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This article was published on February 2, 2021


4 salary negotiating scenarios in tech interviews — and how to navigate them

4 salary negotiating scenarios in tech interviews — and how to navigate them
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.cult by Honeypot is a Berlin-based community platform for developers. We write about all things career-related, make original documentaries .cult by Honeypot is a Berlin-based community platform for developers. We write about all things career-related, make original documentaries and share heaps of other untold developer stories from around the world.

This article was originally published by Michiel Mulders on .cult by Honeypot, a Berlin-based community platform for developers. For the latest updates, follow .cult by Honeypot on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, and YouTube.

You’ve just landed a job interview for a technical role. Congratulations!

As a next step, you’ll likely want to learn more about the salary bands for the role, or a recruiter asks you about your salary expectations. Therefore, different situations can occur when negotiating your salary during a tech interview.  This article presents you with different situations you can expect during a tech interview and how to handle them correctly.

But first, what do you negotiate during a salary negotiation?

What is a salary negotiation?

Let’s make the following clear before we dive into different salary negotiation scenarios. Many developers don’t understand the full meaning of salary negotiations. The first thing that comes up in their mind is agreeing on their future salary. Yet, that’s not all!

Imagine a situation where you get an exciting salary offer that is higher than your target salary. However, the salary offer comes with few vacation days and no budget for personal development. Would you accept this offer even though it meets your salary expectations? Better not.

To make my point clear, avoid focusing on the final salary number. A salary negotiation encompasses many perks besides the final salary number, such as:

  • Health insurance
  • Number of days off
  • Learning budget or days allocated to personal development
  • Company holiday
  • Possibility to work from home
  • Flexible working hours
  • Company phone or laptop
  • Subscriptions for popular services, such as Netflix or Spotify
  • Budget to install a home office

In short, a salary negotiation involves all perks associated with a job offer. Next, let’s handle different situations during a tech interview in regard to your salary.

Situation #1: What’s your current salary?

Many tech recruiters try to figure out your current salary. This information is valuable for tech recruiters. It allows them to optimize their offer based on your previous salary.

[Read: How this company leveraged AI to become the Netflix of Finland]

Remember that tech recruiters work for a company to save them money during the recruiting process. Imagine your current salary amounts to €45,000. A tech recruiter can ask for this number and offer you a 10% increase, which amounts to €49,500. That’s a great offer! However, you might not know that the tech recruiter has a much larger margin for hiring new employees. The tech recruiter has likely received an upper constraint, for instance, €60,000.

Therefore, it’s beneficial for you not to disclose your current salary. Here are possible answers to this question.

  • Sorry, I don’t feel comfortable disclosing my current salary.
  • I can’t disclose my current salary as it’s private information that I can disclose only with my hiring manager. I hope you understand this.

Situation #2: What salary do you expect?

Again, try to avoid answering questions regarding your salary expectations. As mentioned before, recruiters receive salary bands for particular skill levels.

Therefore, try to point this question in the opposite direction. It’s best to receive a salary offer from your recruiter, so you can start the negotiation from this point.

The following replies would work well in this situation.

  • “Thank you for this question. We’ve already had an extensive interview process in which I’ve shown my skills and cultural fit. I trust you to provide me with a salary offer based on this information that fits the company’s needs. We can start the salary negotiation from this point. How does that sound?”
  • “I’m sure you are familiar with my skill level and what would be an appropriate salary offer. I trust you to provide me with a fair salary offer. I hope you understand this.”

If a recruiter doesn’t want to provide a salary offer before knowing your salary expectations, ask them for the salary bands. This information allows you to confirm that your salary expectations fall within or outside these bands. It should give tech recruiters a good insight into your expectations.

In short, tech recruiters have interviewed plenty of candidates to provide you with a reasonably accurate estimate of your worth. Make sure to first receive a salary offer before disclosing your salary expectations. If that’s not possible, ask for salary bands.

Situation #3: Sorry, we can’t offer the salary you expect

What if a tech recruiter or company rejects your requested salary?

Most often, that’s not a good sign. Perhaps, the company doesn’t have the means to offer you the requested salary.

When negotiating a salary, you should ask for 5 to 10% more than your target salary. This strategy leaves room for negotiation. On top of that, you can opt to negotiate better job perks as a compromise to a lower salary, such as more vacation days or a larger learning budget.

Therefore, not everything is lost when a company rejects your salary request. Send them a counter-offer that is 5 to 10% lower or change some of the job perks in your favor. You show your willingness to negotiate your salary and interest in the company.

Here’s an example reply to handle this situation.

  • “Hey, I appreciate your honest reply regarding my salary expectations. As I would like to join the team, let’s try to negotiate a job offer that works for both of us. Perhaps you can change the offer by including more job perks, such as vacation days or an increased learning budget. How about that? I’m looking forward to your reply.”

Situation #4: What do you think of a salary worth $X?

Lastly, a company offers you a salary of $X, how do you react? Several scenarios are possible depending on your target salary or current salary.

  • Your current salary or target salary is higher than the offered salary?

In this situation, it’s important to express your willingness to join the team while asking for their best offer. It’s your final chance to receive a better offer.

“Thank you for this offer. Although I would like to join the team, this offer is lower than my current salary. Is this the highest salary you would like to offer me?”

  • Your current salary or target salary is equal to the offered salary?

In this situation, you can either ask for a better salary or negotiate job perks such as extra vacation days or more days allocated to personal development. Sometimes it’s worth accepting a job with a similar salary that provides you with more benefits.

“This is a good offer. As it sounds very encouraging, I would say we are close. Is it possible to discuss other benefits, such as receiving 40 vacation days instead of 30 vacation days?”

  • Your current salary or target salary is lower than the offered salary?

Excellent! Most people would accept this offer. But remember there’s always a margin for salary offers. In this situation, it’s best to negotiate better perks and agree on the salary.

“Thank you for the offer! I think we are on the same page about the salary. Yet, I would like to discuss the number of vacation days. Is it possible to increase the number of vacation days to 40 days? That would be appreciated!”

Should you ask for a higher salary than your target salary?

Many software engineers feel uncomfortable negotiating their salary. It’s a natural response as you aren’t a sales manager, business developer, or tech recruiter trained to negotiate offers.

This section answers your question if you should ask for a higher salary than your target salary. The answer is simple – yes!

To provide yourself with more margin for negotiation, ask for a salary that’s 5-10% higher than your target salary.

Some of you are afraid of applying this strategy as you might miss out on interesting opportunities. Most companies know about the salary negotiation game and won’t abort an interview process based on your salary request. On top of that, they’ve already invested time in you and shown their interest in hiring you.

In the end, if a company aborts the salary negotiation process, perceive it as a good filter. Don’t feel bad about missing out on opportunities that are not worth your attention. Most likely, the company can’t offer you the target salary.

In conclusion, don’t go blindly in an interview. You should know your ideal outcome, what you compromise on, and what’s your lowest outcome you are willing to accept. Also, make sure to research the company. A recently funded company will have higher salary bands than a self-supporting startup.

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