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  • Writer's pictureHarriet Willmott

Negotiating with recruiters

You HAVE TO negotiate a higher salary. If nothing else, it is your duty to the women who come after you. They deserve more money too.

You have to negotiate

It's a game and you have to play it. Men almost always do it and women often don't because we are raised to be people pleasers and to not offend. You have to negotiate to close the gender wage gap. Even if it makes you uncomfortable, I promise you will get used to it after a couple negotiation phone calls with recruiters and it might even start to feel like a game. With 3 phone calls, I got my salary up 25k and added a 20k starting bonus and brought up the stock they were offering me by 30k. When has 15 minutes ever made you 75k? Don't forget that your salary will increase by some percentage every year or so, so it's compounding. It will affect how much you are paid for the rest of your life.

But I don't need that much money!

Great! Donate that extra salary to a charity that you care about. Money is power and you can do great things with it. You should have that power.

Recruiters are not your friends

When they are making an offer, they talk to the hiring manager to come up with a range of acceptable salaries to offer and they will offer you the lowest number first. That is because they are motivated to save the company money. They will not offer you more because they like you. They offer you the lowest number with the expectation that you will talk them up, so that is what you must do.

Recruiters will lie to you

They will tell you they can't go any higher and at this point you can say "okay, I just don't think this will work for me" and WALK AWAY. Don't be afraid. Wait a day. They're not going to fill that role in a day. They have probably spent months painstakingly finding YOU. If they really can't go any higher, you will find out soon. Then you can go back and say "actually, I think I will take that job" and they will be RELIEVED and send you that offer letter immediately. Don't worry, you didn't hurt their feelings. This is their job and they are used to people rejecting offers. They don't take it personally. I became friends with the recruiter at Google and worked closely with her after walking away from the offer and then going back. I promise they take it in stride.

BUT they might email you the next day and say they pulled some strings and are you available for a quick phone call? And then you'll find out that they were lying when they said they couldn't go any higher. Their job is to lie to you. It's okay, it's just part of the game. Your objective in the game is to find out what their real upper bound is. Get to a point where you walk away and they really can't come back with any more money, then take the job if that's the job you want.

You should lie to recruiters

Because they lie to you. I am a very honest person, but I do make exceptions and this is one of them. Negotiation is a game and both sides lie or bend the truth. So when they're asking you if the number they gave you is high enough, you can say "Hmmm, I'll have to talk it over with the family. Can I email you later?" then go talk about it with your dog, because it really doesn't matter. You can make up excuses about family, lifestyle, whatever you want. Just be polite and considerate. Negotiation isn't a fight, it's more like a polite tennis match where you lob half-truths across the court and shake hands and drink lemonade together afterwards.

Understand total compensation

Salary may be all you're thinking about, but you need to pay attention to the other parts of the offer even if it seems like monopoly money to you. I'm talking about equity. At a company like Google, you get an equity grant when you join, 25% of which vests at your 1 year mark, and smaller portions every month or so over the next 4 years. Then every year you get a "stock refresh" that is another grant that also vests over the next 4 years. This is sometimes referred to as the "golden handcuffs". If it still seems like monopoly money to you, let me break it down: every time it vests, you get GOOG stock, and you can sell it immediately, and all that stock you sell every year, even as a low-level employee, can easily be as much as 2/3 of your salary.

So if they're offering you a salary of 150k/year and 100k equity (hand waving.. I haven't actually done the math here), you could be making 250k a year. So you should NOT just be focusing on the salary even if it is the easiest thing to understand.

Also is there an annual bonus? What is the target percentage of your salary?

Never say the first number

First of all, in most places is is ILLEGAL for them to ask you how much you make at your current job.

They are going to try you to get to say the first number and it is your duty to find creative and polite ways to refuse to give that number. When they ask for it, say something like "I'm first interested in finding out if this is a good mutual fit before we start talking numbers" and keep repeating it until the give up. If they're saying something like "I literally need to put a number in this form to move the process forward", then you can say "just throw a 0 in there so we can move forward. Let's chat numbers later".

When they REALLY insist, when you are REALLY sure the process will end now if you don't give a number, add 5-10% to your current salary and tell them that. Or 20%. Don't forget that this is a lying game.


I wrote this post with a lot of advice from this blog post I read years ago, with some alterations to address some of the unique obstacles that women face. After skimming it again now, I cannot recommend ENOUGH that you should read it. It seems long.. maybe it will take you half an hour or even an hour to read, but it could make the difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars in your life. The downpayment on a house? Paying for a thousand wells to be dug in Africa? Can you think of something else you could do for an hour that would have a bigger impact on your life? Just read it. Literally hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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