How To Ask For a Signing Bonus + Tips to Negotiate Incentives

Job interviews may seem stressful and intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Learning how to make the most out of your hiring process could allow you to make extra money before even starting your new job. One way to do that is to learn how to ask for a signing bonus. Since July 2020, job postings advertising hiring incentives have doubled. However, if the company doesn’t offer you a sign-on bonus right off the bat, you could negotiate and ask for one. It might be a good idea to include “ask for a signing bonus” on your list when preparing to negotiate your salary after an interview.

If you’re still not sure whether you should be asking for a signing bonus, it may be a good idea to calculate the benefits that bonus could give you. You can use Mint’s salary tool to get an idea of what salary to expect from your new job and combine that with your expected bonus. Don’t worry — if you’re not sure what the average signing bonus is, you will learn that here, too.

What Is a Signing Bonus?

A signing bonus, also known as a starting bonus or a sign-on bonus, is a monetary incentive a company offers you to work for them. It can range widely from $1,000 to over $50,000 depending on your industry and title, and it could be a great financial advantage since you can use it to pay off any outstanding debt or start an emergency fund. By offering this incentive, the company is hoping to make the offer more attractive and compensate for you switching jobs and denying other job offers, as well as make the offered salary closer to your desired pay.

Highly qualified candidates could be offered a signing bonus as a single payment, payments over a period of time, or even as a stock option. A starting bonus could be beneficial to employees to offset any lost benefit, help with relocation, or an overall good investment for the employee’s qualifications.

But sometimes employers will offer a sign-on bonus in order to try to compensate for less competitive pay. If after comparing your salary to the average salaries for similar jobs in your area, you notice that even with a bonus the pay will be relatively lower than others, you should opt to negotiate your salary instead.

Average Signing Bonus

The amount of a signing bonus is relative to the industry and position you are applying for, but it can also vary by location. Bonuses could be a percentage of the salary offered or they could be a set amount defined by the company ahead of time. But don’t let that hold you back on asking for a hiring bonus. By researching your industry’s bonus and salary averages, you should be able to identify a range of what would be an acceptable amount to ask for.

To have a better idea of what you can expect, a signing bonus could be 10 percent or more of your yearly salary. Some companies will offer an average of $5,000 to $10,000 for entry- to mid-level positions, but could be more depending on experience (or if you’re good at negotiating). Other companies could offer as much as $40,000 to $50,000 for executive and manager positions. For example, the average signing bonus for physicians in 2020 was $27,893. This amount actually went down from the previous year, proving why it’s important to do your research on your industry’s averages before coming up with numbers.

Signing Bonuses Pros and Cons

In order to maximize your earnings, you have to look at the big picture of what a signing bonus entails. Not every time a bonus is offered means it is a good decision to accept it. As with many financial decisions, asking for a signing bonus has its pros and cons.

Signing Bonus Pros:

If you’re wondering why you should learn how to ask for a signing bonus, here are some of the benefits:

  • Shows your work has value: Not only can the signing bonus make a job offer more attractive, but it will also prove that your work has value, boosting your confidence and work performance.
  • Offsets costs of starting a new job: If you decided to quit your job that could potentially give you a raise, or even if you will spend some time not working while transitioning to a new job, the starting bonus offered could help offset those costs.
  • It’s a good investment: Not many times in your life will you get a big lump sum of money on top of your paycheck. Instead of spending it all at once, you could use the signing bonus to invest and potentially double that amount years later.
  • Could be used as leverage: Let’s say there are two companies that offered you a job, but only one is offering a bonus. You could use the starting bonus from one company to negotiate a better salary with the other, or even to ask for a better signing bonus from them.
  • Compensates for fewer benefits: If the job doesn’t provide a good benefits package or offers only 90 percent of your desired pay, a sign-on bonus could make up for that. Although it’s not a benefit you will get yearly, it could be a good reason to accept the job.

Signing Bonus Cons:

It may seem like there are no cons to having extra money in your pocket, but here are some reasons you might not want to ask for a signing bonus:

  • Could be compensating for lower salary: If the calculations are not done based on the current market rate, the bonus could be masking a lower pay compared to others. Sometimes companies will offer bonuses to make the offer more attractive, but you would be missing out on extra money you could be making with another company that offers competitive pay.
  • Signing bonuses are taxed: As you might’ve expected, signing bonuses are taxed. Consequently, a big percentage of your starting bonus could go to taxes. Since hiring bonuses don’t get added to your income, it counts as supplemental income and is taxed at the recipient’s top marginal tax rate.
  • There could be a fine print: Like with every contract, you always have to remember to read the fine print. Will your signing bonus be offered immediately? Sometimes the hiring company will put clauses in the contract that could prevent you from getting your money right away, or only getting it under certain conditions.
  • Could be holding back on other benefits: Sometimes in order to provide the desired bonus, the company could hold back on benefits that would otherwise be offered to you and have a better value in the future. There is also a chance that they could be holding back on better pay.
  • You might need to repay the bonus if you leave the company: Circling back on reading the fine print, in some cases if you decide to leave the company or you are laid off, you could be subject to repay the signing bonus you received.

How To Negotiate a Signing Bonus

If after analyzing your potential benefits and losses, you have decided that asking for a signing bonus is what will work best for you, the next step is to prepare to negotiate.

Here are five steps and tips for negotiating a sign-on bonus:

Step 1: Wait For Your Official Offer

Don’t get ahead of yourself and ask for the bonus at your first opportunity, as that could hurt your chances of getting one. It’s advisable to wait for the hiring manager to start the conversation. After receiving your official job offer with your projected salary and benefits, you will be able to gauge what your potential bonus opportunity is. And if you are already offered a bonus, then you might have an advantage in negotiating for a better one.

Step 2: Research Salary and Bonus Opportunities

To build a better case for why you deserve a starting bonus, you need to have all the cards on the table. Do that by researching the company to find what benefits are offered, and ask your network for some bonus insights and opportunities for that particular company. You can also research the salary of others in your industry, as well as benefits and bonuses being offered, and compare that to your official offer. Write them all down in as much detail as possible so you can figure out what a reasonable bonus might look like.

Step 3: Have a Set Amount and Reasons Why

If your research is done well, you will have the best chance of getting the perfect sign-on bonus and will be ready to talk numbers. It’s a good idea to have a set amount for your bonus and the reasons why you deserve it. Be precise, use comparisons, and show what value you can bring to the company. You could mention company X provides a higher salary, or company Y offers a great benefits package, or even that company Z offers a bonus for candidates with the same qualifications as you.

Step 4: Be Open to Negotiations

Be open to negotiating your signing bonus. If the hiring manager wants to offer you a smaller bonus, you should have a minimum amount you’re willing to accept and good reasons for your counteroffer. Examples of a counteroffer could be to split the bonus amount and add the other half to your yearly salary instead. Or even ask for 75 percent of the initial offer but request extra benefits, like vacation pay or an insurance plan. That way, there is a higher chance the employer will accept the hiring bonus.

Step 5: Have It in Writing

Just like your negotiated salary, your signing bonus should be part of a contract. Having it in writing will give you the right to request that payment if you haven’t received it by the date agreed upon. If the employer does not provide a contract with your bonus, you should request one. Make sure all the details and conditions are present in this contract, including the bonus amount, when and how it will be paid, and how long you have to stay employed to keep the bonus.


Smart Ways to Grow Your Savings With a Signing Bonus

One of the pros of a signing bonus is that it’s a good investment. If you aren’t sure how to maximize your bonus, here are six smart ways to grow your savings with it:

1. Start an Emergency Fund

Having an emergency fund is one of the most important parts of developing financial security. Unplanned events could happen in your life and an emergency fund can help you in those situations. If you don’t already have an emergency fund, it might be a good idea to consider starting one with your bonus before investing in other areas.

2. Invest In the Stock Market

Investing in the stock market could be a great long-term investment if done correctly. Due to capital appreciation and dividend payments, using your hiring bonus to invest in stocks has high growth potential in the long run.

3. Pay Off Outstanding Debt

Considering 80 percent of Americans have some sort of debt, being debt-free is one of the many financial goals people have in life. Whether that is also one of your goals or you would like to have a fresh start, using your signing bonus to pay off outstanding debt is a smart direction to take.

4. Put It Toward Student Loans

If one of the factors that helped you get the job and secure a sign-on bonus was your college education, there’s a chance you also have student loans that need to be repaid. With student loan interest rates averaging 5 percent, you could be using a big chunk of your paycheck to pay back your loans. Using your hiring bonus, however, could alleviate some of your monthly loan repayments.

5. Prepay Your Mortgage

Prepaying your mortgage could give you peace of mind on top of that confidence boost from starting a new job. One way you can grow your savings with your bonus is to pay extra upfront payments for your mortgage by sending in a lump sum. That way you can not only shorten the number of years you have to pay your mortgage, but also lower the amount of interest you will have to pay over time.

6. Upskill Yourself

Upskilling is the process of using additional training or education to build upon and advance your current skills. Having additional training can help with the skill gap many companies face these days. Therefore, it could be a great idea to use your new signing bonus to take that course you’ve been eyeing or to level up your skills and increase your chances of being one of the best performers at your job.

The hiring process can be daunting, especially with salary and bonus negotiations, but being prepared could relieve some of that stress. Remember to do salary research before starting the hiring process in order to have a better understanding of what your potential bonus could be. Now that you know how to ask for a signing bonus and how to negotiate, you can apply these tips to increase your chances of getting hired with the bonus you deserve.

Sources: Indeed | Investopedia | Investor

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