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How do I negotiate for the best terms on a software engineering offer when I don't have another offer to compare against?

Hello! I am a college senior with an offer from a decently large enterprise tech company to be a backend software engineer after graduation. I wish I had some sort of sign-on bonus or some relocation funds with my offer, because I'm not sure I can afford the first month of rent when I haven't gotten my first paycheck yet. But I don't have another offer to use as leverage in negotiations. How do I negotiate? What's my real power here? Are there any tips for negotiating I can use? #computer-software #software-engineer

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Ashley’s Answer

Hi Anina! Congratulations on your offer. That is a fantastic opportunity and very exciting to have your first professional offer. The first question I have for you is this - do you want the job? If it is a role that you can see yourself in, you enjoyed the interview process and the people you met, the next step is negotiation.

You should take a look at salary research websites and determine what similar type roles in that market have been reported. I've hired dozens of people in my career and I will tell you that at an entry level job, the offer is generally mid-range. The power that you have in this negotiation is that they made you an offer. They have gone through considerable time and expense to get you to this stage in the process and the worst possible thing that could happen to them is that they have to start all over. Realistically, they have a "B" candidate, but they don't want that person. They. Want. You.

Respond ASAP to the recruiter. Thank them and show enthusiasm. Express why the company and job are appealing to you. Request any additional information, if needed (clarify position responsibilities, expected results, salary, and benefits, etc). Ask for the offer in writing (if you don't already have it). Ask for time to evaluate the offer. For example "Thank you for the offer! I'm delighted to received your call (or email). The team really impressed me during my visit. Let me clarify, the position is ___ and these are the things you want me to accomplish ___. The salary is $y and the benefits include ___. I want to make a good long term decision. Can you send me an email with all the details, including benefits? If it works for you, I'll get back with you by Thursday."

It's important that you know what your walk-away point is. This will give you more confidence so you don't waver during negotiations. The recruiter and the hiring manager is expecting you to negotiate. I'd recommend figuring out three things you would like to ask them to concede on. For example - Signing bonus, Base Salary, Time off, Flexible hours, target annual bonus percentage, work from home options, tuition assistance, professional dues, moving expenses, work hours.

Have a rationale for asking for what you want, and some options if you don't get exactly what you want when they come back. A good rationale for an increase in salary is from your market value research. An option may be an accelerated merit review period. For example: They offer $70k, you know the market value is $75-80k. You ask for $80k and can meet them half way at $75k, or accept the $70k with the agreement that they will review your performance in 3 months and adjust salary at that point. Or instead of an increase on your base pay, they provide a one-time signing bonus of $5k (which is much cheaper for them in the long run then starting you off at $5k more on your base salary).

When you meet with the recruiter to negotiate, set the following agenda:

  1. Thank them/show enthusiasm
  2. restate your value to the organization (remember, they want you!!)
  3. Mention what you like about the offer (win-win)
  4. Advise them that there are some things you want to discuss
  5. Assure confidence that you both will be able to work through the items successfully
  6. Discuss and resolve ways to bridge gaps
  7. Ask open ended questions and LISTEN
  8. Suggest change to the offer - Make your proposal, give your rationale, provide options
  9. Finally ask for the final offer in writing and establish your start date.

Ideally this should be done in person or on the phone. Dry run in front of a mirror or with a friend before your meeting. You may not get everything you want, but if you know what your walk away point is, you will be successful either way.

"I am wondering if you might be flexible on the base salary. The number was lower than I expected. After researching and talking with mentors in this area, I was expecting the offer to be between $x and $y" *pause and wait for a response* You can propose an alternative as a sign-on bonus which would help you get established in the new city "If you are unable to change the salary, which I understand, could we explore the possibility of a sign-on bonus as a bridge until the first merit review?"

I know this is a lot to read through. If you have specific questions or would like something clarified, don't hesitate to reach out. Congratulations again. Please let me know how your discussion goes!


Ashley recommends the following next steps:

Reply to the offer
Ask for the offer in writing
Request time to evaluate the offer
Determine your priority items in the offer. Determine what your goal is on those items and your walk away point.
Schedule a follow-up meeting with the recruiter.

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Ashley’s Answer

Congrats on an offer and graduating! I’d just ask. I’d say, “I’m very excited for a future with the company and think it is the best fit for me. I’d like to counter at a base salary of x, and for a signing bonus of Y. I’d be thrilled to sign immediately.”

I’d suggest somewhere in the range of 5-10%, and expect them to meet somewhere in the middle.

I just did this without a competitive offer and it worked!

Good luck!

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Christina’s Answer

The other answers have pretty much addressed how to negotiate, you should negotiate every offer. Given a reasonable request the worst that happens is the person says they can't do what you're asking for. However, if you've already accepted the offer (in writing) you were given it's unlikely you'll be able to negotiate further.

Christina recommends the following next steps:

Always research comparable salaries for the geographic area, job title, company size, etc
Always negotiate an offer

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Steve’s Answer

It sounds like you've got a lot of research you need to do.

You should be able to speak to what you think the market value is for the position. This will be critical in negotiations.

The good news is the company has decided they want you.

Figure out what aspects of the job are most important. Sign on/vacation/bonus plan/salary. It's also quite likely that they're expecting you to negotiate, so once you have an idea in mind of what you want talk to the recruiter.

Steve recommends the following next steps:

Research salary data for locale
Research rent/budgets for locale
Decide what you need to to accept
Set up call with recruiter and negotiate
Start new job or keep looking.

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Brinda’s Answer

Yes exactly as other people have said, there are excellent websites in your area which would show potential job opportunities that are similar to the one you've been offered and sometimes they have salary packages & other incentives listed on the job ad. You can then compare them to what you've been offered and use this as a negotiating lever in your conversations with the prospective employer, Also why not answer to these job opportunities if they are applicable.

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Joe’s Answer


There are websites you can use to see how much you should be making based on your current skillset. They may also tell you how much you should be making in your area. The same job might pay more or less in California versus Boston. Some may even give you a listing of potential job matches in your area.