I got a job offer telling me to “pick my salary,” how do I do that?

Thu, 17 Jul 2014 11:01:54 GMT

This is for a Series B stealth startup, if it matters.  I see a wide range of salaries, so I have no idea what I’m supposed to tell them.
Jacob VanWagoner
Look in the mirror and start listing off salaries, starting with the one you would first expect and then start increasing it.$100,000.  $120,000.  $150,000.  $175,000.  etc.As soon as you can’t look at yourself without smiling and laughing, that’s where you stop.
Michael O. Church
**Aim high.** Very high. They’re trying to get you to negotiate against yourself, as [Scott Danzig](http://www.quora.com/Scott-Danzig) says. His advice of doubling what you think you’re worth is sound. They’re trying to get you to name the first number. So name a very high one that would still be conceivable ($200-300k for a senior developer is rare but not inconceivable).When they push back, mention that even though you’re worth (say) $250k, you’re willing to take $100k/year of that in equity (that’s $400k on 4-year vesting, which might be a full 1% at $40M valuation) and come down an additional $25k for an extra week of vacation, a title bump, and full autonomy over what you work on. Now you’re at $125k (which is still solid in most parts of the country, and executive-level by post-B startups) but you’ve made yourself a player in the company.
Jason McCabe Calacanis
You should talk directly with the owner of the businesss if you have this much leverage, and you should center your “package” around getting close to that individul.As a developer you will have a ton of options–that’s not what is important in startup life. Being as close to the founder, the investors, the board and the decision making process is the place you want to be.So, if it was me I’d say:1.  In terms of pay I’d like to have whatever the difference is between the top developer on the team and the CEO — even if it is lower. (i.e. CEO takes $100k, top developer gets $130k you take $115k).2. That you get a stock package that is 2x the current best developer OR what the stock package would have been if you joined in the A round (i.e. time machine). You can say “if i suck you fire me and I lose it all due to the 1 year cliff).3. Most important: I will only take the job if I get to have a 1-on-1 lunch with the founder 2x a year and we put it on the schedle now–because I want to learn and understand the business deeply. This puts you in the “massive team player” and “close to the crown” categories… which is really where you want to be. 4. Finally, max cash is bullshit in our industry. There is always more money somewhere, and after $1XXk you’re life isn’t much difference (the beach in fiji, maui and mexico is the exact same… just 10x the price difference). So, optimize for the BEST TEAM and BEST PRODUCT and BEST MISSION. That will give you the most joy and happiness. 5. Loyalty: be a loyal melon farmer always… too many people get caught up in cash and the shinny new objects. like relationships, the best ones are built through the tought times. Stick with a great leader and team for 2-5 years…. because all the good stuff is in year 3, 4 and 5 of a project. Years one and two are just slogging generally. good luck, and if you need more advice or want to come work at my startup ping me jason AT inside DOT com. :-p   Scott Danzig
There’s a limit.  They’re just hoping you come in low.  Whatever you think you’re worth, double it and be 100% serious about it.  If they start loosening their collar (they will), let them weasel back down to the number that they’re comfortable with.  They weren’t going to pay you more than their max salary.  Only less.  You’re not going to lose the offer with this approach.That said, this is of course just my opinion based on my experience, so if you can’t handle ANY risk, then do what you want but don’t expect to get what you’re worth in this world.
Pat Roberts 
The top voted answers assume the company is trying to benefit itself at your expense and are recommending to come back with a top-end number.  If you suspect you’re dealing with used-car-salesman mentality that is perfectly reasonable. If you’re dealing with a company that honestly wants to build a relationship with you as an employee that’s probably a bad idea.This question is part of my second interview for engineering applicants. We both know what market rate is, but I want to make sure I’m paying you enough to take money off the table for you. You can learn a lot about a person by the number they come back with.If you come back with a number that is below your market rate, I’ll counter with a market rate offer. This is my favorite situation. We’ve started building trust already. I’d be foolish anyway to invest resources in you only to have you easily lured away by any competitor because we’re not compensating you adequately.If you come back with a reasonable market rate number, that’s what I’ll pay you. I may add a little if it’s low market-rate. If it’s high market-rate I’ll remind you that I’m expecting great things from you.If you come back with an above market-rate number, I’ll ask why. If you can justify your number, I’ll pay you that, if I can. If you can’t justify your number, I’m not going to hire you even at market rate. I want to hear a business justification too, not something like (actual responses) “I’m a heavy-hitter.” or “that’s what I was paid at my last job.”  (“You asked me to throw out the first number. Make me a counter offer.” would be a fine justification, but I’d recommend you be moved into management.)One piece of advice: I would answer with a compensation package, not a salary. There are more variables to play with.  I know people who have negotiated housing, furniture, use of company jet, and even an annual family trip to Europe as part of their compensation package.  It can be 30% cheaper for a company to spend money on things for you compared with compensating you in cash.   Kevin Lacker
Decline to name the first number. It puts you in a weaker negotiating position. Plus it’s pretty standard for companies to make the first offer. You could say something like, “Well I’m still investigating the job market by interviewing for exciting companies x y and z. I’m going to see what offers I get and then decide. Your company is really exciting to me so I’d be quite interested to get a competitive offer from you.”
Athol Dickson
If you don’t know what a realistic salary is for this position, then by all means avoid being the first to put a number on the table. That’s negotiation 101.Consider: if you mention a number that’s too low, they will talk you down a bit (of course) and then accept your figure and you’ll leave money on the table. But if you shoot too high, they might think you have an unrealistic opinion of yourself (“NOT a team player!”) or assume you really are that good and therefore out of their price range. Either way, you risk receiving no counter offer at all.The goal is to get a conversation going that includes specific numbers, without taking either risk mentioned above. To do that, you what them to establish the bottom end of the range by putting the first number on the table so you can negotiate up from there.
There are many techniques to get them to name the figure first. The one you use will depend on the specific circumstances. For example, are you new to the area? If so, use that fact by saying, “I’m unsure what a position like this would normally pay in this town, so any figure I mentioned would be a shot in the dark. What range did you have in mind?” Or if you know their competitors also have open positions, you could say, “The salary range I’m seeing among your competitors is pretty broad, and I really want to fit in with your situation here. What were you thinking?” There’s the frank approach, “I don’t know what this job is worth to you, but I do know I really want to work here, so what would it take for me to fit in without breaking the bank?” You can also name a non-number, for example, “I’m not sure what this position is worth to you, but I’m certainly not going to ask for $XXX.” Make that number extremely high, but not so high that they immediately realize you know it’s altogether unrealistic. The number will get into their head, and it will frame the rest of the conversation, and they’ll feel relief later if you name another figure that is lower. So, lots of ways to avoid putting a serious number on the table first…use your imagination and tailor it to the actual circumstances. If they’re bad negotiators, this is all it will take to get them to name a figure. Of course, they’ll name one at the low end of their range, so you should counteroffer significantly higher (usually 10% to 20%) while showing plenty of enthusiasm about their company and the position. If they’re good negotiators, they’ll push back in some way to get you to name the figure. Try at least one more time to put it back on them. (“Seriously, I have NO idea what this position pays in this town, so I’d really appreciate it if you’d just fill me in.”) Often at this point an understanding begins to develop, with both of you tacitly realizing what the other one is doing. If so, that will mean the’ll view you as a good negotiator, a very highly valued business skill in any industry, which means one more check mark on the “hire” column beside your name. So even if you do end up naming a number first, you will have garnered some respect. And if you do end up having to name a figure first, THEN you name something very high (just a little below the “non-number” mentioned above if you used that approach, or else pick the highest number you can reasonably imagine getting paid for the position, and add about 20%). Suggest that figure with a smile (to let them know you realize it might be a tad outrageous) and say something like, “Since you’re insisting that I take a shot in the dark here…how about $XXX?.” They might laugh, or frown, and try to get you to suggest another number without countering, but at that point you should dig in your heels and insist on a counter offer. (“Really? You think $XXX is too much? Hmm… What did you have in mind?”) Make it clear that you feel you complied with their request, and they’ll probably go ahead and name a figure. Then the real discussion can begin.