Published: November 25, 2021

Maximize Your Data Science Salary

Negotiating salaries is something many people are not comfortable with, but as the data shows, pushing through the discomfort can be incredibly rewarding. If you’re reading this as someone who’s trying to land their first job in data science or increase their income at their existing data science role, we’ve written this article for you.

The O’Reilly Data Science salary guide report found that a whopping 18% of data scientists have never asked for a higher salary. Furthermore, the same report found that data scientists who rated their negotiation skills as “excellent” received up to $50,000 more per year than those who rated their negotiations skills as “very poor.”

For many employees, negotiating salaries can feel awkward or even intimidating, but overcoming this challenge can put thousands of extra dollars in your pocket every year. We’re providing you with our best advice when it comes to getting optimal results from a salary negotiation. Whether you’ll be negotiating with a hiring manager directly before accepting your first data science role or speaking with an existing employer about your annual income, these tips will prepare you for a successful salary negotiation experience!

Know your market value

The first thing you have to do before trying to negotiate a higher salary is determine your true market value. If your goal is to convince an employer that you deserve higher pay, you need to understand what you bring to the table.

You can start this process by researching the industry you work in and the position you’re applying for using common resources like Indeed and Glassdoor. You can also talk to your peers or people in your professional network, as they are likely going to have the answers you need.

But ultimately, you're not asking to increase your salary because of how much other people are being paid. You’re asking for a salary increase because of how much you should be paid.

You can use the previously mentioned resources as a benchmark to determine your market value, but you’ll ultimately have to turn a critical eye to your own skills, experience, and past job performance to get closer to the target. Consider your years of experience, your education, your skills, and any unique additions you bring to the job.

Make note of any data science tools you’re familiar with, new skills you’ve developed, or specializations that would distinguish you as a valuable member of the team. You need to present a compelling case for yourself by showing that you offer sufficient opportunities for growth and profitability to your employer in such a way that a higher salary will be a no-brainer.

Run the numbers

Once you have an idea of your market value, it is essential that you go into the negotiation conversation prepared. The first way you do this is to set your expectations. You know how much you’re worth and the value you bring to the company, so don't be afraid to ask for what you deserve.

Going into your meeting, you need to have two numbers in your mind. The first number should be the salary that you’d like to earn based on your market value. This number should be realistic, but make sure you still aim high to make room for compromise. The second value is your walk-away number, meaning any amount below this number would produce a polite conclusion to negotiations as you walk away from the table.

Only you can accurately decide on these two numbers, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind when deciding where to place your estimates. When it comes to estimating a higher value in terms of your salary, be sure to judge not by what you’d like to have or what other people have but by what is justifiable based on your market value. Regarding the lower number, remember that if you are changing career paths and entering data science for the first time or just getting started in the field, it’s not unreasonable to expect a lower salary at the beginning.

Last but not least, don’t decline a salary that is lower than your expectations until you see the full picture of the entire compensation package, all of which could be negotiated to possibly make up for any lack in actual salary-based income.

Practice the process

As silly as it may sound or feel, asking your friends, coworkers, or loved ones to conduct a mock salary negotiation for you can be a big help, especially when it comes to ironing out the kinks and solidifying the foundation of your presentation. Just like everything else, practice makes perfect, and the more comfortable you are going into the negotiation process, the better your chances of nailing the presentation.

There are other resources that can help you become more familiar with the process as well. You can talk to a recruiter if you need assistance preparing your primary talking points, proposals, and counter-offers, as well as refining your execution.

Recruiters specialize in helping candidates get jobs and acquire higher salaries. As such, they can be a valuable resource when preparing your negotiation presentation. If you really want to understand the art of negotiation, check out Negotiating your Salary: How to Make $1,000 a Minute by Jack Chapman.

Get into a positive mindset

There are a couple of misconceptions about salary negotiations that we need to dispel. First of all, if you’ve made it this far in the hiring process, the company wants you to work for them. Arguably, they’re already imagining you on their team, and making them more profitable.

Presenting your evidence for a higher salary is likely not going to cause them to take back their initial offer and leave you with nothing. In fact, a little-known secret is that negotiation is not only acceptable, but in many cases, it’s expected.

Secondly, asking for more money is not an insult or anything to be embarrassed about. It’s only uncomfortable because of the fears in the back of your mind that make you think you’ll offend your employer, that you don’t deserve more money, or that you can’t fulfill the duties of a higher-paying position.

That’s why you’ve done your due diligence and determined your market value to ensure that what you’re asking for salary-wise is reasonable for your data science position. Remember that it is in your employer’s own best interest to help you, not harm you. With that in mind, you can embrace a confident and positive mindset that will carry you throughout the negotiation successfully.

Set the tone

Once you’re sitting across from the person you’ll be negotiating your salary with, it’s important that you strike the right tone. Not only will your approach determine how your negotiation will proceed, but it’s also an influential factor on the relationship you’ll have with your employers going forward.

Knowing your market value, understanding what you bring to the table, and recognizing that the person sitting across from you isn’t out to get you will allow you to speak from a position of confidence. If you’re in this meeting, it’s because the person you’re negotiating with wants you and your valuable data science skills as part of the team. With this in mind, abide by our key suggestion to get a higher initial offer, which is to let them propose the first amount.

If they ask you about your expected compensation, say something like, “I’m considering any competitive offers,” or try saying, “I’m more concerned about the compensation package as a whole as opposed to only looking at the salary number.” Don’t limit yourself by your own estimation. Instead, let them make the offer and then negotiate from there. You might be surprised by the value that others attribute to you!

Next, avoid coming off as eager or desperate. Again, this negotiation has the potential to set the tone for a long-term business relationship. Leave personal reasons out of your negotiation strategy. You don’t want to negotiate based on your expenses or what your lifestyle demands but on what value you bring to the company.

Lastly, do not allow your confidence to come across as demanding or nagging behavior. An air of entitlement can ruin negotiations faster than anything else, so make sure you don’t cross the line between confidence and arrogance.

Make your case

This is the most important step of the process, seeing as this is where you’ll prove to your hiring manager or employer that you bring unique values to the table. The only thing that really matters in the salary negotiation process is that you prove that you will exceptionally benefit the team or the company as a whole.

But you can’t just say it! You must prove it if you want to see an increase in your salary. So, when presenting your value to your employer, focus on your success, like how your work has impacted the bottom line for either your current place of employment or your past company. Explain in detail how your work has saved or created additional revenue by providing real values for what you’ve done.

Presenting strong evidence of the impact your work has had is the most influential evidence you can offer. This is where a powerful data science portfolio will come in handy. Presenting a detailed account of projects, accomplishments, and other qualifications is one of the most surefire ways of proving your talent, skills, and proven impact.

Next, leverage your valuable skills, experience, and outstanding qualifications that make you uniquely suited for this particular role. This is not the same as talking about what other people are paid in similar roles or what you’ve made in other roles. The idea is that this data science role that you are currently negotiating a salary for is something you are a perfect fit for.

Talking about yourself isn’t always easy, especially if you’re trying to promote yourself and talk about the things you’re great at. Many people underestimate their own value, which doesn’t help when negotiating a salary. If you struggle with this, consult a recruiter or attend negotiation classes that will help you develop strong arguments for how much you’re worth or the value you bring to the job position.

Evaluate the offer

Once you’ve presented yourself as a valuable asset to the company, it’s time for them to make you an offer. Here are a couple of rules of thumb for this portion of the negotiation process!

First, never accept an offer on the spot. These negotiations can be stressful and uncomfortable, which are never good circumstances to be in when you’re making big decisions. Whether the offer is good or bad, never give an answer to an offer during the same conversation as the negotiation. Instead, take some time to sleep on it.

Second of all, look at the salary offer in light of the bigger picture. Think about what is really important to you in your career and consider the other benefits that come along with the salary. Think about how the rest of the package will complement your values as well.

From vacation days and healthcare coverage, to company phones and gas reimbursement, everything adds up. When looking at an offer, don’t just look for a fat salary. You might accept a smaller salary if the rest of the compensation package offers alternative benefits that you value highly.

Always negotiate

After taking time to consider the offer from the perspective of the big picture, it’s time for you to negotiate. The number one rule is to always negotiate. Even if the initial offer is good, ask yourself if you are really going to be less happy with a few thousands of dollars extra per year or some added PTO. Additionally, the results of this negotiation will be the benchmark for all of your future negotiations, so you might as well make it the best you can. 

Now is the time to give your employer a specific number if you haven’t already done so. Keep your walk-away number in mind as well. If your employer can’t give you what you’re worth in the form of your salary but you still want to take the job, get creative and reduce the salary disparity by accruing value in other ways, like benefits.

Everything is up for negotiation

If your potential or current employer can’t be flexible about your salary, it’s time to get creative and try negotiating other areas that you value, like regular bonuses, more PTO, vacation days, additional reimbursements, or anything else you can name. If it’s something you value that will make your life better, you can throw it into the negotiations to offset a smaller salary.

A simple example is that you could easily put $1,000 extra into your pocket every year by simply negotiating for a company phone. That way, you can replace your personal phone and eliminate your monthly phone bill all at once.

Renew your enthusiasm and restate your value

During this portion of the negotiation, it’s important that you renew your enthusiasm for the company or position you’re seeking and reassert the value you will bring or have brought to the company. You want your message to be something like, “I’d love to be a part of this and I know I’ll bring incredible value to your team, as I’ve proven, but what I’m looking for is closer to…” From there, fill in the blanks with what you’re looking for. 

Also, at this point, it might be valuable to mention any competing offers that you have from other companies. This will not only be a signal of honesty and transparency, but it might also serve as an additional impetus for favorable negotiations moving forward.

Accept the offer or walk away

Once you’ve started the negotiation process, you need to be prepared to either accept an offer or walk away from the table. Nothing will burn bridges faster than getting favorable negotiations from an employer and still remaining on the fence about your commitment to their company.

At this point, they’ve given you an offer and you’ve evaluated the offer. You also presented a renegotiated offer, which they will either accept, refuse, or renegotiate yet again. This back and forth process should be minimized as it’s tedious for both parties to endure.

Before entering into negotiations, you need to plan ahead, know what you want, and keep your walk-away number in mind in light of the other benefits that you can roll into the compensation package.

If you’re presented with another offer yet again, don’t accept it on the spot or in the heat of the moment. Evaluate whether it will compensate you for what you're worth, and not just according to the numbers, but also whether it makes you sufficiently happy to sacrifice many of your waking hours for the role in question.

If you’ve negotiated as best you can and the result is favorable, then congratulations! You’ve successfully overcome one of the most intimidating tasks an employee can face, and not only that, but you’ve also come out on top.

If the negotiations failed and you’re unhappy with the results, simply thank them for their consideration and walk away. If you’re confident in your market value and you believe that your expectations are not unreasonable, pursue opportunities elsewhere.

After all, the data science market is incredibly competitive and skilled data scientists are in very high demand. If one company doesn’t appreciate your contributions, another one will!

Conclusion

For most people, negotiating a salary is not a fun or easy thing to do. But the more prepared you are and the more practice you get, the more likely you'll be to put your best foot forward and create optimal chances for increasing your income.

Managing expectations is a critical part of the negotiation process. You have your own expectations, and your employer has theirs, but in order to produce the best flow of negotiation power, those expectations need to be crystal clear.

You need to know your worth, what you have to offer, and what you're willing to accept. The company needs to understand what they can expect from you as an employee and what you expect from them as an employer as well.

Remember: always negotiate!


About the author 

Dataquest

Dataquest is an interactive learning platform where individuals and teams can learn data science skills.

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