Julia Evans

Questions you can ask about compensation

Talking about pay is hard, and a lot of the time it feels like it boils down to “hello I would like more money please?”. But it’s totally possible to have a conversation about compensation without asking for more money at all!

When trying to understand (and let’s be honest – increase!) my pay, I’ve found it really useful to first understand the processes around compensation at the company I work for. Here are some questions you can ask. Your manager can probably answer many of these, but your colleagues might know too!

  1. Who makes decisions about raises? (is it at the discretion of the manager? Does the manager have a fixed budget they can give out? Is there a formula based on past performance evaluations?)
  2. When do we adjust salaries? (on the employee’s work anniversary? Right after a performance review?)
  3. Do we do market adjustments to give people raises if the industry salary for this job increases? What’s the process for that?
  4. Is there a salary range for my level? What is it approximately? (Also same question for total compensation and not just salary)
  5. Does the company actually stick to its salary ranges or does it often make exceptions? What’s the process for getting paid higher than the range? Who can decide to make an exception?
  6. Which other companies are we trying to be competitive with when we make job offers?
  7. How is compensation split between salary/equity/bonus? (at higher levels, will my pay be mostly equity? what do we aim for with bonuses?)
  8. Is it possible to get more vacation? (at this company, do you get more vacation after X years?)
  9. When are equity refreshes given? (do we give refreshes yearly? Only when someone’s initial stock grant is about to expire?)
  10. Who makes decisions about equity refreshes and how? (are they based on level? Performance? Who decides?)
  11. When do my stock options expire? (this one you should definitely have been told, but if your company has stock options set up like “they expire 3 months after you leave”, it’s possible for them to change their policy)
  12. Is on-call time compensated? How?
  13. How do bonuses work exactly? (is it tied to company performance? Individual performance? Level? All of the above? Are bonuses targeted to be a percentage of salary?)
  14. Is there a peer bonus system? (can people recommend their coworkers for cash bonuses?)
  15. Is there a learning budget? (for conferences / books / training?)
  16. Is it possible to take unpaid time off?

If you’re negotiating a job offer it can also be useful to ask about signing/relocation bonus and details about the stock options.

This is probably too many questions to ask all at once, and your manager may not even know the answers to all of these questions themselves. That’s okay! I definitely didn’t know the answers to all of these at my last job, but knowing even some of these answers is really helpful.

company policies can vary a lot

The reason this blog post is “questions to ask” and not “how compensation works” is that different companies have VERY different compensation policies. At some companies you can ask for a raise and just get it if you make a good case, and at other companies there are very strict rules about the salary bands for each level. And everything in between, and then apply that to every axis of compensation (salary, bonuses, equity, paid vacation, benefits). Regardless of what the “best” compensation policies are, it’s good to know what situation you’re in exactly.

And be careful of assuming you know the answers already!

why this is useful

If you know when and how decisions about compensation are made, it’s easier to figure out where to apply pressure, either individually (by making a case for yourself) or through collective action (by making specific demands as a group for something to be changed).

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