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You have a job offer—awesome! Your work is done, right? After all, you've made it through the resume pile/interview/second interview gauntlet and emerged as the winner. Not so fast, champ…you still have some work to do. The job offer is just the start of the next phase: negotiating. This is your chance to get as much compensation as you can as you prepare to start this new phase of your career.
Let's review the most important questions to ask as you start to negotiate salary and/or benefits with your new employer.
1. How are employees reviewed, and how is this tied to salary increases?
This question lets you know what you can expect down the line and what you should negotiate up front. If the salary seems low up front and the company is unlikely to budge very much during this first phase, you can start making your plan—and your case—for an increase later on. If raises at this company are tied to good performance reviews, you can go in to the job on day one with the goal of achieving an “excellent” (or whatever the metric is), and can talk with your manager to set specific goals so you'll be in good shape when it comes time to talk about a pay bump.
2. Besides the base pay, are any benefits negotiable?
This gives you a sense of the playing field. If you can't negotiate time off, insurance coverage, or other benefits, there's no point in spending your time and energy on those points. It also lets you push a bit on the salary, if nothing else is up for discussion. Knowing what's flexible and what's not will help you target your negotiation.
3. What is the fiscal year for this company?
This question is a good one to ask because it'll tell you when your next window for negotiation or a raise will be. If you're starting at the beginning of a year and the company's fiscal year starts in January, then you'll have a straightforward year before an increase. But if you're starting in January and their fiscal year ends after the first quarter (April), you'll be waiting significantly longer than a year for a potential salary increase. That gives you a bit of leverage to say, “Since it will be more than a year until I'm eligible for a salary review, I'm hoping we can start with a slightly higher initial salary.”
4. Can you send me employee benefit costs?
The company should be able to send you a one-pager or a packet outlining the basic benefits offered by the company (insurance, vacation time, etc.) and any related employee contributions/costs. Benefits aren't usually highly negotiable, but you can use this cost information as part of your proposed salary.
As you get started with the job offer negotiation process, the most important part is having as much information as possible at your disposal. That way, you can make realistic requests and have a good idea of how far you can push with your negotiation—or when you should retreat and live to negotiate another day.