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Negotiation 101: Flexibility in a salary range in your job offer and getting the most out of it

Negotiations are like poker games – how much is each side willing to pay / accept?

When you get into a negotiation, how much more money are you potentially leaving on the table with your future employer?

Everyone knows their first offer is never their best one

There is always a couple thousand to tens of thousands in some cases, sitting on the table; the higher up you go in salary ranges, the bigger the money pot gets.

If let’s say you’re at $30,000 a year as a job offer, you could perhaps squeeze out another $5000 for a total of $35,000.

If you’re at $100,000, you could squeeze out another maybe $15,000 for a total of $115,000.

From my experience, this is what I have negotiated:

  • $50,000 –> $65,000 (starting job out of school) = $15K increase
  • $100,000 –> $130,000 (mid-way through my career, after about 5 years) = $30K increase
  • $200,000 –> $200,000 (another early contract) = $0 increase
  • $230,000 –> $235,000 (one of my first contracts for the government) = $5K increase
  • $200,000 –> $260,000 (just after I became a freelancer and many of my contracts actually) = $60K increase
  • $230,000 –> $230,000 (a more recent contract) = $0 increase
  • $250,000 –> $260,000 (a recent contract) = $10K increase
  • $260,000 –> $520,000 (most recent negotiation but I cannot really work more than 20 hours so the salary “stays” at $260K) = $260K increase

As you can see, it is all over the place. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t.

What remains the same, is:


Even if I only get $5000 more or $10,000 more, MONEY IS MONEY.

Every boost in your base income, means a boost in your bonus, means a boost in all aspects.

But even very high salary ranges do reach some sort of cap

I know for instance if I went for a job at a place that is very structured and hierarchical, no matter how good I am, I am not going to get paid the same amount as a Director or Partner if I am merely a “Consultant” — they have tiers in their companies and these tiers determine salary range and caps.

As a freelancer, this all goes out the window – I can ask for an amount PER HOUR, and if that happens to work out to as much as the Vice-President is making (or sometimes, more), then it is what it is – no one is putting me into any kind of salary range box.

The only exception to this is when I worked for the government – no matter who they hire, they all go through a salary range box as a rate negotiated by day, and you can’t go above that rate if your title doesn’t match up.

I obviously still have some sort of a cap in the actual salary itself, but then I can negotiate other things like basically working less hours but making the same amount of money.

If you are going through an agency, you have 20% – 25% to play with

I try to go direct to clients but they don’t have time, or aren’t able to sort through hundreds of resumes to find who they need, so they 90% of the time use an agency until they start to get their act together and decide to save some serious money.

Even at my average salary range of $200K – $260K, I know that the agency has a 10% – 30% margin as a freelancer on my rate.

So if I ask for $260K a year, I know they are charging the client up to $338,000 a year or an extra $78,000.

This is a significant amount of money, and it starts to hurt badly when you have hundreds of consultants you’re paying, with each agency taking $78,000 extra on their rate.

As an organization, they could save serious money if they hired someone full-time to look for consultants they needed, and to cut out the agency completely, especially if they use contractors often; but many organizations don’t like to become THAT organized, and somehow feel like going through an agency or a consulting firm brings value (???) in that they support or back the consultants they put in their firms.

(Psst.. newsflash — this is completely untrue. You can get crappy consultants as well as great ones through an agency or direct. It depends on the consultant which is a crapshoot no matter who you go with or how you find them, and usually the expensive ones are better but not always.)

For employees, it is usually 20% – 25%, and if the employer is looking at having to pay them to get to you, your salary at the end, gets reduced to compensate. No fear though, it means that after the first year, assuming the agency isn’t taking a continual cut of your wages so to speak, you can negotiate up to recuperate that 20% – 25%.

This means if you are going DIRECT to the company, you have 20% – 25% of a finder’s fee to play with when you negotiate.

What if they aren’t sure about the high salary I am asking for?

Get it in writing that after 3 months, you will get reviewed again for that higher salary you asked for.

In 3 months, you should be able to prove that you are worth what you were initially asking for, AND the company gets to do a trial period at a lower salary to see if you are worth it or not.

This is a gamble — they could decide “No” and you’re stuck at a lower salary for now (you can always quit again…), or they could say “Yes” and realize just how important you are.

It is a win-win situation for them – either they get a good employee at a salary they’re comfortable with or they get an exceptional one and are more than happy to pay more for you, not to mention how hard you’re going to bust your butt for 3 months to prove to them you’re worth that higher ask.

Ask for something other than money

What can they give you that costs them $0 that will make your life easier?

For me, the number one answer is:

Working Remotely / Telecommuting

If I could work from home 2-3 days a week and only go to the office half the time, that costs them $0 out of pocket (may even save on office space and costs), and makes me so incredibly happy because it is an intangible reward to be able to work in the comfort of my home and I’d do my best to keep this sweet work-life balance job.

Flexibility in hours is another one

Some companies require an exact 9 – 5 schedule. Others, are okay with 7 – 3. Personally, I like to work haphazardly throughout the day. I wake up early, answer emails at 6, then take a longer lunch break to compensate, or will work later at night to overall, make up my 8 hours for the day.

Personally I don’t like set schedules because I have so many other things to get done during the week that can stress out a lot of parents and families – appointments, errands, all things that I try to cram in on the weekend but find difficult to do because they aren’t open, or their hours are limited for many of these places as they normally operate on weekdays 9 – 5.

Or maybe you work 4 days at 10 hours each a week, and your Fridays are off. Or Mondays.

Or maybe you leave early on Fridays but work later on the other days.

Other things that will cost money but not necessarily in your salary itself is:

  • More personal days off
  • More vacation time
  • Higher bonus or commissions
  • Cellphone / Internet paid – this is a common one for consulting firms as we rely on our phones a lot to work on and for calls
  • Training in other areas you’re interested in – technical training, etc
  • Visas – I know working in the U.S. it was a big incentive if they would spend the money for a Green Card for us and not keep us on a TN forever

Lastly — your environment & team matters a lot as well

I am sure there are other options out there, but a job isn’t just about money – it is also the benefits for the work-life balance that come with it, and the people you work with that make the real difference.

If your team is great, and your boss is amazing — that is worth a lot of money to be in a non-toxic, happy, supportive environment. It is worth a lot in your mental sanity, even if you could be making slightly more elsewhere.

Think about how unhappy you would be if you had to go to the office 5 days a week, to work with a boss and people you despise?

Now think about how happy you’d be to be able to wake up and bounce out of bed to get to the office to work with a team you really get along with and love?

How much is that worth to you? For me, at least $30,000 if not more.

I have given up contracts that were lucrative in the past because the team was just so toxic and now they couldn’t pay me enough to go back.

I’d need about double — $500,000 to consider working for them again.

Money isn’t everything. Consider your mental sanity, and your HAPPINESS of where you are at. Be dissatisfied with your compensation but also realistic about what these other intangibles are worth to you.


  • Financially Fit Dude

    I’m also considering negotiating a salary increase, as I recently shifted into another team with a higher tier responsibilities. As the company is currently going through cost-cutting actions, I couldn’t get a salary increase right from the start. Next month will be my 6th month on the job and I just took an entirely new program to manage, so things will get even more complex, responsibilities will rise, etc, so it should be easy to negotiate payrise.

    A thing with corporations is that jobs and salaries are with established tiers and every tier has requirements and a cap of salary. I already reached the cap and overachieved the requirements for my existing one, so let’s see what the future holds, but I’m hopeful things will get better.

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