How to Accept and Negotiate Your First Job Offer
“You’re hired!” These are the words you’ve been waiting to hear since you went in for that interview three weeks ago. It’s all you can do to let the recruiter finish offering you the job! You want to scream, “Yes!!! Yes!! YESSSSS!!!! I’ll take it,” as soon as she starts with, “I’ve got some good news for you.” But despite the feelings of excitement, an enthusiastic blind response may not be in your best interest. Read on, to learn what options and benefits you ought to take into account when considering a job offer. We’ll also discuss WHEN and HOW to negotiate a job offer, and what negotiating says about you!
After receiving an offer, many candidates will accept the job before they have learned all the terms, pay rates and benefits. This is a mistake, because it removes (or at least minimizes) the opportunity to negotiate. Since I’m sure you’ve read the earlier article we posted on “When to talk MONEY,” you know that generally speaking, you ought to wait until after the job offer has been made before you ask about salary, etc. Leave it to the recruiter to decide when to bring up money, health insurance, retirement plans and similar benefits. Some will briefly discuss certain benefits before the job offer (“And we have free lunch every day!”), during the interviewing process, but it’s best to leave salary talk until after the official offer is made.
Once the offer is out on the table, take these elements into consideration before giving your final answer. Some of these benefits may also come into play, as part of your negotiation.
Are these provided by the company? Do they give you a stipend towards health insurance? Does your health insurance include vision and dental, or just general health and wellness? What are the differences between the HMO and PPO options? Are there multiple providers offered? At the point of the job offer, you only need to know if health insurance is included or not. If it is, the options (about HMO vs. PPO, etc) will likely be covered by an HR representative during your new hire orientation.
Can I negotiate this? Generally, no. Health benefits and the premium portion that you pay are normally standard across the board.
This is your 401k, IRA and/or life insurance package. Some companies provide a partial or full dollar-for-dollar company match contribution towards retirement accounts (401k usually) up to a certain percentage of your salary (normally 1 to 5%). Your option to choose your contribution level per paycheck (or opt out) is normally also explained during new hire orientation.
Can I negotiate this? Again, not really. At some point, when you’re a higher level manager or executive, you may be able to negotiate stock options as part of your benefits, but that is much later on.
Company Discounts and Perks
Free meals? A game room with a pool table and air hockey on campus? Partial or full reimbursement of gym memberships and other athletic clubs? Reimbursement of college tuition? There are a wide range of additional perks that may be offered by your potential employer. Ask your HR representative to cover these with you at new hire orientation.
Can I negotiate this? Not usually.
Paid National Holidays, Vacation Days and Sick Time
Paid vacation and holidays are like the holy grail of benefits! Most companies will start you out with a particular number of vacation days, normally based on an accrual system, where you earn a particular number of vacation hours per full work day. This normally starts out as being 5 days (1 week) to 10 days (2 weeks) of full paid vacation per year. Sick days may be accrued, or may just refresh annually. The difference is that sick days may only be used when you are ill, or sometimes, when you are caring for a sick family member. Sick days run out at the end of a calendar year, and do not carry over if you don’t use them. Vacation days are generally scheduled in advance with your supervisor. Many times, vacation days DO carry over, up to certain amount maximum (usually around 30 days). Sometimes you can be paid out vacation days, once you reach your maximum accrual if you don’t want to take the time off. Paid holidays are national holidays, not necessarily religious holidays. Though many employers do close offices over Christmas and Easter, you may have to use your vacation time, if you want to be paid. Paid holidays are generally: New Year’s Day, Christmas Day, Thanksgiving Day, Memorial Day and Labor Day. Other holidays such as President’s day, etc. may or may not be considered paid holidays by your employer.
Can I negotiate this? Maybe! Though it’s tough to negotiate any point for an entry level job, as you move along in your career, this is usually one of the easier areas to navigate. This is the area where you generally have the most alternate negotiating wiggle-room, outside of salary. If the employer isn’t able to offer you a higher hourly or monthly rate, maybe they can give you an extra week of paid vacation? This way, they can keep your rate lower across the year, but still give you extra money through paid vacation.
Perhaps the largest, and definitely most frequently thought of ‘benefit’ of working, is making money! Making money lets you pay rent and bills (and student loans…). Your salary starting out will vary in amount based on industry. You will likely be paid: hourly, as a weekly flat rate (no over time), as a monthly flat salary (no over time), or as a base rate per week/month plus a commission.
Can I negotiate this?
The answer depends largely on industry and your level of experience. In entertainment fields, you probably won’t be able to negotiate at the entry level because if you don’t take the desk job at the minimum rate they are offering, there are 100 other people behind you who will. On the other hand, if you work in a field where it’s harder to find good candidates (mainly analysts, finance people, or IT folks) you may very well be able to negotiate.
Generally, a human resources or recruiting person from the company will make the salary offer as the first part of the job package. It is likely that she knows when she calls you what her salary range is for the position. The recruiter will also clearly tell you (if you ask) whether or not she has room to negotiate. Many times when they say “no,” it’s not a matter of your qualifications. It’s truly just what the position is budgeted at, in terms of the larger corporate budget, and similar salaries for similar positions. Sometimes, depending on how your relationship with the recruiter is, you can ask what the salary range is for the position, and base any negotiations on the figures she provides. But remember to be realistic! If this is your first job out of college, it’s not wise to ask for the top of the range. However, it could serve you well, to ask for something in the middle.
Your ability to negotiate will also depend heavily on the company you are considering working for. The same job at different companies, in different locations/states/countries (or in different industries) may vary quite a bit in terms of salary range. One great resource in considering salary is glassdoor.com . On this website, current and past employees leave anonymous feedback regarding their actual salaries, and thoughts on the culture and morale of the organization. These stats can also be broken down by location for national organizations. Glassdoor also lists common interview questions that have been asked of those interviewing for particular positions. This can be helpful in preparing for your initial interview as well.
What does asking about the possibility of negotiations say about you?
Even if the recruiter has no wiggle-room in terms of offering you a higher salary or more vacation, it never hurts to ask. BUT - when you ask - do it CONFIDENTLY. Asking about the possibility of negotiation shows the employer that you are doing your best to practice good business and career skills, and that you truly believe in and understand what value you bring as an employee. As long as you are gracious and approach negotiations as a coming together of goals, rather than a “me vs. them” mentality, negotiations can actually be a benefit to your reputation, even as an entry level employee, as long as you’ve done your research. If you’re applying for a consulting gig at Deloitte, and you know from Glassdoor that the average range in California for a Tax Consultant I position, is 55k-75k per year, with an average salary being 61k, and you are offered 55k per year, and counter with a request for 57-60k, that is reasonable. Perhaps ambitious, but still in the appropriate ballpark. If you ask for 75-80k, clearly you don’t know your potential employer, or what’s appropriate for your entry level career status. In asking to negotiate, it’s also helpful to offer a range (57k to 60k) instead of only a solid figure (60k). This shows the employer that you are willing to meet them in the middle, instead of making them come to you. Even this early on, it helps to present yourself as a team player working towards a common goal (you working at that company).
More than anything, know that it’s ok to ask for time to think the offer over. Ask the recruiter if it’s ok for you to get back to him or her within 24 hours, or if you are waiting to see if you get other offers from other interviews, ask when (what date) the recruiter needs to have an answer from you. Then respectfully stick to that deadline you have agreed upon. And regardless of what you decide, try and reach the recruiter by phone to tell him/her your decision. Remember, this person is still a potential employer for your future career, and you want to keep that line of communication open!
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