Salary Negotiation Tips: Turning Bonus into Salary

Editor’s note: Salary expert Jack Chapman and Ladders want to help you negotiate the best deal you can. You can e-mail us your salary negotiation questions or situations or use #salaryQ to submit them via Twitter. Due to the volume of inquiries, we may not be able to respond to all questions submitted.

Q: I’ve received an offer of $135K base, performance bonus potential (25%), and a $6K/year travel stipend. My ideal base salary is $140K+. If I factor in the potential bonus and available stipend, technically the offer does get to a $140K+ salary, but I would like more of the salary guaranteed going in. I like the company and do not want to adversely affect the existing offer for a few thousand dollars. Is there a negotiating strategy that will allow me to politely feel out if there is potential for any of the bonus (25%) or travel stipend to be turned into base salary?

A: All those terms are negotiable, however you need to respect the nature of a bonus: it is deliberately not guaranteed: you earn it by having great performance and helping the company to reach their goal. Therefore, asking for the bonus to be turned into salary is tantamount to saying, “Well, I don’t want this money contingent on me doing a good job—I just want the money.”

If you are going to ask, ask in a way that doesn’t give the impression that you’re not confident you’ll perform well enough to earn the bonus. When you get the offer, say something such as, “It’s a great offer.”

Make sure the offer is firm first, because it’s a sensitive area: you don’t want to be mistaken for not having confidence you can do the job or you could affect the offer you already have.

Develop a reason that is not performance-based: “For my own cash flow needs and budgeting, it would help. Is that something that is doable?” You have to be careful you’re not sending a message that you don’t feel confident. So, if you think the money will work out roughly the same, don’t mess with it.

Next week’s question: How much are benefits actually worth?