Can You Negotiate Your Public Accounting Offer?


Yes and no. But first, let’s look at this question from a Bean Counter reader!


I came across your blogs as I was doing research for my own predicament  and I loved reading them. You seem to have a lot of insight and also by reading your blogs,  I see what issues people are having.

As for me, I live in Canada,  where there are (but not for very long as transition is occurring) 3 accounting bodies, CA, CGA, and CGA so there are 3 different routes to becoming a professional  accountant  I currently have about 5 years of industry experience,  and will be achieving  my CGA designation in June. If had a roller coaster of a career, starting from  a clerk and making my way to management. Recently, a former manager of mine ended up going back to public accounting and landing a job as a senior manager at EY,  he’s a CA. He recently referred me for a Senior Accountant position to one if the partners and and I’ve met already  with the senior manager, and partner and apparently I should be expecting an offer. I guess they really like me and the experience I’ll be bringing.

BUT I know that I have things against me such as not being designated yet and having no public experience will make my offer lower than I am making and can demand in industry. I’m thinking they’ll come in at $55k  but I would like to negotiate. Do you think I’m able to? I would really take anything because I finally made it to a Big4, which is something I wouldn’t have the opportunity to do so I’m super pumped  at the opportunity. How much is a fair negotiation? By the way, I live in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Go Jets!

Thanks for writing in and while I don’t care much for football, when I lived in Manhattan, I was a Giants fan.

Sports aside;-), this is an interesting question and something I hear from experienced hires like yourself as well as fresh college grads.

As a general rule in public accounting:

Experienced Hires: Can negotiate pay

College Grads: Cannot negotiate pay

So what is an experienced hire?

An experienced hire is an individual who already has work experience, most likely in accounting. While experience in public accounting is generally preferred, it is by no means a pre-requisite for finding a position in the big 4.

For today, I won’t cover why college grads can’t negotiate their pay (usually and not a 100% rule). As the letter is from an experienced hire, we’ll focus on his situation.

In your case, you can negotiate your offer. But you need to be very careful in doing so.

Here are three things I would keep in mind when and if you make a counter-offer.

1)     Define a need

Maybe you have student loans, are getting married, bought your first house, made more at your last job, or are having kids. None, I repeat NONE (did I mention none), of these are reasons why the company MUST pay you more money. And it’s important that you let them know that you know that. However, they are all reasons that will help make sense of WHY you are asking for increased pay.

2)     Display that you have other options without telling them you will quit (even if you will)

If you current job pays more, then you’re all set. You don’t need to take this job, in fact it would be a pay decrease. You always want to negotiate from a position of strength. This will also be a good place to fall if you happen to have a terrible boss who for some reason is offended by the conversation (it’s a red flag if that’s the case and you probably should leave). However, you can also use it in the conversation as I have below:

Hey Bill, thanks for taking this meeting.

I appreciate the offer to work at the firm. I really enjoyed meeting everyone here and am excited at the possibility of starting a career here. That being said, I do have a lot of years of experience and I currently get paid $10K more at my current position than the offer from the firm. While neither of those are reasons you MUST pay me more, it’s simply what is holding me up at this point. I have to make sure this is the best for myself and my family. With my student loan debt and the new house we have, I have to make sure I’m being responsible and pursuing my career goals.

I loved the interview process and the opportunity to work here but is there anyway we can reconsider the compensation based on my experience and current pay? To be honest, my first choice is to work here, but I want to open the discussion and be upfront about my only reservation.

3)     Realize that you don’t necessarily deserve anything and they don’t owe you anything.

If you have a job, you previously accepted the offer based on the previously-defined terms. You were happy with it. It was probably the best offer you could have received compared to all other offers (total compensation for you considered, which includes non-$$ items). Be grateful for what you have and realize that this company doesn’t OWE you anything.

If you really want this position, don’t negotiate, just take it. An extra 5-10K / year means nothing in the grand scheme of your daily life, happiness and purpose.

so far and talk about how this is part of your larger goal of being happier at work, being more productive, and staying with the company longer.

Here is a script for how you can start the meeting. Make sure you are alone in a room, preferably in the office and not at lunch. It can get awkward if you have to talk with the person for 30 minutes after the conversation.

See here for more advice on salary negotiation.