How to Negotiate Your Total Compensation Job Offer [7 Tips for Success]

Closeup of a desk with hands looking over paperworkYou did it! You aced your interview and your ideal employer officially offered you the job of your dreams. But the compensation package — whether it was the salary, incentive, number of paid time off (PTO) days, 401k match or something else — isn’t quite what you were hoping for.

How can you ask for more? Should you even ask for more? Will that upset the employer? You really want the job, after all…

Here at Anderson Trucking Service (ATS), we hire hundreds of great candidates each year so we’re used to compensation negotiations. And what matters to each candidate varies. One person may want more PTO days while someone else feels like an extra few thousand dollars per year will suffice. Others are happy with what’s been offered.

If you feel like you weren’t offered what you deserve, you should absolutely negotiate. But know there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach negotiation. Keep reading to find out how you can negotiate properly without upsetting the employer — no matter what you’re asking for.

How Do You Negotiate Total Compensation?

You should never feel like you’re taking a risk if you choose to negotiate with an employer — at least if you do it in the right way.

Keep in mind, you don’t want to ask for a long list of concessions from the employer. While there’s no magic number, stick to your top three things when preparing to negotiate.

Beyond those things, it’s important to keep the following in mind when negotiating total compensation:

  1. Ask for time to do your homework
  2. Understand the labor market
  3. Look beyond cash compensation
  4. Be respectful and positive
  5. Be specific about what’s important to you
  6. Remember it’s a negotiation
  7. Display your values

1. Ask for Time to Do Your Homework

Whether or not you plan to negotiate anything related to your job offer, it’s always a good idea to take some time to think things over. Talk about it with your significant other, trusted family members or friends — or all of the above.

This is especially true if you plan to make any negotiations. If you haven’t already done some research on what type of salary your particular career can expect and common benefit offerings in your geographical area, now’s the time to do so.

If you’re comparing benefits packages (this will likely only happen if you have multiple offers), you’ll want to look beyond the cost of premiums. Consider the out-of-pocket costs and deductibles, among other things. 

You don’t want to begin your negotiations without any valid reasons behind your compensation request. You typically won’t stand much of a chance if you can’t explain why you’re asking for what you’re asking for.

2. Understand the Labor Market

Like the stock market, the economy, the list goes on, the labor market ebbs and flows. One year, employers are scrambling for employees and the next, people can’t find a place to work. Not that it changes that often, but you get the point.

How aggressive and/or assertive you can be in your negotiations depends on where the labor market stands when you’re offered a job.

If employers are struggling to find quality talent, you might be able to ask for an extra percent or two in salary. Or maybe you ask for one more day of PTO. You might even be able to hold firm with your original offer if they come back with an unsatisfactory counteroffer.

On the other hand, if people are lining up for jobs and having a hard time finding them, you might have to hold back. Not that you can’t negotiate at all, but you might have to ask for one thing instead of three. And, if you’re lucky enough to get a counteroffer, you might just want to take it.

3. Look Beyond Cash Compensation

When many people think of negotiating a job offer, they’re likely considering salary only. But there’s so much more to your compensation package than the number on your paycheck.

Consider what the employer contributes to a retirement fund, like a 401k. If one employer matches one percent and another matches six percent, that can be significant. (That’s the difference between $500 per year and $3,000 per year toward your retirement on a $50,000 salary). Suddenly, getting an extra $1,000-$2,000 in salary with the first employer doesn’t look so nice after all.

If the position you’re considering offers any sort of incentive pay with one employer and not another, take that into account. Don’t be afraid to ask how realistic it’ll be for you to earn that incentive. If you can regularly expect another 10 percent beyond your base salary, that could be the difference between employer number one and employer number two.

Related: Salary vs. Hourly Pay Structures: An Overview of Exempt and Non-Exempt Compensation

If you’re taking a job that works outside regular business hours, does it offer a shift differentiator — or extra pay during non-business hours? If it doesn’t, that could be something to negotiate.

Man outside on his phone in a suit holding a piece of paper

4. Be Respectful and Positive

Nothing will turn an employer off like being disrespected. Just because they offered you the job doesn’t mean they can’t rescind the offer (as long as you haven’t signed an agreement, of course — but then you’re past the point of negotiation anyway).

Enter the negotiation process in the right state of mind. Explain why you like the company and the position. Let them know you’d like to come together to create a total compensation package that works for both parties. Again, explain why you feel that way.

5. Be Specific About What’s Important to You

If you’re choosing to negotiate salary, share why you feel like the difference in salary is important to you — and do so in a respectful way. It’s also important to have your “story” behind why and stick to it (hopefully, because it’s the truth, of course 🙂).

If you think you deserve a higher salary due to your skill set, explain why. Maybe you have a skill you think will provide value to the position that wasn’t included in the job description. Explain how that skill will provide value and why it’s worth more than they offered you.

6. Remember It’s a Negotiation

Negotiations usually don’t end with each party getting exactly what they want. So you might have to give a little to get what matters most to you.

Each company has certain things they can’t negotiate on — maybe it’s the benefits premium or maybe they can’t budge on PTO. If that’s the case, you’ll have to respect that and stop trying to negotiate in that area (again, it’s important to be respectful).

But is there something else you can negotiate to make up for it?

For example, if your benefits premiums are two percent higher than you were hoping for and the company can’t adjust them, can you ask for two percent more in salary?

Otherwise, if they want some more “proof” based on your current experience, don’t be afraid to ask if this is something you can reevaluate in six months or a year. That way, you have an opportunity to prove yourself. Depending on how well those six months to a year go, you might even have more negotiating power when the time comes.

7. Display Your Values

Throughout the process, it’s important to showcase your values — which, hopefully, align with the company’s values since you’re hoping to work there.

Be honest.

That means you shouldn’t make up another offer or make another offer sound better than it is just for bargaining power. That could backfire on you big time if the employer finds out you made it up.

For one, they could “call your bluff” and tell you to take the other offer. Then you’re out of a new job. Or maybe you come clean at that point. It’s good you did that, but now the early perception is that you’re untruthful. That won’t look good either.

If they ask whether or not you have another offer, be transparent. That could benefit you in the long run, of course, but don’t force the issue by making it into something it’s not.

Smiling man at desk

No Matter the Outcome, Accept it

If the negotiation process ends without you getting everything you hoped for and you still want the job, it’s important to move on and accept it. You’re going to want to start your relationship off in a good way — you’ll be spending most of your life there, after all.

On the other end of the spectrum, maybe you got everything you wanted. Don’t be cocky about it — especially around your coworkers. If they see you acting rude about it, they’re going to have a bad perception of you and might think poorly of the employer too, depending on their total compensation package. And if word gets back to the people you negotiated with, they might second-guess their decision to hire you. You don’t want that.

Once again, be respectful.

How to Negotiate Your Total Compensation the Right Way

If you’ve reached the point in the interview process where you’ve been offered a job, congratulations! That’s a big accomplishment!

However, if the overall compensation package isn’t what you were hoping for, your work isn’t done yet. You have every right to negotiate to get closer to what you want. Most employers are perfectly fine with that too — as long as you do it the right way.

If you pick up to three of your most important priorities and keep the following things in mind, you’ll have much more success:

  1. Ask for time to do your homework
  2. Understand the labor market
  3. Look beyond cash compensation
  4. Be respectful and positive
  5. Be specific about what’s important to you
  6. Remember it’s a negotiation
  7. Display your values

No matter how your negotiation turns out, it’s important to accept it and move on — and do so respectfully. This will help you get started on the right foot with your new employer.

What to Think About When Considering Multiple Offers

If you’re reading this article, there’s a good chance you’re trying to determine best practices for negotiation because you’re weighing multiple offers. If that’s the case for you, it’s important to understand what to look for in a job offer and how to determine what the best role is for you.

Well, we’ve got an article to help you with that! Find out the main pieces that make up a job offer and learn seven tips to decide which role is best for you.

Read More: What to Think About When Considering Multiple Job Offers


Wanda Fischer

Written by Wanda Fischer

Wanda has spent three decades in human resources (HR) in a variety of roles— including organizational development (OD) and leadership development. She has been leading HR teams for over 25 years, including her current role as vice president of HR and OD at ATS — where she’s been since 2015. Wanda enjoys working for an organization in a dynamic industry that’s committed to developing its people so they can grow as the company continues to grow.

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