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New Job? Negotiate as if your life depends on it

Software engineers are in need for a lot of softskills alongside with the technical ones, they need to know how to deal with team members specially the non-technical ones, they need to learn how to present and form their ideas and sell them to leadership (especially non-tech) and team mates, also, software engineers need to learn how to negotiate their salaries for a new job or while asking for a raise after an exceptional evaluation cycle.

And that last two about salary or raise negotiation is what I will try to teach you in this article through some ideas and techniques I learned from a book titled Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss, not every thing in the book I will mention but only the relevant ones.

never split the difference book

Never Split the Difference 📕

The author of this book (Chris Voss) is a former FBI negotiator, and the book tells a lot of stories about his successful negotiations with terrorists around the world to free hostages mainly, this book is not used only in negotiation with terrorists or political affairs, the examples and advices in each chapter can be used in any situation.

In fact everyone is using at least one technique already in their life without knowing even kids, remember when you were a kid and your parents asks you to go to bed at 8:00 PM and you start bargaining to get 10min more on TV or maybe finish one last game?, or maybe you said that you will go to sleep but in the weekend you will play more or watch the TV more and so on, this is a kind of a negotiation and the counterparty (parents in this case) can think of it and decide yes or no, depends on your skills back then in convincing them with high scoring in the math exam at school for example

You need to learn how to bargain hard for anything: free a hostage, accept a new contract, pay for something, or any other situation that comes to your mind, always push it one more mile if you could, and you will be surprised and maybe would ask yourself about the amount of chances that you wasted in the past, this book is all about that.

Hiring Process is Expensive 💰

Unsplash by Tim Gouw

Let's talk a bit about the software companies process to hire an engineer, you might not be surprised by how long it is nowadays (could be more than 6 stages) but definitely would be surprised by how costy it is until you reach the negotiation phase of the offer, and if you reached to this stage be sure that you were the one among 10s or in some cases 100s of other candidates and this employer needs you in the team.

As a simple example of the cost: if we say that the process is 2 technical interviews (each 60min) , and 1 culture fit interview (60min) and this can be the bare minimum, assuming that the company is assigning two engineers for each interview and at least one manager for the later one.

This means that they are spending at least 2 hours worth of money from engineers and 1 hour worth of money for a manager per candidate and this is very important, as if they interview 20 candidate then the minimum will be around 40 hours worth of money from engineers which is a working week and around 20 hours worth of money from a manager, this is a big investment if you ask any company, this is the minimum as there is some time to prepare for the interview as an interviewer and to write reports afterwards and the final panel to make the decision.

When they make the decision to give an offer all this investment is taken into consideration, what makes them think about starting the negotiation, yes it is not the final take, it is a start which most people would take it as final and accept it immediately THIS IS WRONG.

Don't reveal your salary expectation 🙊

Unsplash by Mathieu Turle

When you start a process with any company the recruiter would ask you some questions and most probably one of them is what is your salary expectation? this is not really only to see if you are matching what they are looking for or the budget, it is used usually in the final decision and the first offer sent to you after you pass the full interview process, or a close number to it.

That's why I would advice you NOT to say any number in your first call, recruiters play some tricks in order to come with a number from you to put it down in your file and use it in the negotiation phase in the end, whatever they do try to respond without numbers with answers like:

  • I am interested to know what you offer in this position at least a range.
  • I would be more comfortable talking about that in the end of the process.
  • My current salary is confidential, prefer not to reveal it.
  • I am moving to a new city where it is hard to know the cost of life, can you help me with what would be a good minimum?

And so on, always make the other party go first, but if you have nothing else to do and you feel that the recruiter is playing more tricks then you need to pay attention to thier bargaining in the end by knowing ahead of time the market salary trends and add at least 25% on top of it for discussion later.

Companies are open for negotiation 🤗

Unsplash by Clay Banks

Could be a surprise to you but this is a fact, So, after you successfully nail it and recieve an offer from a company, don't respond in the same day, take your time, think about what they offer, usually it is not only the base salary think about the whole package and perks.

Ideally if you have multiple offers in the same time to compare usually the offer would be with the expected salary that you gave to the recruiter in the first call otherwise would be in the best case in the middle of the range for that position in that company, they do that (in most cases) to be open if you reject that offer to give a counter offer with slightly higher cap, so take this advantage and negotiate.

if you already did give a number and discovered later that it was less than what this position should make, just be honest about it and say "I think after the interview process that..." and start giving your point of view and your rationals of why this offer doesn't work for you, don't be afraid, they are expecting that and open for discussing it and the worst case is that they would say this is the max we can offer for now and you accept it as is or reject it if it doesn't match your expectations at all.

Remember: recruiters are not paying your salary from their own money, however they need a strong case to defend you in front of the management/panel to give you a counter offer so negotiate hard and be reasonable about what you are asking for (recruiters are your ally not enemy)

It is very important if you are taking about numbers in this phase to give very specific numbers that are not rounded so for example don't say "I would accept the offer if it is €30.000" better to say for example €31.550 this gives the feeling that this number comes out of calculations not arbitrary.

Confront without confrontation 😎

Unsplash by Christina

Never to say NO is a negotiation, as this closes the chance to come to an agreement, but there is a way to say NO without using the word NO which are giving way better results, just follow the following steps:

  • Use the later night voice: that very calm voice helps a lot in being in control and gives the other party the idea that you are not fighting to win, but you are trying to find a middle ground with them.
  • Start with sorry: if you want to say something that negate what the other party said start with the sorry word which gives a sign of understanding and empathy.
  • Mirroring: repeat the last 3 words of the other party or at least the important words from their last sentence.
  • be silent for 4 seconds: this is very important in order to take the effect and they will definitely start speaking in the direction that you confront.
  • Repeat: this should be done during the whole discussion and don't come to a NO ever except if you are completely done with the deal.

Here is an example for a response when an offer come to you way lower than expecation and they said that this is the offer we make for you: I'am sorry, but you said that this is the offer you make after that long process? You will be surprised that the other party will start to bargain against themselves, I tried that before myself using the same techniques mentioned above and I was skeptical at the beginning that it would work in real live but surprisingly enough it does, details in next section.

My story in applying these steps IRL 😳

I was leaving a specific company moving to another one and I was thinking about buying the laptop that I was using ( a common thing that can happen in any company) just for portability as I use a mac-mini as my main driver at home, the first respond from the HR was that the rule is to sell it with a 20% off for each year and give me an offer to buy it, that was too much given that a new version with M1 was already out in the market and this one was running on Inter proessor.

I used the steps of confrontation without using the word NO by starting with a nice late night tune of my voice, started with sorry this price would not work for me then I listed reasons about the version and my little need for it, about the fan loud voice, ...etc, then stayed silent for 3 days after she said she will check and come back to me.

Guess what was the respond? hence I gave no new numbers, I just labeled that the price doesn't work and gave my reasons but showed still some interest in continuing in the negotiation, she came back to me after 3 days with another offer to get it with literally half the price of the first offer 🤯 I was shocked that the technique works way better than expected and they really bargained agaist themselves WOW 🎉

The moral of this story is that these techniques worked for me and could work for you in a different situation, the most important thing is that I learned how to negotiate and made some prepartion ahead which is in the next section.

How to prepare for a salary negotiation?! 📄

Unsplash by Jexo

In the book Never Split the Difference the author put a one sheet by the end of the book that can be used for preparation, some people might feel that this is too much but believe me, negotiation would be much easier if you make this preparation, It should be one sheet that includes 5 sections:

1. The Goal

In this section you are supposed to prepare very well the end goal that you are aiming for, what is the best case and what is the worst case, prepare a fall back, plan B or a BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiation Agreement) which gives you a confidence that whatever goes wrong you have an alternative if negotiation fails.

The advice here is to do your homework and know the max that can be paid in this role not only in that company but in the market in general and writ it down in the sheet to take it with you for the negotiation if it is a face to face or to use it while writing the respond on email.

Be optimistic but reasonable while setting the goal, and discuss it if you can with a collegue or your partener so you practice that and feel it for real.

2. Summary

summarize and write down out in just a couple of sentences the known facts that have led up to this negotiation, you need to have something to talk about byond your need to have what you want.

The other party is coming prepared with questions and tactics to bargain against you, so you have to be prepared with some tactical empathy and try to drive them to say "That's right" so you can build a case on top of it.

3. Labels/accusation audit

After you introduced your summary you need to prepare 3 to 5 labels to perform an accusation audit, expect the counterpart to be not conviced at the beginning when you share your summary, anticipate their questions and answer them is a labeling way as follow:

  • It seems like ..... is valuable to you
  • It seems like you don't like .........
  • It seems like you value ..............

and so on, if you wrote them down they will be easy and you can practice, so for example if you are a developer and asked for a raise, and the counterpart is not yet conviced by your point can use something from what they mention during sharing their expectations and label it like It seems like high standard code quality is valuable to you for example, if that is the case it will click with them and so on, just prepare some.

4. Calibrated questions

Prepare 3 to 5 calibrated questions to reveal value to you and your counterpart, and identify and overcome potintial deal killer, in this section you need to know that your needs is not necessarly conflicting with the needs of your counterpart, you can be in the same boat.

You need to prepare question to reveal:

  • behind the table deal killers: the other paties that are included in the decision making are very important
  • Defuse deal killers issues: if the recruiter (negotiator) finds it hard to convice management ask questions to defuse their concerns.

as you are prepared already in the previous section with labels, you can use them to collaborate with the counterpart which will keep them feeding you with valuable information such as It seems like you are worries about .... so they will give you more details that would benefit you.

5. Noncash offers

Prepare a list of a noncash items possessed by your counterpart that could be valuable to you, like if the company is building a valuable software to you, getting a free subscription would cost them almost nothing but that would be a valuable noncash benefit.

Think about it and write them down, these are always very nice to have and they are not a direct money.


If you are in a negotiation process, it worth the time and effort to prepare for that session just like how you prepare for your technical interviews.

Remember that companies are open for the negotiation as long as you are giving great reasons why you deserve that, you need to learn to sell your skills and to bargain hard.

Using the one sheet mentioned by the end of the article would make the negotiation way easier and you will be surprised by the results, and if you do please tweet it and let me know @med7atdawoud 😊

Tot ziens 👋

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