Continuing from [A Gamer’s Primer to the Career Meta, part 3: When to Change Jobs]
Let’s first discuss negotiating your salary when you receive an offer. It is always worth negotiating at least a little. The process of finding and vetting a candidate is not trivial. It takes time and effort from recruiters, hiring managers, and team members to vet a candidate. They will not be so offended after going through so much trouble as to rescind a job offer just because you dared to ask for a little more money than their first offer. The worst case scenario is that they say that they feel the offer is fair and that it stands as-is. Then you can choose whether to take it or leave it.
If you have leverage (i.e. other competing offers), you should feel emboldened to ask for more. In this situation, they need to persuade you to take their offer. You should absolutely let them know that they are in competition with other companies (and what those offers are). This usually encourages them to offer more - they will usually have to beat another offer in order to lock you in. In this situation, you should go to your top choice and tell them the pay you would want (I suggest aiming a little higher - 2-3% at least) from them for you to commit to them. My top choice in my recent job hunt had offered me the highest pay among my offers, but I still squeaked out another $5,000 per year on top of that offer by asking.
Even if you don’t have leverage, you should still ask - even a smaller bump like $1200 per year on an annual salary of $50,000 still adds up to an extra $100 per month. That’s still within 3% of the original offer, which will seem small to them at the time, but it is also half of most pay raise amounts (usually around 5%) at the start. It’s worth asking.
A salary is not the only way that an employer can compensate you for your work. Many of them will trot out a variety of different benefits and additional forms of compensation. There are a lot of common terms and acronyms in this area that I thought any person should understand when they’re being offered. I’ve added some quick definitions and advice for the more common ones here so that you can better parse your current set of benefits and compare the next. We’ll divide these into ongoing (stuff you get while you’re working) vs one-time compensation (stuff you get once you agree to work for them).
Salary - This is your base pay and the number that most of your other compensation tends to get derived from. Any annual bonus, 401k contribution, ESPP contribution, and so on are usually a percentage of your base pay. The larger your base pay, the more you get from those other benefits. Consequently, this is what pay raises increase as well.
Bonus - This is money in addition to your base pay that is handed out to workers on a semi-regular basis. Many companies pay out a bonus each year. Bonuses are often contingent on several factors - how well the company is doing financially, how well your division and team are doing, and how well you performed personally. It is not included in your base pay, but it is often a percentage of your base pay. It is also worth noting that bonuses aren’t considered normal income and, instead, fall under “supplemental wages” which have some slightly different tax rules both at the federal and state levels. If you aren’t sure about it, you should definitely ask HR about it. You should definitely ask about how often bonus targets are met at the company, either during the interview or when you receive an offer.
Profit Share - Profit Share is considered income that is paid out a period after a product launches and becomes profitable. This is usually lumpier than bonus pay, since new releases come so rarely in comparison to an annual or quarterly bonus target. Profit Sharing is usually a factor of your base pay and is taxed as regular income and not supplemental wages.
ESPP - ESPP is Employee Stock Purchase Plan. This is usually only offered by publicly traded companies (e.g. Take Two, EA, Activision-Blizzard, etc.). Employees can set aside a percentage of their base pay after taxes and use it to buy shares of company stock at a discount (usually two to four times a year). You can then sit on those shares in hopes of them going up in value, or sell them immediately for some additional money. If you have the option to do so and are not living paycheck to paycheck, you should absolutely participate in this to the maximum extent you can because it is basically free money. If you hold on to the stock shares you buy for a year, you can pay a (potentially) lower tax rate on it (Long Term Capital Gains).
401k - Similar to ESPP, employees can set aside a percentage of their base pay before taxes and use it to invest in the future. Many larger employers will match your contribution to some extent. I have a longer explanation in my [Financial Primer] if you are interested. Similar to ESPP, you should absolutely participate in this as much as you feasibly can (up to the maximum corporate match) because it is also basically free money.
Benefits (Health, Dental, Vision) - The three core benefits that almost every employer offers are health care, dental, and vision. These are often very confusing, trade flexibility for price, and scale in terms of cost - the company will usually pay for the employee, but many plans require some amount of your pay to go towards covering your dependents (spouse, kids, etc.). Healthcare benefits tend to be the most confusing. If there’s interest, I can try getting into this in a separate post due to its complexity.
PTO - aka Paid Time Off, Vacation, etc. This usually comes in one of two varieties - banked PTO (where you earn a certain number of vacation hours per pay period) or unlimited PTO (where you can take as much time off as you like, pending managerial approval). If you bank PTO, the PTO you accrue is paid time you are owed. If you leave the company for whatever reason, the company must pay out your banked PTO at your current base pay. Unlimited PTO does not count as compensation, so the company does not have to pay anything out if you leave (or are fired). I heavily suggest asking about how often your interviewer takes time off - it offers some good insight into how the team and company treat people who want to take their rightfully-earned time off.
Signing Bonus - This is a one-time chunk of additional money that you will receive in your first paycheck as incentive to get you to take the job. Many companies have a clawback clause in the contract where you have to pay back a signing bonus if you quit or are fired within a year of starting your employment.
RSUs, Stock Options, Equity - These are shares of ownership (or options to buy shares of ownership) of the company. These usually have a “vesting period” of around two to four years. As each year of employment passes, you get a percentage of these promised shares or options until enough time passes and you collect all of them. It is worth noting that you cannot sell shares of a company that is not publicly traded (i.e. on a stock exchange somewhere). Thus, owning stock or options in a private company doesn’t usually do anything for you unless that company gets acquired by another company or goes public. Video game studios almost never go public. In my personal experience, equity is the long shot and almost never works out unless the company is already public. It has historically worked out much better for me to take a higher salary and lower equity than the other way around.
Relocation - The company will sometimes pay for you to move from your current home to the city where they are located. This can be handled either through your own efforts, where you keep track of all moving-related expenses and receipts and submit them to the company for reimbursement, or through a relocation contractor that the company pays to handle all of the details like breaking a lease, packing all of your stuff, shipping it to the new city, storage, temporary housing, etc. Paid relocation expenses are considered income, so you will have to pay taxes on the relocation package’s value.
A lot of employers also offer perks and other benefits, such as:
Visa Sponsorship - Every recruiter that I’ve recently spoken with has asked me if I am legally able to work in the US and whether I would require [visa sponsorship]. Not all employers offer visa sponsorship; if you need one, it will limit your potential opportunities. Also, fewer companies will sponsor beyond H1B. There is a progression - H1B leads to Permanent Labor Certification, which leads to Green Card (Permanent Residency). These are multi-year processes, so know what you’re getting into.
Family Leave - as developers get older, we start families. Paid family leave is usually a number of weeks you can take off from work if you have a child or adopt.
Fitness - many companies will provide fitness benefits - subsidized gym memberships or reimbursement for healthy living expenses. One place had a healthy living stipend that they would reimburse us for. I bought a fancy fitbit on their dime.
Games - most publishers will give you free games and you can buy them at the company store. Microsoft even has a direct line to XSX consoles for employees.
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