Job hunt: Here's what you can negotiate beyond salary

Sep 21, 2023

6 mins

Job hunt: Here's what you can negotiate beyond salary
Debbie Garrick

Writer, translator and ex-recruiter

You’ve done it! You landed that dream job, finished your salary negotiation and you’re ready to sign that contract. But wait—negotiation doesn’t stop at salary. There’s a whole lot more to talk about before signing an employment contract for a new role. So what exactly can you ask for and how should you go about it? Global negotiation expert and author of Ask Outrageously! The secret to getting what you really want, Linda Swindling shares her tips for negotiating all aspects of your employment contract.

Most of the time, job hunters expect there to be some kind of negotiation when signing an employment contract. It’s certainly the case in NYC. But Swindling’s research shows that around 80% of people don’t feel comfortable asking for what they want. Why? Embarrassment, fear of using the wrong words or bothering someone, or even losing a hard-won reputation. However, she adds, “If you don’t risk hearing no, you’ll never know what’s available.”

What can you negotiate on an employment contract?

The New York State Department of Labor has a handy list of points you can negotiate on an employment contract:

  • Commissions and bonuses
  • Work schedule and/or telecommuting options
  • Childcare benefits (access to programs or discounts)
  • Commuting costs
  • Paid time off (vacation, sick time)
  • Insurance (health, dental, vision, life, disability, etc.)
  • Retirement benefits or plans (401(k), pension, etc.)
  • Tuition reimbursements and/or student loan repayment
  • Equity in a company
  • Wellness programs (gym memberships, etc.)

You could also add role, responsibilities, signing bonus, pet benefits, and job title to the list (and probably more!).

Obviously, these may vary depending on where you or the company are based, but it’s a good starting point. It might seem a little overwhelming, but Swindling boils it down to four key areas:

  1. How you work
  2. Where you work
  3. Time off
  4. Benefits

When to open negotiations?

Swindling says the best time to start negotiating is when your potential employer starts making buying signs. “Some people start way too early, and it puts people off. Others wait way too long and surprise them.” Don’t start making requests in your first interview, but equally, if something is really important to you, you might want to start discussing it before you’re given an employment contract to sign. Swindling says to start probing once your employer starts talking as if they are going to make an offer. You don’t need to go all in, but you could say something like, “Great! I just wanted to know what the flexibility is around this stock option/benefit?”

Once you have a firm offer and an employment contract to sign, it won’t come as such a shock to your future employer if you’ve already discussed a few things. To start your negotiation, simply call or email something like, “Thank you for sending me an offer. Can we set up a time to discuss a couple of questions I have?”

Negotiate face-to-face

While a lot of interviewing these days is remote, getting a face-to-face conversation (over video chat or in person) for your negotiations will really help you read the room. Swindling explains that it always helps to be able to see the person you’re talking to as you can pick up on their nonverbal cues. They might look off, move back, lean in, or give an almost imperceptible nod of the head. “That body language is what tips me off that something changed, and it might be that their dog walked in the room, or their boss yelled at them, so then I’m going to ask a follow-up question to see. For example, ‘How does that land with you?’”

If you’re negotiating video chat, you can have all your notes either on your screen or below the camera and nobody knows.

Do your homework

Before your job offer negotiation, Swindling says the first important step is to make sure you understand the words in your employment contract. “Get someone to walk through it with you and have their company walk through it too.” She adds that different companies have different definitions for words like assignment, and transition so make sure you understand them in their context. Once you know the meaning then you can start to think, “How is this good? How is it going to help me?”

Plan ahead

Swindling says it’s best to ask for everything you want in one conversation, rather than getting the company to agree to one thing, only for you to go back with another ask. Spend some time defining what you want to get out of the meeting.

  • Work out what negotiation points are truly important to you.
  • Think about how much time and effort you’re willing to invest in getting them. Is an extra $1k worth turning down your dream job for?).
  • Know your values and strengths. Knowing your values gives you confidence, whether you explicitly state it or not.

Practice, practice, practice

To become a skilled negotiator, Swindling suggests we make it part of our daily lives. “Don’t make your job contract negotiation the first negotiation you do. Practice everywhere. If you can become more comfortable asking everywhere, you’ll ask when it really counts” Head down to the flea market or speak to a manager if your fast-food meal wasn’t fast. Ask them how they can compensate you. What happens if they say no? “You’ve got nothing, which is exactly what you had before you asked.” The point is that you have nothing to lose, so if you get used to asking for things, it won’t seem so daunting when you’re asking for something that really does matter.

Put in some specific practice too. Use job boards or ask a friend to help you practice your negotiating skills. You want to come across as confident but not overconfident. Be likable and approachable, someone they want on their team.


Make a list of all the things you’d like to ask for then prioritize them. What’s key for you and what are you willing to give them in return? Try to find something that you know is easy for them to give you. Swindling recommends you “include everything you’ve thought about and decide, ‘Is this essential or is it nice to have?’”

You could also consider using what’s known as the trial balloon method, which Swindling explains is basically asking, floating the idea, and seeing how it lands. Check in with the person you’re talking to and ask them exactly that. For example, “I’m just asking—I’ve noticed you’ve put that I’m a director. What would it take for me to be a VP?” You aren’t specifically asking but you are finding out more about how to get where you want to be. You might get a time frame or some specifics that will help you achieve your goal, and these can potentially be written into your employment contract.

Once you know your priorities you know which points you’re willing to concede on, and what you really need.

Share your reasons

Swindling advises not to ask for things just because you can, but to have your reasons and share them. If you don’t have a reason to ask, they’ll figure it out and it won’t work in your favor. A 2009 study showed that adding the word ‘because’ to your ask makes people more likely to say yes, no matter the reason because we’re conditioned to expect the reason will be valid. For example, “It says we need to be in the office at a certain time, is there any flexibility there? I’m asking because of childcare.” Or maybe you need a certain period off for a wedding or because you have family visiting.

Think about what they need

“People forget to think about what the other side needs in negotiations,” says Swindling, “Everybody’s listening to WIIFM (what’s in it for me). We have to change the dial to WIIFT (what’s in it for them).”

The person you’re talking to might not be the person who makes the final decision. They’ll need to bring back your message to other people. So although you have a good relationship with them, you need to make sure they have the talking points to sell you to their boss, the HR team, and whoever else is involved. Help them to sell you and get what you want by giving them what they need and how they need it.

Swindling recommends considering other people’s personalities when making your ask. Are they deal-oriented? People minded? What sort of words do they use? How do they want to receive information? Do they like short answers? Facts and figures? Once you know, you can give them what they need to say yes. If the person you’re talking to is feeding back to others, ask about what those people need and how they need it. Swindling says, “This person needs a memorable message from you—a story on why you’re doing this —why are you moving? What have you been up to? Why are you making this change now? What’s your thought process?”

What if it doesn’t work?

If they refuse to negotiate, Swindling explains that you’ll already know what to do because you already decided at the planning stage what was essential and what you were willing to accept. You know your bottom line. You don’t have to give an immediate answer. Say something like, “Great, let me reflect on what you told me. When do I need to get back to you?” Then you can check in with everything you’ve discussed and make your decision carefully.

If in doubt ask, ask, ask. “Ask outrageously” encourages Swindling. “Because if you don’t ask, you’ll always wonder.”

Photo: Welcome to the Jungle

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