Understand Negotiable Elements of a Job Offer

Congratulations! You've been offered a job. But once you assess the offer and everything that comes with it (the job itself, the hours, career implications, salary, health insurance package, paid time off, retirement-plan options, and other benefits . . . ) you're likely to find that some aspects of the offer appeal to you while others don't.

Negotiating the terms of your employment is nothing to be afraid of; you want to get the most for your skills and the company wants you to be happy from your first day forward. And once the offer has been made to you, presumably, you have some leverage. Just remember to be fair. The person you're negotiating with is most likely your future boss. Playing hardball may get you a bigger office or extra vacation days but you don't want to start a new job for someone who already assumes you're difficult or high-maintenance.

Consider the following elements of a job offer, which sometimes can be negotiable before accepting.

Starting salary

Your starting salary is among the most negotiable components of a job offer. Companies usually have a salary range for each position and sometimes go to the top end of the range to get an outstanding recruit. The challenge is to demonstrate that your skills and accomplishments warrant your requested earnings. Some factors you can use to support your request for more money include:

  • The market value of your position is higher than what you've been offered.

  • The starting salary is significantly less than what you were earning at the job you're leaving.

  • The company expects you to pay a major portion of your benefits package.

If the company seems unwilling to budge, consider asking for an evaluation after a certain length of time — maybe three or six months — and if your job performance is outstanding by then, you'll be rewarded with a raise that takes you to the salary you want.

Performance bonus

A performance bonus is usually paid out annually or on another regular schedule as a reward for doing a good job. Sometimes, these bonuses are based on management discretion, and sometimes on a structured scale (for example, if your team reaches x in profits, each team member gets a bonus equal to y). Performance bonuses are sometimes negotiable but other times completely inflexible, depending on the company.

Scope of the job

Some jobs are highly structured and the scope of your responsibilities is based on job description. More common, however, you may have a little bargaining room as to the projects you'll manage, the duties you'll perform, the size of your sales territory, the amount of time you'll travel, etc.

Vacation time

Again, some organizations have non-negotiable vacation policies, but others don't. If you're leaving a job that granted you more time off than would the new job, negotiate. Just make sure you don't ask for so many vacation days that you're perceived as a slacker who would rather be on the beach.

If you had planned time away before accepting a job (such as to attend an out-of-state wedding), tell your potential employer during the negotiation. Even if they can't offer you paid time off, most companies will let you have the days off without pay or let you borrow against vacation days not yet earned. If they don't, be wary: Do you really want to work for a company that doesn't care about your existing obligations?

Start date

Most new employers will be fairly flexible with how long you need before starting your job. Don't burn a bridge by cutting your notice short at an existing job and if your new employer pressures you to do so, this might be another warning sign that the new company isn't the place to be.

Hiring or signing bonuses

Hiring bonuses have become more common in recent years, but usually not for the recent college grad. But if you're offered one, it's negotiable.

Health benefits

Although you likely won't have much luck negotiating a different benefits package, you may have choices within the package — especially when it comes to how long you have to work for the company before the benefits take effect and the percentage of the monthly fee you're required to pay.

If you or one of your dependents has a disease or condition that could be deemed "pre-existing" by a new insurance provider, make sure that your new company's benefits program doesn't exclude coverage.

Relocation expenses

If you're offered a job in which you're expected to uproot yourself and move to Timbuktu, consider all the elements of your move negotiable. Corporate relocation plans vary widely, from a few hundred dollars in cash to plans that will pay your moving costs, cover your rent at a temporary apartment in the new city, and even pay the mortgage on your house in the old city until it sells. Typical components that could be negotiable include:

  • Allowances for miscellaneous expenses (cable and phone hook up fees, etc.)

  • Moving expenses (cash or professional movers)

  • Storage unit rental

  • Travel expenses to the new location (truck rentals, mileage, food allowances, hotel expenses)

  • Temporary housing

Severance provisions

Sure, talking about what you get when you're laid off might seem strange if you haven't even accepted the job yet, but severance packages are important if you're being asked to leave a secure position to come work for a start-up company. Think about how much money you would need to pay your bills and live for about six months and use that number as the starting point of your negotiations.

Work location

Sometimes where you work is negotiable. You might be able to work from home. If the company has several offices and you'd prefer one over another, ask. And if the company can't meet your request, you could turn that around to bargain elsewhere. For example, you might want to work in Charlotte, N.C., because you own a home and the cost of living is low, but the company wants you in New York City. If they won't let you stay in Charlotte, you could bargain your salary based on the higher cost of living in New York.

Of course, your work location is negotiable up to a point, depending on the position. If you have a staff to manage and regular meetings to attend, odds are your boss will want you in the office.