As told to Victoria Kirby
Interviewing for a job is always nerve-wracking, whether you’re 22 years old and fresh out of college or 22 years into your career with a killer resume and confidence (that suddenly seems to abandon you). The process can drag on for weeks or, often, months, so when it all culminates in an offer, you’re over the moon. Now that you have an official offer in hand, the next challenge is to consider further negotiating your salary.
Suddenly, the pressure is on to fight for your worth: you’re afraid of overplaying your hand by asking for more, but you also don’t want to kick yourself for feeling like you’ve compromised. Then there are all the other elements of the offer to weigh, like vacation days, a severance package, how much you’ll be expected to work in an office versus from home — and you’re under the clock to make your asks, and then make a decision, as quickly as possible.
Shella Abe knows better than anyone how overwhelming this process can be. As Co-Founder and Co-Head of the Consumer Practice for True Search, a leading global executive search firm, she has been guiding people through tricky and complex job negotiations for over 20 years. In 2016, Shella launched the Beauty, Fashion, and Lifestyle Sector of True Search, keeping her perpetually on top of what’s happening in the beauty industry job market. Today, she’s one of the world’s best C-Suite recruiters the beauty industry has on its side. (Sorry, newbies and mid-level execs, you’ll get to her one day — just follow her advice below!)
To help you navigate the job negotiation process, no matter what level you may be at in your career, Shella shares her first-hand tips for what to say, how to phrase it, and how to get the salary and benefits you truly deserve.
- Know your worth in the market.
If your preferred salary is outside the company’s range for the role — which they’ll tell you — this doesn’t mean you should immediately withdraw from the process. It’s worth asking if there might be other incentives, besides compensation, that would be compelling should you get to the point of an offer. For senior executive roles, is there an opportunity for equity in the company? And be transparent about your situation. You can say, for example, “I’m so passionate about this opportunity and being part of this company’s mission, but I have salary requirements that allow me to accommodate my current life needs.” If the company is really excited about you, they may be more flexible with salary once they know where you’re coming from and align with you from a values and culture perspective.
Additionally, you can make clear how excited you are by sending prompt thank you notes to every person who interviews you. This might sound cliche, but it has become a lost art.
- Research what similar jobs at your level currently pay.
You should come into the job discussion well informed about what this role should pay for someone at your level. If you have no idea what similar jobs are paying and you come in asking for $50k to $100k above the typical range, you may come across as not having done your due diligence in researching the position and lacking awareness.
So, determining your salary range is a delicate dance of maximizing your worth within the context of what the job market is currently bearing for that role. Because you’ve done your due diligence, you should be able to state your ideal expected salary range.
If you live in a city or state with salary transparency laws, where every job posting must list the salary range, you should still scan job boards to see if the salary for this position is in line with similar roles. If you live somewhere without this legislation, you’ll need to do research.
If you’ve ever worked with a recruiter, even if they’re not involved in this particular interview process, see if they’d be willing to give you intel on what the current market is for this role. For C-suite level positions, you may know investors or board members at the company who could give you insight. At levels where recruiters aren’t part of the process, leverage your industry contacts and ask peers and colleagues with whom you’re comfortable talking about money, “What is a fair compensation for this job?” There are also online forums for every industry where people in the same field share helpful information about salaries at all levels — but be sure it’s a forum of trusted sources. If the board is all random people from companies you don’t recognize, they might not be sharing accurate information.
- Ask how many days per week you’ll be expected to work in the office.
Following our post-pandemic culture, expectations of working in the office have changed and are still changing. It’s becoming more important at all levels — even C-suite — to ask how many days you’ll be expected to work in the office. Bring this up early in the interview process. If flexibility is important to you, this can likely become a deal breaker.
While a lot of companies now mandate how many days per week employees need to be in the office, it’s worth asking if there’s flexibility in their policy. You may be in a situation where working four or five days a week in an office could prove to be difficult, e.g. not having leeway for caregiving built into your workday. In this instance, you can say, “I’m really interested in this opportunity, but I want to be forthcoming, this is my situation at home, so I can probably only work X number of days in the office.” The key is to emphasize that you’re very productive at home and that you always stay connected to your team via virtual meetings so they know you’re accountable, accessible, and available.
- Take the time to do your due diligence on the initial offer.
You’ve received an offer. Great, now it’s time to assess. Instead of accepting a job offer on the spot, take a moment to celebrate the win. Use the time to confirm your understanding of your market value — ideally you have spent time on this at the start of an interview process.
When you negotiate with a company, you’re starting to show them who you will be as their employee. By standing up for your worth, it indicates to your future employer that you will stand up for the company and for your team.
Upon receiving your offer, take the time to review all of the details with your family and respected mentors to ensure that all of the elements being presented to you are in line with what you are seeking and what you deserve.
- That said, don’t linger too long on responding.
As you can imagine, the employer wants a quick turnaround on their offer to you, but what’s considered a reasonable amount of time to mull it over varies based on where you are in your career.
At the executive level, where you’re presented with a complex package and likely have an attorney reviewing it, companies figure it’ll take at least a week or two for you to go over everything. When you’re entry or mid-level and the offer is pretty straightforward, you should get back to them within three days. Keep the recruiting party updated with a flow of communication to establish a relationship in a positive way.If you need an extra day or two to review the offer, be proactive and email the company to let them know — don’t make them come chasing after you.
When you do respond, lay out your feedback and negotiation requests in an email, and if there’s a lot to cover, ask if you can follow up with a phone call to walk the person through everything. This way when you do speak, you’re less nervous because you have all your talking points written out in front of you.
- Be thoughtful and show integrity.
How you negotiate an offer can be seen by your future employer as your first act as an employee. It’s a reflection of your values and principles and how you will show up for them once you join the company.As rudimentary as it sounds, you want to come across as likable, respectful, and self-aware. You don’t want to seem greedy or overly nitpicky around the offer details.
Start with a sincere thank-you for their offer and how much you appreciate it, then move onto your feedback and requests. Include data that backs up the reasoning behind your requests. As an example, if your offer happens to come in lower than you were expecting, you might consider what might be an acceptable compromise. Have a solution-oriented mindset. Come up with other areas of compensation that might help be acceptable to you. Re-iterate your experience and value and why having you aboard would be accretive to the company. Consider your research of the current market conditions and conferring with people in the industry. Craft a logical response articulating pointed facts, removing any unnecessary emotion. And clearly state what it is you are counter offering.
Express that you’re looking to receive only what you believe is fair, and that when you become their employee, you will also push for what is right for the company and for your team.
- Put all your negotiation requests into one email.
What could be a great start to your time at the company can quickly turn sour if you try to negotiate piecemeal. Say you ask for higher compensation and the company can’t meet your request — don’t respond with, “Okay, well then how about more vacation days?” Bartering your negotiation is unprofessional and unproductive, and the back-and-forth creates major fatigue with the employer.
Your initial response to their offer should cover everything that they presented to you and any negotiation requests that you have, in order of priority. I recommend candidates make a spreadsheet of where you are today with your base salary, bonus, equity, perks, and benefits, then list everything that the new company is offering you. Having it all side-by-side will help you figure out where you’re willing to be flexible and what your most important negotiating points are.
Consider what other benefits might help you feel good about accepting the offer if the salary seems low to you, and there isn’t room for negotiation i.e. signing bonuses, relocation, additional PTO benefits, flexibility on work locations and schedules, etc. Also make sure you’re not overlooking any extra benefits that help offset your lifestyle costs. At True Search, we give employees a monthly health and wellness stipend to use toward things like a gym membership and meditation app subscriptions. Some companies may offer separate bonus funds to pay for extra benefits yearly.
Remember, all your leverage happens at the beginning of your negotiating conversations, so if you come in at the ninth inning with another ask, not only will you annoy your new employer, it’s unlikely they’ll grant your request when it’s coming so late in the game.
- Know when to stop pushing.
When you receive a firm no on a request, usually along the lines of, “I’m sorry but we unfortunately cannot be flexible in this area whatsoever,” that’s your cue to let it be. Pushing back when the company has made it clear they can’t budge on this point won’t change their minds — you run the risk of coming across as overly aggressive.
Though it might be difficult to negotiate a more elevated title or increasing severance, be cognizant of the verbal cues being communicated back as the company might be firm on some points. Typically, the cost of benefits is standard and not subject to negotiation. That said, if you or your family member has a specific health concern, your future employer may work with you to secure the coverage you need.
- If you’re at the executive level, consider hiring an attorney to review your offer.
There comes a point when a job offer is complex enough that you’d benefit from engaging an employment lawyer to review the details, which is usually when you get to the senior executive level. If the offer includes possible restrictions for a future move where your livelihood might be impacted, such as not being able to work for a competitor for two years, or if there’s company equity at stake, you’ll want an attorney to review these details. An employment attorney can run anywhere from $400 to $700 per hour, depending on where you live — though in some cases for very high-level jobs, the employer hiring you may cover some of, or all of, your attorney costs.