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Service Members, Get Hired! Part VI: Job Offer Negotiations

Military to Civilian Transition

Welcome back! Today we're covering job offer negotiations. This topic can sometimes be overlooked because, understandably, we are often super stoked to have received the job offer, to begin with. However, this topic can assist you in taking an already exciting opportunity, and really sweetening the pot. Just remember, even in this stage, you are still being evaluated! How you negotiate can say a lot about your professionalism and communication, so let’s get to it!

Negotiation Guidelines

As with everything, there are guidelines and unwritten rules to negotiating. This process happens at the time that the tentative job offer has been given, but before the final job offer occurs. It can be stressful because, as the selectee for the position, we are wary of asking for too much or being too aggressive, at the risk of ruining or tainting our opportunity. The unfortunate reality is that there are horror stories out there where a job offer has been withdrawn due to poor negotiation or communication skills. So it is important to know what is permissible, and what to avoid.

So, how much negotiation is too much? Well, as with everything else in this article series, that’s subjective. Some recruiters/hiring managers are willing/able to “wheel and deal” more than others. How do you know? Do your homework. Educate yourself on what the “norm” is for each element. If you’re negotiating salary, make sure you’ve researched what others in the same role, industry, and location are making.

Additionally, steer away from hearsay. Don’t quote what your friend of a friend’s former roommate’s last dog sitter has said their late great uncle made in that role in 1962. Use sites that are reputable. There are lots of decent sites out there, and if you want to have the ability to quote stats, it’s hard to argue with governmental studies on average salaries.

When it comes time to negotiate, do not “nickel and dime” them. Asking for a litany of different benefits can be a huge turn-off for the employer. Remember, you’re still being evaluated. How many are too many? Again, do your homework. Know what the average employee gets for benefits in that company, and use that as your gauge. Don’t try to do too many counterarguments, either. Once they’ve countered twice, it’s time to seriously consider accepting at that point.

Avoid ultimatums or demands. First of all, ultimatums and demands can be disrespectful. However, they also damage the perception of how truly interested you are in the job. Giving ultimatums means that you have “walk away” power, or are disinterested in the job because you’re truly not that vested in the position. That is not something you want your soon-to-be boss to believe!

Be reliable and timely. When you’re given the tentative job offer, reply with your negotiations within 24-48hrs. Again, you’re still being evaluated, and a lack of timeliness can be a red flag. They want to know that you are reliable when it comes to timeliness.

Know what can be negotiated. Not all job elements are negotiable. In fact, some things are negotiable in some roles/fields and not in others. Have you heard me mention something about doing homework? It applies hear too. You’re not going to be able to negotiate remote/telework as a Branch Manager of a bank; it’s a customer-facing job. Also, some benefits are non-negotiable within specific companies; 401ks, paid leave, and insurance are often fixed within a company, and you may not be able to negotiate these benefits since they apply to all employees.

Be professional and personable. As the adage goes, you attract more flies with honey than vinegar. And if you’re not into adages, studies have shown that the halo effect is a very real thing. Remaining professional, courteous, and personable can quickly build a connection between you and the person on the other side of the negotiating table. Get them on your team.

This isn’t just for civilian jobs either. Contrary to popular belief, federal jobs can be negotiated too. Granted, I would agree that their negotiation options are a little less flexible, but they certainly do exist, and I’ll make note of them in the next section.

Lastly, get it all in writing. Once the negotiation is over, and everything is hashed out, your final job offer should include the negotiated items. Some benefits, such as a paid exercise allotment in the federal system, will not be dictated by an offer from HR but rather are more “in-house.” In those cases, at least get something in writing from the hiring manager that they’ve agreed to that term.


So, what can be negotiated? So often we just think salary, but sometimes salaries are less negotiable due to the company budget. However, there’s a lot of different benefits and aspects that can be negotiated to really make your job even more enjoyable, from how quickly you accrue leave, to teleworking and/or a flexible schedule. Again, trying to negotiate for every single one of these things could get the job offer rescinded, but as you do your homework, here is a list of things to check on for viability in your upcoming role.

Gain $$$

Salary: Do your homework (if I haven't said that phrase enough). What do others in the same area, role, and industry make? What qualifications or certifications may make you “worth” more to the company? Federal starting salaries are also negotiable. You likely can’t negotiate a whole different pay grade, but there are “steps” within each pay grade that you can negotiate for.

Sign-on bonuses: Both civilian and federal jobs may qualify for sign-on bonuses. Sometimes they’re awarded on day one, and sometimes they are awarded after so many months of successful performance.

Future Promotions: Kind of like a sign-on bonus, I’ve seen some folks leverage a promotion into their negotiations where after a specified period of time, so long as their work performance is to a certain standard, they’re guaranteed a promotion. This can kind of be done in the federal system, but it’s not negotiable as these are built into the initial job announcement, and do not follow strict timelines.

401Ks & Stock Options: Options to consider with 401Ks are employer matching benefits or early investments that can build your 401K much more rapidly. And these are often built into federal positions as well. Another possibility for civilian jobs could be a stock option in the company.

Insurances: There are a ton of aspects to this, and are not always negotiable. Case in point, not all companies have an employee dental insurance policy, and if they don’t, chances are they won’t create one just for you. So do your homework (sound familiar?) and see what the company does have, because they may not offer it to you outright.

Save $$$

Childcare: Some companies offer childcare discounts or even childcare at the workplace. Definitely look into this if you have “little ones” running around.

Student Loan Repayment: Both civilian and federal organizations sometimes offer repayment on some or all of your student loans. Definitely, something to look into.

Parking & Transportation: If you work in a larger city area, sometimes you can be reimbursed for parking fees, or even provided free passes for city trains, subways, light rails, etc. And this includes some federal jobs.

Physical Fitness Programs: Didn’t get sick of exercise while you’re in uniform? Sometimes employers will offer discounts for gym memberships or even have gyms at the workplace. Oh, and federal employees, a lot of agencies will pay you up to 3 hours a week just to exercise! Some civilian jobs as well!

Relocation Expenses: If you’re having to relocate, this could be a huge money-saving expense if you can get it. Be advised that federal jobs can offer this, but it’s usually built into the job announcement upfront if it’s an option.

Internet / Phone Reimbursement: If you work part or full time from home, you can sometimes get them to reimburse all or part of your internet and/or phone bill. These can be options for both federal and civilian jobs.

Professional Development

Special Project / Assignments: Sometimes the company or organization may be gearing up for a big project right as you join the team. Asking about this ahead of time could create an opportunity for you to shine right out the gate and set the tone for an early promotion down the road. This can also be something for federal jobs that have a paygrade promotion built in but no guaranteed timeline.

Tuition / Training / Certifications: Both civilian and federal organizations sometimes offer to either pay for, or reimburse the costs of education, training, certifications, or even events like seminars and conferences. Showing that you have a commitment to grow and improve can speak volumes to your employer.


Vacation & Sick Time Accrual: Some jobs are restricted in this negotiation, but not all. Do not overlook your time off. It can be so valuable to your morale, mental health, and wellbeing. On the federal side, you can’t negotiate time off accrual, but you do need to look into the “Creditable Uniformed Service” benefit that awards you increased paid leave earlier on in your job based on your length and aspect of military service.

Start Date: There’s nothing wrong with wanting to take a breather and recharge your batteries a little before kicking off your next adventure. Consider negotiating a start week 3-4 weeks down the road so that once you finish your 2-weeks notice (if you’re currently employed), you have a week or two to relax!

Remote Work: This is a wonderful option if you’re not a fan of traveling to work or cubicle farms. More so, a lot of times, approval to work remotely means that your employer will furnish you with the equipment you need…maybe even the furniture you need. Definitely, something to look into in today’s day and age of technology and digital communication.

Flexible Schedules: This is a huge option if you can get it! Behind salary and time off accrual, I would argue that this is the next best thing. A lot of companies will require you to use your sick leave, or even your regular paid time off to go to things like doctor’s appointments or other unavoidable absences from work. Being able to shift your schedule around – i.e. work 10 hours one day so you only have to work 6 hours elsewhere to attend a medical appointment – is a huge perk. More so, you may even be able to work what’s called the 4/5/9 or 4/10 schedules, where you rack up 9-10 hours a day and get an entire day off elsewhere. These can add up to 1-2 extra days off every two weeks! And yes, these are possible options in the federal jobs as well!

As I close this out, I just want to re-highlight the time category. So often we get hung up on salary and monetary benefits that we forget that time is money. Trust me, after my first year or so as a civilian, I quickly realized that things like vacation accrual, remote work, and flexible schedules can be worth their weight in gold!

Hopefully, you’ve found some use in Part V(e) of our Employment chat. Join me next week for our final installment of the "Service Members, Get Hired" series! In Part VI we will cover the buzzword of your transition: Networking! Because remember: It’s not always what you know, but who you know!!!

Until next time, be safe, stay healthy, and remember that you’re not in this alone!

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