Negotiating Your Offer

You received an offer—congratulations! Now is the time to 1) review your offer and 2) consider negotiating your employment terms. 

Reviewing Your Offer 

  • Your federal job offer might look complicated. With content ranging from grades and schedules to health benefit plans, it contains far more than just your starting salary. This guide identifies the topics to consider when evaluating your compensation package and what to keep in mind when negotiating your offer. 

Negotiating Your Offer 

  • A common misconception is that federal job offers are non-negotiable. But just like in other industries, you can ask for changes to your offer. When preparing to negotiate, keep in mind your unique qualifications—educational background, work experience—and what your needs may be—relocating to a new city, taking care of children.   

Ready to dive in? Items to discuss when you’re offered a federal job: 

Grade or Step Level

Your grade, or General Schedule level, is where you fit within the federal employee pay scale. While it may be difficult to negotiate a higher GS level than the job posting initially specified, your starting “step” under that GS level is more flexible. Each of the ten steps corresponds with a slightly higher salary and advances you further in your federal career. If your request for a higher step is rejected, you will have the option of accepting the original offer.

Health Benefits

The government provides its employees with a first-class benefits package through the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program.  

Retirement Plan

The Federal Employees Retirement System is a retirement benefits package given to all government employees. There are three components: the Basic Benefit Plan, the Thrift Savings Plan and Social Security. 

Student Loan Repayment

Agencies participating in the Federal Student Loan Repayment program can support payment of qualifying student loans in return for a service period of at least three years at that agency. As the authority for student loan repayment is at the discretion of the agency, you can negotiate how much of the up to $10,000 a year (and $60,000 total) the agency will provide. 

Professional Development

Professional development, especially for early career employees, is an important part of your growth. If there are no professional development opportunities mentioned in your offer letter, you should ask your hiring officer what options exist. Based on that response, you can consider requesting that the agency allocate time and funding for professional development opportunities. Existing resources, such as the below catalogue of leadership development programs, offer examples of what programs already exist.  

Tuition Benefits

If you are interested in taking college classes while serving as a federal employee, you may be eligible to receive a percentage of your tuition and course materials reimbursed as part of the Federal Academic Alliances initiative. Ask your hiring officer about including this in your offer if applicable.

Recruitment Bonus

Recruitment bonuses are common in the private sector, and you can receive them in the public sector as well—especially for positions the government deems “difficult to fill” without an incentive.

A recruitment bonus can be as high as 25 percent of your starting salary multiplied by the number of years in the service period (capped at four). In most cases, you will not receive the maximum recruitment bonus, except if the position is of “critical agency need.” The percentage of your salary used to calculate the incentive can increase to 50 percent with agency approval from the Office of Personnel Management.

You can negotiate whether you receive a recruitment bonus, how much it should be, and when you will receive it (as a lump sum before or at the end of your service period, in installments, or a combination of these). If you have a hard-to-find skill set or if another organization has offered you a job with a recruitment bonus, higher starting salary or other financial incentive, you will have a stronger case for why you should receive a recruitment bonus.

Relocation Expenses

If you are a current federal employee and your new federal job offer is based 50 miles or more from your previous worksite, you can advocate for a relocation incentive. To be eligible, you must establish and maintain residence in the new locality. To qualify, you may reserve a hotel during the work week and stay in your current home during the weekends.

Like the recruitment bonus, a relocation bonus is typically capped at 25 percent of your base salary, but it can be raised for “critical agency needs.” Also like the recruitment bonus, you can negotiate whether you receive the bonus at the beginning or end of your service period, in installments, or a combination of these options. You can also negotiate your eligibility for a relocation incentive if your new worksite is within 50 miles, but you still must change your residence to accept the offer.

Flexible Schedules and Telework Policies 

Although exact policies vary, all agencies have structures in place to allow for flexible work schedules and teleworking. For example, if you pick up your children from school at a certain time, you may be able to negotiate a clause in your offer letter that has you start and finish your work day at adjusted times.  

When negotiating for a flexible schedule or telework accommodations, be clear about why you are making this request and explain why it would have a positive impact on your performance and quality of life.

Pro Tips

Set priorities 

Determine what is most important to you. While you likely will not receive everything you ask for, be firm on your most crucial asks, especially if they are necessary for you to carry out your job or maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Get it in writing 

Always make changes to your compensation package in writing. Emails are a good way to lay out your requests and have records of the hiring manager’s responses. 

Be reasonable 

While federal agencies often have room to negotiate an offer, they still have resource and budget limitations. Especially if you are an early-career employee, you may not be able to radically change the contents of your offer letter. And by making an outlandish counteroffer, you may appear unserious or unrealistic.

Communicate your leverage 

Do you have a competing offer? Hard-to-find skills or transferrable work experiences that make you even more qualified? Highlight this to the hiring officer so he or she understands why you should received more incentives in your job offer.

Get feedback 

Are you unsure about how well you are following these tips? Have a mentor or colleague you trust review your counteroffer and talking points to see if they find them convincing and reasonable.

Don’t be afraid to negotiate 

Negotiating job offers is a normal occurrence in hiring, and the federal government is no different. You may not get all—or any—of your requests, but there is nothing improper about asking. This is your life and your career—if you think your offer should be even better, then don’t be afraid to say how and why.