TEE: Everything Is Negotiable

This post is part of a series of posts called The Educated Employee (TEE), the goal of which is to get employees up to speed on the terms and conditions they usually (but maybe should not) agree to as part of taking a new job. As always, I will caveat the following with the statement that I am not a lawyer; my ruminations should not be taken as legal advice; and you should seek out proper legal counsel before you sign potentially-career-altering contracts.

Everything Is Negotiable

Please say that out loud. Again. Keep going…

Any and every term on an employment agreement is theoretically negotiable. If a company tells you it isn’t they are almost certainly yanking your chain. Don’t believe the hype.

Lots of employees (and statistically speaking, this set includes you) make the unfortunate mistake of not seeing the terms of their employment until after they’ve started. At that point, terms are not negotiable ‘cuz you’ve fucked up. Negotiate terms while you’re negotiating your offer. The legal terms of your employment are just as much a part of your offer as the salary and stock options.

The first push-back you’re going to get as an educated prospective employee (a TEE) is “we don’t change those forms” or “that’s just the way we do it” or “those terms aren’t negotiable”. It’s bunk. They most certainly can change these terms.

Companies negotiate a TON of contractual things. All the time. All companies have a threshold cost number, above which the terms of that cost get negotiated. For multi-national conglomerates, that number is obviously higher than for a young startup, but you get the point. A company with ten employees renting 2,500 square feet of office space at $20/sf/yr is looking at a 3 year commitment of $50K per year. Leases (for example) get negotiated ad nauseum. If the company is offering you a senior engineering job for $100K per year, is it not unreasonable to expect negotiations? Of course it’s reasonable. What signal should it send to you if they are not even willing to have such a conversation?

All that said, be sure to understand how valuable you are to the company. Not all employees are critical to a company. If you’ve gotten an offer to sweep the floors (no offense to floor-sweepers!) it’s likely the employer can quickly find five other folks who’ll take the job with no discussion of any terms. If you’re one of the top RoR guys in Boston, you can negotiate until the cows come home. Like any negotiation, you need to know how much leverage you have.

Even if you are not critical to the employer, there’s no reason you can’t put forward some desired changes to the terms, if they’re warranted. At a minimum, if your requests are reasonable, they will at least think you’re a smart potential employee and you’ve done your homework.

Is the goal here for every employee to make a stink with every potential employer about negotiating every term in an employment contract? Absolutely not. The hope is that an educated employee base will quickly cause employers to tone down those employment terms that are problematic so that their default template of terms is hyper-reasonable for all employees.

Next up: Confidentiality agreements during the interview process.

Please submit any questions or comments or arguments in the Comments to this post. My goal is for this series of posts to become a useful community resource, so please participate!

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