should I negotiate a job offer on the spot or ask for time to think it over?

A reader writes:

I am currently in the process of interviewing, and it’s my first time doing so for jobs where salary negotiations would be expected to come into play. I have been able to find a lot of advice on how the offer negotiation conversation should go, but am (I’m sure very naively) unsure of when this is supposed to happen.

If a company calls with an offer, am I supposed to negotiate in that opening conversation? Or ask to take time to think about it, then come back and have a discussion after being able to look into things a little more? The second would be easier, but I’m not sure if it is in bad faith and makes it seem like my answer will be a yes or no instead of a negotiation. I’m sure I’m overthinking this but it’s giving me anxiety around the potential prospect of what should be a good thing (an offer)!

You can negotiate on the spot or you can ask for some time to consider the offer and get back to them. Either one is fine.

That said, if you can be prepared to negotiate on the spot, in some ways that can be better. If you ask for some time to think it over first and then you get back to them later with a counter-offer, you’re building more time into the process — which isn’t necessarily a problem, but you might be compressing the amount of time you have to make a final decision once you get their response to your counter. If the company is hoping for your decision within a week and you wait a couple of days before launching negotiations, you’re cutting into that time. And that might be fine! But if you feel ready to talk salary on the spot, I would.

Ideally, before they make you an offer, you’ve already done your research on what salary range you’d be happy with and you’ve figured out how you’d respond to an offer $X or $Y. You definitely don’t want to be starting that process from scratch once you get the offer, since it can take a while to get solid info that lets you really assess a salary offer and know what is and isn’t reasonable. And if you’ve done that work ahead of time, it’s very possible that when the employer calls with an offer, you’ll be ready on the spot to say, “Any chance you could go up to $X?” or otherwise negotiate for what you want.

But if you’re not prepared to do that — or you’re the kind of person who prefers not to do things on the fly or you’re about to be late for another call or whatever — it’s fine to say, “I’m really excited to get this offer. Could I have a day or two to look it over and get back to you?”

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