20 things you can negotiate in a job offer

John Mark had a great post 10 Survival Tips for the Modern Wageslave. I thought I’d follow up with another piece of career advice that I never got: every aspect of a job offer is negotiable. I actually got advice from my university career office to NOT negotiate a job offer. Luckily I got other advice too and since then I’ve learned it’s all negotiable. This isn’t a post about how to get the biggest salary. It isn’t even a post about how to negotiate. My point here is to say that it’s all negotiable. If you’ve always wanted a title of "technical evangelist", you can ask for it. If you’ve always wanted a love sack with your name embroidered on it, well, they might think you’re weird, but you can still ask for it.

I remember well my first official full-time company job offer. It was Friday afternoon and I had just gotten back to my dorm room and opened a beer when the phone rang and I got a job offer. A real job offer. I said "Cool!" and he said, "when do you want to start?" I then had to explain,  cool that I had a job offer, but I wasn’t accepting – I need some time to think. He gave me a week (which I didn’t negotiate) and then I hung up the phone and went into stress mode. I had an on-site interview at Microsoft for the week after that and now I had to decide on the HP job before I knew anything about the Microsoft position. I called the university recruiting office and they said I had an excellent offer from HP, not to jeopardize it in any way, and to accept it or not as is. Finally a good family friend spoke up. She got that look that I’ve come to recognize as meaning I’m not sure about this, it’s your decision, but I’ve thought long and hard and I have an opinion. She told me that she was sure HP would be reasonable and it couldn’t hurt to ask. So I picked up the phone and called and asked the HP manager for an extension. He asked why and in typical Stormy fashion I told him the whole story straight up. He responded with, well, I guess we’d better fly you up here. So I got two cool trips and the opportunity to check out the companies in person. (And HP went out of their way to show me what a cool place it was to live and work. By the way, if I had known the HP manager then like I do now, I wouldn’t have hesitated to ask for an extension but that’s a thought for another post.)

So what can you "negotiate" in a job offer?

  • Salary. But everyone knows that. (But as someone who’s hired a few people – very few people actually negotiate their starting salary.)
  • Start date. If you’ve always wanted to take a month long sailing trip or spend two weeks in Yellowstone, between jobs might be the ideal time. (Although, if you’re like me and you like to just jump in, waiting a lot of time to start might just be stressful.)
  • Hours. Fridays off? Part time during the summer?
  • Title. Now’s your chance to be an evangelist or a guru or an expert. If you’re taking a job at a large company, you might have a standard title, but you can probably still negotiate what goes on your business card. Danese Cooper was the "open source diva" at Sun. Maybe her payroll stub didn’t say that but her business cards did.
  • Amenities. That love sack, the blackberry, the mini computer, the fountain pen, the box seats, ….
  • Bonuses. Instead of a bigger salary, you can ask for performance bonuses.
  • Jobs for other people. Maybe you have two friends you’ve worked with in the past and you know you rock as a team. Maybe you’ll need to relocate and your spouse will need a job. If they are in a different industry your employer might not be able to give them a job, but they could help find them a job.
  • Flexible hours. I know a guy that worked from 3pm to midnight every day. He home schooled his kids in the morning.
  • Traditional benefits like 401K matching, health care, … again at a large company, these may not be very flexible but chances are not all employees get exactly the same offer.
  • More vacation. Always wanted to go on all those cool field trips but never had time?
  • Severance pay. Better to ask now than when you get laid off!
  • Intellectual property rights. I know several people who negotiated an offer where they would own the copyright to everything they wrote even when writing code for their employer.
  • Location. Maybe you don’t have to relocate to take the new job. You could work from home or in an office in another state.
  • Telecommuting. Maybe you’ve always wanted to work from home a couple of days a week. (You also need to make sure your company culture will make this effective. You might work well from home but if all decisions get made in person, this might not work well.)
  • Relocation expenses. If you do move, they might help with the move costs, buying a new house, finding a new job for your spouse. Be careful of offers that come tied to a specific amount of time you have to spend in the job. If you end up miserable, you don’t want to have to work for two years just because you’d have to pay $50,000 back in expenses.
  • Re-relocation expenses. I know a guy that negotiated not just for relocation expenses but when he didn’t like the new location, he had negotiated that they would move him back to Colorado. So they did.
  • Travel. Maybe you want to travel, maybe you don’t. The job offer time is a perfect time to make that clear. Employers do when they need you to travel a lot.
  • Conferences. Going to conferences when you are not a speaker is often considered a privilege. If you enjoy conferences, or consider the networking essential, ask for it.
  • Training. Want an MBA? Or a technical certification degree? Or a class in negotiation?
  • Job description. Maybe it sounds like the perfect job except for the part about interviewing people. Now’s the time to take that out – before you do a terrible job at it and all your performance reviews focus on how bad you are at interviewing and not on how great you are at coding.

What else have you negotiated or wish you had negotiated?

11 Replies to “20 things you can negotiate in a job offer”

  1. As a former hiring manager in a largish organisation I can only agree. Often, depending on the org, the budgets for salary might be fairly fixed whereas alot of the other stuff; amenities, hours, location, vacation, IP rights, etc are a lot easier to be flexible about (and often can be equivalent to a significant raise, for example if you negotiate fridays off, that’s the same as 20% raise – assuming a 5 day week, and that you really do get fridays off 😉

  2. Excellent advice, Stormy – and timely for me. One other one I would add to the list is reporting structure. Sometimes it’s important for sponsorship and visibility to be reporting into the right team or at the right level.

  3. I got a job offer once on a Thursday. I asked if I could think about it and get back to them on Monday. The hiring manager said sure, no problem. Over the weekend, I decided to take it.
    On Monday, I called the hiring manager to accept. He was on another call. I called again. He was out of the office. I called again. Oh yeah, he’d decided not to wait and hired someone else instead.

  4. Dunno what world you can negotiate for these things in, but it’s certainly not mine. Have worked for many companies, large and small, and would have been laughed out of the interview if I’d asked for that sort of thing.
    If the conditions aren’t good to start with, it’s probably not the sort of place I’d want to work anyway. And giving special perks to some employees that others aren’t getting is just asking for trouble.

  5. If they laugh at you for making a suggestion, is that the kind of place you
    want to work? Think of all the good ideas you might have for improving their
    business. Do you want to get laughed at just because that’s not the way they
    do things now?
    I don’t think you’d get laughed out. Try it next time, you might be
    As for the conditions being good enough. They are never perfect for
    everyone. You might prefer more money. I might prefer more vacation. They
    can’t offer you the perfect package because they don’t know you perfectly.
    You have to ask for it.

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