Compensation packages at startups go beyond just a salary.
Startups have vastly different methods, tools, team structures, and, as a result, compensation options to offer employees (as opposed to large corporations).
In this article, we unpack different components that can be included in a startup compensation package and provide tips on how to negotiate your total startup compensation.
What to look for in a compensation package
Startup companies have access to different resources and processes than large corporations. That means what startups offer (and ultimately what you can earn at a startup) may be distinctive from your previous work experiences.
Startups often expand compensation beyond salary and benefits to include some amount of equity. In general, startup engineers typically receive some level of equity ownership in the company with 40% of mid-level engineers receiving 0.21-0.60% equity from their startup employers as of 2016.
Any amount of startup equity can potentially yield incredible long-term payoffs. That means you’ll want to research if your prospective employer offers equity stock options or stock warrants and broach the topic of equity at your interview.
Beyond salary and equity, startups often provide additional perks to make employees happy.
Internet reimbursements and home office bonuses are expected benefits in a post-pandemic world. It may also be worth seeking out companies that offer flexible work hours, gym equipment, social events, opportunities for continued education, and other perks that will make your future work experience more comfortable and accommodating for you.
Regarding PTO, refrain from immediately diving into an opportunity that offers unlimited PTO before checking out the company culture. Employees with unlimited vacation days usually feel scared to take more time away from work than their colleagues and ultimately take less time off than employees at companies that simply offer a higher number of set PTO days. If a startup offers unlimited PTO, ask questions that will help you understand the work culture so you can be sure the company offers the kind of work-life balance you want.
Don’t forget to look at the benefits, such as 401(k) contribution matches, IRAs, and medical and dental coverage. Standard benefits often look different at startups, so make sure you know what they offer before you jump on board!
How to negotiate your startup salary
Negotiating what you think you’re worth can be an uncomfortable endeavor.
Calculating a salary is more difficult at startups because of the growing list of aforementioned benefits and alternative means of compensation. That being said, recent surveys suggest that over 50% of mid-level startup engineers earn comparable salaries to their counterparts at more established firms.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind when trying to improve your initial salary offer:
Prepare for the salary question.
Before you get to the interview, you’ll want to spend some time preparing to discuss salary.
You’re guaranteed to get this question, so it’s worth knowing how you should answer. Here are some questions to consider:
- What is your ideal salary?
- What’s your minimum salary or your “walk-away” number? (More on this below)
- What is most important in your next role? (i.e. is salary the most important thing or do you care more about other aspects of the job, such as company culture, mission driven work, exposure to a certain tech stack, etc.)
By thinking through these questions, you’ll enter your interview with a clear picture of what you want and you’ll ultimately have a much more productive discussion with the hiring manager.
You’ll also want to do some research to get an understanding of competitive salaries and industry standards.
You can also explore similar roles at other startups who are in the same industry as the one you’re interviewing for. Read the job descriptions and see if they provide salary information. Browse startup jobs on hatchpad where most roles include salary ranges.
Taking these steps will allow you to come up with a number that is both realistic and competitive.
Address the salary question.
You arrive at the actual interview. When the interviewer brings up the dreaded expected salary question, most candidates want to quickly throw out a number to escape an awkward situation.
If you’ve done your research ahead of time, you’ll already have a compensation range in mind. But that doesn’t mean that you have to disclose it immediately if you still need more information. Instead, you can counter the question by asking the hiring manager for their planned salary range for this role. While it’s not an exact amount, it will give you a ballpark idea of what they can offer.
You’ll also want to ask if they offer any unique benefits or compensation such as equity, annual bonuses, or stipends. This will give you a holistic understanding of the compensation package. If the hiring manager continues to push you to give a number before you’re ready, tell them that you would rather discuss salary during the next interview once you’ve learned more about the company and the role.
On the other hand, if you’ve done your research and already know what your goal salary is, you can share that during the interview.
Set a walk-away number.
Another approach is to establish a walk-away number for yourself.
Having a minimum estimate of what you’re willing to work for will ensure that you don’t proceed through the interview process only to discover that their salary offer is much lower than you are willing to work for. Setting this number can be a natural way to end the interview process when it becomes clear that the company can’t meet your minimum. You not only save the company time but also save yourself time when assessing your ever-growing list of potential employers.
Don’t be afraid to ask for more money.
Even when you receive, it’s not too late to negotiate your compensation. After all, the easiest time to negotiate salary is between receiving and accepting an offer.
It’s highly unlikely that asking for more money would sour your chances of reaching an agreement. If the company was willing to spend ample time and resources just to speak with you and now feel confident enough to offer you a position, then this prospective employer will still very much want you on their team if you decide to ask for a bit more.
If the startup that wants to hire you is in too early of a stage to offer a higher salary, see if you can get increased equity ownership or other benefits in your package, such as a sign-on bonus or more time off.
Note: For the women in tech, check out this guide to salary negotiation.
Figuring out what company and position you want to work in is already a challenging task but figuring out how you want to be compensated for your work can make the hiring process feel even more intimidating.
Taking the time to research startup benefits, ask yourself important salary questions, and actively engage in salary negotiation will yield substantial long-term profits over immediately accepting the conditions of the initial offer.