August 14, 2013
What's negotiable, and what isn't, in a job offer
It is a common belief that everything in a job offer is negotiable. Sure, there is room for negotiation in a number of areas, but not each one. The rule of thumb: The smaller the company, the more flexibility you have to negotiate components of an offer. As companies get larger, they typically need to standardize practices across departments.
The things that are negotiable generally have to do with money. Every position -- whether it is the janitor for a middle school or the CEO of a multinational conglomerate -- has a salary range that is calculated based on a number of factors, such as industry, geography and job title. Within that band, the base salary is generally negotiable.
Sign-on bonuses are highly negotiable. Stock/equity also can be negotiated, as can titles (for example, adding "senior" to a "manager" title).
Benefits are usually a yes/no enrollment option. If your spouse or partner has excellent health-care coverage for the entire family, it might make sense for you to decline health benefits, or maybe accept only vision and/or dental insurance. Flexible Spending Accounts are great for covering your medical or child-care costs on a pretax basis, thus saving you money in the long run.
Companies' 401(k) plans are highly variable, but many employers offer some sort of matching, which is essentially "free" money. You may choose the amount you are able to contribute annually, but the cap is determined by federal regulation.
What generally cannot be negotiated below the executive level is paid time off; most companies with a policy in place calculate time off based on the number of hours their employees work. Before you start a job, tell your new employer if you already have time off scheduled; this can be applied as a deficit against your "bank" of hours or can be taken unpaid.
Flexible work hours and location typically are discussed with the hiring manager, not HR. This generally is not included in an offer letter unless it is part of the corporate policy or it is explicitly stated in the job description (for example, the job is a remote or work-from-home situation).
Although it behooves you to understand that not everything is open to negotiation, it never hurts to ask for the things that will make you happy.
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Kristen Fife is a senior recruiter, career mentor, blogger and resume consultant based in the Seattle area.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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