Salary Negotiation

by @ann_lewis
CTO at
Girl Develop It Central VA

Quick show of hands:

How many people here today negotiated their last offer?

Why I care

Not once, but twice in my career past managers have contacted me, years after working together, to confess that they felt I was significantly underpaid

$20-$35K/year underpaid compared to my peers

These old managers meant well, and clearly felt bad about this. It seemed like they were trying to make amends by telling me this.

But seriously,


Why you should care

  • Let's face it, nerds and introverts are often not good at negotiating.
  • But businesses expect you to negotiate, and if you don't you could be missing out.
  • It's one of those "unwritten rules".

Just do it

  • If you don't negotiate, there's no potential gain
  • If you do negotiate, there's some nonzero chance of gain.
  • Your expected value is positive if you negotiate. Just do it!

Salary Negotiation 101: getting over key fears

  • Fear: employers will think you are ungrateful for this potential opportunity
  • Reality: employers expect you to negotiate and will think it's weird if you don't. They might think you are less competitive of a job candidate if you don't.
  • Fear: employers will rescind your job offer to punish you for attempting to negotiate
  • Reality: after an employer decides they want you, they are primarily focused on closing the deal. It would make them look bad to drop the deal. It's already hard enough for them to find engineering talent, they are not motivated to make it harder.

Salary Negotiation 101: getting over key fears

  • Fear: getting paid more money will raise the stakes. You'll have to be perfect all the time to deserve your salary!
  • Reality: most people wont know what you make, and the few who do tend to think they get what they pay for: the more you make, the more they'll treat you like you're worth it.
  • Corollary: Companies will very likely make a significant positive return on the investment of you, so slight variations in salary don't even make that much of a budgeting difference to them.

Salary Negotiation 101: getting over key fears

  • Fear: I don't deserve this yet. I'll take a low-ball offer and then prove myself, and get a raise later
  • Reality: the most salary flexibility you will ever have is when you start a job. There is no guarantee of future raises.
  • In fact, it's pretty common for budgeting restrictions or poor company financial performance to make the pool of raise money suddenly dissapear at the end of the year.

Salary Negotiation 101: philosophy

  • Negotiations are not personal, they are a transaction.
  • Your skills and potential give you a certain market worth, and you deserve to know what this is, and get it.
  • If you negotiate up front for what you think you deserve, you'll be happier later on in this job.
  • When stressful times arise, you won't think "I don't get paid enough for this crap." Instead you'll think "This is stressful, but at least this is a good deal for me."
  • Salaries compound, so you're not just investing in you today, you're also investing in future you.

Ok, so how do I actually do this?


  • Do some research on your market value.
  • Look at salary info on sites like and get as specific as you can about skills, years of experience, zipcodes.
  • Salaries vary wildly. Understand the range of possible offers you could get. Decide what threshold would be "good enough" and what would be "awesome".
  • The company you are negotiating with knows how much everyone who works there is paid, and to be able to argue fairly, you need to arm yourself with as much info as you can get.


  • NEVER make the first offer.
  • Let the employer make the first offer. This gives you information about the employer's potential range of salaries you wouldn't be able to get otherwise.


  • Counter-offer.
  • It doesn't matter how good the first offer was. You now know it was at the low end of their range.
  • They expect you to counter, so counter higher than your "good enough" threshold.
  • Expect them to counter back, meeting you somewhere in the middle.


  • If possible, get multiple offers.
  • Companies competing for you can only drive up your salary.
  • Having more than one viable option means you can walk away from one offer if it's not good enough.
  • The ability to walk away from a deal that's not good enough is your strongest negotiation point. Remember, at this stage most companies just want to close the deal.


  • Accept the counter only if it is above your "good enough" threshold
  • Be willing to walk away if the company doesn't budge.
  • If they are inflexible and unwilling to meet what you fairly consider to be a market offer, you are better off without them.
  • They may have other problems that prevent them from being able to offer market salaries.
  • It's also possible that if you walk away, they'll call you up again in a few months with a new offer. (It sounds crazy but it happens all the time.)

Strategic moves the other side may make

  • "It wouldn't be fair to the others if we paid you this much."
  • Your Response: "This is not personal to your team, it's just what the market is telling me my value is."
  • "I want to put you at this lower level initially to give you room to grow."
  • Your Response: "Sorry, this is what the market is telling me my value is."
  • You get the idea.


  • Just do it.
  • You are making the market more efficient.
  • Getting paid fairly for your work makes the world more fair.
  • Your bosses will respect you for being a good neogotiator.