IT career: 5 salary negotiation tips for remote jobs

Confused about how to negotiate salary after a job offer? What are best practices for negotiating salary for a remote job? With employers behaving in inconsistent ways, consider this expert advice on how to prepare for new variables in salary negotiation
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Salary can be a tricky topic in any context. When do I bring it up in the recruiting and hiring process? What’s my “market value?” What do I do if a recruiter asks me to share my current or recent salary at a different firm? How do I ask my current employer for a raise?

Now, add a new one to the list: How do I negotiate an IT salary for a fully (or mostly) remote position?

How to negotiate salary for a remote job

Remote work isn’t new, but the numbers of IT pros now working from home or another location outside of the traditional corporation setting have skyrocketed over the last year-plus because of the pandemic. And many employers and managers seem to be signaling that they expect remote or hybrid remote/on-site work to remain commonplace. It’s no longer a paradigm shift; it’s now a norm, at least in industries and jobs where in-person interaction isn’t necessary.

[ What IT certifications will increase your salary now? Read also: 15 highest-paying IT certifications in 2021. ]

Many IT roles lend themselves well to remote operations. And companies that have struggled to hire tech talent in their local area can now more easily recruit on a much wider geographic basis.

5 salary negotiation tips for your next job offer

If you’re even low-key looking around for your next role – and definitely if you’re about to launch an active search focused on remote/WFH positions – it’s worth considering newer variables that may impact salary expectations and negotiations. We asked two internal recruiters and two external recruiters to share their insights on how to approach compensation discussions for remote or hybrid IT jobs. Here’s what they advise.

1. Do your research early and often

Worrying too much about salary too early in a job hunt might seem like counting your chickens before the first egg hatches. But if you’re on the job market today or will be soon, it’s crucial to begin researching company pay structures – and your own value – early in the process. (This might even save you some from receiving a disappointing offer later.) This is worth doing for any operating model, but especially for remote roles.

Companies are revising their compensation strategies for remote jobs for various reasons, including larger talent pools and geographic diversity.

Caitlyn Metteer, recruiting lead at Lever, says that companies are currently reevaluating and revising their compensation strategies for remote/WFH positions for various reasons, including larger talent pools and geographic diversity. While companies aren’t approaching this hiring shift in a uniform manner (more on this below), some of your existing assumptions or data about a particular employer, industry, location, role, or another variable may need to be refreshed.

“When you’re looking to approach salary negotiations, especially in tech, make sure you look at Glassdoor or other public compensation listings to see what your salary range looks like in various markets as a first step, then look at the company you’re applying for and their typical range,” Metteer advises.

If you believe that everything is negotiable, keep in mind that this is true for the hiring manager, too. So think at a detailed level about different variables that may have changed as a result of widespread WFH operations. Also, do your research at a company level – similar to how many recruiters and career coaches advise customizing your resume and other materials for each organization you’re applying to. Salary ranges based on skill sets or titles can still be useful, as can those based on geography.

But as you hone in on your top targets, you’re going to want to dig for info on those particular employers, and specifically their compensation strategies for remote positions.

“Our advice for negotiating salary for a work-from-home position is to always start with your homework,” says Josh Drew, regional VP for Robert Half Technology in Boston. “Research the position and experience level and go into the conversation with that in mind. Negotiating a WFH position can be slightly different.”

Did you formerly have a two-hour round-trip commute to the office? That’s something to consider, for example. (The employer is most likely weighing details like commuting times and costs, too.) Doing this research at an early stage of your search may save you some surprises later and help you weed out potential companies that don’t fit your compensation goals.

[ Want advice on virtual interviews? Read also: How to get a job during COVID-19: 9 smart tips and IT careers: 7 pandemic job-hunting mistakes to avoid.]

2. Can you negotiate a higher salary? Don't expect consistency, even among companies in the same geography

As you conduct your research, you’re probably going to notice some significant variance in how different employers – even those headquartered in the same area – are approaching compensation for remote hires. This is another critical reason to do employer-specific and role-specific homework.

"Some companies are promising coastal salary ranges for remote positions and some aren't."

“Some companies are promising coastal salary ranges for remote positions and some aren’t, so candidates must research the potential employer’s compensation philosophies,” says Paul Wallenberg, director of technology recruiting services at LaSalle Network.

Wallenberg notes that some of these are published on corporate websites or in tech blogs and other industry media. (Some companies are publicly discussing their hiring and compensation philosophies in light of the WFH shift – a Google News search may do the trick here.) Various recruiting firms and other organizations publish salary guides, too, but be sure to check if the data makes a distinction between on-site and remote roles.

Shop talk with professional peers – especially those in other locations and/or other companies – is also an important source of compensation ranges.

“Candidates should evaluate their market position in their current role – talking to peers and colleagues in other geographies – so they can get a more geography-agnostic picture of their worth in the market,” Wallenberg says.

Developing ambitious but realistic salary goals for remote/WFH positions really does depend on a particular organization’s approach. It’s OK to ask about a prospective employer if they’re aligning their WFH compensation structure with a particular geographic area, according to Cliff Milles, lead technical recruiter at Sungard Availability Services.

“If you live in the Washington D.C. or New York City area and the position is tied to the Philadelphia marketplace, you may be disappointed when you discuss salary,” Milles says.

To that point, Milles notes that your location can matter as much as the employer’s. The significant expansion of remote hiring and employment means a San Francisco-based software engineer can’t necessarily assume San Francisco-based compensation if the employer is located elsewhere. Or they could very well get top pay, especially if the employer is looking to attract top talent that once would have been tougher to find locally.

Metteer from Lever says many companies are localizing compensation to ensure they are paying competitively in each market they hire in. Others are offering IT candidates salaries tied to high-cost areas regardless of where the person lives.

“Make sure you’re looking into the company and their offerings before you even apply,” Metteer advises.

The main thing is to make sure that it’s part of the discussion – it’s a new-ish dynamic in salary negotiations.

“[On] one side, it is the company’s responsibility to determine how competitive they want to be in order to attract top talent in a nearby higher cost of living area,” Milles says. “[On] the other side, a candidate can explore when the conversation turns to a compensation target during the interview process. They could ask something like, ‘How is your compensation based? Is it based on my local market, or is it based on another benchmark location?’”

3. Weigh in new forms of non-salary compensation

Compensation comes in forms other than a regular paycheck (though that paycheck is still usually the mainstay). This has always been true in some form: Bonus plans, stock options grants, and so forth. HR pros also usually like to remind employees that health insurance and other benefits should be considered as part of the total compensation picture.

There’s now a new class of non-salary compensation specifically tied to the vast increase in WFH/remote positions over the past year-plus.

“There are so many additions to benefits and perks packages now that companies are working from home for the indefinite future or using a hybrid remote/in-office policy,” Metteer says. “[These] should be factored in when evaluating potential job opportunities.”

Employers that have rolled out wide-scale WFH policies are commonly offering various stipends that correspond with this shift, especially if they plan to continue offering significant numbers of remote positions indefinitely. These can vary widely by employer and are continuously evolving as organizations re-evaluate their new operating models, so be sure to look into the details when appropriate. (And if a prospective employer is not offering anything like this for remote positions, that might be a reason to dig in on your salary demands.)

“Some companies offer a more aggressive stipend than others for working from home,” Milles says. “The new normal is changing frequently and these stipends – including if they are offered, how much is offered, and what is covered – are part of that change.”

Metteer says Lever, for example, has replaced some previous in-office perks with an array of new stipends for WFH positions.

"We used to have in-office lunches, but now we have ergonomic stipends, work-from-home equipment reimbursement, internet reimbursement..."

“We used to have in-office lunches, but now we have ergonomic stipends, work-from-home equipment reimbursement, internet reimbursement, new benefits for mental health, family planning support (via Carrot), and so much more,” Metteer says. “Many companies will additionally offer wellness and learning and development stipends, including a specific amount allocated for your gym membership or going to a conference relevant to your field.”

Not to mention, plenty of those “old normal” forms of added compensation – such as equity or performance bonuses – are still in play. Company size and stage still matter in terms of compensation structure, too: If you’re applying to startups and to large, established enterprises, you should expect some variance.

“There are so many ways companies can increase compensation, not just by base salary,” notes Metteer.

Let’s examine two more tips on how to negotiate salary now:

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.