Salary Negotiations: Know When To Stop

When deciding whether to push for a slightly higher salary, you need to ask yourself: If they were not to budge on the salary after negotiations, would you still accept the job?

Salary Negotiations: Know When To Stop

Question: I’m a senior data scientist, and I just got a job offer, but the salary is about $1,000 less than I expected. I’m offered a management position with eight to 10 people under my supervision. They also offered a very generous signing bonus of about $50,000.

I think the salary offer is so low because in the interview, I was bad at white boarding, and they told me that. But I reminded them that white boarding in my role is of less importance than other skills like machine learning—which they agree are strong.

I understand that they’re using the signing bonus to hedge their risk, but I still want to negotiate the salary. What do you think? In this situation, how crazy is this idea? Thank you in advance!

Nick Corcodilos: Not very long ago, Harvard Business Review called what you do “The Sexiest Job Of The 21stst Century.” More recently, Forbes listed data scientists as number one among “5 Things CMOs Want This Holiday Season.”

Does that make you worth a lot? Probably. Does that mean you should be greedy? Absolutely not. Don’t let your market value go to your head, and do not discount the judgment they made about your white boarding skills, which I think reveals a bigger underlying concern. This article may help you see why: “Today’s Data Scientists: More Marketer, Less Scientist.”

You need to ask yourself this question: If they were not to budge on the salary after negotiations, would you still accept the job? If yes, then I would not bother negotiating for a $1,000 increase. That’s a bone of contention of less than 1%. Sometimes it’s a healthy thing to “Leave Something On The Table When You Negotiate.” In a moment, I’ll tell you why it’s dangerous to be greedy.

I think there are two issues here:

  1. Is this a good place to work, and are they demonstrating that they really want you?
  2. Is the compensation enough for you?

What the first issue refers to is: Do you really want this job? Do you want to work with these people? If you don’t, then don’t do it for any amount of money. If you do, then calculate the future value of the job and the cohort you’ll join. Then ask: What does $1,000 mean in this context?

The second issue is obvious: If the money’s not going to make you happy, then negotiate the offer or reject it.

It doesn’t seem the offer is inadequate—not if the difference is less than 1%. I think you’re being greedy, and I think you’re discounting the quality of the company and the people you’ll be working with. I’d focus my energy on addressing the first issue accurately.

I agree the signing bonus is generous. Of course they’re hedging their bet—but it still indicates how much they want you. You’re wise to consider that a signing bonus is a one-time event that will not affect future raises, your 401(k) basis, or other salary-based perks. But you’d have to work 50 years at a $1,000 higher salary to match that one-time bonus. And as my accountant would point out, if you invest that lump sum for the next 50 years, you’re effectively getting a raise every year on it.

If you would not accept the salary unless it’s $1,000 higher, then by all means negotiate. It’s not my place to tell you what this job is worth.

Now here’s the danger I referred to: If you press for an extra $1,000, I would not be surprised at all if this employer rescinded the offer altogether. My message to the CMO who probably interviewed you is: After you showed this candidate good faith worth $50,000, the candidate is demonstrating a preoccupation with $1,000. That’s not good faith on the candidate’s part!

Knowing how to negotiate effectively includes knowing when to stop. So let’s return to the key question: If they were not to budge on the salary after negotiations, would you still accept the job? If yes, then I think risking the job for a grand is indeed crazy. Thank them for their offer and generous signing bonus, smile, and tell them you plan to demonstrate so much value to their business that next year they’ll want to give you a substantial raise.

I wish you the best.