“Which parts of the package can you be flexible on?”
That simple question should be your go-to question when you receive the first offer. Why? 3 reasons:
a. Show your interest
You just got an offer. Congratulations! The company carefully considered all candidates and you came on top. The minimum you can do is to entertain the offer, regardless of how ridiculous it might be – you never know if your paths will cross in 2, 5 or 10 years and you can always politely decline a few days later. And if the offer is already great, you never know how much more you can get.
b. Signal that you will counter
No surprise for the recruiter. You will be asking for more. The surprise would be if you were not asking for more, especially for business related positions, where the role requires influencing skills. This is also an elegant way to ask for more. You imply that you will counter, but you do not give too much information and you also buy time to prepare.
c. Focus on solutions, not wasting time
Everything is negotiable. That is if time is on your side and you created alternatives. But if you like the position, want to strike a deal, focus on the areas you can win. Sure you can force your way to get 3 weeks paid time off instead of the standard 2 weeks everybody enjoys. You can get more equity, more benefits, etc… But the reality is that companies have standards, they can deviate from them but this is a cumbersome task. They will do it only for that exceptional candidate. We all think we are that exceptional candidate, but is that really the case? or are you willing to take the risk? Instead, you could seek a win-win and expedite the discussions
The employer is unlikely to have nothing to offer. You do not even have to negotiate only the parts they say they are flexible on. But hearing the answer to “Which parts of the package can you be flexible on?” will give you an edge in the negotiations.