At a startup, the playbook is different - Deepstash

At a startup, the playbook is different

You may be dealing with the founder directly. It’s very likely there is no range for the role, as smaller companies have much less access to salary data. The goal at the initial offer conversation is to understand three things:

  • The current state of the company (financing, runway, profitability)
  • The plan for your role/function
  • The value of the equity, considering exit scenarios.

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It can be awkward to ask for more money, but trust me, everyone expects you to do it. On top of that, it doesn’t help that so much of the advice out there is conflicting.

You absolutely do not need multiple offers. Just being able to say you’re speaking to other companies is sufficient — you can quote the expected salaries for other roles if needed.

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Did you know that women make only 47 cents in equity for every dollar a man makes? A HUGE reason for that is that many women don’t fully evaluate their offer before negotiating. Ask yourself these questions: 

  • Is the offer competitive? 
  • How does it work? (When do I vest; what is the stock worth?)
  • Is it all true? (Is the value of the equity over-inflated?)
  • Does it add up? (Consider taxes on bonuses and stock.)
  • If you have goaled comp, are the goals realistic?

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Negotiation starts earlier than you think

Every recruiter worth their salt will ask about your salary expectations when you first start interviewing. Do not give them a number. What to do instead: Ask for the range they’re budgeted for the role.

How to say it: “Can you tell me the salary band for this level? Happy to let you know if it’s within my range, and we can discuss specific numbers later when I’ve met the team.”

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It can be tempting to think you need to negotiate now that you have data. Nope, not yet. The next step, instead, is to upsell your worth before you come back with any kind of counteroffer. This is especially important if you’re going for a senior role.

What to do next: Ask for follow-up meetings with decision-makers. If you’re a Director or higher, you can usually ask to meet with any VP and possibly C-level execs. VPs can often meet with the CEO and even board members. Take your time; this is important if you want your salary to reflect your value. If everyone wants you, you’ll be calling the shots later.

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Getting paid more up-front doesn’t always mean you’ll make the most overall. Plan carefully.

Not all offers are made equal — in fact, they are intentionally confusing. At Google, you may get a front-loaded vesting schedule on your stock; at Amazon, sizable cash bonuses the first two years. It seems obvious that you should look at the comp, but that’s not everything.

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Your initial offer speaks volumes if you know how to interpret the data.

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At FAANG-size companies (i.e. over 5K employees), compensation is heavily formulaic. In fact, there is often a separate team — the “compensation committee” — who sets your salary. They take into account your background, interview performance, and level. They give the recruiter a number to go with. 

The recruiter then gives you the number, and every time you negotiate they have to go back to that committee to ask for a re-evaluation.

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Once you’ve been offered the role, the recruiter’s job shifts from evaluating you to closing you. Most experienced recruiters will ask you again to put up a number for your salary. Clever recruiters may even tell you that they “will go to bat for you.”

What recruiters say: “If you give me your number, I will make it happen for you.”

What they mean: “I’ll get you something lower, but kinda close to what you asked for.”

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Go into the interview ready not just to answer questions but to ask some of your own. You will use this to negotiate later. Here are a few examples of what you should ask:

  • What’s the biggest priority for the team right now?
  • Why is this role open?
  • What’s the biggest challenge for someone stepping into this role?
  • How does the org structure on the teamwork?

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While making your final decision, keep in mind that:

  • You are clear about your deadline for signing the job offer.
  • Assert your deadline continually.
  • Use your final decision as a Trump Card. 
Pre-committing a signing date gives space to the final negotiation process, providing weight to your words, and can help us ward off pressure to sign early to end the negotiations.

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Pick the Top of the Range

As you’re doing your research, you’ll likely come up with a range that represents your market value. It can be tempting to ask for something in the middle of the range, but instead you should ask for something toward the top.

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Shift your mindset about the job offer

Think about the offer in terms of your development, quality of life, and the variety of the work you want to do. Think about the trade-offs you are going to make.

When an employer extends a job offer to you, he has psychologically committed to you. You have more leverage to shape your job description and improve your salary and benefits package immediately after you are made an offer than in your first two years of employment.

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