Applied Scientist salary negotiation
Salary Negotiation
January 11, 2023

The Ultimate Guide to Applied Scientist Salary Negotiation

What are Applied Scientists? Are they well-compensated at large tech companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon? What is the average Applied Scientist's salary? If you get an Applied Scientist offer, should you negotiate?

The guide below aims to equip you with the essential information you need for your upcoming Applied Scientist salary negotiation — based on our experiences across hundreds of Applied Scientist negotiations across Apple, Amazon, and more. If you’ve just received your dream Applied Scientist offer letter, this guide will help you maximize your total compensation.

If your situation is unique or you want 1:1 support to ensure you maximize your compensation, please sign up for a free consultation with one of our expert negotiators.

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Table of Contents

What is an Applied Scientist

What does an Applied Scientist do?

Applied scientists employ ML to enhance commercial outcomes(e.g., revenue, cost, customer experience). The systems they create could be internal (such as fraud detection or product classification) or directed at customers (e.g., search and recommendations). They might also create internal datasets, tools, and techniques in addition to use-case-driven applications (such as feature stores, package/docker templates, model testing, and release checks).

Like Data Scientists, Applied Scientists translate business problems (e.g., boosting revenue) into solutions (optimized customer acquisition, improving search and recommendation engines, pricing model optimization, etc.). They need expertise in building data pipelines, experimentation and prototyping, training and deploying Machine Learning models, fundamental software engineering, and DevOps to move from problem to production. Code for ML systems and publications outlining their design, technique, and experimentation are among their offerings.

An Applied Scientist at Amazon must pass a coding bar and has a higher role than a Research Scientist. For instance, at Amazon, Applied Scientists work on initiatives to improve the customer experience, such as Dialog Management, Text-to-Speech (TTS), Natural Language Understanding (NLU), Audio Signal Processing, and Automatic Speech Recognition (ASR).

The table below highlights the differences between Research Engineers, Applied Scientists, and Machine Learning Engineers:

Applied Scientist Research Scientist Machine Learning Engineer
Goal Build ML systems to improve business outcomes Develop new methodology and techniques Build infra and platforms for ML capabilities
Tools SQL, Hive, Python, ML libraries, Docker, FastAPI, etc. Python, deep learning libraries, LaTeX Python, Java/Scala, C, Go, Docker, Jenkins, etc
Skills Data pipelines, machine/deep learning, experimentation and prototyping, software engineering, DevOps Research, experiments on industry/academic benchmarks, publishing papers Software development, DevOps, scalability, security, etc
Deliverables Code for ML systems, documents on design, methodology, and experiments Papers and code to demonstrate findings Code for infra and platforms, documentation

Source: Eugene Yan

Differences between Startups and Public Companies

Working at a startup versus a larger company like Amazon involves several vital differences. One difference is funding, as startups often need more funding which can affect the resources and support available to employees. In contrast, larger companies like Google generally have more financial resources and can offer their employees more comprehensive support and resources.

Another difference is the organizational structure, as startups tend to have flatter structures which can provide employees with more opportunities to take on responsibility and have a more significant impact on the direction of the company, whereas working as an Applied Scientist at larger companies like Microsoft tends to have more hierarchical structures with defined roles and responsibilities.

Startups tend to have a more laid-back and entrepreneurial culture focusing on innovation and taking risks. In contrast, larger companies like Amazon may have a more formal and structured work environment with a greater emphasis on process and stability.

Startups may offer more opportunities for employees to take on new challenges and responsibilities; this means that startups also have less structured career advancement pathways, whereas working as an Applied Scientist at a large tech company like Amazon typically has more defined career advancement pathways and structured training and development programs.

Albeit, working at an established company like Amazon or Facebook will be less risky as these large-cap companies tend to be more stable and offer higher job security to their employees. With high risk comes high rewards, so while working at a startup may be riskier, it is also well worth it if the startup is successful.

Applied Scientist career paths

Since Applied Scientists have a wide variety of expertise, they can branch out into different roles depending on their personal goals and interests. Applied Scientists can pivot into new roles if their current role isn’t as exciting as expected. Some additional career paths for Applied Scientists include:

  • Data scientist: specializing in analyzing and interpreting large data sets. They may use machine learning algorithms and statistical techniques to identify patterns and trends in data, and they may work on projects such as developing predictive models or optimizing data-driven processes.
  • Machine Learning Engineer: builds and deploys machine learning models to solve practical problems. They may work on projects such as developing intelligent assistants or creating models to analyze and interpret large data sets.
  • Research Scientist: conducting independent research and collaborating with other researchers and engineers on projects. This might involve designing and conducting experiments, analyzing data, and developing new algorithms, models, or technologies.

Leading companies to work for as an Applied Scientist.

Some factors to consider when evaluating potential employers include the company's mission and values, the support and resources available to scientists, and the company's culture/work environment. Companies at the cusp of technological innovation and working on cutting-edge projects will have some of the best resources and opportunities for Applied Scientists.

Here are a few examples of companies that are often considered to be among the best places to work for Applied Scientists:

  • Apple
  • Microsoft
  • Amazon
  • Facebook
  • IBM
  • Intel
  • Adobe
  • Salesforce

Fun fact: Applied Scientists at Amazon are well compensated and typically are at the top of the compensation hierarchy for that specified level. Companies like Facebook and Apple use Applied Scientists and Applied Research Scientists titles interchangeably.

Applied Scientist Salary Components

Base Salary

Depending on your location, the base salary offered by companies like Apple, Facebook, and Amazon will differ, along with the rest of the compensation components. Most companies compensate Applied Scientists according to the cost of living in their respective location and the going market rate for engineers in the area, so it's essential to be mindful of how your location will affect your pay. If you are not in the Bay Area, NYC or Seattle, your comp will likely be lower than the numbers you find online.

With that being out of the way, the base salary at Amazon and Apple, unsurprisingly, is the component that moves the least when negotiating. The aforementioned companies have a small band for the base salary within each level, so you'll likely only see your base move by a maximum of $20k-$30k.

Annual Bonus

Annual bonuses are another component that can be coupled with the base salary. The annual bonus is usually non-negotiable and highly subjective to the company you are applying to. Most big-tech companies offer performance bonuses; it is essential to be aware of the annual bonus when negotiating, especially when you have multiple offers. Companies such as Google and Facebook often apply a company multiplier to performance bonuses, which they also do for stock refreshers.

Of course, annual bonuses are non-negotiable, but if negotiating with a company like Amazon that doesn't offer them, you can always factor them into your counteroffer's base salary as your "yearly cash amount.”

Equity

Companies like Facebook and Microsoft follow a standard and linear vesting schedule of 25% yearly (typical initial grants last four years). Although, companies are starting to get very creative (to gain the upper hand) in how they vest RSUs.

At Facebook, Microsoft, Apple, and most other companies, RSUs are subject to a 4-year vesting schedule: 25% vests at the end of the 1st year (sometimes accompanied by a cliff), then 25% in each of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th years. For example, if you were given a stock grant of 400k at Apple over four years, the equity would vest as follows:

  • Year 1 - 25% $100k
  • Year 2 - 25% $100k
  • Year 3 - 25% $100k
  • Year 4 - 25% $100k

Google and Amazon do equity vesting a little differently. Google has a front-loaded equity vest (33-33-22-12), while Amazon has a back-loaded equity vest (5-15-40-40). They often use these vesting schedules to inflate your offer and make it look more substantial than it is. In Google’s case, the recruiters often quote the first-year number as your per year total compensation, while Amazon adds a ‘conservative’ 15% growth factor on your future equity. Knowing how the recruiters frame your offer is paramount, as it could be the difference between accepting a great offer and an outstanding one.

Sign-on Bonus

At Rora, we have seen Applied Scientists get offered a small signing bonus without asking for it - recruiters often use this tactic to sweeten the deal. It’s often possible to increase the signing bonus substantially (this is where having leverage helps). With the proper leverage and framework, Applied Scientists can get up to $100,000 in Tier 1 locations (Bay Area, New York), which holds across companies like Apple, Amazon, and more!

Albeit, it's a common recruiter trick to leave a signing bonus out of the initial offer so they can add it as part of the negotiation (and avoid increasing the base or equity, which could require more senior-level approval). Some recruiters have claimed that the company does not offer sign-on bonuses, which isn’t always the case. Recruiters at Apple and Facebook will not initially include a sign-on bonus. Instead, a sign-on bonus is often added when specific leverage/information is shared with them.

Most companies will reserve the right to “claw back” a portion of your signing bonus if you leave before the 1-year mark. This is normal for major tech companies, commonly only requiring you to repay the pro-rata amount — for example, if you leave after ten months, you would need to pay 2/12 of your signing bonus back.

Negotiating Applied Scientist offers at Amazon

Candidates often find it helpful to have a high-level overview of the negotiation process. However, this does vary by candidate, with one key vector being seniority.

Since we are on the topic of levels, Amazon does not follow the standard leveling conventions. Below is the mapping to Google and Facebook levels:

  • Amazon L4 = Facebook/Google L3
  • Amazon L5 = Facebook/Google L4
  • Amazon L6 = Facebook/Google L5

Most recruiters are reasonably transparent about this. However, discussing cross-offers. In that case, it's often helpful to say, "Facebook and Google have placed me at the senior software engineer level, Amazon L6", to avoid scenarios where the Amazon recruiter claims that Amazon L5 = Google L5, which is false.

Your Hiring Location Matters

Amazon tier 1 compensation bands are for San Francisco and New York. Amazon tier 2 compensation bands are Seattle and southern California (incl. Los Angeles and San Diego). Amazon has many region-specific pay policies and bands, so consider them carefully.

Amazon’s Hiring Process Moves Fast

Out of all the big tech companies, Amazon moves quickly through the negotiation stages outlined in the previous section. This can be both a blessing and a curse.‍

If you have unfinished interviews, we recommend letting those companies know that Amazon is extending you an offer as soon you hear from Amazon (other companies will know to accelerate their interview timelines).

Another tactic is to break up the Amazon negotiation into multiple steps:

  • Receiving initial offer call
  • Hiring manager discussion
  • Counteroffer call
  • Receiving counteroffer response
  • Final discussions
  • Any additional steps (e.g., immigration)

Hiring Managers Can Negotiate

This is only sometimes the case, but it is certainly more frequent at Amazon that the recruiter will bring the hiring manager into the negotiation.

It helps if you already have a relationship with your manager from the interview process. If not, it's worth building that relationship during the post-interview phase.

While this can sound scary at first (negotiating with your future boss), we've seen it work in the candidate's favor in many situations because you no longer need to relay messages through a third party (the recruiter) and can build rapport with the decision maker.

Amazon Offers Poor Benefits

This is true for vacation, 401K, and many other benefits. It is worth asking about these and highlighting the gap vs. other companies, especially if you have a competing offer. For example, Amazon only offers two weeks of vacation (even for senior roles). That said, it is nearly impossible to negotiate a change in benefits into your contract. The reason to bring this up is as leverage to increase your total compensation. Also, it's worth noting that at the senior level many managers will informally allow their reports to take more than two weeks of vacation.

Amazon Can Go Above Band

This is still rare but more frequent than at any other tech company. To be clear, going above band means the company gets VP approval to give an offer above the stipulated range for the role/level/geography.

This is another reason why it's certainly worth your while to negotiate at Amazon because the delta can be huge between the initial and final offer.

What compensation to expect as an Applied Scientist at Amazon

Below is what compensation you can expect per level at Amazon as an Applied Scientist:

Base Salary Equity over 4 years ($) Y1 Signing Bonus Y2 Signing Bonus
L4 $125-150K $125-240K $50-125K $47-95K
L5 $170-220K $351-588K $185-254K $121-189K
L6 $220-250K $600-825K $280-389K $185-245K

Recent Applied Scientist Offers

L4 (equivalent) Applied Scientist Base Salary Equity over 4 years ($) Annual Bonus Signing Bonus
Microsoft $165,000 $500,000+ 15% up to $150,000 over two years
Apple $190,000 $800,000+ 10% up to $100,000
Splunk $185,000 $500,000+ 15% $0
Meta $195,000 $600,000+ 15% up to $100,000

These are some of the offers we helped negotiate in Tier 1 locations like SF and New York. Although the numbers mentioned above seem very enticing, the proper framework and leverage were used to achieve such strong results. Additionally, getting a signing bonus at Microsoft has become very difficult due to macro-economical conditions.

Applied Scientist Salary Negotiation Process

Before preparing for a negotiation, make sure you have a good understanding of both your financial and career goals. This will help you decide what you should be asking for and make you better prepared to negotiate effectively.

For example, if you hope to save a certain amount of money each month or save for a specific goal, you should make sure the salary you are negotiating will help you get there. This may mean you ask for more salary instead of a non-cash benefit like equity.

An explicit goal of what a pay increase will help you achieve will help you feel more confident to ask.

If you haven’t yet received an offer, here are a few things to consider during the interview process:

  1. Do not share your current compensation. In many states (e.g., California), it is illegal for companies to ask for this. If a recruiter asks you, you can say, "I don’t feel comfortable sharing that information."
  2. We do not recommend sharing your compensation expectations before receiving an offer. Most companies will pay very competitively and will be willing to negotiate after giving an initial offer. If you choose to throw out a high number when asked, that will increase the chance you are required to provide proof of a competing offer. Instead, if you’re asked for your pay expectations, we recommend you reply with, "I'm focused on the interview process and still researching market data. I am confident we will get to a number that works for both of us."

Negotiating a salary, equity, and signing bonus for an Applied Scientist offer can be daunting. Still, with the proper knowledge and preparation, you can increase your chances of securing a fair and competitive offer. We recommend you:

  1. Research the market: Before beginning negotiations, it's essential to understand the current market for Applied Scientists’ salaries. This will give you a better idea of what to expect regarding salary and benefits and help you understand what other companies offer similar positions. We also have thousands of data points from negotiations we’ve supported and up-to-date data on how the market is trending.
  2. Understand your value: As an Applied Scientist, you bring unique skills and expertise to the table. It's essential to understand the value of your skills and experience and to articulate this value to potential employers during negotiations. Asking your recruiter/hiring manager questions about the scope of the role and responsibilities is a great way to understand how companies like Amazon, Apple, and Microsoft. This will help you negotiate a salary that reflects your worth and the value you can bring to the company. A few great questions to ask are:
    1. What are some of the challenges and opportunities the team is currently facing? How does that translate into initiatives for the team?
    2. What are the main KPIs for the team this year?
    3. What are the major projects the team is working on this year?
  3. Remember you can walk away: Given the long process it often takes to secure a job offer, it can be tempting to sign the first offer you get. However - if negotiations aren’t going well and you’re not excited about the offer you’re receiving, it can be worth considering walking away. Your skills are in demand, and - more than likely - you’re a few weeks away from a better, higher offer that better reflects your value and skills.
  4. See if the company will go above the band: Since the demand for Applied Scientists is high, many companies will go above their standard pay band to get the right candidate to join. We have successfully secured above-band offers from Apple, Facebook, and Amazon. Having another offer or even speaking to another company can create some leverage when making your counteroffer. Additionally, we have seen that patience and slowly moving through the negotiation can help make the company wonder if you’re considering other opportunities.
  5. Ask for specific yearly compensation:We have found that being clear in your request is very important since it communicates confidence and implies that you have deeply thought about your market value. To show flexibility in your ask, you can ask for a total compensation number instead of mentioning a specific breakdown of the base, equity, and signing bonus you want to see. This gives employers such as Meta, Amazon, and Apple a chance to determine how to meet your request using a combination of base, bonus, and equity. However, this is where expertise in negotiating is crucial. Remember to make sure what you’re asking for is above the band to maximize the offer!
  6. Ask for support from the hiring manager: Having a great relationship with your hiring manager is critical for successful negotiation — and, more broadly, ensuring that you’re being set up for success within the company. Suppose your hiring manager is disrespectful or not supportive during the negotiation. How can you expect them to advocate for exciting projects for you to work on or get a promotion in a year or two?

    Often, during negotiations, we help candidates speak with their hiring manager about expectations for the role and the impact they hope to drive. This can help ensure that the hiring manager is 1. someone you want to work with and 2. excited for you to join.

    Once you know you have their support, you’ll have more confidence going back to the recruiter to make an ask for higher compensation.

Applied Scientist Negotiation Tactics

Recruiters commonly use a handful of sneaky tactics to help pull the negotiation in their favor — and it’s essential to be aware of them to avoid being taken advantage of. The most common tactics include putting time pressure on you with an exploding deadline, mentioning that the initial offer is non-negotiable (even though it is!), selling you on company growth and saying that your equity value will increase substantially, and promising to revisit pay in the near future.

Some of the most common negotiation strategies that we use in rebuttal are:

  • Putting pressure on the employer – Employers are often pressured to fill a position quickly. You can use this to your advantage by pressing them to offer you a higher salary by saying, “I know you’re trying to wrap up the negotiation - here’s what I’d need to sign.”
  • Standing in a stronger position – If you have a competing job offer (or are currently employed), you are in a stronger negotiating position. You can use this to your advantage by asking what you want regarding salary, benefits, and equity.
  • Sharing outside information – You can also use outside information to strengthen your position. For example, you could talk with a competitor about the compensation they might be offering. Recruiters can be great resources for this information, too!
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1:1 Salary Negotiation Support

Negotiation strategy

Step 1 is defining the strategy, which often starts by helping you create leverage for your negotiation (e.g. setting up conversations with FAANG recruiters).

Negotiation anchor number

Step 2 we decide on anchor numbers and target numbers with the goal of securing a top of band offer, based on our internal verified data sets.

Negotiation execution plan

Step 3 we create custom scripts for each of your calls, practice multiple 1:1 mock negotiations, and join your recruiter calls to guide you via chat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you negotiate salary after accepting?

It becomes increasingly more challenging to negotiate your salary after accepting the offer. We don’t recommend negotiating salary after you’ve accepted since it might strain your relationship with the Hiring Manager. Furthermore, we haven’t seen much success in negotiating salary after you’ve signed the dotted line.

Are Applied Scientists in demand?

Being an Applied Scientist in tech is prestigious - many large companies are constantly looking for top-level talent. With more and more companies digitizing their data, the demand for scientists will continue to grow.

Will you lose your offer if you negotiate your salary?

A common question that is asked is a valid fear, especially given today’s volatile market conditions. There is always a risk substituted when you negotiate and offer, albeit if negotiation is done with the proper framework, the risk reduces substantially.