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Should you negotiate a job offer that’s already very strong?
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It can be tempting to accept a strong job offer instead of getting into an uncomfortable salary negotiation, but you will probably leave money on the table if you do. Here’s how to negotiate your salary when the offer is already very strong.

The question

How does one negotiate a job offer that is already very strong?

I’m recently finished a Ph.D. and I’m on the job market. During my Ph.D. I did a number of internships that went fairly well, resulting in job offers.

After doing some homework, the market range for someone in my field is somewhere in the $150k range. I have an offer at an amazing organization for $250k and I’m almost certainly going to accept it. I’ve read that it’s always good to negotiate a job offer since companies are often willing to shell out a bit more. But how do I go about negotiating in this unique circumstance, where I’m already being offered quite a bit more than other companies would offer me?

The job would be in NYC, so I could argue that NYC’s very high cost of living makes their offer less competitive than it seems at first glance. I’m not sure what other facts I can bring up other than the reasons for which they’re hiring me in the first place.

My answer

My answer assumes you haven’t already accepted the offer. I’m also assuming $250k meets your minimum required salary to accept the job.

  1. Make a case for why you’re a great fit at that particular company. You could mention cost of living in NYC, but it’s stronger to demonstrate why you are uniquely qualified to do the job you’ve been offered. “I specialized in this area of research and that’s exactly what your company does. I’ll come in on day one with the knowledge to jump in and make significant contributions immediately.”
  2. Make that case along with a counteroffer of 10-20% above their initial offer. 10% is what I would call a pretty standard counter, while 20% is pretty aggressive.

If possible, send your case and counteroffer in writing (email). The reason for this is that you first have to convince the recruiter or whoever you’re negotiating with, but then they will likely need to make your case to someone else (in finance or HR) to approve the additional salary (if it’s not already approved). By sending your case in writing, you give them something they can just forward, so you’re able to make your own case to whoever actually needs to approve the additional salary by proxy.

While they’re considering your counteroffer, consider how you’ll respond to all the possibilities between their initial offer ($250k) and your counter (let’s say $275k). For example, if they come back and say, “Sorry but $250k is the best we can do—take it or leave it.”, what will you say? What about if they come back at $265k?

Write down your answers in increments so you have them ready to go in case they want to respond and hash out your final salary on a phone call. You’re essentially creating a script you can follow so your answers are predetermine (less room for nerves to affect you in the moment).

Your script might look something like this:

  • $275k (your counter)—Sounds good, when do I start?
  • $270k—Sounds good, when do I start?
  • $265k—If you can do $270k, I’m on board.
  • $260k—If you can do $265k, I’m on board.
  • $255k—If you can do $260k, I’m on board.
  • $250k—Add [another perk] and I’m on board (eg, another week of vacation, signing bonus, whatever is common in the industry)

Note that if they respond to your counter with anything above $250k, they’re demonstrating that they can move up and are willing to move up in salary.

Bottom line: You should counter because you’re probably leaving money on the table if they don’t. You’ve done well to be able to command such a great offer (well above market), and this is a great chance to maximize your pay before you’re in the door.

You can get “How to ace your next interview”—a free chapter from my book Fearless Salary Negotiation—at How to ace your next interview. Or you can get the full book at: Fearless Salary Negotiation: Get it here