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Effective Strategies for Negotiating Up Your Salary as Software Engineer

Whether you’re looking for a new role or hoping to earn more within your current company, negotiating over your salary can feel unnatural to anyone—let alone for software engineers who prefer to (metaphorically) wrestle with computers rather than with people. But doing so can help you to earn significantly more with the same qualifications, so it’s a worthy exercise if you’re willing to put in the preparation required for an effective salary negotiation. These strategies are a good starting place as you consider how to best present yourself and your value in the job market.

Do negotiate

To begin with, it’s important not to be timid about negotiating for a higher salary. Recruiters and hiring managers (or managers if you’re looking for a raise, not a new role) are used to this back-and-forth with candidates, so rest assured that it’s not an unprecedented conversation. In fact, chances are you’ll feel more awkward in the conversation than your counterparty, so the more you can accept that this sort of negotiation as normal, the better.

Deciding to negotiate over salary can be particularly difficult for software engineers, who often deal more with computers than with other people—and may feel uncomfortable with conflict, particularly with future colleagues. Many technical employees don’t even consider negotiating, resulting in younger candidates undervaluing their worth; According to Hired’s 2018 State of Salaries Report, those between the ages of 20-24 asked for nearly $10,000 less than they were ultimately offered.

Know the market and your expectations

In short, do your research before entering any negotiation. Between industry-specific salary data, conversations with friends at other companies, or even your own experience, be sure to have a good understanding of what your skills are worth, and how much you’d like to earn. While you don’t necessarily need to disclose your ideal salary, it’s helpful to have a target in mind, as the difference between the offer and your target can provide an idea of how tough the negotiation will be—and thus how much prep work you should do.

Focus on the value you provide today…

While this may sound like business fluff, there’s an important point to be made about how you represent yourself and your work, whether negotiating for a new job or a raise in your current company. While external data can support your reasoning for how much you’re asking for, it’s your own experience, attributes, and how you talk about them that will justify why you deserve it.

As you think through examples of what you have or will provide to the company, take into account who your interviewer(s) will be and tailor your answers accordingly. Senior executives, for example, may be less concerned with granularities like which programming languages you know or the details of your past projects, but will be impressed if you can demonstrate how your work has affected the bottom line. Recruiters, on the other hand, are often the right people to evaluate technical skills, so typically concern themselves with your softer skills—and how you’d fit with the company’s unique culture.

…and in the future

In an era where technology seems to move faster than the speed of light, many tech companies are more concerned with what’s next than with today’s challenges—and software engineers are often at the helm when it comes to keeping up. In asking for higher compensation, it’s therefore important to not only demonstrate why you’ll be value to the team today, but also in the face of unknown technological advances. In addition to being curious, a future-proofed employee can demonstrate that they can solve unknown problems, operate effectively under ambiguity, and learn independently.

Consider using equity as leverage

While companies of all sizes can be hamstrung when it comes to adjusting cash salary offers, skilled software engineers are in a good place to negotiate for more equity as part of their overall compensation package. In addition, equity aligns incentives between you and the company, so many companies will be more willing to go up on their equity offer.

It’s difficult to know how much an equity offer is really worth, but there are some tactics to help you get a ballpark range. Check out this Wealthfront post—but keep in mind that the calculation includes a number of assumptions, and there’s no guarantee your equity will be worth anything at all. Bottom line—if you believe in what the company is doing and see yourself sticking around for at least a few years, negotiating for more equity can be a way to significantly increase your potential upside, even if the team can’t offer anything else in terms of cash compensation.