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Top 7 Salary Negotiation Tips for Software Developers

ryanthelin profile image Ryan Thelin Originally published at educative.io ・8 min read

Tech jobs are notorious for their high pay variance. Even developers of equal experience may have salaries that differ by tens of thousands of dollars. While this is sometimes due to company size or type, it's more often a result of skillful compensation negotiations.

These negotiations are especially difficult for developers as most computer science education tracks do not teach how to plan and execute pay negotiations. Whether you're just starting out as a developer or have years of experience, salary negotiation skills are a key part of earning your fair share.

Today, we'll give you some essential tips to ensure you don't walk in unprepared.

Here’s what we’ll cover today:

Get the salary you deserve

Learn negotiation techniques and tips that will ensure you never leave money on the table again.

Maximizing Total Comp in Tech

Tip 1: Be strategic with timing

You have the most leverage as a candidate when you have multiple offers on the table. From here, you can push for employers to match other offers or compare the benefits of each offer. However, many candidates receive staggered offers that make it more difficult to negotiate.

You can increase the chance that your offers line up well by carefully planning the timing of each interview step.

For example, imagine you're invited to a second interview at Google before you've had your first interview at Amazon. You should take the latest possible interview slot for your next Google interview to slow that process down.

Timing is equally important for pursuing a pay raise. Many people wait to ask for a raise during review season, but most managers will have already decided who has earned a raise by that point.

Asking earlier is a win-win for you because it either results in an immediate pay increase or puts you at the forefront of their mind when considering raises during the upcoming review period.

Avoid Ultimatums: Nobody likes to be told "or else". It's better to state that you're considering multiple options and ask how the company could make their role more appealing to you when bringing up other offers.

This avoids the standoffish attitude of a "match this or else" statement.

Tip 2: Consider other benefits on the table

When evaluating an offer or negotiating a raise, remember that there are many benefits beyond salary. These can be non-salary financial rewards like stock options, yearly bonuses, or sign-on bonuses.

They can also be things that benefit your quality of life or help future job prospects like titles or leadership roles.

You should review each of these benefits to decide how valuable each is for you. For example, work-from-home opportunities may be essential for some while delivering no value to someone else who prefers to work at the office.

For job offers, weighing these non-salary benefits helps you evaluate how valuable an offer is to you as a whole, rather than just looking at the salary number alone.

For raises, remember which benefits sound appealing to you and try to negotiate for them. Companies are often more willing to provide these benefits than direct salary improvements. Keeping these as options to put forward increases the chance you'll leave the table with an improvement.

Tip 3: Never say what salary you want

Even if you have a good idea of what your skills are worth, it's best not to list a specific number when discussing salary.

Listing an explicit number essentially sets a ceiling for the maximum amount you could earn. Your listed amount could be less than the company was willing to pay, meaning you've accidentally lowered your pay. Even if your suggestion is spot on, the company will only negotiate down from there.

Instead, ask what their budget is for this role. The company will often lowball this budget, which gives you a salary floor that you can negotiate up from. Asking for their budget also opens up the possibility to get benefits outside of salary to sweeten the deal while still respecting their budget.

Current compensation: If you're negotiating for a new job, sometimes you'll be asked what you're currently making at your other job. Avoid answering this question because it may allow the company to provide you a lower offer than they otherwise would.

Instead, say something like "I'm not comfortable sharing my current salary. I'd prefer we focus on the value I can bring to this company."

Keep the learning going.

Learn top negotiating techniques to help you get the most out of any job. Educative's text-based courses allow you to learn at your own pace and learn practical tips from industry veterans.

Maximizing Total Comp in Tech

Tip 4: Decide the lowest number you'll accept

Before you enter the salary negotiation, decide what your lowest acceptable salary is. An easy way to find this number is to sum your total yearly expenses like rent, car payments, groceries, loans, etc.

You'll want to be accumulating wealth over time, so multiply this number by 1.5 (keep one-third of your income) or 2 (keep half your income). This amount will be the lowest salary you can accept and still progress financially.

You should also consider your next best alternative before going to negotiations. The stronger your backup plan is, the stronger your position and the more ambitious you can be with your lowest salary.

If a company offers you a number that is lower than your minimum, don’t outright tell them the number you want them to reach.

Instead, pause, and say “that is not quite what I was expecting. I’d be willing to accept [stretchGoal]. How can we get closer to that number?”

If you've already asked for more and they're sticking to their original figure, it might be time to walk away. Let them know that you'll need some time to think about it, and they may find a way to raise it.

Never give a yes or no answer during the meeting.
Wait until the last few days to respond with your answer. The period between will lean a bit of pressure on the interviewer and they may reach out with additional benefits.

If not, refuse the offer. It's important to know the value of your work and when to avoid jobs that won't improve your financial situation.

Tip 5: Focus on the company's wants, not yours

Making an argument for a raised salary ultimately comes down to what you can do for the company. This argument is immediately undermined if you state that you want or deserve higher pay.

Bringing up your wants moves the conversation away from a logical argument to an empathetic request for the company to meet your desires. You are essentially asking the company to bargain with how they see your desires and worth. The compelling case you've made up to that point will be damaged as a result.

Instead, focus on the company's needs and how you fulfill them. Keep the conversation centered on the value you provide and how the company can fairly compensate you for that.

Prepare for future negotiations: Even if you're rejected for a raise, keep focusing on the company's wants. Ask "what do you need to see in the next 6 months to feel comfortable approving a raise?"

The burden is then on you to prove your worth rather than on your manager to decide now, giving you a list of milestones you can use as evidence on your next negotiation.

Tip 6: Prepare a one-sheet that tells your story

Success in negotiation begins well before you sit down across from the representative. Your case for your salary needs to be on-topic and full of empirical metrics that prove your worth.

To make sure you don't lose track of any talking points, write a one-page brag sheet that outlines the measurable value you've provided in the past. This sheet should include any awards, accomplishments, or co-worker testimonials you've received. Writing these down will help you hit each point and demonstrate your value to the company as a worker.

You should also collect market research for your chosen job, like:

  • National average salary for this role
  • Average salary for this role in your area/city
  • Salary data for roles in companies of similar size

Use Metrics: Whenever possible, use explicit metrics over summaries. For example, "My project increased user signup by 15%" is more compelling than "I helped increase user signup".

Tip 7: Practice your negotiation beforehand

You also need to practice your negotiation aloud and review common rebuttals. The best way to do this is to get expert advice and do mock negotiations with a friend.

This is especially important because many of us are conditioned to not talk about money. Practicing with a trusted friend or coworker helps you develop a natural flow to walk through the key points you want to hit and break down the common anxiety around financial discussions.

Give them a list of tough questions to ask you like:

  • Is this company your top choice?
  • Have you received offers from other companies? What were they?
  • If we meet your salary expectations, will you accept immediately?
  • How did you choose your chosen salary amount?
  • Is anyone else offering you a higher salary?
  • Why don’t you want to give your salary requirements?

After you're done, ask your friend for feedback. Negotiating is a difficult skill to learn but practice will help you get better each time.

To ensure you don't leave any money on the table, Educative has created the course Maximizing Total Comp in Tech. This course helps you prepare for salary or raise negotiations by exploring tips for every part of the process like pre-negotiation emails, words to avoid during the negotiation, and how to follow up.

By the end of this course, you'll discover your power as a negotiator and be able to walk into your next negotiation with confidence.

Happy learning!

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