The only way to make sure you get what you want is to negotiate for it. To negotiate, you need information. Go prepared to every interview where you might be offered a job.
Don't be afraid to ask ANY business question. If they hesitate or refuse to answer, you have to assume the answer is bad or that they don't trust engineers. Either way, it's not a good sign. Keep looking. Just make sure you are asking the right person.
Chances are you won't get rich. That's not why you're in this industry. However, you want to make sure you don't make foolish mistakes that waste your most valuable commodity -- time!
For private companies, you must feel good about the sources of funding. Why? Because if the funding dries up, you're unemployed. It's happened to me several times. Best is if the company is profitable enough to fund itself. This is rare in startups; most are venture funded.
Venture capitalists are professional investors. They crave the huge returns possible with successful software companies. Usually, they have a number of companies in their portfolio. Ask about the company's source(s) of capital. How much capital does the company have on hand? How long will it last? This is the 'burn rate'. Check it out.
Find out the success rate of the company's investors in this industry. Do they pick sure winners or are they new to the game? Have they stood by companies during lean times in the past? How big is their fund? When do they expect to get their investment back and in what way? This is known as the 'exit strategy'. What is it? Keep in mind that only two or three of every hundred startups goes public.
Next, check out the management team. Have they been successful in this industry before? Do they 'get' the technology? What happened to their previous companies? Would you enjoy working with these people? Do you trust them? Would you give them your money? If not, why would you invest your time?
Keep in mind that you're not trying to impress them technically. You are trying to make them think you are manageable. It's a pass/fail test, and if you do a little of the above, you'll pass with flying colors. Once they think you're ok, you can ask them all your zinger business questions and they'll gladly answer. Make sure that you really listen. Nothing makes people think you are more intelligent than when you let them talk! Remember to nod at the appropriate times!
Be professional at all times and don't get flustered. Don't answer questions pertaining to salary requirements or what you made at your last position or other offers you may have in specific terms. If you name a number first, you deprive the company of a chance to offer more. Don't be afraid to ask questions like "How much flexibility do you have?" or "What is the range for this position and where does this offer fall?" Ask these questions for stock as well as salary.
Here is the number one piece of advice I have for negotiating: SHUT UP! Sales people do this all the time. Ask a leading question and then let it hang. Let the other person get nervous and fill the space with a number or a suggestion. You never know what you'll get using this technique, but I guarantee you won't get less. Ask leading questions and then SHUT UP!
The younger and riskier a company is, the more shares you should get. Ask how many shares there are outstanding and divide it by the number you've been offered to see just how little they think of you. (Just kidding!) If there is any question about what outstanding means, I always ask, "If the company were sold today and everyone who could exercised every possible option, how many shares would that be?" Seriously, run the numbers and see if you are being invited to share in the business or if they're just giving you a few token shares. Expect to be offered in the range of one to four year's salary worth of stock.
If a company does not have excellent medical, dental, vision, and 401k plans, keep looking. Even if the company is a raw start up, these are not negotiable. Entrepreneurs are often willing to forego insurance and other things to get the company off the ground. You shouldn't.
Last but not least, take a moment to think about how this position will look on your resume a year or two from now. Will it add or detract value? Only diamonds are forever.
Dennis Faust is the Director of Web Development at more.com (http://www.more.com/) and was previously Director of Development at Digicash, Inc. (http://www.digicash.com/). He has been a Development Manager for more than fifteen years and has managed groups of thirty or more developers on several occasions. He is a technical advisor to JustGive (http://www.justgive.org/) and EverySchool (http://www.everyschool.org/). He humbly gives thanks to all the developers he has had the great good luck to work with over the years. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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