Salary Negotiation for Software Developers

The day has come. You are on the cusp of graduation day and now you see the finish line. Yes, we know it may come with a series of mixed emotions. There’s the excitement as you're begin to put your skills to good use, but you may also feel a hole in the pit of your stomach. You're about to step into a world unknown!

Whether you are a student preparing to find your first job or a veteran who has opted to venture out to a new field, these feelings will hold true. However, there are many things you can do to prepare for the next step in the journey, which many will argue is the most difficult part: the job hunt. 

Our recommendation? Prep, prep, prep! There’s a lot to say about the peace of mind that having a structured plan brings, and our CEO and co-founder Jake Hadden has a number of tips to help you tackle the job search. I recommend you take a minute, if you haven’t already, to go over the basics given from a pro’s perspective (I say this in all honesty and not only 'cause he’s my boss :P). 

Preparing to Negotiate Your Salary

But what about the salary negotiation? How do you find that sweet spot between not selling yourself short and keeping a strong and confident attitude without asking too much and risking your job offer? Ah, yes, that point can be difficult to find, but not impossible. Just remember: There's a difference between being cocky and knowing your worth, and you need to find that middle ground.

So how do you do that? 

First, know your value. Not a single one of us is cut by the same knife. By this, I mean that although you may all be DigitalCrafts graduates, you each have a skill set to offer which varies according to your life and work experience, strengths and personalities. Therefore, knowing and building your strengths will not only help you gain the confidence you need to market your skills to a future employer, but will also add to what you are prepared to accept when it comes to your salary and benefits. 

Know your market. Doing research on the going rate in the industry will give you a great idea of how you can negotiate without setting unrealistic expectations. Research companies you're interested in to see if you can find out what they're offering salary-wise, and also be sure to look up how much others in similar positions make. For example, here’s peek at the average salary for a junior developer across the US, according to Glassdoor. 

You could also ask a recruiter about what you could expect to make, and you can reach out to others in your network. Many people are hesitant to share exactly what they make, so you could try asking something like, "How much would you expect someone in an X role at a company like Y to earn?" or "Does a salary of $X sound about right for a position with Y duties, or should it be higher or lower?"

Know your audience. Think about your interviews and think about your potential employer's needs. Identify the skill sets they're looking for, and then practice, practice practice. With a demonstrably strong skillset, you'll be able to better position yourself and make a strong case for your salary. Having a solid portfolio that showscases your skills can really come in handy, both now and down the road.

Sample Scripts for Tough Questions

Another essential part of your prep work is the art of communication. When you're the first to name a salary, you could be limiting your earning potential without realizing it. (That's another reason you should do your homework before beginning a salary negotiation—you'll feel more confident about coming to an agreement about salary when when you know you've asked for something in a reasonable range.)

Talking about compensation and your needs can be tough, so here are some sample responses to tough questions.

Sometimes you’ll be asked, “What are your salary expectations?” Try answering with something like this: 

Of course! I look forward to discussing compensation, but first I’d love to hear more about what the job entails. That way, I can give you an answer based on your specific needs. What are your biggest priorities for [something specific that relates to the role]?

Sometimes you'll be asked, "What is your salary?" or "How much were you making in your previous job?" This question is no longer legal in a growing list of places, but if you're in a location where the question can still come up, we recommend answering in a positive way. If you're able to demonstrate your value and enthusiasm, it's more likely that you'll be able to negotiate based on what you can contribute rather than what you've earned in the past.

Try responding with something like:

Based on your needs and my relevant skill set, I'm focusing on jobs in the $X to $Y range. Is this position in that range?

If your interviewer or recruiter is persistent in asking for your salary history, you can respond with: 

I’m not really comfortable sharing that information. Based on my experience and research of positions with a similar level of responsibility and scope in [city/region], I’m seeking a salary range of [range].

If you feel like you don't have a choice and need to name a number, you can do so while still focusing on the compensation you're looking for:

My previous salary was below market value at $X. Based on my skill set, experience and research about similar roles, I’m seeking a range of $Y-$Z.

There's an art to handling salary negotiation, so go out and practice with a friend or colleague, a teacher or someone you admire, until you feel comfortable talking about your needs and responding to these kinds of questions.

Negotiating Once You Have A Job Offer

Say you've received a job offer and it's time to negotiate with more specific numbers. If you have to give a number first, you want to ensure you shoot higher rather than lower, so don’t be afraid to state your value and let it play a key part when the negotiation goes down (we talked about this above).

If you are still uneasy and feel you are risking a blow-up by shooting too high, here’s a tip to keep in mind. Generally, the interviewer will offer a lower figure. If you already have a range in mind that you'll accept, you can negotiate more confidently to end up with a higher salary or at least the “realistic” number you've set. (Do I need to say it again? Doing your homework beforehand is very important!)

If you are still unsure about the offer, don’t be afraid to stall. Job offers aren't open-ended, so you can't have excessive amounts of time to make your decision, but it's more than acceptable to ask for time to consider the offer. Let your interviewer know that you are thrilled about the opportunity and would like 2-3 days to think about it and make an informed decision. It says a lot more about you as a candidate if you don’t jump at the first offer thrown out but allow some time to sit on it and I repeat, (yes, here I go again!): know thy value. 

Ok, ok, need a sample script? Try this:

"Thank you for the opportunity to join the team!  This is exactly the kind of challenge I've been looking for and I'm excited about [some detail of the company or position]. To fully review your offer, I'd like to get back to you on [specific day]. Does that work for your timeframe?

Final Thoughts

Fear can keep you from negotiating, but it's an essential discussion that is a must whether you’ve been at the job hunt for 3 days or 3 months. Essentially, knowing what you bring to the table and what it’s worth is just as important as what the company has to offer. Remember that negotiation is a two-way street.

The job search can be daunting, kind of like the 3-eyed monster looming and guarding the gate to your dream job! But it doesn’t have to be and on the contrary, the job search is a vital personal and professional growth opportunity. Seize it and see it for what it is!

To prepare yourself, know what to expect (you can start by reading our Career Services blog posts ;) ), set realistic expectations and arm yourself with as many tools as you can before taking it head on, and it won’t seem as scary. You've got this!

As a DigitalCrafts student, you'll receive career support as part of your bootcamp. We offer resume and portfolio critique, mock interviews and talks from industry leaders. Learn more about our bootcamps by downloading our curriculum today!

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Angela Cassina

Career Services Coordinator