How to Negotiate Your Salary in Tech: Dos and Don’ts
How the heck should you deal with the pay gap in tech? Negotiation is one tool in your belt. Here’s what to know.
If you’re looking to get hired in tech or have just gotten into the field, one of your motivations might be the higher than average salaries you can find in many tech careers. And that makes sense! According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the top three drivers of workplace satisfaction are respect for employees, salary, and benefits. So what do you do if you’re not making as much as you hoped? Well, one of the options available to you is learning how to negotiate your salary.
Knowing how to negotiate for a higher salary is important! But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Especially if you’re a woman. Dice Insights found that “only 44 percent of women reported actively negotiating their salary for their most recent new job at a new company, compared to 49 percent of men. Nearly 51 percent of women also reported that they didn’t negotiate at all, compared to 47 percent of men.” And there are plenty of reasons for that.
In the same report, Dice Insights found that people of color negotiated less often as well, saying “although 51 percent of White technologists said they negotiated compensation at that new job and company, only 45 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander technologists, 43 percent of Hispanic/Latino(a) technologists, 39 percent of Asian Indian technologists, and 40 percent of Black technologists reported the same.”
If you don’t feel comfortable negotiating or haven’t had the opportunity to do so, we’re here to help. Because one of Skillcrush’s goals is to help you get paid, we talked to two professional career strategists — Lee Crockett (LinkedIn) and Sara Yarling (LinkedIn) — to learn more about how women and women of color in particular can negotiate higher salaries. We’re also going to talk about the pay gap in tech and give pointers on how to bridge it if you’re looking to get hired as a web developer.
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Let’s dive in!
How to negotiate your salary in tech: dos and don’ts
Negotiating a salary offer or asking for a raise can be a daunting process, especially if you’re new to the industry. If you’re hesitant about asking for more money, that’s totally understandable! To help make the process less intimidating for you, I interviewed Lee Crockett and Sara Yarling all about how to best approach the salary negotiation process, as well as common pitfalls to avoid.
How can candidates best prepare for salary negotiations?
DO your research
Lee: Research is the most important thing. Look at the job title and the area of the country [where you are and not just where the job is] to get a picture of the standard of living in the area, and similar titles in other companies, to start to get an idea of the range where you should be targeting. It’s good to really understand at what level you would like to be compensated given your skill set compared to the listed range. Your pedigree, education, certifications, licenses, number of years in industry, and experiences all play a role in preparing for salary negotiations.
Sara: Research is really important in the negotiation preparation process. Talk to as many people as you can (within your comfort zone) to find the most accurate salary range for the role and company. While the Internet is a good resource, sometimes the ranges are too broad to be helpful. One strategy is to take the direct approach and ask your manager on an ongoing basis at what end of the range you fall in at your company, both in terms of performance and compensation.
If you don’t feel comfortable doing that, a more indirect strategy might be to look up your company’s top competitors on LinkedIn, find someone with the same or a similar role as you who recently left. Send them a quick note saying that you’re in the space and doing some market research, exploring opportunities, and want to ask about the company they were just at, including what’s an appropriate salary range. You’ll get an idea of what the average salary really is. And if you ever go on a job search, you’ll already have done some networking.
What are some pitfalls to avoid during the negotiation phase?
DON’T answer salary questions directly, DON’T avoid negotiating, and DON’T make assumptions
Lee: One of the biggest pitfalls is to provide a specific figure when they ask what kind of salary you want. You could be setting yourself up for failure by either coming in over their budget or undercutting yourself. It’s a trick question employers or recruiters ask because it’s illegal to ask what you’re making directly. That is the pitfall people fall for over and over, because companies and recruiters ask this question in different ways and you feel you have to answer if you want to move forward.
Another pitfall is to be so excited to be offered a job that you feel you have to take the offer as-is. The initial offer is a starting point for negotiation, and there are several opportunities within a package to negotiate: salary, bonus, relocation expenses, vacation, sick time, equity, etc.
Sara: A potential pitfall to avoid is making assumptions out of a fear of speaking out. Everyone has a lot of preconceived notions about how their boss or company is going to respond, and the candidate often assumes the responsibility for figuring out how to make it possible for the company to give them what they want when it’s not their job to do so. Candidates also assume they don’t need to ask about compensation because they think their performance speaks for itself. People think they don’t have to have the conversation, but they do.
What are some red flags to look out for during the salary negotiation process?
DO consider whether a company is willing to negotiate at all
Lee: One of the red flags is a company that immediately comes back and says we don’t negotiate. Is the company culture really going to be collaborative and inclusive? Is it the situation you think you’re walking into if they’re not willing to have a conversation? If the company isn’t willing to do a give and take [now], what kind of relationship is it going to be for the rest of your career there?
An exception for non-negotiation as a red flag is when companies have negotiation-free policies to start. With companies that have negotiation-free policies, you may not be able to negotiate in terms of salary, but you can have conversations about starting at a higher salary band or tier and progressing from there. You want to hone in on the compensation package, bonuses, and possible relocation expenses. There’s always something to negotiate.
For startups, it’s much more reasonable for them not to be able to afford to negotiate a salary [compared to much larger companies]. In that case, maybe you want to negotiate for equity and have those performance-based incentives. Oftentimes, there’s more flexibility dealing with a startup versus a large enterprise.
What are some strategies you would recommend using in the negotiation process?
DO think long-term, and DON’T get into a debate
Sara: A good strategy is to play the long game. You have a greater chance of seeing success if you don’t put an immediate problem in front of your boss. It’s stressful for people in the moment, and less of a crisis [for your boss], if you present negotiating a raise as a long-term plan.
Let’s say you’re asking for a $20,000 raise. It’s easier to tell your boss you’ve been doing your research and tell them you should work together on how to get closer to $20,000 in 18 months [rather than immediately]. That’s two compensation cycles that separates the eventual raise from the present.
For your boss, they’re thinking, “It’s easier to get a 10 percent raise now and then be halfway to her goal.” On your end, you’re setting up for that next year, easing off the discomfort on your manager, offering a solution, and still getting a bigger raise.
What’s important to remember in the negotiation process is to avoid getting into a debate. Remember that you’re not adversaries, but you’re on the same side. A questioning tone and dialogue creates more success than an adversarial one. Asking if the other side has some flexibility can go a long way, along with not making assumptions.
How would you counteroffer?
DO always counteroffer, even if it’s minor, DO be ready with market research, and DON’T be afraid to ask for what you want
Sara: Even if you receive a great offer, you should always counteroffer in some way (but acknowledge if it was a great offer). Asking for something — and it doesn’t have to be a lot — shows a company that you take yourself seriously and they should take you seriously as well. Don’t panic if you get a “no.” Companies expect to negotiate and almost always have wiggle room.
One way to counteroffer is to ask if there is a way the company can make you whole while having less impact on the bottom line. You want to make this work and you want to ask them to help you make this work. This approach is not as stark and outright demanding. The company doesn’t want you to join feeling like you’re undervalued. It’s not a good starting place and most places try to accommodate somehow.
Lee: Rely on research for counteroffering. You have to be unemotional about it and say, “Based on what I’m seeing for this position, this is where I fall.” It’s fine to say they’re at the low range for you given what you bring to the table, and compared to other people at other companies, this is very low. This is the time where you can say “I was expecting something around X amount” and hear them out on how to get there.
There are a couple of ways you can counter. If a company offers you $100,000, you want $120,000, and they come back at $110,000, there’s a $10,000 gap. You can say, “I’m still a bit uncomfortable and for me to make this work, this is where I need to be.” If they can’t negotiate on salary, you can ask about a one-time salary bonus, changes in vacation policy, and whether they can make a plan to close this gap in performance-based rewards over the next 12 months, etc. There are other ways in which you can counter [besides just money].
Is there ever a time when I shouldn’t negotiate?
One caveat I should mention? Negotiation is not always a prerequisite to getting paid fairly! At some companies, salary tiers help add a clear and documented pay structure designed to sort employees into standardized pay brackets based on factors like: job title, years of experience, valuable work experience, critical knowledge of the industry or other specific areas of expertise you’ll need on the job — which includes hard skills, language skills, education, management duties and experience, geographic location, and more.
Often (as at Skillcrush) salary tiers exist to encourage pay parity across the company and combat major variation in salary based on factors like an employee’s skill at negotiating or willingness to negotiate, discrimination, bias, and more.
If you end up interviewing at a company that uses standardized salary tiers, you will likely hear about it in the process, and it won’t come as a shock. Getting hired at a company that uses salary tiers doesn’t mean you absolutely shouldn’t negotiate, however. It just might mean salary negotiation looks more like making a case that you fit in a higher tier than simply asking for a bigger number. It’s okay to start the conversation and see where it goes! You never know how it works at a specific company until you ask.
Dealing with the pay gap in tech
In the tech industry, women as a whole are still underpaid compared to men. According to a report by Small Business Prices, with the exception of Adobe, women’s wages lag behind men’s at major tech companies, including: Cisco, Visa, Oracle, PayPal, Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Apple, and eBay.
While the average salary for women at Adobe is $126,500 compared to the average salary of $105,000 for men, at Cisco, Oracle, Google, Apple and PayPal — women are paid less than men by at least a $9,500 margin. The difference between men’s and women’s pay at eBay is about $5,000, and the difference at Visa is about $3,000. (Small Business Prices)
Although gender is often a factor in pay gaps, race and sexual orientation can also cause pay discrepancies. For example, a 2018 PayScale survey found that “Native American, Hispanic, and Black workers all make less than white workers [in tech]. But the largest gap is for Black workers, who earn $0.87 for every dollar white tech workers earn.” In addition, studies have shown that gay and bisexual men earned between 10% to 32% less than similarly qualified heterosexual men and both lesbian and heterosexual women made less than both heterosexual and gay men.
So what do you do with this information? When it comes to the pay gap, it’s important not to be afraid to negotiate for more pay or benefits. As Sara says:
If a company is unwilling or unable to budge on direct compensation, it’s recommended and encouraged to negotiate for soft benefits, such as more paid vacation, sick days, or other perks if there are hard rules on salary offers. While it isn’t entirely risk-free to ask, she says, you’re making it easier for the next person by bringing it up. The risk is not asking, because if you’re unsatisfied then it’s not going to contribute to your long-term happiness.
If you’re not sure how to negotiate, talk to your friends and professional peers for advice. Chances are they have some experience negotiating job offers, and picking their brains can benefit you and help you come up with a successful strategy. And if you’re a Skillcrush student, your Skillcrush Career Counselor is also a great resource on how to strategize, and can help advise you on how to negotiate your salary.
Joining professional networking groups where people share salary information can be helpful, too, especially if you’re transitioning to a new field. Often, people in networking groups are more than happy to share salary information and give helpful advice on how to navigate their industry. You never know — you could join a professional networking group looking for salary information and negotiation help, and end up finding a mentor in your new field.
Lee has two final pieces of advice for women and women of color especially:
The first thing women and women of color need to do is negotiate. Women and particularly women of color feel like they should be so happy and thankful to receive an offer that they take it and don’t ask any questions, but you should ask for what you want — you don’t have to take it or leave it. The second thing is to really, really sit back, and when you’re doing the research phase, understand your accomplishments and soak those in. Women and women of color often do not like to brag on themselves, and feel like they are boasting, when in reality they’re just taking credit for what they are due. Understanding the value you bring to the table gives you confidence to negotiate when things are subpar.
📌 PS – If you want to start or move into a career in tech, Skillcrush can help you get there! Our Break Into Tech course is a comprehensive program designed to help total beginners in tech start a new and fulfilling career.