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Alright, I've gotten to the second step in the interview process. At this point I'm working under the assumption that I might be offered a position -- flying my butt to Redmond would be quite an expense if they weren't at least considering me for something (*crosses fingers*).

So, if one is offered a position, how should a CS student negotiate? I've heard a few strategies about dealing with software companies when you are being considered for a hire, but most of them are considering the developer in a powerful position. In such examinations, (s)he has lots of job experience, and may even be overqualified for what the employer is looking for. (s)he is part of a small job market of qualified developers, because 99% of applications companies receive are from those who are woefully under qualified.

I'm in a completely different position. I think I compare favorably to most of my fellow students, and I have been a programmer for almost 10 years, but often I still feel green compared to most of my coworkers. I'm in a position where the employer holds most of the chips; they'd be doing me quite a favor by hiring me.

I think this scenario is considerably different than the targets for most of the advice I've seen. Above all, I don't want to be such a prick negotiating that it damages my chances to actually operate in a position, even if it means not negotiating at all.

How should one approach a scenario like this?

P.S. If this is off topic feel free to close it -- I think it's borderline and I'm of the opinion that it's better to ask and be closed than not ask at all ;)

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closed as off-topic by MichaelT, GlenH7, gnat, Bart van Ingen Schenau, Dan Pichelman Nov 30 '13 at 0:36

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "Questions seeking career or education advice are off topic on Programmers. They are only meaningful to the asker and do not generate lasting value for the broader programming community. Furthermore, in most cases, any answer is going to be a subjective opinion that may not take into account all the nuances of a (your) particular circumstance." – MichaelT, GlenH7, gnat, Bart van Ingen Schenau, Dan Pichelman
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

This has nothing to do with programming or programmers specifically. It would be on topic in a more general jobhunting site. (BTW, the best time to negotiate is after you've gotten an offer and before you've accepted.) –  David Thornley Mar 9 '11 at 21:17
@David: Actually, I think it does have to do wtih programmers, at least a little bit. This process is very different for developers than most other positions I've seen -- mostly because of how the software developer labor market stands. (That's why I asked) –  Billy ONeal Mar 9 '11 at 21:18
Try to interview with 5 companies in one week, make 3 offers magically appear, and then play the employers against each other. Employers like employees that are wanted by someone else just as much as women like guys with girlfriends. The rest is details. Good luck. Also, there is always an opportunity to ask for a raise once you are there. –  Job Mar 9 '11 at 22:04

7 Answers 7

up vote 7 down vote accepted

No business is a charity. So while you see it as them doing you a favor, they must also feel that you would be doing them a favor by working for them.

While you might not be in a position to be overcompensated, you should be able to ensure you a justly compensated for what you can bring to the company. Know your market rates and think through what you would accept before you get there. Don't be surprised and have to think on the spot once they throw an offer at you.

I'd hazard a guess that you don't have kids or a mortgage yet. So, while it seems like a big deal now, money probably isn't your biggest priority. If they low-ball you (and I doubt a well-known company will unreasonably low-ball you) and you end up accepting, is a year before you can renegotiate such a bad thing? You can always jump ship if they won't. What it really comes down to it, will they pay you enough to make the resume entry worth it?

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Problem is that I don't know what "justly compensated" is –  Billy ONeal Mar 9 '11 at 21:04
W.r.t. your edit -- yes, money is not my biggest priority. The only reason I ask this at all is that I don't want to be "suckered" ;) The people and the position are much more important motivators here. –  Billy ONeal Mar 9 '11 at 21:14
@Billy - There's a lot of wage info out there for getting a better sense of what you're worth, even for specific cases like this. One starting point is O*Net, but others are out there. I just went through this (Them: "Welcome on board the project! Oh, what's your hourly rate?" Me: "Um, well, uh, let me look over the specs again and get back to you", followed by mad research of standard freelance rates ... not quite the same as salary negotiation, but still). –  Beekguk Mar 9 '11 at 21:25
The other side of "money is not my biggest priority coin" is that, if it's not that big of a priority, you may be able to wait longer to find a higher paying job. It's much more difficult to negotiate for higher pay when the next mortgage payment is coming in 6 days, and the pay is enough. –  blueberryfields Mar 9 '11 at 21:59
@Billy, don't worry too much about being suckered by MS. They have clear rules for how much they pay; you will fall into a tier, and that tier will have a range that you can earn. MS pays about 65th percentile compared to other software companies - a little better than normal - and also has great benefits (100% of health care expenses covered, etc.). Do negotiate politely - if you can get it, even a small difference in income at the beginning of your career will have a big impact down the line. Source: Personal experience including 1 year employed full-time at MS. –  Ethel Evans Mar 10 '11 at 1:08

Negotiation starts from the minute you speak with them, continues through the interview process and beyond. Here's some general advice that could help:

  • Relax If they're offering you a job, that's a good sign you can get another job. Keep that in mind as you speak to them. Try to, through your body language, get the across a signal of "I have another job, but I'd rather work for you". Be friendly, interested and open with your interviewers. They will know you're just coming out of school, and, as much as they're there to find things out about you, you're also there to learn from them.

  • Slow down Take time to think about what they tell you, and actually think about it. Ask intelligent questions. If you find yourself unable to do this on the spot, come with prepared questions. Take a notepad with you and write things down - use the time it takes to write them down to think about what they're saying. For example, if you're made an offer on the spot and you don't immediately think it's the most amazing offer you'll get, ask for time to think about it. If you're presented with a contract and asked to sign it, ask them whether you can take a copy home with you and let them know in a few days. Remind them that you've flown a long distance and are tired and jet-lagged.

  • Come prepared Learn as much as you can, in advance, about what the market is like in the area where you'll most likely be working. Learn about salary ranges there, benefits. Try to find out what is specifically offered at the company you're interviewing with. It helps if you've had a few interviews already, and offers, even if from companies you're not interested in, to help you know how much you're really worth on the market. Most people over-estimate their own worth, skills and abilities - it helps if you can appear confident in your own, as you would be if you had this kind of information to back up your opinion.

  • Think on your feet Use the interview process to learn things about the company, about your interviewers, and about yourself. Try to figure out whether you're coming off as someone they really really want to hire or not. Try to figure out whether you're dealing with interviewers who have a choice about how much money to offer you. If you've come prepared, you'll also be able to know if an offer that's made on the spot is one that you're willing to take on the spot. Some departments or managers within companies don't negotiate their offers, especially with students - find that out about the company you're interviewing with, in advance, or through the interview process. If you hit it off with one of the interviewers, you may be able to ask him straight out whether this is an option.

  • Don't take the first offer on the spot Give the company a chance to make a second offer. Worst case scenario, they won't. Often enough, they will either make a second offer or let you know that they don't negotiate, though. If you send a counter-offer, err on the side of asking for too much rather than asking for too little. Know enough to make sure your offer is not ridiculous. You can mention moving costs, costs of keeping in touch with family over a long distance, and even exchange rate issues as bargaining chips. Remember that asking for a higher salary takes guts - and they may wait to send you an answer just to see if you'll rethink it, and they definitely won't appear happy at your request.

  • Take all of this advice with a grain of salt If you have a lot of debt and have to start paying it off, don't risk losing the chance at a good job. There's a lot that will go into the response of the company, most of which you likely will never find out about and cannot control. Taking some time to shop around for a first job is well worth it if you can afford it - use the time to relax and unwind after having finished school. You know yourself and your situation best - if you don't think you can effectively implement any of these strategies, or the risk is not worth it for you, you're probably more right than a random stranger on the internet will be.

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"and they definitely won't appear happy at your request" - they will appear unhappy no matter how your request is actually received. Often enough you will find out after the process (no matter how it goes) that just the simple step of putting up a counter offer showed you have guts, and earned you additional respect (yes, even if they reject it or tell you they don't negotiate). –  blueberryfields May 9 '11 at 23:24

A lot of companies have special programs where they hire lots of college grads and pay for them under a separate part of the budget. In this scenario, there is usually zero room for negotiation. Their first offer will be their last offer, and you can either take it or leave it. This is definitely a possibility at a large company like Microsoft.

If you do have a chance to negotiate, ask for what you think is fair. Most colleges have accurate stats on the average starting salaries graduates are getting in each of the different majors, so do some homework.

RE: "they'd be doing me quite a favor by hiring me."

Don't be so sure. Programmers fresh out of college often end up being a huge bargain. As a general rule they are motivated, have up-to-date skills, and bring a fresh perspective.

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On my first job, I didn't negotiate at all. I still think I did the right thing 5 years on. My point of view was simple, I was getting paid £0 being unemployed, so as long as the pay was market rate I wasn't going to complain.

Personally I would only negotiate if there was something I really couldn't stomach.

As you say they would be giving you your break into the professional programming world. For me that was worth a year or so of not having everything I wanted.

Find out what a reasonable starting salary is for someone of your level in that city. If your going to have to move for the job then I think it's reasonable to expect some financial help with that. Depending on the size of the company maybe even help finding a place, but at the very least the phone number of someone you can call for local knowledge ("You do not want to live in that part of town" kind of thing.)

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I personally never accept an offer on the spot. You can use websites like GlassDoor.com to compare your offer to what may be the industry standard in that location. Even if you feel like the company may be doing you a favor, never sell yourself short. The company isn't completely hiring you for what your currently know as a student as much as for your future potential as you grow as an individual.

If you review an offer and it looks good, take it! If on the other hand, you feel that you deserve more, tell them so (in a nice but firm manner) and back it up with reasons. Most companies will have room to offer you something additional in the form of stock options, a sign on bonus, more vacation, or simply a higher salary.

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Someone downvoted my post and I would appreciate any feedback :) –  Jeff Dec 5 '13 at 18:12

This is a time where people skills will do the work for you. Assumption: The company hasn't instigated any sort of pay negotiation.

Two scenarios come to mind:

  1. The person you bring up the negotiation has a direct influence on your pay. Since this guy is more emotionally invested in the outcome of your (potential) employment, simply raising that you were hoping for a higher salary than the one offered will result in a reaction. The reactions will be one of two:

    1. He's unfazed. Do your talking to get what you want.
    2. A straight-out 'no'. Realise that there are others in mind for him to employ. So you need to weigh the factors up in your mind.
  2. The person with whom you bring up the pay negotiation has no influence on your pay. This one's just a matter of retaining a neutral tone. Be grateful for the job offer, but also give the impression that you're valuable.

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How should one approach your scenerio?

First, don't assume anything. They're flying you out there doesn't mean too much. They fly people out all the time, they have the money to do so. Don't assume you already got the job. What you really should focus on is acing your interview. As far as negotiations go, cross that bridge when you get there.

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This really doesn't answer the question I asked. Yes, they fly people out there all the time. However the question doesn't make sense without the assumption that I'd actually get somewhere. Of course if I don't then it's all for naught, but the information is still useful. I obviously couldn't come back to them with "wait, let me see what StackExchange thinks before I continue". –  Billy ONeal Mar 10 '11 at 1:12

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