How to Negotiate with Big Tech: Spotlight on Google

Ex-Google recruiter reveals how to negotiate with Google

Working at Google is what you often hear for many as a "Dream job." With the culture they've cultivated, the impact of the work, the perks, the cutting edge technology, and of course, the compensation it's easy to see why that is. However, just because it's a dream job doesn't mean you need to sacrifice your pay.

This can sound strange since it's literally in the list of reasons why it's a dream job for many. The reality is we should fight for our fair worth even with "dream companies."

There are a few things that we need to keep in mind here in order to successfully negotiate at Google and other FAANG companies. Total compensation is the key to all negotiations and will guide you throughout the entire conversation. For Google and big tech, you have to keep in mind this basic tenant of all negotiations.

Quick aside: Interviewing or have an offer from Google? We've negotiated dozens of Google offers. Speak with a expert negotiator ⟶

What does Total Compensation mean at Google?

Google Total Compensation Logo

Total compensation at Google includes base salary, stock compensation, and target bonus.

This is a standardized formula for most tech companies now, a notable exception is Netflix who offers cold hard cash which reflects immediately as higher and more guaranteed income in the short term. Other than them, if you're going to negotiate you'll need to remember total compensation, total comp or just TC for quick reference.

This is where I want to present a question of the utmost importance to know what you can do to negotiate at Google, Facebook, Amazon et al. You must ask what level you are going in at or being targeted for.

This is a very important piece to understand. Big tech has compensation bands, which you can see on sites like Levels.fyi for reference. Google's software engineering levels are as follows:

  • L3 - Entry Level Software Engineer
  • L4 – Software Engineer
  • L5 - Senior Software Engineer
  • L6 - Staff Software Engineer
  • L7 - Senior Staff Software Engineer
  • L8 - Principal Software Engineer
  • L9 - Distinguished Engineer

Why is this so vital? Total compensation is mostly set within a "compensation band" and you'll need to know this to understand how high and low you can go for salary, for bonus and for equity.  For instance, if you ask and they say you are going in for a 5 with potential for a 6 you'll most likely be going for a 5 and they hope that you can get to a 6, but it's less likely. Comp Bands are rigidly set with upper and lower limits and recruiters and compensation teams alike typically do not venture in or out of these.

With total comp and levels in mind I want you to remember something important. You have control.

You have control in how well you do on the interview and you have control in negotiations. To start you have the most control with the interviews. If you perform very well on the interviews prepping with sites like Leetcode or Grokking the System Design interview or breaking the spine on Cracking the Coding Interview (for software folks), you'll set yourself up for a much better chance for higher total compensation.

Recruiters Are Your Partners

Finding talent is hard, finding someone who can work through this entire process from initial convo to offer stage is hard. And speaking as a recruiter, we want to work with you to get what you deserve, approach the recruiter as a partner and you'll find that they will be more willing to go to bat for you when time comes for comp. I can guarantee this. Treat a recruiter like a doormat and they most likely won't push for that extra 10K for you.

New Grad vs Industry Big Tech Salary Negotiations

New Grad and Industry are important distinctions to keep in mind. If you are straight out of undergrad you are most likely a new grad unless you went back to get your masters after 2+ years in the workforce. While this is important to understand, the difference between Bachelors and Masters degrees are slight. There is only a difference with Bachelors and Masters L3 salary within $5,000 for most locations. Maybe a higher sign-on bonus, that's about it.

Quick note - PhDs you have a different level coming in as a L4 and it will likely net you roughly $20k more.

Interns come over here for a second...I'm sorry to say you won't get a big bonus for coming back, at least not at Google. Most likely what will happen is an expedited interview process or potentially no interviews at all, usually if you have been a returning intern. Other than that do not expect an increase in sign-on, extra equity or a salary bump.

Experienced folks here are going to be a bit different. You have a few years to a few decades of experience and this comes with additional knowledge, more time to accumulate salary increases, and more stock. Which also means that you'll be coming in at L4 and above. And referring to what I said before, you'll have comp bands instead of one rigid base that dictates the amount that you'll receive.

Get Competing Offers

Get competing job offers

The advice I have for all is to gather a few offers between public companies and startups. You'll only be doing yourself a disservice in negotiations if you don't, unless your current compensation is higher than FAANG companies, Unicorns, or other startups.

Gathering offers is easier said than done but this helps you in a few ways.

For one, you get interview practice and as you may have recognized by now, interviews are a very unique situation and you'll hear a lot that the type of coding you do or questions you answer during an interview is different from day to day work. It's more of a standardized test than anything and you need to prepare for it.

More importantly, you'll have offers that vary in compensation structure. Some may come with high salaries and lower stock, others will come with standard salaries and enormous stock grants. For public companies it is very easy to negotiate due to a standard formula that is used and it will be spread over 4 years to achieve parity. Luckily we have a total compensation calculator to help you here.

However with startups you'll end up seeing a large increase in stock. BUT and this is crucial... do not expect 1:1 ratios with the stock. You may be asking yourself, "Why? It's still stock, shouldn't it be equal?" to which I would reply yes... but there is an inherent risk with startups that you'll never see that stock come through, money in hand is worth more than "potential" for Google and most other public companies, for reasons that you can clearly see.

With that in mind they do not discount it totally, just partially.. You can expect the stock to be valued around 70% of the total value given. So for easy math if you get a 100K stock grant from a startup you'll have it valued at 70K at Google. So for this you'll need a sizable amount to increase the offer at Google. And you'll most likely need proof. I've worked with people who had upwards of 600K+ in stock options at a startup with no written proof of the amount and as you can imagine the comp team shut that down immediately. This isn't simply for data on other companies as some indicate but more so when they have a VP come down during a compliance audit saying "Why on earth did you give them that much?" they can show the letter and have proof that they received an offer for that amount.

This is where you will see the biggest increase in your total comp. There are a few reasons for this. Salary is set and is meant to keep you at a level equal with your peers for years of experience. Another reason that is a bit more stark is because you may not last the full four years that the stock grant is expected over and in the end saving that amount for the company.

The plus side of this is the equity refreshers though! If you have a high stock grant and are continuing to perform, your equity refreshers on top of the total compensation will continue to pad you for years to come as you vest. 

How Do I Get What I Deserve?

All of that background information is important to keep in mind as you go about negotiations. 

There are nuances with these though for experienced individuals. As a recruiter I am "closing" a candidate from the first conversation with them. As a candidate you can start negotiating the offer from the first conversation. Understanding the level you are going in at, prodding to get the comp bands or referring to our site for the range you'll see if it will match or beat your current comp. Then when you get to the email exchange or phone call - whichever you are comfortable with - you will be prepared for getting the amount you deserve.

Know what you're worth. When they say what are your salary expectations you can give a range. A good way to negotiate is to have an OMG number, a number you'll be happy to receive and accept and a number you would turn down no matter what. Create a realistic range for yourself and stick to it.

Use our tools here, gather offers from various companies, research on Levels.fyi. For Big Tech though, levels are the most important thing to understand. If you know you are a L5 vs L6 going in, you will have a realistic view of how much total compensation will be and be able to set your rate from there. You'll also know if you should start the process at all.

Now whether you exchange emails or have a phone conversation is up to you but we do have a negotiation service for when the time comes with experienced individuals to piece this all together for you!

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