Table of Contents
Introduction and Overview of Product Management
Before zeroing in on the specifics of product manager salary negotiation, let’s first zoom out and briefly discuss the field. Product management is an interdisciplinary function that plays a critical role in the success of a business. A product management team serves as a central node that connects engineering, design, user experience, marketing, sales, customer support, and leadership teams. Product manager (PM) roles are unique because they require knowledge of many different disciplines and a combination of high-level perspective, research, strategic planning, business acumen, consensus-building, and execution skills.
What does a product manager do?
To use a football analogy, a PM role is like a quarterback. PMs need to understand what the different parts of the business unit are doing and ensure that they are working together to drive toward a common goal effectively. Like a quarterback, a successful PM can communicate, work collaboratively, motivate others, and have the confidence and insight to make important decisions that have major consequences.
It’s also important to note that two product managers with the same title may have completely different jobs! For example, a Director of Product at a large company like Google may manage a feature within a popular Google product—like Gmail or Google Calendar—whereas, at a small startup, a Director of Product may manage the entire product. This often boils down to a difference between scope and scale. At a small company, you’ll likely have a larger scope of work on a product with much less scale than a big tech product. These are very different types of product roles (often with very different compensation), and which type of role you pursue is ultimately a matter of personal preference.
Lastly, the qualifications for PMs at different companies may vary. At Amazon, product managers often have MBAs whereas at Facebook (Meta) PMs often have engineering backgrounds. Here’s a helpful article that reviews the requirements for being a PM at Amazon, Apple, Google, and Meta.
What job titles can I expect?
While the blog post title may indicate that you should expect a Product Manager job title at all organizations, that’s not entirely the case. Microsoft, amongst others, is known for lumping Program Managers and Product Managers into the same bucket under “PM”.
Another thing to be aware of is the leveling structure within job titles in the PM space. Associate PMs are equivalent to L3 at Google, and generally are more entry-level positions, while Senior PMs are closer to L5/L6 at Google. Group PMs typically lead a team of lower-level Product Managers or Owners. See the sample organizational chart below for more context.
Should you negotiate your PM offer?
Yes, you should always negotiate! We’ve established the central role product management plays in many companies, So, since PMs occupy such a strategic position, there is often significant room for value-based negotiation for several reasons:
- PM roles are typically difficult to fill due to their complexity, the necessary combination of hard and soft skills, and the relative scarcity of highly-qualified and experienced candidates.
- These positions are often a stepping stone to more senior leadership roles within a company, so they are instrumental in a company’s talent development and succession strategy.
- Product managers are intertwined with many elements of a business and have the potential to significantly impact the bottom line (or make or break the company in some instances).
Offer negotiation expert Hang Xu summarizes value-based salary negotiation like this:
“It's important for a PM to redirect the interview conversation from the outputs (feature releases and day-to-day responsibilities) toward specific outcomes (such as a targeted 30% increase in user engagement or revenue). This allows a PM to establish a monetary value to the work at hand instead of the industry average.”
The remainder of this guide will break down the offer negotiation process and provide key details about each stage, from the initial interview to the final offer. If you are looking for more hands-on support on your negotiation, sign up for a free consultation call with one of our Rora career advisors!
Product Manager Compensation Components
So, you know you should always negotiate, but what are you negotiating exactly? For most people, the term “compensation” equates to salary. While this is partially accurate, it’s not the whole picture. Compensation is a holistic term that can include at least a dozen components, each with a different value. Here’s a breakdown of each type of compensation:
This is paid out evenly over the course of the year. For more junior candidates, this represents the largest percentage of total compensation, but for mid-level candidates and above, the majority of the package will be made up of shares of company stock or equity.
Many companies offer their employees equity (or stock) as part of their compensation and as an incentive for staying at the company and doing great work. Simply put, receiving equity means you’re receiving shares of ownership of the company. The two types of equity are restricted stock units (RSUs) and options (ISOs or NSOs) and typically vary by company stage and size. At a startup, equity is like a lottery ticket with higher odds of paying out as a startup grows, stabilizes, and becomes more valuable. Interested in learning more about equity? Check out our comprehensive guide for negotiating startup equity and stock options.
Signing and Annual Bonuses
Each of these can be negotiated, although this is less common with an annual bonus (which is often generated using a percentage of your base salary reflective of your and the company's performance).
Insurance (health, vision, dental, life, etc.)
Insurance, especially for someone with dependents or who has a chronic illness, can comprise up to 30% of total compensation (or even more in outlier cases). With health coverage, the devil’s in the details. It’s important to research premiums, deductibles, in-network providers, and co-insurance for available plans. Healthcare packages are typically not negotiable at larger companies, but the coverage is also typically better.
Paid time off (PTO)
This can include holidays, sick days, volunteer days, and vacation days. Employers have varying levels of flexibility and structure for this time, so it’s important to clarify any information that is vague or limited. It’s also worth noting that it may be easier to negotiate for more PTO at a startup than at a FAANG company like Amazon (where their PTO policy is firmly set at 3 weeks, non-negotiable ).
The most common retirement plan is a 401(k), which allows you to invest funds in the stock market, bonds, etc. Many companies offer a percent match, so it’s important to ask about the employer contribution.
Pension plans have become less prevalent in recent years, but they are still offered by some public sector employers and large corporations. The vesting period and formula for payments are the two critical details to inquire about. If the company doesn’t offer a pension, setting up a Roth IRA may be in your best interest.
Some companies will provide a one-time fee to cover relocation costs. This is sometimes offered as a package put together by the company with their recommended airline/realtor, etc. Or, they may offer to reimburse you or give you a lump sum. The total amount may be based on the number of people in your household and the distance from your old to your new location.
Many companies offer monthly stipends for travel, internet, phone, training and development, wellness, co-working spaces, home office, etc. While these aren’t typically a huge part of compensation (or particularly negotiable at larger companies), they can be impactful to your growth in the role and how much you enjoy your day-to-day work.
All the pieces above come together to complete the puzzle which is total compensation. When evaluating offers, it’s important to incorporate all of these into your analysis. Remember that salary and total compensation can be very different. For example, a Group Product Manager's salary at DoorDash might be lower than a Group Product Manager's salary at Netflix, but the total compensation might actually be higher at DoorDash once all the variables are considered.
How to do compensation research before a PM interview
While preparing for an interview process, you’ll have the opportunity to put on your research hat, one that is frequently worn by PMs. It’s helpful to research compensation before you start interviewing so you aren’t blindsided by questions from recruiters or hiring managers.
We also have comprehensive PM salary guides for several large tech companies:
- Amazon Product Manager Salary Guide
- Google Product Manager Salary Guide
- Facebook Product Manager Salary Guide
Note: As described in the guides above, product manager levels vary from company to company. It can be helpful to understand what level of role you’re interviewing for and what this might mean at other companies. For example, an Amazon L6 Product Manager is the equivalent of a Google L5 Product Manager.
Steve Huynh, a Principal Software Engineer at Amazon, created a helpful video about down-leveling and how to avoid it. Although the video discusses engineering roles, the principles are all applicable to PM roles!)
In addition to online sources, it’s always a great idea to get product manager compensation data from actual people. You can schedule informational conversations with PMs at the company or in similar industries and roles to help get a sense of what competitive compensation might look like. Some people may be reticent to discuss compensation, but others will be transparent and helpful. More conversations will always be beneficial. As the cliché (but incredibly accurate) saying goes: “Knowledge is power.”
Another important thing to note is that in certain states (California, Colorado, and Washington, to name a few) the recruiter is obligated legally to share the salary range for a position when asked. While the quoted range from the recruiter should be considered the bottom to middle end of the band (as they’ll never voluntarily share the top of the compensation band if they can avoid it), this can still give you a solid jump-off point.
Knowing your numbers and target ranges and levels ahead of time will build your confidence and empower you to hold the line in your negotiation. But, since what you may see online isn’t always accurate or relevant to your situation, the best thing you can do is push the company to give you the first offer.
Negotiating Your Product Management Offer
During the beginning of the interview process—often a phone screen with a recruiter—you’ll probably be asked about your background, experience, and expectations for the role. Recruiters frequently bring up compensation on these calls. It’s almost always in your best interest not to share a concrete number.
In other words, the currency of negotiation isn’t cash; it’s information. Whoever shares the most information typically loses. Thus, one of the main risks of poor negotiation is lowballing yourself (i.e. giving a number that’s too low and undervaluing the work you do and the impact you can have). When an employer asks for your salary range or expectations, you can respond by saying something like: “I’m not sure of my market worth at this time, if you were able to provide a first offer, that would really help me get a better sense of what to expect” That phrase may be the most important of the negotiation, since it sidesteps the salary question and also signals that you plan to approach the compensation conversation in a collaborative manner.
It’s helpful to understand a cognitive bias called the anchoring principle when developing a strategy for responding to questions about compensation. The anchoring principle refers to people relying too heavily on the first piece of information they receive when making a decision, even if it is not relevant or reliable.
Since PM salary ranges can be very wide, an erroneously or accidentally placed anchor could cost you tens of thousands of dollars. On the other hand, it’s important to keep in mind that a company usually won’t make its best offer first, so it’s worth continuing with the negotiation until you hit their ceiling (instead of bailing on the process prematurely).
We never recommend giving the first number, but the anchoring principle still comes into play with your counteroffer. Try to delay providing a concrete number as long as possible while asking questions and trying to bump up the company’s offer. Then, if you reach a point where you feel the need to present a counter, use a high, wide range instead of a specific number so you can continue the negotiation and not box yourself in. If that sounds like a shady tactic, just take a look at Netflix’s current job posting where they list the range for the role as 90k - 900k.
The meta aspect of the PM interview process is that it has many parallels to actual PM work. PMs need to conduct research, create strategies, communicate and collaborate with multiple people, utilize effective messaging, provide recommendations, build consensus, persuade, motivate, and guide. All those same skills can serve you as you navigate your interviews and negotiation. Think of a strong final offer as the product you’re managing, and proceed accordingly.
How to approach the recruiter conversation
A recruiter’s primary goal is to determine if the person they are interviewing is an accurate reflection of the job search materials they used to apply. They are evaluating skills, knowledge, experience, and personality. But, because they are not product management experts, they are using fairly superficial methods for their analysis.
Your goal is to get past the recruiter to the next round without giving up leverage and ideally starting to build momentum and buy-in. Here are four recommendations for improving your position in the negotiation:
How to approach conversations with your hiring manager
After talking to a recruiter, you’ll have a series of interviews with members of the team you’ll be joining, which typically includes a conversation with the hiring manager (i.e. the person ultimately responsible for making the hiring decision). The hiring manager is ultimately responsible for outcomes tied to the role. So, if they believe in you and want you to join their team, you'll have an easier time negotiating when the time comes.
You can approach these conversations similarly to the recruiter conversation, but there will be more focus on how you would fit into the role. Your goal at this stage is to learn about the scope of the role, what problems the team is trying to solve, what solutions have been implemented, what has worked, and what hasn’t. This will set you up to present a 30/60/90-day roadmap to demonstrate how you will hit the ground running to make a strong impact, which will give you strong leverage to negotiate.
In these conversations, you can incorporate the information you garnered from the recruiter conversation.
It’s helpful to view this as a consultative sales process. Demonstrate your industry and company knowledge while probing to ascertain the team’s needs, goals, constraints, and preferences. Then, demonstrate how your industry and company knowledge make you a great fit for the role. This is sometimes referred to as a unique value proposition (UVP) or unique selling proposition (USP).
As much as you’re selling yourself to the company, the company is also selling itself to you. Make sure you ask them questions about your personal dealbreakers: How many hours does the team realistically work a week? How is the company investing in DEI on a micro and macro level? What percentage of employees hit the annual bonus target? How flexible is the work-from-home policy? If you get these questions answered in a way that’s satisfactory to you, it is likely a good fit, and you’ve done your due diligence.
And, remember: If salary is broached at any point, continue to defer that conversation until you have all the information you’ll need to inform your decision-making.
What to do if you receive multiple offers
The best form of leverage in a negotiation is the willingness to walk away, and this is usually attained through receiving multiple offers. If you receive more than one offer or expect to, timelines become very important to ensure that you can consider all your options before negotiating and making a decision.
Interview processes vary in length, so aligning timelines can be difficult. Here are tactics for speeding up an interview process:
- Let the recruiter know that you’re interviewing with or are close to receiving an offer from another company. Hold off on saying things like “I have an offer from X company”, as the word “offer” is like blood in the water for recruiters. They may start asking questions like “What does the offer look like?” or “How are you feeling about the numbers?” and you may not be ready to answer those yet. To avoid using the word “offer,” you can say, “I’m in the final stages of the interview process with another company.”
- Schedule interviews in the earliest slots available.
- Respond quickly to any messages you receive.
Conversely, to slow down an interview process, schedule interviews in the latest slots available.
If you receive an offer with a tight timeline, follow these steps to buy yourself some time:
- Send your company contact (usually the recruiter) a list of questions to get more detail on anything that isn’t clear. (Details on health insurance are often the best option.)
- Ask to set up additional conversations with stakeholders you might need to work with, other employees with similar backgrounds as you, etc. This will also help you get a better sense of whether or not the organization is a place where you can be successful.
- Communicate that you’re going to need more time to make a decision. You could say something like: “I’m really excited about the opportunity to join Company A. My next role is not one I’m taking lightly, and I’d like to have time to fully evaluate the opportunity and make sure I’m making the best possible decision.”
- If you’re still undecided on which company is your top choice and you don’t feel inclined to drop the company giving you timeline pressure, another easy way to stop the clock is to counter the first offer. It’s always fair to share what you’re “expecting” from another company if the other offers are lower/not in hand just yet. This stops the clock as the recruiter will have to go back and see if an updated offer can be produced. Be mindful when this ask is made though - if it’s within 24 hours or less from your offer deadline, that ask may not appear to be in good faith.
While receiving multiple offers is great, it is still possible to negotiate with only one offer in hand, or even if you have some other interviews going on but no other offers yet. Having the potential to get an offer is in some cases stronger leverage than actually having an offer that’s not as competitive.
How to evaluate a PM offer
Typically, you’ll receive a call from a recruiter when the company has decided to make you an offer. These are often emotional, exciting calls, and, as such, we recommend preparing in advance so you’re not caught off guard!
Generally, you want to say as little as possible. Thank the company for extending the offer, acknowledge the time and effort they invested into the interview process, and ask any obvious clarifying questions. Tell the recruiter you plan to review the offer in more detail and confirm they’ll be sending over the details via email.
If they ask when you’ll be able to get back to them with a decision, let them know that you’ll need time to think it over and discuss it with your family, mentors, etc. before making a decision.
Offers come in many different forms and with varying levels of detail. In many cases, offers are missing certain details that will be helpful for your negotiation process. That’s why you’ll need time to review it thoroughly and make sure you understand exactly how the compensation works.
Additionally, it’s possible that there’s been a mistake made in how the compensation was communicated. For example, a recruiter once told a candidate their offer was for $800,000 of total annual compensation. The recruiter had been adding the full equity grant’s 4-year value onto the first year’s compensation (instead of dividing it by 4 years to get the annual equity amount), meaning the offer was more like $350,000 annually. Make sure to put the breakdown into a spreadsheet and calculate the annual compensation independently from the recruiter’s calculation.
How to build an analytical tool to evaluate a PM offer
Once you have an offer in hand, you’ll want to break it down so you have a complete understanding of what it contains and its strengths and weaknesses. In order to evaluate the opportunity holistically, you’ll want to consider the following factors (all of which can sometimes be negotiated):
Compensation. As discussed earlier, compensation includes more than just base salary. Make a note of all 10 components of compensation listed earlier in this article.
Title/Level. Title can sometimes be negotiated. The title can be tied to compensation, and it can also impact the way you’re perceived by colleagues and external parties. For example, even though the titles sound similar, a Senior Product Manager's salary might be much lower than a Principal Product Manager's salary. We recently worked with a client who was able to negotiate a Senior PM offer to a Director of PM, which came with a significant compensation boost!
Duties. Do not assume that what’s written on the job description accurately reflects the work you’ll be expected to do once you’re in the role. PM roles range from highly technical and transactional to highly communication-based and relational. Understanding the scope of the role will help you determine where it falls on that spectrum, and you can request additional conversations after receiving an offer if you still don’t have a clear sense of the role and expectations.
Metrics. Metrics are a central element of product management, so it’s important to understand what metrics are most relevant. Are the metrics well-defined? Are they realistic? Do you understand how they’ll be measured and reported?
Industry. During offer analysis, the industry is frequently overlooked. However, the industry you work in can have significant implications for your job satisfaction and future job prospects. Is this an industry you want to work in down the line? Is it growing quickly? If so, your market value will increase as you gain more experience in it.
Resources. Product management is a team sport. So, the resources—people, budget, tools, etc.—available for your projects will impact your ability to achieve the desired outcomes. Even the best strategy or plan will ultimately fail without the proper resources for execution.
Work-life balance. Good work-life balance has numerous benefits, including preventing burnout and increasing the likelihood that you’ll stay at the company longer. When assessing a company’s work-life balance and culture, you can look at quantitative measures (like the number of PTO days) and also qualitative factors (like how people talk about their work and what they emphasize in interviews). If you’re having any doubts about this, it’s always helpful to talk to people who are currently working in the same role or have done it in the past. If you don’t have access to these people through the company, you can reach out to them on LinkedIn! You can also get warning signs of unhealthy work-life balance if your recruiter reaches out to you on weekends or holidays. We’ve had some recruiters try to pressure clients into jumping on calls on Thanksgiving day - you are under no obligation to take those on!
Growth trajectory. Some questions to ask yourself and the company about this topic: Does the company have a formal growth plan for employees? What future opportunities could this role set you up for internally? If you decide to leave the company, what external options would be within reach?
Manager. Who you report to is the most important factor on this list. Satisfaction with a manager is strongly correlated to your satisfaction and performance in your role. Be sure to ask them questions about their work style, personality, preferences, and expectations. Do they have a track record of developing and promoting their team members? Also, get input from others who work for them or have worked for them in the past!
Take all of the factors listed above, plus any additional factors you believe to be relevant, and use them to create an analytical framework for evaluating the opportunity. This can be as simple as a list of pros and cons or as complex as a spreadsheet with weighted variables. Plug in all the information for the role(s) you’re considering. This process helps make what’s typically an emotional, intuitive process a bit more rational. Even if you ignore the framework’s conclusion, it will still provide a useful perspective for you to consider!
So you’ve done your research and analysis - what now?
After completing all of your data collection and analysis, you can present your counter. If you think of the process as a debate or court case, this is your closing argument. You want to be clear, confident, and composed. Some people prefer providing a written counteroffer because it affords them the time to gather their thoughts and present them in the most compelling manner possible. However, we’ve seen better success with phone conversations since it reduces the risk of your tone being misconstrued and allows you to get real-time feedback on your counter-offer.
In either case, it’s beneficial to use unambiguous language and follow a script to make sure you stick to your talking points. Check out our handy tool for building a script. You’ve done a lot of work and inquiry to get to this point, so it’s critical not to lose your nerve or deviate from your plan (which happens much more frequently than you may think)!
Also, remember that your recruiter is only incentivized to increase your offer if you are really going to sign with the company. Make sure you’re weaving in excitement with your ask, in what we call the “excitement sandwich” where you surround your reservations about the offer with your excitement. This means that your ask should be structured something like this: “I’m so excited by the work being done at Company A. The one thing I’m struggling with is the gap between this offer and my offer from Company B? If you could close that gap further, I’d be ready to sign today.”
After the company receives your counter, they will either remain firm or provide an updated offer. If their updated offer meets your requirements, you’re done. If they remain firm or their updated offer isn’t yet acceptable, you may want to push back once more. It can be intimidating, but we’ve seen some clients go back multiple times to get the offer they were looking for. In fact, one client countered their Google offer 5 times before they signed!
Everything covered in this article up to this point hinges on your mindset. If you are afraid or lack confidence, it will be exceedingly difficult to effectively negotiate your offer.
The most common fears related to salary negotiation are: appearing greedy, having an offer rescinded, and feeling impostor syndrome. These are all understandable and nearly universal. However, they can also result in you leaving money on the table if you let them interfere with your process. We’ll break them down one by one.
Additional principles of negotiation
Entire books and courses have been dedicated to the science and theory of negotiation, so we’ll conclude with a list of principles of negotiation to remember as you navigate the process:
Research and data are your friend. As a PM, part of your job is collecting, synthesizing, and communicating research and data. This begins during your interview and negotiation process. Citing facts and statistics will show that you’re taking the process seriously and doing your due diligence. This will demonstrate your skillset to the company and also help bolster your confidence.
Try not to take it personally. Negotiation isn’t about you as a person. It’s about you as an employee. Don’t suppress your emotions, but seek out ways to process them and prevent yourself from conflating your identity with your work. As the saying goes: “You are not your job.”
Share information selectively. When asked a question, think about how your answer could impact your leverage in the negotiation. Remember, uncertainty on the part of the employer is beneficial to you. Never lie, but don’t share information unless it helps you in some way.
Focus on value. At the end of the day, you’ll be able to negotiate the best possible offer if you make a compelling case that you’ll create value for the company. Communicating that clearly and effectively will improve your position in the negotiation. The best way to highlight your value is by having an impact roadmap conversation with the hiring manager.
Don’t reinvent the wheel. We know that negotiation works because it has been done thousands of times. We’ve helped 1000+ people negotiate over $15M in additional compensation over the past 5 years. You don’t need to come up with a unique strategy! Instead, rely on the proven methods laid out in this article.
Have a rationale. When negotiating, it’s helpful to present some evidence or explanation that supports your position or request. However, don’t defend your rationale unless explicitly asked to do so.
You can’t get what you don’t ask for. This may seem obvious, but it’s a helpful frame for approaching negotiation. You may not get everything you ask for, and that’s fine, but you definitely won’t get anything that you never bring up.
Be prepared to walk away. The party with the upper hand in any negotiation is the one who is more prepared to walk away. Even if you’re excited about an opportunity, remind yourself that there will be other opportunities in the future if this one doesn’t pan out. This is a critical feature of the best negotiation outcomes.
Competing offers provide leverage. When you get into an interview process with a company you’re excited about, there can be a temptation to stop applying or interviewing with other companies. This is a mistake. The best-case scenario is to have more than one offer to consider. This will give you more leverage in the negotiation and improve the likelihood you ultimately end up in a role that’s a good fit for you.
Remain positive, optimistic, and professional. Don’t underestimate the value of interpersonal skills and likability in salary negotiation. People are more inclined to help people who they like. Even though negotiations can get tense or contentious at times, remain calm, polite, respectful, and communicative. This doesn’t mean you have to make concessions or provide information. There are many friendly and socially-acceptable ways to say no. Remember, it’s you and the recruiter versus the problem, not you versus the recruiter.
Watch out for red flags. One of the benefits of entering into a robust negotiation is the opportunity to see how the company communicates with and values its employees. You’re interviewing the company as a potential employer as much as they are interviewing you as a potential employee. Don’t ignore signs that things are off, and don’t avoid uncomfortable questions. It’s much easier to walk away from an offer than to leave a role after you’ve started working for a company.
Give yourself time to think and process. A common mistake in negotiation is moving too quickly, like accepting a verbal offer on the phone without presenting a counter. At each step of the process, take a methodical approach and don’t rush. This is a consequential decision that will fundamentally alter the trajectory of your life, so it merits significant time, attention, and consideration. The same goes for calls. An awkward silence as you think through what to say next is much better than rushing to say something you end up regretting.
Practice ahead of time. As with anything, practice makes perfect. Make cheat sheets. Use scripts. Develop and review talking points. Complete mock interviews. And rehearse for high-stakes calls.
Offer negotiation can be challenging and nerve-wracking. However, it’s well worth the time, effort, and focus to get it right. Failing to negotiate, or not using a strategic approach, can cost you tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The good news is that there are resources and people who can help you navigate the process. So, do your research, ask questions, reach out for assistance, and go advocate for what you’re worth!