Salary Negotiation
April 10, 2023
Brian Liou
Founder & CEO of Rora; 500+ negotiations completed

Two Common Mistakes When Negotiating a Machine Learning Engineering Offer

During a 6-month period, we worked with two candidates who graduated with a PhD in Computer Science from the same university. We provided both candidates access to our proprietary compensation database. Candidate A had offers at Waymo, Google, and Facebook for Machine Learning Engineer roles. Candidate B also had identical offers for the same role from Waymo, Google, and Apple. Both candidates ultimately accepted offers at Waymo.

With similar backgrounds, access to the same compensation data, and accepting the same offer around the same time, the only major difference was in how these two candidates negotiated. Their stories illuminate some common mistakes candidates make when negotiating. Candidate B accepted a Waymo offer package that was $140,000 higher ($35,000 higher per year) than the offer Candidate A accepted.

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What did Candidate B do differently (and more successfully) than Candidate A?

For both candidates, the Waymo Machine Learning Engineer offer came in highest of the three offers. However, Candidate B focused on increasing the Waymo offer first. Common negotiation intuition is that you can only negotiate a lower offer up with a higher counter offer. This is not always the case. 

How is that possible? Candidate B used his value to negotiate, since he didn’t have data to support a higher ask.

Negotiating without Data

Having market data is helpful but data is not necessary. The more important dimension in your control is your emotional attachment – or, an inability to objectively assess your career because of your excitement for an opportunity.

We regularly see experienced professionals with 20+ years of experience and excellent data negotiate poorly because of their inability to be aware of and contain their excitement for a role. High emotional attachment makes you ineffective at negotiating.

Data is a helpful tool to help you feel more confident in your ask but it is not necessary. Low emotional attachment, not data, has a much bigger impact on negotiation outcomes.

Candidate B first negotiated from his understanding of what his market value should be rather than what his current offers were. When companies deliberately offer low, doing this is critical.

Negotiating using Value

The second change Candidate B achieved was increasing the Waymo offer again once the Google and Facebook offers had moved to a similar place. We used our understanding of the different dimensions of compensation (salary, equity, bonuses, etc.) and how the hiring manager was valuing the candidate to convince the company that another change was needed for Candidate B to accept. While the salary and equity was competitive to the market, the signing bonus was not and we increased that specifically. We also knew the candidate had strong leverage because the skip manager got involved in the conversations to recruit him.

How to Create a Win-Win Negotiation

Another common misconception about negotiating a job offer is seeing it as a win-lose proposition i.e. that your increase in compensation means the company gets less. Effective negotiations actually make the company an ally in the process – so that they want to give you what you're asking because they can see how it benefits them. 

Because a job offer is ultimately a work relationship you hope to build on once you accept, a win-lose negotiation, even if you’re the one winning is actually a lose-lose. This applies for companies, as well. They may save money by lowballing a candidate, but they ultimately lose in retention when that employee feels undervalued.

Before you ask for more, think about why the company giving you more actually benefits them. Will they get more from you? Will you feel more like an owner in the business? Create alignment rather than division. At Rora we have all of our clients create a document we call an Impact roadmap which is meant to create this alignment before you negotiate.

What did Candidate A do wrong?

Candidate A negotiated on his own, and made a couple of significant mistakes – which left him with pay that was $35,000 less a year than Candidate B’s compensation.

First, he knew he didn’t want to go to Facebook so he rejected their offer immediately which hurt his leverage with the other companies he was more interested in. When the Facebook recruiter was pressuring him to decide, he didn’t know how else to respond besides by turning down the offer. He could’ve asked for a few more conversations with the Facebook team to 1. Buy himself time and 2. Be confident that he didn’t want to join since it’s really hard to get all the information you need to make a decision about the company through the interview process alone. 

He’d already spent months going through the Facebook interview process – spending a bit of time to consider the offer (and slow down the negotiation process) could’ve significantly impacted his negotiation outcome and still allowed him to avoid tarnishing relationships with any Facebook team members.  

Second, his negotiating strategy was to get his lower offers to match the value of his highest offer. Once the offers were all relatively equal, he wasn’t able to negotiate above that plateau. Stuck and unsure of what else he could do, he accepted. Companies count on this type of negotiating. This is why they always pressure you to share your offers first.

Alternatively, by negotiating Waymo first - he would’ve been able to use that as leverage to increase his other offers. And then ask Waymo to increase the offer again to help him make his final decision.

One other common mistake that Candidate A made is believing that they were well-equipped to negotiate with major tech companies using advice from friends, family, and the internet. Unfortunately, unless your friend is a recruiter for your industry, you’ll have much less experience and information than the recruiters, hiring managers, and HR partners who make up the negotiating team at the companies you’re getting offers from.

Even if you have a friend that negotiated a great offer, we see that people almost always avoid sharing their compensation with their peers. They worry that sharing their true earnings can make others resentful if they’re not paid the same. Or, they’ll share what they received annually, but don’t include the additional bonuses they received. 

Or, they’ll say that your offer is promising when it’s actually quite mediocre so that you don’t feel discouraged or badly. We call this the “I love your new haircut!” response. We asked Candidate B if he was going to share his compensation to his friends and he said “it’s honestly unlikely”.

Empower Yourself

Negotiating doesn’t need to feel like gambling. At no point was Candidate B fearful of losing his offers. This is both because of our experience guiding him and also the way we helped him negotiate with the companies. When Candidate B accepted his offer, the negotiations didn’t damage any relationships. His Waymo hiring manager was actually impressed!

For Candidate B, the gain was not just financial. He learned how Waymo values him and that he has an active role in determining that value. He learned how to have difficult conversations with his boss and advocate for himself, which will pay dividends not just in future offer negotiations but in any type of raise/promotion conversation or career advancement. Most importantly, he gained a sense of confidence that truly changed the way he thinks about his career.

To Learn More About Rora

If you want to learn more about our negotiation tactics and market data, go to

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Brian Liou
Founder & CEO of Rora; 500+ negotiations completed

Brian is the founder and CEO of Rora. He's spent his career in education - first building Leada, a Y-Combinator backed ed-tech startup that was Codecademy for Data Science.

Brian founded Rora in 2018 with a mission to shift power to candidates and employees and has helped hundreds of people negotiate for fairer pay, better roles, and more power at work.

Brian is a graduate of UC Berkeley's Haas School of Business.

Over 1000 individuals have used Rora to negotiate more than $10M in pay increases at companies like Amazon, Google, Meta, hundreds of startups, as well as consulting firms such as Vanguard, Cornerstone, BCG, Bain, and McKinsey. Their work has been featured in Forbes, ABC News, The TODAY Show, and theSkimm.

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.

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