Details on First Data Science Job Salary

A person new to the Data Science field details their salary and the negotiation process.

salaryIn this post I want to talk money.  What I used to make, how the offer/negotiation process went and some tips for doing your own negotiation.  When I was looking for my first job fresh out of college I had no idea how much money to expect.  I didn’t know if it was going to be closer to $40,000 or $100,000.  Hopefully this post will not only give you some actual numbers for context but also some strategies for maximizing your next salary.

Old Job

When my first company offered me $65,000 a year I happily accepted.  It was a hell of a lot better than anything I had made as a grad student.  I think even today that salary was reasonable for the region.  But as many of you probably know, it’s abnormal to get raises much higher than 3%.  In my case the first raise was pro-rated and was around 1%, then I got 2.9%, and then the third year supposedly had a company-wide salary freeze.  I remember sitting in my cubical making salary projections on the 3% a year assumption and being sorely disappointed with how old I would be and still under the 6-figure mark.  If you asked my 18 year old self I would have already been a millionaire, so something was seriously wrong!

Spoiler alert:  You have to leave your company.  You don’t have to change fields, but change companies.  If you don’t believe me, just wait around a few more years until they hire a person with the same or less experience as you from a different company, who doesn’t know squat about what you guys do, but makes more money than you.  If you’re lucky you might get a promotion and can expect ~10% salary increase, but that’s far from a sure thing.  Most people don’t have the guts to quit their job and/or are too lazy to continually look for a new one and that’s why they will get paid less than they’re worth.  Don’t be that person.

I think the initial $65k was reasonable because I was a risky prospect as a fresh grad.  After a year or two of solid performance, you have eliminated that risk and that is worth a lot more than 3%, so shop around.  I can’t tell you how much to expect, but I have heard anecdotally from multiple people that their biggest career increases came from the first time they switched companies.

New Job

can tell you what happened in my case, however.  Your leverage is obviously dependent on your industry and particular details, so your experience may differ.  After many dead ends and never hearing back from many, many applications, I ended up getting an offer for $95,000, a full relocation package, a $3,000 sign on bonus, and around $8,000 in “moving/traveling expenses” that ultimately was just cash with no restrictions.  For context, this was in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

I was very happy with this offer.  At this point I had quit my job about 4 months prior, went from a salary of around $75,000 to $0, had a mortgage to pay, and no other serious leads.  I did have, however, a few long-shot options at really cool companies so I didn’t want to just jump in on the first offer.  I had learned enough to know that they had already put considerable cost in recruiting me and if they were making me an offer, I was in a good position.

The Negotiation

I’m not going to claim to be a negotiation expert because I’m far from it.  It’s uncomfortable for me.  But when dealing with a large organization, you must keep these three things in mind:

  1. You will never have more negotiating power than you do at this moment, so don’t waste it.
  2. You will never make so much money per hour as you will through a few minutes of negotiation.  A few minutes can equal several thousand dollars, which is like a year or two’s raise.
  3. 5 or 10 grand more is substantial to you, but is practically trivial to a big organization and this means the manager doesn’t have a strong incentive to be aggressively firm.
They may be trained professionals that do this every day, but you still have the upper hand and would be a fool to not try to get more, especially in a high-demand market like in Data Science.  A few tips:

Don’t Give a Number First!

Never, ever, ever tell them how much you make in your current or previous jobs.  Also don’t be the first one to say how much you want to make in the position of interest.  For God’s sake don’t give any number that gives them any information of salary.  They will try multiple times and explain to you over and over that it will have nothing to do with their offer, they just need to fill out a form, or see if it matches the range of the position, or blah, blah, blah.  Just politely say things like, “My income history is private but I’m confident your company will give me a fair offer if it’s a good mutual fit.”

Do whatever you can to delay the talk of money until after you have received an offer.  Every once in awhile you’ll get someone that’s really forceful in which case you should cut your losses and move on.  I remember having to eventually tell one guy, “I’m not comfortable talking about my past salary and if that’s a deal breaker then I’m not interested in moving forward.”  You must realize that this is a tactic they are using to get you as cheap as possible and anything else they tell you is bullshit.  They’re trying to undermine your negotiating position later in the process.  All will probably try it, but you want to avoid the companies that are trying to aggressively bully you.  Be strong!

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