Tech Job Hunting: Accept the First Offer, Negotiate or Walk Away?

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    According to a recent survey, more than half of technology professionals, when accepting a job offer, agree to whatever compensation is offered without making any attempt to negotiate for a higher starting salary or hourly rate. The survey indicated that money is being left on the table, because chances are the employer would have been prepared to offer more if the prospective employee had asked for it.

    The survey, conducted by IT career services provider, found that the salary difference between negotiating and not negotiating is about 5 percent. So given that the average salary of a technology professional in the United States is about $85,600, that’s an average of nearly $4,300 left on the table in the first year alone. Senior Vice President Tom Silver points out that since raises and bonuses are typically calculated as a percentage of salary, the compounded loss over time is substantial. So negotiating for the best starting salary you can get is well worthwhile.

    All of that makes perfect sense, and I certainly don’t disagree with the notion that negotiation is a natural part of business, and that starting salary matters—a lot. I do, however, disagree with Silver’s contention that “The only explanation for the lack of haggling is fear.” That might well be the explanation in certain situations, but it’s clearly not the only explanation. What about cases in which the offer meets or even exceeds the prospective employee’s expectations? Should he still feel compelled to negotiate for a higher number? If he feels that he’s being treated with fairness and respect, shouldn’t he demonstrate the same fairness and respect by accepting the offer without making an attempt to see how much more he might be able to squeeze out of his prospective employer?

    To the extent that fear is an explanation for a prospective employee’s failure to negotiate for a higher starting salary, I would argue that it’s seldom a fear that the job offer will somehow be jeopardized. It’s much more likely to be a fear of being perceived as being in it only for the money. And that’s a very legitimate fear.

    I can tell you that at those times in my career that I have been a hiring manager, if a candidate struck me as being more interested in the money than in the work itself and in being part of the team, that candidate didn’t get very far. If I choose you over all of the other candidates I’ve interviewed, I make you an offer, and your comeback is that you’ll accept the offer if I throw in more money, I’m definitely going to have second thoughts about whether you’re really the one I want in this job. No, wait. That’s not entirely true. I’m going to tell you, as graciously as I can, to hit the road. But that’s just me. And according to the survey, I’m in the minority.

    Asked how frequently they raise their offers if a technology candidate doesn’t accept the initial salary or hourly rate being offered, a full one-third of hiring managers and recruiters said they “frequently” or “very frequently” raise the offer, and another 49 percent said they at least “occasionally” raise the offer. So it appears your odds are pretty good if you hold out for more money.

    But those could be some dangerous waters to tread in. If you feel compelled to haggle for more money after a potential employer makes you an offer, it follows that you don’t think he’s making you a fair offer. That means he’s trying to low-ball you. And if you think a potential employer is low-balling you, your best bet is to walk away, not feel like you need to play some negotiation game. If he’s trying to take advantage of you with the initial offer, what makes you think he won’t try to take advantage of you down the road?

    And make no mistake, there are plenty of employers who will try to take advantage of you. In late 2009, when the recession was decimating the careers of countless IT professionals, I wrote a post in which I compared what a lot of out-of work IT professionals were doing to “slave labor.” Things are better now, but what I wrote about then still happens: Here’s an excerpt:

    What’s happening is that potential employers are taking advantage of the desperation of many jobless professionals by making unfair and overzealous demands on them as part of the recruitment process. A particularly troubling tack taken by some companies, especially in dealing with unemployed CIOs and other senior executives, is to demand that the job candidate analyze the employer’s operations and prepare a strategic plan (or some other intellectual property that’s created and surrendered) to improve those operations. … I would love to know how many millions of dollars in consulting fees companies are saving by simply tapping the expertise of job candidates as part of the candidate assessment process.

    If a prospective employer makes that kind of demand without compensating you for it, just walk away. And if a prospective employer makes you a salary offer that you think is unfair, you might want to consider just walking away from that, too. I’m not saying there’s no place for negotiation. But if you think the offer’s unfair, understand that for the red flag that it is.

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