Josh Doody, Owner of Fearless Salary Negotiation, joins Corey on Screaming in the Cloud to discuss how to successfully negotiate your salary, and why it’s important to do so even in times of economic uncertainty. Corey and Josh chat about some of the hidden reasons why salary negotiation is critical to job seekers, and what goes into determining salary bands behind the scenes. Josh also reveals why he feels there’s some stagnancy in the big tech job market, and why it’s critical for job seekers to have a balanced view of the value that they provide to employers when negotiating salary. Josh also describes some of the unexpected ways salary negotiations can come up throughout the interview process, and how to best handle the discomfort of negotiation.
Josh is a salary negotiation coach who works with senior software engineers and engineering managers to negotiate job offers with big tech companies. He also wrote Fearless Salary Negotiation: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting Paid What You're Worth, and recently launched Salary Negotiation Mastery to help folks who aren't able to work with him 1-on-1.
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Corey: Welcome to Screaming in the Cloud
. I’m Corey Quinn. I have a returning guest today who hasn’t been on for a couple of years, at least. Josh Doody is the owner of fearlesssalarynegotiation.com
and focuses on a problem that’s near and dear to my heart from my previous life as an employee, salary negotiation, specifically emphasizing software engineers, if I have that right. Josh, thanks for joining me.
Josh: Yeah. You have it exactly right. It’s great to be here, and good to talk to you again, Corey.
Corey: I used to be practiced at doing salary negotiations, which is a very roundabout way of saying I got fired a lot, so I got lots of practice at doing it. And I found that it was a very strange experience that was completely orthogonal to anything else that I did in the course of my day-to-day. Now, of course, I you know, negotiate AWS bills for a living among many other things, and do a lot of sales work, and yeah okay, now it’s a lot more germane. But back in my engineering life, it was the one time I got to really negotiate that wasn’t, you know, haggling with some vendor somewhere when I’m trying to buy a burrito, was salary negotiation, and I felt utterly unprepared for it.
Josh: Yeah, I think most people feel that way and you summarized pretty well why that is. And that's, you know, let's say you have a really robust career, you're around for decades, you know, you’re working in lots of companies, you might have, I don’t know, let’s say ten, a dozen job offers that you negotiate, you know, give or take. And that’s not very many reps for doing something that’s as consequential as, you know, negotiating your actual pay. Which, depending on how senior you are, could be literally negotiating, like, you know, multiple cars’ worth of value per year that you’re going to [laugh] that you’re going to earn. But you don’t get the reps, so most people just kind of—I think they kind of don’t even think about it until they have to think about it until it’s directly in front of them. And then they just kind of power through it, get it over with or even totally ignore it and just get back to the thing that they’re doing in their career, which is why you show up to work.
Corey: It feels, on some level, like it’s one of those areas where people wind up thinking about it long after they really should have. These days, it feels like salary negotiation process, more or less should start when you start debating, huh, maybe I’ll change jobs. Like, it feels like it’s really that early, not when you have an offer sitting in your inbox that needs a response by the end of the week. Right, wrong, or am I just thinking about this in ridiculous ways?
Josh: No, I think you’re right. So, you can start thinking about it, you know, you get a job offer in your inbox and you can start thinking how do I negotiate this now, but you know, you’re going to be in a less secure position to do a strong negotiation at that moment than you would have had you begun thinking about it when you mentioned, which is, like, you’re actually thinking about changing jobs, or, you know, maybe you just got a cold call from a recruiter and they’re at a company that you’re kind of interested in working with. So, maybe I will talk to this recruiter instead of just blocking them or whatever. And so, the whole process can begin at that moment when they say, “Hey, you know, we have this opportunity that we think you might be interested in. What do you think?”
And then, you know, early on, they’ll even kind of officially start the negotiation, at least in my mind, where they’ll say, “But before we really go too far on this, like, what are you hoping to make here? You know, what are your salary expectations if you come work here?” And you’re kind of off to the races at that moment. But even if they don’t say that out loud, that’s something that you should be thinking about from the beginning, which is, you know, maybe most broadly, how do I position myself to get the best possible version of the job offer that they’re willing to give and to leave myself the most latitude to improve that job offer to be the maximum that they can afford to pay me or the maximum that their budget allows or however you want to frame that. So, short answer, yeah, I think you’re right that most people think about it as sort of an afterthought, either after they’ve already started a job and they go, “Huh, I wonder if that guy over there is making more than I am?” Or, you know, “Shoot. I think I moved too fast there. Maybe I should have done something a little bit better.” When they could think about it way earlier in the process than that.
Corey: Since I was last on the job market, there have been some changes, at least here in California, that have had a somewhat significant impact, to my understanding. First, job salary changes need to be posted in job ads, which I think is great—and that’s occurring in a number of different states—and also it is now against the law, in California—or at least against public policy—to ask what someone’s current compensation is and your salary history and dive into that. Now, that’s all well and good, but I also have been asked a number of questions that are not exactly… green, when it comes to being in the middle of an interview. And, “You’re not legally allowed to ask me that question,” is that a heck of a pushback.
Josh: Yeah, I think that I’ve had a couple conversations about this recently, but also over the past few years, especially on the—you know, you mentioned the two prongs of that idea: what’s your current salary, what are you making now? And, you know, what is the salary that you expect to make? And so, kind of one by one, states are outlawing potential employers’ ability to ask about what you’re currently making. And then I’ve also heard some agitation lately that there might be some federal legislation that’s coming down that might just kind of take that off the table. As you mentioned, recruiters, companies, organizations, however you want to model them are very clever, and so there are always ways, you know, even if they’re indirect questions, you know, you don’t ask them what they’re currently making, but you ask them something that gives you some insight into what they currently might be thinking.
Also, if you’re in the big tech world—which you mentioned you negotiate AWS contracts—in the big tech world, they don’t necessarily have to ask you what you’re currently making if they know that you’re an L4 software engineer at Google. They can probably approximate it pretty well. And of course, they know that because you’re going to have to tell them, you know, with a resume or when you’re interviewing, that’s kind of how you get in the door. So, that’s an interesting thing. But I still say, avoid that. Try to avoid giving him as much information as possible.
And I think the most important thing with the current salary idea is, you just don’t want to say it out loud. You want to make sure that they can’t quite grab onto that because you make it too easy for them when they know what your current salary is to just do sort of a cost-plus version of offering you a job, which is, “Well, you’re making this much now. We’ll just add 10% to that,” and that’s your new job offer, when you know, that’s not how you level up quickly and in big ways.
And then you mentioned the salary expectations. I do think it’s great that a lot of job offers now will have a salary range in them. That’s a question that I see a lot is, like, how do I know that I’m not going to waste 25 hours of my personal time and maybe a trip across the country for a job, where when they finally make the offer, it’s just laughably low? And the answer is, you know, hopefully, they have something that you can grab onto in the actual job description that says, here’s what the range looks like. But even then, you’ll notice if you look carefully—I saw one yesterday, and I don’t remember where I saw it, but it was like, “Yeah, our range of salary is, you know, 120k up to 290k, depending on geographic region.”
And it’s like… I mean, technically, that’s a salary range, but they don’t tell you what the regions are, how they map, and all that stuff. So, you’re not getting a lot of information there; you’re just getting sort of an approximate number. But it’s still helpful to know that information. And it’s also helpful to not disclose that information. If you have a number in mind that you’re hoping for, it’s not in your best interest to share that with the company.
So, I think at least what you can do is look at the job description. If they have some kind of a range, take a look at it, see if it feels like, okay, this is something I can work with or if it’s just, you know, there’s no way that that would ever work for me and you can just pass on it and save yourself some time.
Corey: For me, one of the things that always frustrated me was that at the start of looking into a job, there’s always the big question that they ask that has been the socially acceptable paths at screwing you over, and the knowing how to answer that is important. But I still bungled it a number of times whenever I was out of practice, which is quite simply, “Okay, what is it that you expect to make in your next role? What are your compensation requirements?” And it feels like answering that at the beginning of the process just completely sets your course for how the rest of that process is going to go.
Josh: It does and it’s something that’s very subtle and clever because most people will not perceive that to be a negotiation tactic when it is. And also you mentioned earlier in the context of, like, asking you what your current salary is that it can be perceived as sort of a gatekeeping question. Like you mentioned, you know, you’re in the middle of an interview and somebody pops a question at you like, “What is your [laugh] what’s your current salary?” And you’re looking at an interviewer and you’re thinking, “If I don’t give him this information, then I’m saying no to an interviewer, and how’s that going to go over?”
This is the same kind of thing. When, you know, at any point in the process, they might ask you what your salary expectations are, it could be on the first screening call, it could be right before, they like to hold this till right before they make an offer where you go through the whole interview process and then right before they’re going to extend an offer, they say, “Hey, you know, I’m going to go to the hiring committee and make a recommendation that we hire. But before I do that, you know, what are you hoping to make if we actually do extend an offer and I go talk to the comp team?” And it can feel like, well, gosh, I better tell them the answer to that question because they literally just said, basically, like, “I have an offer for you, but first, I need this information from you.” And it can feel really kind of daunting to say, “No, I’m not going to give you that.”
So, the question is, you know, should you give them that and how? You shouldn’t, as I mentioned earlier. Giving them salary expectations, I’ll give kind of a brief summary of why it’s not a good idea. I think a good way to reframe that question, you know, what are you what are you hoping to make if you join our team, is, you know, “Hey, you know, we have a giant company here. We’ve got tens of thousands of employees. We’ve got thousands of engineers that are at your level and doing your kind of work. We have salary surveys that we run once a quarter, or once a month, that are super expensive. We know what everybody else in the industry is doing. We know what the value of this role is to our company. We know how many other people are applying for this job. We know how many open seats we have. You don’t know any of that stuff, but even though you don’t know any of that stuff, why don’t you take a wild guess what we would pay you to do this job at this company at this moment?”
Corey: And then of course, we’re going to use it against you later, when you wind up having what you view as a negotiation, like, “Ah, but you said at the beginning of the process that this would be sufficient.”
Josh: Yeah. So, that’s the problem, right? As you take that wild guess and you’re going to do one of two things. It’s basically 0% that you’re going to hit the nail on the head in terms of you guessed the actual maximum compensation that they would pay you to do the job, it’s very unlikely.
Corey: You’re either going to guess too high and then basically get yourself disqualified—
Corey: —you’re going to get too low and leave money on the table, or you’re going to get it exactly right, but you’ll never know whether you got it exactly right or whether you guessed low.
Josh: Right. Even if you do guess exactly right, you won’t know that you did. And so, of course, if you guess low, like you said, you leave money on the table. And the really pernicious thing is, you could guess low and still feel great about the result and never know it or not find out until the next time you get a job, which is to say, you know, you say a number that’s well below the bottom of the minimum that they could pay you and so you say, I don’t know, to use round numbers, you say $100,000. And they go, “Great, how about 120?”
And you say, “Wow, they must really like me. They’re going to pay, I just said 100 and they said 120. That’s amazing.” And really what’s going on is they’re looking at, you know, their internal pay structure and they’re like, we can’t pay less than 120, like, the pay structure starts at 120. So, we’ll pay 120, which is the literal bottom that you could make.
You feel like you got a huge win of a 20% bump, but the reality is, you’re probably not anywhere near the middle of that pay range and you’re way behind the eight ball already. And of course, you could overshoot. And the worst-case scenario is you overshoot so far that you basically disqualify yourself from the process early. So, it’s like, if it’s on that first screening call, and you say—
Corey: And they view you as being fundamentally unserious, where it’s a, okay, the compensation for this role is 100 to 130, for example—to use made-up numbers—and you come in asking for 340. It’s… okay like, there’s no point in even doing a counter and having a negotiation at this point. We are so far apart, that it doesn’t work out that way.
Josh: Right, which on the surface, seems like oh, well, I just saved a bunch of time. But in reality, what you may have done is sort of like knocked yourself out of the entire hiring funnel for them, when what could have happened is perhaps you could have as you interviewed, you could have aligned better with a more senior role that would have had a higher pay range that you would have been a better fit for, you could have changed their budget based on the way that you present in your interviews and what they perceive from you. And who knows, maybe you actually do get an offer that looks like 340 because they say, “Oh, wow, we had you leveled as a, you know, an L6 and really should be, like, at an L7. So, how about this, you know, this senior or principal or lead role over here that we’ve been trying to fill for six months, we now realize you might be a good fit for that role. Why don’t you go talk to that hiring manager, and if we have to, we’ll just put you into that hiring stream?” Instead of, you set a giant number and we got to kick you out because there’s no room for you here.
Corey: This is all well and good and we’re talking about effectively cash comp and salaries, but so many companies these days seem to tie a fair part of their compensation to the equity portion of it. And because remember, everything’s up and to the right. Always. The end. Until one day, it’s very much not.
And now we’re taking a look and seeing that, for example, Amazon stock has largely been in the toilet for a couple of years. It’s what, 50% off of what it was at the peak.
Corey: So it’s, on some level, when you’re negotiating comp, it feels like you’re being asked to predict the future of how well the company does. And at these multibillion-dollar company scales, are you really going to be in a position personally to meaningfully impact the stock price? Like, well, not positively anyway. And it just feels like it’s a bit of a shell game where if you can’t spot the sucker, it’s probably you. Because I wanted to be an engineer, not a stockbroker.
Josh: Yeah, I mean, first of all, you’re right, that no individual engineer is really going to be impacting the bottom line of Google.
Corey: Unless I take the site down.
Josh: Right. Well, I was just [laugh]—man, you beat me to the punch on that one. Yeah. So, there is a possibility that one engineer could have a dramatic impact, but not the kind that you would hope if [laugh] you’re also tied to their stock price, right? So, there’s a couple of ways that I think about this.
One of them, you mentioned the Amazon stock going down. So, one thing that’s really interesting about that is really what Amazon is doing is they’re targeting a total annual compensation number with their stock. And so, they start with their current known stock value—I don’t know if they’re doing this now, but for many years, they were just kind of building in a year-over-year growth number of 10 to 15%. So, we’re going to give you this much total comp and we’re targeting 300k total comp per year. And if you kind of map it out based on the base salary and the equity that vests and the signup bonuses they give you in years one and two, then it looks like a pretty flat, like, 300k a year when you build in that stock growth.
So, the magic question that I started talking to—and had a couple of internal recruiter friends, like, last year, mid-year last year when things were looking pretty bad, and the question that I don’t think that they had an answer to at the time and now they have answered is, well, what do we do when the stock doesn’t grow 10 to 15% and actually kind of collapses, like, takes a huge nosedive? And the answer is that Amazon is still targeting a total comp of 300k a year. And they go back and they say, “Well, here’s some more RSUs at the current value to kind of makeup for that. Here’s your new vesting schedule on these.” They essentially are giving refreshers, and here’s the new vesting schedule.
And so, at least in Amazon’s case, they did kind of try to right the ship. But the reason is that something you alluded to, you’re not really getting equity in the company because you impact the company; you’re getting equity in the company because it’s another way for them to kind of generate, quote-unquote, “Cash flow” of some kind or comp, that isn’t, you know, dollars coming off the books. So, this is something I think that’s kind of a TBD is, Amazon has now answered this, which is we’re going to give him—because otherwise, they’re going to have a mass exodus, right, like, if you thought you’re going to make 300k a year and you’re actually going to make 180k a year, that’s a huge dropoff, and you’re probably going to be looking elsewhere. So, they say, “Well, here’s some more RSUs.”
The question is, you know, what will other companies do? All of this is, you know, we’re talking about public companies here. So, there’s a big difference between, like, Amazon stock, Google stock, whatever—or GSUs, whatever you want to call them—and then private, pre-IPO equity, and all these different things. I see those as much more in the category of what you described, which is, you know, if you’re getting stock options on, like, an early stage, you know, like, an early stage startup, right, they’re raising, like, their first or second or third round, you are going to have maybe kind of a large impact on the trajectory of the company, but on the price of that you have almost no agency whatsoever because of all the options that they have for dilution and all that other stuff that can go on and whether you even have shares that are going to be liquid at some point and all that stuff. So, I see that as much more like, you’ve just got to look at the company, the cash that they’re paying you, how you feel about that, how you feel about the mission of the company, and understand that you’ve got, you know, you’ve got some lotto tickets in that company and who knows, maybe it goes to the moon and you get to go along for the ride, but much less certain than, you know, like I said, like, an Amazon-type situation where they actually will give you even more RSUs if the stock tanks over the course of the year.
Corey: What are you seeing these days in terms of the macroeconomic conditions as a result? Like, some wit on Twitter said that the correction in the market has identified the grim reality that there are more engineers making $600,000 a year than there are engineering problems that need $600,000 engineers to fix them. So, there’s a certain, are people being overcompensated? Is there a correction in the market? Is that changing the world of salary negotiation and peoples’ job mobility?
Josh: I think—working backwards—yes, job mobility is affected right now. I mean, I’ve seen you know, even in my own business, there are just fewer people reaching out and saying, “Hey, I have an offer at a big tech company.” Which is, you know, all over the news, layoffs. First, it was hiring freezes, right? This is late last year, October last year-ish, Q3, Q4, last year. They kind of said, “Oh, we’re going to hire—we’re going to slow down for a little bit on this hiring.”
And then it was layoffs. And so, the last several months have been layoff after a layoff, you know, 5% here, 10% there at lots of different companies. Paradoxically, a lot of those companies are still up into the right, if you’re looking at their stock price, lately. And I think a lot of that is back to the first thing that you said, which is, you know, do we have more engineers that are kind of sitting around looking for problems to solve than there are problems to solve? And I think the answer was probably, yes.
Certainly, the pandemic, interest rates where they were, and all these other kind of macro-economic things, which I won’t opine on too much because I’m not super-educated on them, but I understand them well enough to understand that basically, it was a better investment for a big company to hire an engineer, than necessarily to try to find somewhere to invest that money because interest rates were so low, so it’s hard to find a nice quote-unquote, “Risk-free” return on the investment, so they said, “Why not? We’ll just hire some engineers and maybe we’ll get a bigger ROI there. We’ll try a bunch of different projects, we’ll put a bunch of people and maybe we’ll go to the moon.”
Corey: A lot of speculative or strategic hiring—
Corey: —and then okay, then you have—something that companies do when they have extra money is they greenlit additional projects. And when things get tight, they wind up effectively removing some of those projects from the table. And what I think people misunderstand in many cases is that compensation of employees is always more expensive than the infrastructure they work on, with very rare exceptions. So, the AWS bill is always secondary to payroll expenses, and fixing AWS cost takes time, effort, and engineering work, whereas laying people off requires a couple of difficult conversations—that companies increasingly seem to be bungling—and that’s the end.
Josh: Yeah. I think you’re right about that. I mean, payroll, it’s an old saw in businesses is that payroll is the biggest expense, right? Like, it’s very expensive to hire people. But it could be the kind of thing, like you said, “We’ll just fire up a bunch of these projects. We’ve been thinking about them anyway. We can’t really invest this money anywhere else for a good return, so we’ll take some shots here.” Right?
But then interest rates go up and oh, there are places that I can get a nice return on this investment of cash, so maybe, you know, some of these projects that aren’t going so well, we’re going to shut them down. We’re going to lean up a little bit. We’re going to increase our margins, reduce our payroll costs, and just kind of ride this economic turmoil out and see how it goes. And who knows, maybe they’ll fire some of those projects up later. But yes, it’s much easier to say we’re laying off 10% of our workforce tomorrow than it is to make a lot of other changes, especially on the expenses side.
That’s one of the few expenses I think that a company has direct control over and can simply reduce if they choose to. And that’s kind of where we are right now, I think. And so, you mentioned economic mobility or job mobility. It’s definitely way down. And I think the reason is that, you know, I mean, if I’d been through layoffs at companies that I worked at before, right?
It’s a really uncomfortable feeling, where the person that was sitting next to you in the office next to you gets laid off and you’re sitting there wondering, “Am I going to be next?” And the last thing that you’re going to do is start kind of poking your head up and looking for jobs and making it known that you’re shopping, or even go ask for a raise or something because you’re just trying to keep your head down and maybe the scythe will pass over me [laugh], right? Maybe they’re going to miss me in this next round of layoffs if I just keep my mouth shut and I keep typing away here on my keyboard. So, I think a lot of that is going on where people are, if they’re still employed, they’re happy to be there and they’re just going to kind of hunker down. And then if they’re not employed, there’s not a lot of them, you know, especially if you’re coming from big tech, you would want to go most of the time to another big tech company.
Like, that’s why you’re there, a lot of people aspire to work for big tech, they want to be in that ecosystem. But if all the big tech companies are laying people off or freezing hiring, there’s nowhere to go. And so, there’s nowhere to move if they want to. They don’t want to make it known that they’re looking to move because they don’t want to draw attention to themselves if they’re still employed. And if they’re unemployed, the options for them to go somewhere are slim, but they probably have a severance package that they’re kind of going to milk for a little bit and see if things kind of warm up again and they can go find somewhere to move to. So, everything feels, in the big tech level, there’s a lot of inertia right now. People are just kind of sitting back, and there’s a lot of friction, and they’re just kind of hanging back to see what happens.
Corey: And also, at least from my somewhat naive perspective, it feels like when people do get offers and they have made the decision to move on, there’s an increasing sense of they should be thankful for what they get and not rock the boat by asking for more. But I vehemently disagree, to be very clear on this. I think that negotiate for the best package you can get. Do it in good faith and be responsible about it, but money that is life-changing to you is a rounding error at best for a lot of these companies. You will always be more invested in this than the counterparty that you’re negotiating against. But it just really throws me and on some level, makes me sad watching people take less than they could be getting.
Josh: Yeah. I mean, I think that’s just the nature of people who are spooked when the economy is doing weird stuff. And it’s an understandable reaction to it, but I agree with you. Just yesterday—you know, I’m in a bunch of [laugh] a bunch of different developer Slacks. I don’t know which one this was, but I was in a developer Slack—and somebody was saying exactly that.
They’re like, “Yeah, I got this offer, it seems pretty good. I don’t know if I should bother negotiating it, you know? Like, I, I—shouldn’t I just be, you know, pretty satisfied with this thing that I got?” And I wrote a long response, which was, the short version of it was basically, “No.” And the reason is, think about all the costs that the company has incurred just to get to the point where they made you an offer?
It was expensive for them. Believe me, a lot of money has been spent. They’ve gotten all the way to the finish line with you. I mean, the number is at least in the thousands of dollars; it’s probably in the tens of thousands of dollars, especially if they flew out for an onside or something. If you went through an interview loop, just do the math on, well, I talked to six people for about an hour apiece. That’s six hours right there of really expensive time probably at, like [laugh], you know, senior manager and above pay rates.
So, they put a lot of money into trying to fill this role. They want to fill the role, especially in this environment. If you’re that deep in the process, they’ve got a role that they probably feel is pretty crucial to be filled. So, you’ve got a lot of reasons that you should be optimistic about the value that you’re bringing to that role and I think it’s a mistake to not see what the maximum value is that you can get in return for the work that you’re going to provide for them. So, I do think that being scared is not the right response there, again because they’ve made a significant investment to get to the point of making an offer.
And remember their fallback, right, if you negotiate with them and they don’t want to give you any more, I have never seen—and I underline the word ‘never—I’ve never seen that a big tech company, somebody negotiates, and the big tech company says, “Nevermind. Get out of here.” Job offer went away. I’ve never seen it.
Corey: I was about to ask that because I’ve heard about it at startups. And back in years when I was on Twitter a lot more than I am now, I periodically have people messaging me saying that this happened to them. What should they do? Do I want to put the company on blast and the rest? It’s something I learned relatively early on in that process was before I go off half-cocked—which I’m thrilled to do—can I get a screenshot of that email exchange back and forth?
Because it hasn’t happened often, but once or twice, what I have clearly seen is that the company makes an offer in good faith and the person comes back with what they believe is the professional way to negotiate for more money and it is such a screaming red flag that is basically fists-of-ham-powered here that companies are like, “Oh, thank God. We just learned this giant red flag. We can get out of this super easy by rescinding the offer because of the negotiation, rather than asking them who they think they’re speaking to like that.” And that is the way of getting out of it in those cases. I don’t think that’s particularly common, and as you say, I don’t suspect that happens at big tech companies.
Josh: I mean, it’s not a good look, right? There was a period last year where a big tech company… [laugh] I don’t know if this is privileged information or not, but they were actually resending offers, and it’s because they had gotten out over their skis. They were hiring way ahead of where they should have been, and then of course, everything turned and they had to start reducing headcount. So, they did, and then they started actually res—
Corey: I can think of at least three companies off the top of my head that would qualify for that story. A lot of it came, but no one made an announcement that we’re rescinding offers, but it doesn’t take much on Twitter when you start seeing wow, 15 people all popped up at the same time claiming that. I wonder if they’re telling—
Corey: —the truth, given they’ve never—
Josh: It’s a pattern.
Corey: —interacted with each other?
Josh: So, without putting them on blast, obviously, the reason I’m not saying their names is I would be putting them on bla—it’s not a good look, right? Nobody wants to know that they’re in the interview process for a company who is known for rescinding offers. And so, you know it wasn’t a decision they took lightly. And so, to your point, companies are not just going to willy-nilly start pulling back offers because that’s really terrible PR. I mean, it’s just not a good idea.
So, it’s either what you said, which is—and this is something, like when I say, “I’ve never seen it; underline the word never,” right, what I mean is I work with people one-on-one for a living; that’s what I do. None of my clients have ever had a job offer rescinded from big tech company. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened for reasons like you mentioned.
Corey: Yeah, I have to imagine that the emails you help them craft to respond to these things don’t start off with, “Now, listen here, asshole…”
Corey: Like, I sort of get the sense that that’s not quite the negotiating tone that you take, most days.
Josh: [laugh]. No. There’s no, like, you know, “I’ve CC'd my lawyer on this email… and blah, blah—” you know, that’s not how I negotiate; it’s not a good way to negotiate if you want to get good results and build rapport with people. So, in general, if you follow what I would call, like, kind of good negotiating practices—which is self-serving because I would say that I’ve created a lot of them for salary negotiations, right—and if you’re following the best practices there, everybody’s understanding that we’re having a professional, business conversation among, you know, [unintelligible 00:26:52] professionals. We’re trying to find the best result, that’s good for everybody and we’re going to get there.
And so, as long as you’re not—you know, you mentioned, you know [laugh], I say, you know, pounding your fist on the desk and making ultimatums and stuff, like, that’s not how I negotiate; you can hear it in the way I talk. You’re going to be fine. They’re not going to be rescinding offers and therefore, you have pretty much carte blanche to, in good faith, negotiate with them to see if there’s more room to negotiate. And how aggressive you’re being and what you’re asking for, these are all things that are dependent on the situation, right? There’s some cases where asking for another half a million a year would be completely absurd; in some cases where it’s totally appropriate [laugh] and it just depends on what your situation is.
Corey: For some roles, if you just accept the offer as given, you will lose status in their eyes, on some level. For example, one of the challenges we’ve had with contract negotiation has been when we hire folks to work on negotiations. It’s one of those, like, “Okay, do we want somebody who accepts the first offer or do we want someone who really fights us tooth and nail over every aspect of it?” And it’s, on some level, it’s an extension to the interviewing process there.
Corey: I don’t know what the right answer is on that I mostly shrug and make that my business partner’s problem.
Josh: I think it’s a good metric to see, especially in your business, like, you want to know not only, like, can they negotiate contracts and all this stuff, but you want to know, like, how savvy are they in terms of business? And I think, in general, a person who just accepts the first offer they get in business, I will not say that they are not savvy because I don’t know that, but it’s not a signal of savviness, I think, to just outright accept the first thing that comes your way in business, in general.
Corey: Oh, when I wind up interviewing people in person and telling them about offers and whatnot, in years past, it was always a, would you like me to sign it right now? It’s… to be honest, I’m actually starting to reconsider having given it to you at all because only someone who is deranged is going to sign a contract they haven’t read, and we don’t try to hire for that.
Josh: Right. Yeah, I mean, that’s just not—especially when your job is negotiating—you want to know that this person is running a number of filters when they’re considering, you know, what is probably a kind of a life-altering decision for them, right? And so, one of those filters is, “Are the terms of this contract good for me? Is there anything dangerous in here?” And one of the filters is, “Am I being appropriately compensated for the value that I’m going to bring?” That’s the big one that I focus on, right?
And there’s a number of those filters and I think—you know, when I’m coaching someone, the first thing that we always say when a job offer comes in is, “Hey, thanks for the offer. I appreciate it. If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like”—
Corey: Yeah, acknowledge receipt.
Josh: Yeah, yeah, “Thank you. I got the offer. Thank you for that.” And also acknowledge it and be thankful. Like, you know, “Hey, I appreciate it.” Like, “We have now made a significant step forward in this whole process that we’re going through. I appreciate what you’ve done to get us here. I appreciate the fact that you’re giving me an offer. That demonstrates a lot of trust and all these things. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to take a day or two to think it over.” And then the last thing is, “Would you mind sending me a bullet-point summary in email of the numbers that you said, so I make sure I don’t mess them up?”
Because you’re trying to avoid the very unlikely chance that they said numbers and you heard different numbers and then you start negotiating based on the different numbers and everything just kind of go sideways. So, that’s the first three things: “Thank you for the offer.” “Can I have a day or two?” “Would you send me a bullet-point summary?” It doesn’t have to be formal; just bullet points is fine.
Corey: Would always irked me—and I you tend to see this a lot more with early career folks, but there’s also this is a common failure mode as well among people who have been in one job for a while where they have gotten completely rusty at doing the interview dance. And they tend to view jobs as being this benevolent gift bestowed upon them by the employer and they become falling over themselves, just thanking them for the opportunity and the rest. And no, no, no, no, no. A job is a mutual exchange of value. You are solving a problem that the company has, and in turn, they are bringing you in and giving you a not inconsiderable amount of money—presumably—to wind up solving that problem for them, you both come out better than you were independently. That is what a job is. Confusing the power dynamic for something else feels, to me at least, like it’s the wrong way to view things.
Josh: Yeah. I’ve always not liked even the meta sort of way that we talk about jobs as, like, jobs created, jobs destroyed, somebody gave me a job. I don’t know when that term—I would be curious actually, to kind of know the etymology of that term, but like, when we started describing jobs is the thing that was given or taken or—and instead, what it is, is it’s a verbal contract or written contract. It’s like, “Hey, I’m going to do work for you because I bring value. You’re going to pay me because I’m creating value and because it’s valuable to you. And we’re going to figure out, you know, what’s the meet-in-the-middle number, basically, that makes us both feel good about that business transaction.”
You as a company can’t do what you’re doing without people like me. And I as a person have found a good place to flex that particular muscle at your company. That’s great for both of us. Let’s figure out how, you know, we can both be happy with it. So, it’s definitely not that, you know, nobody’s really doing anybody favors there. You’re both entering into a mutual exchange of value for business reasons.
And of course, your business reasons are different than theirs, but that’s what they are. So yeah, I like the way that you frame that and you think about it. And I do think it can be a little harmful for people to have that perspective, especially like if they’re in a position where they’re thinking, “Oh, I’m so thankful that this company is willing to give me this job.” You know, “They’re gifting me with this job and they’re creating this job for me.” That’s actually not what’s happening.
Corey: Something that I want to talk about, just because I’ve gone through this process myself as an employee, who interviewed a lot, negotiated a lot, and got hired a lot. Then I started this place and I’ve been on the other side of the table. And it turns out that it’s not that hard to be a human being when you’re the hiring manager and making these decisions. And understand the fact that yeah, you may be hiring five people this month, but these people aren’t accepting five job offers a month—you hope—and going through that entire process themselves. And extending grace is just not that hard.
Like, one thing that we’ve done since day one here has always been to put our salary compensation for the job in the job posting so we don’t waste anyone’s time. Where, like, “Well, what do you want to make?” It’s like, if someone walks in to buy a car, the salesperson doesn’t say, “Well, how much do you want to pay for it?” It doesn’t work that way. It’s, “This is the thing we’re offering. This is the compensation we can build here. We don’t do equity, so there’s no funny money stories.”
And yeah, I know you’d like to make three times more. So, would we, but without growth, that doesn’t become sustainable. So, let’s talk about how to get there. And being a responsible, decent human being is not that hard in the hiring space, but no one tells those stories because it’s more fun, and outrage goes around the internet three times while the truth is still putting its boots on, where the idea of these horrible companies with people who don’t know what they’re doing just completely kicking themselves.
Josh: Yeah, you know, it’s funny, I thought, two things kind of flashed in my mind while you were talking. And the first one was, you know, I was a hiring manager for a while. And a lot of the sort of philosophy that I built around, like, asking for raises and promotions, right? Like, I have a process for that that’s different than negotiating job offers, but the way that I developed it was as a hiring manager, my employees would say, you know—in their one-on-one or something—like, “Hey, you know, I feel like, you know, here’s what happened when I started the company. For these reasons, I feel like I’m like, way behind where I should be in pay. Can you help?”
And so, the way that I kind of approached that was, yes, I want to help them, but I cannot really do that on my own. I need a lot of information that I don’t have for them. So, what information do I need from them to have them help me help them to get them a raise or get them or promotion, right? And so, I started thinking about it from the manager side of, like, essentially, kind of like a compassionate approach to, like, I need you to give me information and I will do what I can for you. And that was like, my whole philosophy with that, which is, I think I agree with you, but I need you to kind of prove to me that you should be paid more. Not because I don’t believe you, but because I can’t get you more money if I can’t make that case, and I’m not able to make that case on my own, right?
And so, I think that there is room for hiring managers to be compassionate in terms of like you said, just putting numbers in a job description, just so the person knows, like, yeah, this seems like it’s probably approximately for me. Or you know, like I said, as a hiring manager saying, “Hey listen, I need you to bring me these three things. If you bring me those three things, that’d be the information that I need to go to finance or to HR or whoever and see if we can get you a raise or get you a promotion.” And if we can’t, then I’ll figure out, like, what are the next steps for you to get there to do that thing. And I think that in general, that’s just removing friction from, like, forward-moving business processes and that’s a good way to go.
I think for you, right, you’re saving yourself time, by putting those numbers in the job description, you’re saving your applicants time by putting the numbers in the job description, and you’re also kind of setting the terms for, like, the conversation that you’re going to have, in addition to the abilities that they’re bringing, the skills that they’re going to bring, the things they’re going to do for your company, you’re also saving time on what the pay is going to be, what the compensation is going to look like approximately for that role, so that you can say, “Are we having a conversation whose parameters are known to us and that we agree upon to start with? Yes? Okay, great. Let’s keep talking.” Otherwise, no, and maybe they should go somewhere else or maybe you need to rework your job listings because nobody is [laugh] applying for that job, right?
But it’s all data. It’s a feedback loop. And it can be done compassionately. It doesn’t have to be this, kind of, aggressive, you know, Shark Tank-style, like, I’m going to beat you over the head with this thing and get my result that I want, regardless of how you feel about it or, you know, how it makes you feel as a person.
Corey: One last thing that I want to comment on this is that I’ve done this a fair bit, but if I wound up finding myself on the job market, I would absolutely reach out to you for coaching on the salary piece of it, just because you are a dispassionate third-party who is very aware of what the current state of the market is, you have a bunch of different offerings these days that range from a bunch of free articles on your website all the way up to individualized personalized coaching. I have bullied friends of mine into becoming your clients with a, “If he doesn’t justify his fee, I will pay it instead of you.”
Josh: [laugh]. Thank you for that, by the way.
Corey: Of course. And I’ve never had to do it because you know what you’re doing and the results absolutely speak for themselves. But my question is, what are you doing these days that’s between the everything free on a website if you read it and, individualized one-on-one coaching? Are there now points in between those two extremes?
Josh: Yeah. I think you actually summarized the whole spectrum pretty well. I mean, I’ve made—since I started my business seven-and-a-half years ago, one of the primary things that I did to start was, I’m going to create as much free content as I can and make it publicly available, just so that people can find it. Because there’s no way that I can talk to tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of people one-on-one. And so, that’s there on fearlesssalarynegotiation.com
The other end is my one-on-one coaching which I developed because, frankly, people were reaching out and saying, “Hey, will you coach me through this?” And I said, “Sure.” And I developed that business. And then in between is, I created a program… three or four months ago, I launched it. It’s called Salary Negotiation Mastery, but it is essentially me sitting down late last year with an instructional designer and asking the question, how can I teach the methodology I use in my one-on-one coaching to people who can’t afford to hire me or just aren’t inclined to hire a consultant to help them do something? And how can I teach that to them in a way that they can execute it on their own to get a good result, or possibly, you know, they’re just at an income bracket right now where it doesn’t make sense for them to hire me?
And so, that’s kind of the middle ground there is it’s a coaching program, but it’s wrapped in a do-it-yourself thing, where you have, you know, worksheets and workbooks and things that you can use to do it yourself using exactly the methodology, even the templates and things that I use with my clients. And the only thing, of course, that you’re missing is my brain, but I’ve put as much of that as I can into the program as possible. So, that’s the spectrum is: free articles, Salary Negotiation Mastery in the middle, and then the top tier offering that I have is, like you said, one-on-one bespoke coaching, where I work with somebody one-on-one. And I don’t do a lot of that, just because it requires a lot of time and I like to give a ton of focus to everybody that I work with.
Corey: Which makes sense because it also feels like it’s a very time-sensitive issue as well. Like with AWS bill, great people want it fixed now, but then procurement can slow things down. But that’s okay; there’s another bill coming next month. Job offers, speaking as a hiring manager, if you accept the job, terrific, that’s great. If you don’t. Then okay, that’s unfortunate, but it happens. But either way, let us know so we can either continue speaking to other people or begin planning for you to show up. So, it feels like there’s very much a strong sense of urgency around the entirety of what you do.
Josh: Yeah, especially for the coaching. And the whole offering for my coaching offering is really designed to make sure that I have enough bandwidth available for someone to call me. I mean, literally, as we’re in this recording right now, I could have gotten an application in the email that would say, “Hey, I have a job offer in hand from Google. It’s for this much money, it’s for this level, can you help?”
Corey: “And they’re on the other line. Please respond immediately.”
Josh: Yes. And their recruiter is pressuring me for an answer. They want to get back to the hiring manager. And so, I need to be able to respond quickly, get back to that person, have an intro call, get to know them, see if I can help in their situation, kickoff, you know, this afternoon or tomorrow morning, get a counteroffer over in the next 24 to 36 hours, that kind of thing. And so, in order to do that, I’ve got to build an offering that allows me to have enough bandwidth and, kind of, agency over my schedule so that I can just sort of jump in immediately into the middle of a process that’s ongoing and help the person get the best result possible.
So, I enjoy that to be honest with you. I like, kind of, being called on in emergency situations like that. It’s really good. But of course, I had to structure the offering so that it facilitates it so that I’m not, you know, already booked on the phone eight hours a day and unable to even look at my email until tomorrow or something because it just wouldn’t work.
Corey: Yeah. There’s something to be said for being able to take a vacation.
Josh: Yes. Which takes some planning, but can be done [laugh]. And it means I just have to turn off the application sometimes [laugh].
Corey: Glad to see things are still going well for you. You started your business a few months before I started mine and it’s great to see that we’re both still failing to go out of business every month.
Josh: [laugh]. That’s how I see it, too. I’m still here. Now, what [laugh]? That’s every month on the first when I do the books.
Corey: [laugh]. I hear you. I really want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me. If people want to learn more—and if they’re changing jobs, they absolutely should—where should they go to find out?
is the first place to go. I’m also on Twitter. I don’t tweet a lot kind of actively, I probably should do better on that, but I’m at @joshdoody
on Twitter and I’m very responsive on there. So, you could ping me on there or, you know, connect with me on LinkedIn
if you wanted to; I’m also joshdoody there. But fearlesssalarynegotiation.com
is the best place to go, especially if you’re kind of in a time crunch. Everything is just right there for you to jump in and kind of grab, you know, the free resource that you might need or apply to work with me as a coaching client.
Corey: Oh, the template emails are glorious.
Josh: Yes. Those are one of my favorite things on the site. They don’t look like other emails that people write, and something I take a lot of pride in is communicating well and creating good email templates that help a lot of people.
Corey: Oh, in TextExpander, for a decade now, I’ve had a fill-in-the-blanks templated resignation letter, which it turns out, most people don’t have. But I don’t need it much these days, but it is useful to wind up giving to people from time to time. Like, “So, how do I tell my boss to take this job and shove it?” It’s like—
Corey: —life is long and the industry is small. Go vent to your friends over beers. But there’s very little upside and huge potential downside, so write the formal thing. Here you go. And it turns out that it’s sort of cathartic, just filling that out. And it’s like, oh, that’s what this [unintelligible 00:42:05]. And it often helps people step back from the ledge sometimes. Or pushes them right off, depending.
Josh: I think that’s a useful service.
Corey: But yeah, the [unintelligible 00:42:11] template emails are way better than mine.
Josh: [laugh]. Well thanks, I appreciate it. It means a lot to me.
Corey: [laugh]. Josh Doody the owner of fearlesssalarynegotiation.com
. I’m Cloud Economist Corey Quinn and this is Screaming in the Cloud
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