Job Hunting: How to Negotiate Vacation Time

Jim Hopkinson, our Salary Coach, is back to help you stay productive as well as get paid — this time he covers questions from those who want a decent amount of time off as well as a good salary — a sometimes-thorny proposition.

If someone already knows the salary range being offered and is thrilled with the amount, but wants more vacation time instead of more $$$, would a company be willing to give someone 10/12/14 days more vacation time (over what’s standard for a new hire) over the person negotiating/asking 10K-20K more in salary? I assume the company always expects someone to counter-offer their first offer?

To answer your last question first, yes, companies almost always expect a counteroffer from a candidate, often building in an extra cushion of salary for wiggle room. Sadly, a large majority of people simply accepts the first offer given, so I’m glad you are in “negotiation mode.”

Your scenario would work well if YOU were the one making the call, knew all the information involved, and were able to say, “I will work for less than John/Jill in lieu of more vacation.” The problem is, the company is the one holding the hiring cards, and you don’t know what your competition is doing.

So while it’s a good idea to let them know that money isn’t the #1 factor in your decision (drop a few hints about work/life balance), I think it is wise to focus on what you can control and simply be the best possible candidate. Why sell yourself short on the salary right off the bat, especially if it turns out that they can’t give you more vacation? Then you’re stuck with $20,000 less than you might have earned. A better tactic might be to negotiate the highest salary possible, and then push for more vacation. When they start to bristle at a higher number, that’s when you can play the “take less money for more vacation” card. In this manner, you win in 3 of 4 outcomes:

  • High salary and the vacation you want
  • High salary and standard vacation
  • Low salary and the vacation you want
  • Low salary and standard vacation

What is the best way to approach vacation-time negotiations? I’m coming from Europe, where the minimum vacation time is four weeks, so I want to make sure I get at least three when starting here.

It’s amazing to me that the US still has such archaic policies when it comes to vacation. According to the Families and Work Institute, only 14% of Americans take two weeks or more at a time for vacation. That means that the average American spends more time in the bathroom than on vacation.

In any negotiation, there will be give and take. As with the previous answer, during your interview, you should emphasize that there are many factors that you take into consideration when deciding on where to work, including salary, title, bonuses, coworkers, the type of work you are doing, and of course, vacation. Bring to the table facts about the importance of work/life balance and how crucial it is for you to recharge your batteries to maintain a high level of productivity.

Then have a few options available that you can propose to the employer to make it a win/win.  Can you take a slightly lower salary in lieu of more vacation? Can you work remotely for part of the week or month? Can you demonstrate examples of successful projects that you were able to monitor while working remotely? The key is to ensure that:

  • You will leave the company in good hands before your vacation.
  • Things won’t fall apart when you’re gone.
  • You’ll hit the ground running and at a higher level when you return.

Don’t miss Reboot Workshop, on Saturday, April 28, a day-long “unconference” that Jim’s hosting about busting out and building a thriving business. Special offer for Hired Guns readers: Enter promo code 428hiredguns for a 20% discount.

[Photo: Rodrigo Sanchez/Flickr]

About this Gun

Jim Hopkinson

Jim Hopkinson

is an author, blogger, runner, and digital media guy living in New York City. Salary Tutor, his book about salary negotiation secrets, has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance, and the New York Post. He hosts The Hopkinson Report, a podcast about new media, technology, branding, and helping people pursue their ideal career and lifestyle. His energetic approach has been called "audible caffeine." The former marketing director for, Jim teaches a social media class at NYU. Believing that every job-seeker should own their own domain name, Jim created, a step-by-step tutorial that shows how to create a website in 7 minutes.Follow @salarytutor.