Negotiate Your Offers!

As you probably know, I joined Signal after nearly a year between jobs. Signal’s a nonprofit whose goal is to make communication secure and private for everyone, mainly through their open-source messaging app. I feel good about being there.

One of the things I kept in mind, though, was that the interview process isn’t a one-sided thing for us software developers. In particular, if you get an offer, you have some say over the terms of the offer. I don’t just mean the usual(?) negotiating over pay or stock options or whatever; I’m talking about the actual things you’re agreeing to, like non-solicitation clauses (promises not to try to recruit other employees away after you leave, for some period of time). I’m very glad I heard about negotiating offer details beforehand; it meant I had a chance to decide what I was really okay with agreeing to.

EDIT: For more on “the usual negotiating over pay”, which is SUPER IMPORTANT, check out Patrick McKenzie’s post on the subject and Thanks to my colleague Varun for these links and the suggestion to include them!

In my case, Signal’s standard offer letter had a few things in it that I just wasn’t comfortable with. I don’t want to go into them specifically, because every company or organization is going to have things like this; their goal when writing an offer letter is to protect and support the company first, and you second. So I talked with the HR person who was in charge of hiring me and they got some changes made, and eventually I signed the offer.

This sounds a lot like privilege, and I admit that since I was not in financial hardship and had prior work experience (and thus presumably other options), I knew I didn’t have to take whatever they offered me.1 If you’re just starting out or if you really need the job, I can understand that this seems risky. And it is absolutely possible I’m being naïve here, and that someone else, applying somewhere else, would not have gotten the same response I did.

But we’re talking about asking for changes, after the company’s already decided they want to hire you. Anyone who’s been on the interviewer side knows that interviews are no fun and that finding a good candidate is a relief. If the candidate then asks for some reasonable changes to the standard offer letter, the hiring manager is likely to be supportive, because they’d rather accomodate the candidate than start all over. And remember, at most places the hiring manager is not going to be involved in the legal details of your offer, so there’s not much chance of them being grumpy about it other than “we’d like to know as soon as possible” and “we’d like you to start as soon as possible”.

It’s still totally possible the company says “no, we won’t change that”, especially if it’s a big company. You’ll have to decide whether to give in at that point or walk away. And this advice probably doesn’t apply to other professions; in particular, anywhere where the interview process is simple and there’s a broad candidate pool, the company might just tell you to take it or leave it. You’ll have to use your own judgment there. But software developers are not interchangeable, and so offers can be altered and customized. It’s called an “offer” for a reason.

Remember: you were good enough that they made the offer. You’re good enough to get one you can agree to.

  1. Not to mention the fact that I’m white and male, which is at least a systemic factor that helped me get to this point where I have prior work experience and am not in financial hardship. ↩︎