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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

December 2, 2015

What offer terms are acceptable to negotiate for an in house position? How do I figure out where there might be room to negotiate and what truly is set in stone?

Julie Q. Brush

The road to the offer stage in an interview process is usually a long and winding one with a few bumps along the way. Once this destination is reached, a candidate may anticipate a deep breath, but for many, the thought of negotiating the offer creates added stress. What should I ask for? How do I know what areas have room for more? How do I ask for more without appearing greedy? How do I behave appropriately so my offer does not get pulled? These are the most common questions candidates ask themselves when contemplating a negotiation. Regarding your specific questions:

How do I figure out where there might be room to negotiate and what truly is set in stone?

Every employer is different with regard to its compensation and benefits policies – and every hiring manager is different with regard to how s/he approaches an offer. Some lay it all out on the table, some lowball, and some allow a little give in one or more areas. So no two are the same. Consequently, you are never going to know where there will be room…unless you ask. But before you do, I recommend prioritizing the offer elements about which you care most and focus on those as part of your negotiation conversation. An across the board request for more will compromise your credibility and could be perceived negatively. So targeting your ask as well as communicating a grateful, humble inquiry is key to determining which levers can truly be pulled.

What offer terms are acceptable to negotiate?

A typical offer of employment for an in house position includes the following:

  • A base salary
  • Target bonus
  • Stock grant
  • “Benefits” (medical, dental, vision, investment vehicles, vacation days); and
  • In some instances, a signing bonus

Generally speaking, it is acceptable to negotiate base salary and the number of shares you have been offered in a stock grant. However, the vesting schedule for stock is set as policy so you won’t make headway asking for a change in this area. The target bonus is typically locked in, but I’m seeing more companies articulating a bonus range at the beginning of an interview process (i.e. “10%-15%” or “15%-20%”). So if you feel that the bonus is low for your qualifications, by all means ask whether the employer has any flexibility in this area. Another acceptable term to negotiate is a signing bonus. If there is a gap in your current compensation and the offer, a signing bonus is a popular avenue to help bridge that gap, especially if the employer has no room to increase the base salary. If a signing bonus is part of the original offer, asking for a higher payout can be acceptable in certain circumstances – but not advisable in others (i.e. initial signing bonus is huge, after negotiation employer states that offer is final etc.)

The benefits component is what it is and is generally non-negotiable. However, if you need flexibility on vacation days – and this is a priority – it is appropriate to discuss your situation with your future boss to manage expectations and determine whether there can be an informal accommodation once you join the company.

Once you determine what you’d like to negotiate, you will need to turn your attentions next to the “how” – as it is crucial to ensure your messaging and tone are appropriate. Take the time to capture your thoughts on paper and practice until you feel at ease with how you will communicate your asks. A snapshot of dos and don’ts:


  • Express appreciation for the offer you have received
  • Be enthusiastic about the opportunity
  • Use phrases that inquire about an employer’s flexibility around the elements of the offer you’d like revised
  • Create a humble and gracious tone
  • Be clear about what you are asking for
  • Be concise
  • Have reasons that would support your request for “more”


  • Don’t express a tone of entitlement
  • Don’t make demands
  • Don’t contradict what you agreed to earlier in the process
  • Don’t lie to get what you want
  • Don’t blather on and on
  • Don’t over share

Negotiating an offer can be stressful – particularly if you feel you are in unfamiliar territory in such a dynamic. Understanding which terms are more often negotiated will assist in building confidence and a strategy. But each employer is unique so knowing where the lines are will only be had if you ask. So know what terms hold priority for you and communicate a clear and gracious message when asking for what you want. In some instances you’ll get more, in others you won’t. Regardless, you will complete the process feeling good about your final effort.

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Julie Brush, Founding Partner, Solutus Legal Search


Lass Evans, VP, Deputy General Counsel, Fortune 500 Company

Amazing article Julie!

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