, all a sudden after weeks or months of job hunting, you have a lot of things thrown at you. For example, your conversation could go "Congrats! We are making you an offer. What are you thinking for a starting salary?". Are you ready to answer that or deflect effectively?

This is a delicate situation for you. You need to be able to be prepared without getting your hopes up. I've had the 'offer' phone call actually be a rejection phone call, and if you're already planning what your 401k is going to look like with this company, it's devastating. On the other hand, if you assume the pessimistic route ("why would anyone want me anyway?") then when you do get that positive phone call, you are the one who loses by not being ready. I have had companies 'force' me to decide within 2-3 days and, yes, the offer was retracted at the end of that period. Let's agree here to be cautiously optimistic - with every company after an onsite, you should take the time before the 'offer' call and have answers mapped out to these questions (all of them!):

(1) What starting salary do you want? 

Lo's Opinion: High ball this within reason. What does that mean? Think of a number that you'd be genuinely content to be offered and add 10-15%. I determined the starting salary number I gave to companies based on location (taxes, cost of living, etc.), how pleasant it would be to live in said area, the group, the flexibility, and competing offers.

Is the offer several $10k too low? Say no immediately, you
aren't going to be able to negotiate that one

If you just name a (low) number to get an offer, once again, you're hurting you. Sure, you'll get the offer you asked for, but then when another company comes along and beats what you told company A initially, it's a lot harder to go back and ask for more. For companies, it seems like you're just trying to see how many cookies you can get from the jar before getting caught, and they don't really want to play this game.

Basically, I forced myself to assign a dollar amount to each company that was a 'yes' number. So for example, if you are going to say 'yes' at 105 k, ask for 115 k. The worst thing that will happen is that you will be berated by the recruiter for being a selfish bitch (Yep, that happens) or you'll be told you lack the experience to command that kind of salary at their company. Just please don't back down immediately... get them to work with you and settle for 107 - 110 k. That way you have the job, you have an extra 5 k a year, and the company is getting you for a steal of a deal anyway. I have never had an offer retracted from naming 'too high of a number' but I have had some nasty things said to me or some outright lies like "it's cheap to live in Amsterdam" (no...)

The most effective thing is to give your future boss or a recruiter the salary amount that will make you say yes. Then they have a goal, and you're going to be pretty freaking excited if they come back with that amount. I messed up here once where I told a company a lower number was good for me, and then I had second thoughts. This burns a bridge, so be considerate when you're negotiation with your future co-workers.

Vacations are great, but I like my job too :) 

(2) When do you want to start? 

Sometimes you're handed an offer letter within a day of getting that phone call and it will have a start date already put in. It's usually some ungodly date like 10 days away, but you're really only going to have a day to change that number. Some bosses will fight you on this too... they'll want you to start ASAP.

Lo's Opinion: I love my vacations but every week you're not working is ... a lot of money. If this is your first job out of graduate school, you may have loans about to kick in, etc. But if you're like me and you're coming off defending your thesis, give yourself some time. I think anywhere between 1-3 months is reasonable, but anything past 2 months may be met with some resistance (depends how badly they need you!)

OK but in your excitement remember that a cell phone
plan is > $1000 a year O.O 

(3) Is this offer OK? 

Wait, what? You just got a phone call, the person throws a bunch of numbers about benefits and retirement at you, and then you are expected to ask questions. They aren't going to just give you things you need to know (i.e. do you get a cell phone?) even if it is something included in their package. For whatever reason, companies just assume that you happen to know this (how am I supposed to know you don't match for retirement?). 

Lo's Opinion: Come up with a list of things that could be a tipping point for you. Mine were:
(A) vacation time (B) 401 k contributions (free money!) (C) insurance plan and cost for dependents - which tells you a lot about their plan even if you don't have children (D) cell phone?  (E) do I get a laptop? Other than that, I didn't care about gym memberships and what not, but man, that vacation time was a sticking point for me. 

What if there is something about the offer you don't like? 

Remember what matters to you and hold that dear
As I said, getting the offer is rarely a golden and perfect experience (that's when you sign the offer letter). Instead, there's usually something off or slightly disappointing (oh, you don't promote within five years?). Fix this, it's within your power. There are three main keys to negotiating which I learned haggling for scarves in China... the first is that you should avoid negotiating on something you care too much about (i.e. your dream job); second, you need to be honest with yourself and the other person/team; third, you need to have well defined goals/fixes that would lead you to say yes to the offer. You don't necessarily need another offer... you could have other 'potential' offers you are using at a bartering too.

Usually when I negotiated, I just stated facts, like "your offer would be more tempting and more likely a yes if you could offer xxx dollars because of factors x, y, z" So for me, this fill in for one company went (honesty!) "I love your team, you all are fantastic people. However, I really would prefer not to move to your location because of cultural and family reasons. For me to say yes, I would need a salary of xxx to justify this to my family". 

As aforementioned, my achilles heel was vacation time. I said no to some great companies with terrific offers because the time off (10 days) wasn't enough. I stood by this, and I almost got large companies with a rigid corporate structure to bend on the vacation days. Stick to your guns, if it is important to you, then that's a gut feeling you should rely on. 

Ultimately no offer is perfect, but it can be what you make it :)  now the next segment is going to be how do you choose... stay tuned! 

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