If you’re a developer, engineer, or some other form of an expert technologist, well, you chose a great field. So great in fact that your skill set alone probably gives you negotiation leverage you won’t find in other fields.
Because here’s the truth – the demand for quality tech talent greatly outstrips supply. And we have little reason to expect that to change in the coming years. This imbalance gives you an edge every time you enter a negotiation, whether or not you realize it.
Throughout this post we’ll be offering up some of our cornerstone salary negotiation tips and explaining how you, as the tech talent, can incorporate them into your own negotiations.
Disclaimer: It’s Never Just About Salary
It’s often our job to help clients understand how a compensation package can extend far beyond just salary. A well crafted offer is customized to fit a candidate’s needs, and those needs can take many shapes and forms. From equity, to PTO, to remote work, to flex time, to title – you get the idea. It’s never just about salary.
It’s only after explaining this often overlooked reality that we feel comfortable diving into a discussion about salary. So now, let’s get into it.
Why Salary Negotiation Matters
With the disclaimer behind us, let us concede that of course, salary is important. Your salary shapes a large part of your lifestyle and financial freedom. And as we’ve explained, if you’re in the tech field, there is little reason not to negotiate for a better salary. The leverage is there, you just have to embrace it.
Other than the obvious reasons for why making more money is a positive thing, salary negotiations can have lasting career impacts of which you may not be aware.
Consider also that your career should always be evolving. This goes for title, salary, equity, etc. Ideally your next career stepping stone surpasses your last in some capacity. Salary is a prime example. Your salary often acts as a benchmark for what you should be making in your next role.
Negotiating your salary will keep you on the higher end of your potential earnings. And if nothing else, it will keep you aggressive throughout your career, as your benchmarks will always be on the higher end of the spectrum.
4 Salary Negotiation Tips For Expert Tech Talent
With more than 25 years experience in the negotiation business, we’ve seen it all. Below are a handful of tips we often pass onto our clients, who overwhelming consist of developers, engineers, and expert technologists.
This is what we’ve come to consider the “Golden Rule” of salary negotiations. The reasons for doing this are two-fold.
First, by providing a range, you mitigate the risk of underselling yourself and asking for too low of a number. One of the most common mistakes we hear in this business is that candidates low-ball themselves. It’s a bitter pill to swallow because often there is no going back. Then you’re at the mercy of your own regretful thoughts.
*I wonder what I could’ve made if I asked for more!!*
Don’t be that person. By providing a range when asked about salary requirements (i.e. $150k to 200k or $750k-$850k), you’re effectively taking the possibility for this mistake off the table. And to be extra safe, consider making the low end of your range a number with which you’d still be happy. This way, even if they meet the low end, you’ll be in a good spot.
And second, offering a range opens the door for a continued discussion around the topic of salary. If the job offer hits your inbox and the salary included meets the very low end of your range, you’ll have some leverage.
You can explain that the only reason your salary dipped so low was because you expected other aspects of the offer to be stronger. PTO days, vacation time, equity, bonuses, for example. The employer can then either make some concessions in other areas of the offer, or they can raise the salary to meet a more attractive point in your range.
Alternatively, if the employer meets the high end of your range, great! Win-win.
Key to a successful negotiation is understanding that the employer on the other side of the table doesn’t need to know everything. In a nutshell, that’s discretion.
This most frequently applies when deciding what parts of your work history you want to make public knowledge. Revealing some elements of your previous work arrangements can serve you well, while others will not.
For example, maybe you hate your current employer. By revealing this, first, you’re speaking poorly of your employer which will likely frown upon. And second, you’re making it clear you are motivated to pursue a change, which might have otherwise been a leverage point. Someone who does not reveal a less-than-ideal work situation can say things like, “I am in no rush to leave my current situation as there are many things here.” Or, “I will only make the move once I find the perfect opportunity.” These claims help build leverage because they show you’re not desperate.
One of the best ways to create leverage in a salary negotiation is to secure multiple offers. This achieves a number of things.
First, it shows you’re a hot commodity and creates an element of social proof. If other companies want you, the company you’re currently talking to probably will too. You’ve already been validated, and whoever is lucky enough to land you will have to offer an attractive package. This happens all the time in the tech space.
Second, it allows you to be aggressive in your negotiations, knowing you have backup options. Sometimes this extra reassurance is all you need to tackle a negotiation with confidence.
And finally, securing multiple offers gives you highly valuable perspective. Sizing up each offer gives you an idea of what the market is willing to pay. It tells you who’s coming in high and who’s coming in low. This information translates to leverage more often than not. You can explain to those companies coming in low that it’ll be hard to accept those offers, so long as you have better offers on the table. If the company really wants you, they’ll come up.
Also, don't be afraid to mix and max elements of your other offers to get the best deal. If one company offers a higher base and another offers higher equity, you can reference the two best numbers with a 3rd company to drive their offer to be the best.
Ok, full transparency... we don’t often recommend this to our clients. But if salary is far and away the number 1 most important item on your priority list, this might be an effective way to increase your number.
Each negotiation element represents a pocket of value. Stock options, vacation time, the ability to work remotely, etc. These all add value to your offer.
So in addition to a base salary, if your offer comes with a certain allocation of stock options, for example, negotiating those out of the offer in exchange for a higher salary might be possible. Here, you’re simply trading in equity value for salary value.
This might make sense for someone less willing to wait to be paid. Equity for example often requires a vesting period. If you need cash now, perhaps you negotiate for a better salary instead of equity, so you more immediately see larger sums of money.
Final Thoughts on Negotiating as an Expert Tech Specialist
We’ll conclude by once again zooming out a bit. While we’ve outlined a handful of specific salary negotiation tips in this post, the ultimate negotiation hack is understanding the bigger picture. And for quality tech talent, the bigger picture illustrates a highly favorable negotiation landscape.
We’re led to believe that conducting a great negotiation requires one to be a talented wordsmith, a quick-witted thinker, or some kind of strategic mastermind. But that’s not the case. Because in today’s tech landscape, your resume does the talking.