When a famous Silicon Valley tech company claims it doesn’t negotiate, it’s a lie. This has been well-covered on the internet, but I wanted to relay a specific experience I had with this claim and show a couple ways you can work around it.

The setup: a (relatively) lowball offer.

Last summer, I decided to leave Google and I interviewed at a number of other companies. After a couple rounds of interviews, one unicorn I liked quite a bit came back with an offer. Great!

But the offer wasn’t quite what I was hoping for - it was for less than my current pay at Google, and after some prodding I learned that it was also for a one-level demotion in their internal engineering hierarchy compared to where I was at Google. To top it off, they gave me the classic line: “We have standard offers and don’t negotiate.” I really liked this company, but the details weren’t right - what to do?

You can negotiate your level

Ask what level you will come in at. Most tech companies have some sort of internal leveling structure, and clearly the company doesn’t pay every employee the same; naturally they will have some sort of standard offer. And many times companies will try to be conservative on what level they bring people in at, for good (less pressure) and bad (cheaper compensation) reasons.

I asked what level this offer was for - they didn’t tell me initially - and told me. I did some quick comparing on levels.fyi (great site) and learned this would be a downgrade from the third rung of “senior software engineer” at Google to the equivalent of the second rung. So I asked my recruiter if a re-level was possible and it was! They did put it through the hiring committee again. (Unfortunately for me, this ended up being unsuccessful.) If I had done a bit better on the interviews, I would’ve increased the offer quite significantly.

You can negotiate a signing bonus

Signing bonuses are quite common at FAANG and friends. These are often easier to negotiate than base salary or equity, which have to be more internally consistent with the rest of the organization. If they don’t offer one, ask; if they do, you can likely get more simply by asking.

I mentioned to my recruiter that the total value of their initial offer was below my current pay at the time. They asked what my current compensation was, and then in a couple days came back with a signing bonus that was equivalent to two years’ worth of the gap. (This is not small potatoes, by the way - this was $70,000, and I got the sense that that wasn’t close to the limit.)

Happy every after

I successfully negotiated a signing bonus (and got close to a level-up) by understanding the offer and the landscape and finding the levers the recruiter could work with. Try it!

(Postscript: I ended up taking a different offer, but came close to taking this one.)