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How To Attract Top Talent: Negotiating Salary and Benefits

Welcome to part three of Talaera’s HR Series on how to attract top talent. The two previous posts were all about writing strong job descriptions and running successful interviews, and here we will cover negotiations with your potentially new employee. This part of the hiring process is not easy in your native language, and much less so if you have to negotiate in a language in which you don’t feel 100% confident.

The most effective way is to practice with a teacher 1-on-1, but this post can give you a first push. In the quest of the perfect candidate, you will probably have to negotiate salaries and communicate perks and benefits, and that’s exactly what this post is about, with over 80 words, phrases and expressions. and easy-to-apply communication tips.

This series is inspired by our non-native HR students and is based on the most effective tips we have found to help boost their communication skills.

  • “Some candidates try to negotiate their salary and/or benefits, and I don’t know exactly what to say. “
  • “Sometimes there is some room for negotiation, but sometimes we are offering them the maximum. How can I communicate this effectively?”
  • “How can I talk about compensation, holidays, social benefits, and RSUs?”

Can relate to any of the above? Then this guide will really help you overcome these challenges. Before we move on to the words and phrases, let’s start with some general communication tips.

I. General communication tips

#1 Read part 2 of this guide

Although Part 2 of our HR series is about running a successful interview, it includes loads of great tips that directly apply to negotiation. Learn how fillers, indirect questions, and many more great language tips can really boost your fluency. It only takes around 10 minutes to read and it is definitely worth it.

#2 Keep your communication diplomatic and polite

In English-speaking cultures negotiating salary and benefits is considered a delicate topic. This means native speakers try to use specific kinds of phrases and words to help keep the conversation polite and diplomatic. Although this can be a headache for you as a recruiter, answering indirectly will make communication smoother and the candidate feel more comfortable.

Polite and diplomatic word choices:

Rather than simply saying “The salary is $80,000” you can add indirect questions to the end of your phrases such as:

  • Would that work for you?
  • How would you feel about that?

This helps keep the tone more diplomatic. Again, review indirect questions in part 2 for some extra tips.

#3 Create your own cheat sheet

A cheat sheet is simply a list of words and phrases that commonly occur that you can use when you need to.The word lists and phrases in this guide are available to download, but we also encourage you to make your own specific word lists, as each company is different.

How to make a cheat sheet:

  • 1) Gather all the words and phrases you need to know
  • 2) Check any you are unsure of with a native speaker or a professional English teacher
  • 3) Add meanings and examples to help you remember them
  • 3) Use the sheet when you forget a word or phrase
  • 4) As you progress, try and use the cheat sheet less and less

Use this cheat sheet template for your negotiations vocabulary!

II. Negotiation Vocabulary (Words, Phrases, Idiomatic Expressions)

The words and phrases in this guide are not exhaustive. Each job has very specific perks and benefits and we have focussed mainly on the financial aspects of negotiation as this was most requested by our students. To get the most out of this vocabulary section, we recommend starting with the simple salary, benefits and negotiation word lists. Once you feel comfortable with these, move on to the more complex phrases.

Download PDF vocabulary list for negotiations

#1 Salary Word List:

These basic salary terms should be familiar. But we invite you to try them with different examples to refresh your memory. Note that using the “would” form with these words helps keep your communication polite.

Term Meaning Example
base salary salary excluding any bonuses or extras Typically, we offer around $60,000 in base salary for junior positions.
starting salary the amount of pay an employee receives when they start the job Your starting salary would be $75,000.
compensation salary usually including benefits such as stocks or stipends Your compensation would also include a commuter allowance, signing bonus and equity.
salary band a range of salary amounts. Usually narrow or wide The salary band for this role is $60-80k. We feel this is a wide salary band.
x-figure salary (5-figure, 6-figure) to describe the salary amount in terms of numbers, e.g. 100,000 is a 6-figure salary To join the company I would require a six-figure salary.
net salary salary after taxes/deductions Your net starting salary would be $60,000.
gross salary salary before taxes/deductions The gross salary for this role is $100,000.

#2 Perks and Benefits Word List:

This list is non-exhaustive but does feature some of the most common benefits offered to candidates. Try and learn this with an example for each. Which of these apply to your company? Why not make your own cheat sheet with any examples that are missing!

Term Meaning Example
signing bonus an amount of money paid when a candidate signs a contract Most hires at our company do receive a signing bonus.
stock a stake in a company All new senior hires receive an amount of stock in the company.
year-end or performance bonus an extra amount of compensation given at the end of the year based on performance In this role you would be eligible for a 10% performance bonus.
commuter benefits an allowance given for traveling to and from the workplace If you live further than 10 miles away, you will be eligible for commuter benefits.
relocation expenses an allowance to cover the cost of moving to a new city for the job We do offer relocation expenses up to a total amount of $5,000.
equipment stipend an allowance for equipment such as computers We have a fixed equipment stipend in place.
educational stipend a training allowance All our employees receive an educational stipend of $2,000 a year for personal development.
childcare stipend an allowance for parents to cover childcare costs All employees with children are entitled to our childcare stipend.
extra vacation time additional days off work As part of our offer, we are prepared to add an extra two day’s vacation.
later start date starting later than scheduled I would be happier with a later start date.
shares stocks in a company We would issue you with 100 shares in the company when you join.
Restricted Stock Units (RSUs) a type of stock or share in a company, usually with a specific condition attached, typically that they can only be sold after a certain amount of time On joining, we would offer you 1,000 RSUs at the current price of $10 a share.
stock options stock in a company As part of my counter-offer, I would like to negotiate some stock options.
equity stock in a company, usually given as a percentage As one of the first 20 people to join the company, you would receive 0.5% equity.
market value the current value of a company’s stock Our market value is currently $10 a share.

#3 Negotiation Word List:

These words will help you refine your communication when negotiating with candidates. Note if you feel that some of these are unfamiliar, try and listen out for when your colleagues use these phrases. You’ll be surprised how often you hear some of them.

Term Meaning Example
initial offer the first offer made to a candidate Our initial offer comprises 70k in base, stock options and a signing bonus.
counter-offer an offer made in response to a previous offer including changes Our counter-offer includes a signing bonus.
proposal another word for ‘offer’ Are you prepared to accept our proposal?
salary expectations the salary a candidate expects to earn What are your salary expectations for this role?
ballpark figure an estimated amount Can you give me a ballpark figure for your starting salary expectation?
starting point beginning of a negotiation Well, $70,000 in base salary is a great starting point, but it’s a little lower than my expectations.
to lowball/ highball to make an offer much lower or higher than expected I feel like the candidate is high balling us to try and get a better package.
deadlock when the parties cannot reach an agreement We seem to have reached deadlock with the negotiations.
bottom line the most important factor or point The bottom line is we really want to hire you.
leverage the strength of your negotiating position With his 10 years’ of experience, she really has a lot of leverage for this position.
deal-breaker a very important or essential condition to a contract which, if unresolved during the negotiations, would cause one party to pull out of the deal The commuter allowance is a real deal-breaker for me.
starting date the date a candidate starts work with the new company We would love to agree a starting date with you as soon as possible.
amendment a change to something We have made an amendment to our initial offer.

#4 Negotiation Phrases:

Now you have mastered the word lists, we are moving on to full phrases. This first group are standard phrases used when making an offer to candidates.

Phrase Meaning Example
to extend an offer when a company offers a candidate a job We would like to extend to you an initial offer.
to rescind an offer when an offer is canceled Due to unforeseen circumstances, we will have to rescind the offer.
to vest shares when shares are able to be sold Your shares will vest in 4 years’ time.
to make a counter-offer to make a new offer We are more than happy to make you a counter-offer.
to decline an offer to not accept an offer Unfortunately, our first choice for the role declined the offer.
to weigh up the options to review all the options This offer is really great but I need a couple of days to weigh up my options.
to reach an agreement to agree on something I’m so glad we could reach an agreement on the base salary.
to be lower/ higher than expectations whether an offer is above or below what a candidate wants I have to say that the net salary is a little lower than my expectations.
to make a final decision to decide whether to take the job Based on that information I am now able to make my final decision.
to improve on an offer make an offer more attractive We can improve on our initial offer.
to iterate on an offer make another offer If necessary we will iterate on our initial offer.

#5 Idiomatic Expressions:

Now it’s time to have some fun! Use these expressions below  to really sound like a native speaker. We know from our students that these phrases can seem a little weird or counterintuitive. So, to boost confidence, we recommended talking them through with a friend or a native-English teacher before using them in real interviews.

Phrase Meaning Example
The offer is still on the table when an offer is still available We know you have had interest from other companies, but our offer of 80k base salary is still on the table.
a company exits a company is acquired Instagram exited for $1 billion.
We can do… an informal and friendly way to agree to a candidate request I have talked with the rest of the team, and we can do the 5k signing bonus.
We are not able to do… a casual way to decline a candidate request We are not able to do 2% in equity. However, we could do 1.5%.
to have interest from other companies when other companies want to hire a candidate We are aware you have interest from other companies, which is why we would like to improve on our initial offer.
to be interviewing for other roles to have interviews with other companies Are you interviewing for other roles at the moment?
to shop an offer around when a candidate takes an existing offer to another company for more leverage It’s really important to us that, once we make an offer, candidates do not just shop it around.
to arrive at a number to come up with a salary figure We have arrived at the following number: $100,000. Would that base salary be acceptable to you?
We have taken that on board we have acknowledged something We have taken it on board that the commuter stipend is a deal-breaker for you.
We have looked at the numbers and… to review a financial request We have looked at the numbers and we cannot increase the salary any further.
to meet in the middle to compromise If you could meet us in the middle at 100k, then we would be happy to sign you.
I would sign today if… a condition where the candidate would decline all other offers and sign with a specific company I would sign today if you could do 120k in base salary.
to drop an offer to decline an offer I am happy to drop all other offers based on your proposal.
to tie up loose ends at my/your old company to conclude employment in an organized way I think I would need around 4 weeks to tie up all the loose ends at my current company.
to come aboard to join a company We would love you to come aboard at the end of the month.
Would that work for you? used to ask a candidate if they would accept an offer We could do 85k with 1% equity. Would that work for you?
What number were you thinking of/did you have in mind? used to ask what amount a candidate expects Regarding the signing bonus, what number did you have in mind?
We will see what we can do about that. polite way of saying you will review a request We will see what we can do about the equity package.
Let me chat with my colleagues about that polite way of saying you will review a request Let me chat with my colleagues about the signing bonus.
We will come back to you polite way of saying you will review a request We will come back to you about the RSUs.
We understand that is important to you acknowledging a point the candidate has made We understand the childcare allowance is important to you.
Let me come back with a fresh offer stating you will make a new offer Based on your feedback, let me come back to you with a fresh offer.
to pull some strings to make something happen Let me see if I can pull some strings and increase the signing bonus to 10k.
to go higher to increase an amount Could you go any higher with…?I’m sorry but we cannot go any higher than our previous offer.
to turn an offer/ proposal down to reject an offer The candidate rejected Uber’s offer and signed with us.
to be a tough decision a difficult decision It’s a really tough decision. I need to weigh up all the options.
to be on the same page to be in agreement I think we are on the same page regarding compensation.
At this stage in the negotiations to describe how close to the beginning or the end of negotiations you are At this stage in the negotiations, we would like to make you an initial offer.
to bring something to the table to have a particular ability or level of experience She brings 5 years’ experience in data science and a Master’s to the table.
to keep your word to complete an action that was promised The candidate kept their word and signed the initial offer.
We might be able to work on… if you could… offering to change a condition if a candidate also changes a condition We might be able to work on our offer if you agree an early starting date.
In exchange for…, would you agree to…? offering to change a condition if a candidate also changes a condition In exchange for a higher signing bonus, would you agree to drop your other offers?
ASAP “As soon as possible.” Pronounced like the letters A-S-A-P. We would love for you to join us ASAP.

Remember to download this word list to use in your negotiations! Download PDF vocabulary list for negotiations

III. A few advanced tips

#1 Listen out for contractions: Native speakers love to shorten phrases. Listen out for contractions such as these:

  • 100k in base = $100,000 in base salary
  • 75k net = $75,000 net salary

Usually they are based on the longer expression so, if you know that, you can work out the meaning. And don’t be scared of them. Once you have mastered the meaning, you can use them yourself.

#2 Combine the idiomatic phrases with fillers, indirect forms, and “we/our/us” forms: Combine the idiomatic phrases above with the fillers from part 2 of this guide. Remember, when talking on behalf of the company,  use the we/our/us forms. Finally, adding “would” forms as indirect questions keeps your communication polite. Check out this example:

Actually, we looked at the numbers and have arrived at 100k in base salary. We think this corresponds to your level of experience and what you bring to the table. Would you be happy to sign with us based on this offer?”

Note the use of the filler “actually”, the “we” form and the “would” form at the end. If you can combine phrases like this, you are well on your way to sounding like a native speaker!

IV. Use this guide to boost your language confidence

We hope this guide will help boost your language confidence when negotiating salaries and communicating benefits. Our students working in HR have had some fantastic results by following the tips in this four-part guide, and we are sure you will too!

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