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How to Negotiate a Signing Bonus

by Billie Nordmeyer

If you’re in the process of negotiating a compensation package, you’ve probably been thinking of what the company will pay to secure your services. The company might offer stock options, vacation time and medical and dental benefits. But what about a signing or sign-on bonus? After all, your current-compensation package may include retirement benefits that have not yet vested, and an earned vacation and performance bonus you won’t receive if you change companies. The signing bonus is a cash incentive you can use to make up for what you are leaving behind.

What to Research

Research compensation data at career websites to determine the industry and profession norms in terms of salary and signing bonuses. Also, contact members of your personal network to determine the job’s salary range and if signing bonuses are a common practice for the company. Next, consider the number of openings in your field to determine if your expertise is in high demand. You’re more likely to receive the sign-on bonus, if the company must compete with other companies for your commitment. Make a list of your personal achievements and skills that are of particular interest to employers such as your years of experience in related job roles and your speaking or presentation skills. Pay special attention to skills that may be exceptional for a typical candidate. For instance, you are a software engineer with an MBA or you are fluent in Mandarin Chinese.

When to Negotiate

A primary responsibility of a hiring manager is ruling out candidates with unrealistic-salary expectations. If pressed on the salary question during the interview, confirm your interest in the position, but defer compensation-package discussions until the employer has made a job offer. You might say you are sure the company pays its employees fairly relative to the market. Even if you receive a verbal offer, wait until the salary offer is in writing before you talk about a signing bonus. You want to avoid the possibility that sign-on bonus negotiations may affect the salary part of your compensation package.

Considerations

Compare the total-dollar value of your current-compensation package to the offer before you discuss a signing bonus with the hiring manager. For example, your current employer may pay a low-annual salary, but the bonus-plan structure may be more desirable than most in the industry. Your compensation may also include vacation time, continuing education, and medical and dental benefits and free parking, life and disability insurance and professional dues. If the future compensation plan is less beneficial than your current package, consider how much it will cost you to purchase the missing benefits. Also consider any additional expenses you will incur as a result of the job change, such as relocation expenses. When negotiating your compensation, including the signing bonus, think of ways that your new employer can make your new compensation package equivalent to your current package. Be ready to explain to your potential employer the importance and costs of the particular elements of your compensation package, and how the signing bonus might offset the costs of the elements that, if your are hired, will become out of pocket expenses.

How to Ask for a Signing Bonus

Negotiate the major elements of the compensation package before you address the signing bonus. Then go for the cash. When asked, provide the hiring manager a dollar range for the signing bonus. Base this range on your employment-market research and the benefits you will forego due to the job change. The company may offer signing bonuses rather than a more competitive salary, so act accordingly. In the CBS Money Watch article, Karen James Chopra advises that if a company offers $5,000, say "Great, but is that the maximum you offer?'' You want the biggest signing bonus they’ve ever offered someone.

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