Sep 05, 2017
How Poker's Haseeb Qureshi Negotiated a $120k Salary to $250k
By RTR Dennis
Haseeb Qureshi was once one of the world's most-successful online poker players. But a high-profile chip-dumping scandal forced him to rethink his career path.
Qureshi, a.k.a. "DogIsHead," eventually became a software engineer. He's also become somewhat of a job negotiator too because he turned a $120,000 offer at Yelp to a $250,000 salary at Airbnb.
Let's discuss how Qureshi went from somebody just out of software development boot camp to a quarter million dollar salary. Towards the end, we'll also offer 3 tips that Qureshi gives prospective job seekers.
Qureshi isn't Subservient to the Job Market
Many people go into job interviews with the mindset that they're gracious just to be hired. But Qureshi differs because he spent years making millions of dollars through poker. These earnings helped him gain freedom and perspective on how he doesn’t have to take the first thing that comes his way.
“A lot of people I know, peers, had better backgrounds," he told NBC News BETTER. "I was never really socialized in a way that people who go to nice schools are and taught the way you're supposed to behave in a job market, being subservient to people giving out jobs. I didn't approach it with this mindset of 'I'll be so lucky if I get a job.'”
Qureshi definitely believes he's worth more than the first offer that hits the table. In fact, he recently left Airbnb so that he can launch a startup.
Get Max Value Out of the Job Offer
One thing that Qureshi strongly urges people to avoid doing is avoid leaving money on the table.
“I don't know why, but a lot of people have this mindset of having zero power,” he explained. “They give it away before they walk into the ring. People are definitely leaving money on the table. Most candidates do not negotiate at all.
"Then you have the people who read an article that says they should negotiate. They'll get an offer and ask for a nominal amount more and they'll feel like a badass and be satisfied. Then there are the people who negotiate well and this is a very small minority of candidates.”
Don't Treat Jobs as Limited Resources
Another way that Qureshi differs from the job-seeking masses is that he doesn't see jobs as a limited entity. He also believes that jobs are business deals that require a negotiation.
“Most people imagine jobs are a limited resource in the world and their goal is to acquire one," said Qureshi. "They see companies as gatekeepers and if you're nice enough and prostrate yourself and wear a nice suit maybe they'll be kind enough to give you a job.
“That is a totally backwards concept. It is a marketplace. It's simply a way to exchange labor for money. Like any deal it ought to be negotiated.”
He added that honesty pays off when you're negotiating for a higher salary. "To be good at negotiating, you have to be honest and it turns out that people respect that.”
Qureshi didn't Immediately Land a $120k or $250k Job
Up to this point, we've painted the picture that Qureshi is an excellent job negotiator. And his $250,000 gig with Airbnb proves this point.
But Qureshi didn't immediately talk companies up from $120k to $250k. After all, he was merely an English major and ex-poker pro with no professional coding experience.
As Business Insider points out, Qureshi started out with a 12-week coding boot camp at App Academy. He then applied to over 20 job offers and was rejected by each one. It wasn't until one of his boot camp classmates referred him to a company that he finally landed an interview.
Qureshi was rejected after his first interview. This led to him joining TripleByte, a YC fellowship program that links software engineers with jobs. He was then connected to various startups that were seeking engineers like Flexport and Gusto. The latter made him an offer of around $120,000, while Yelp also offered the same amount.
Qureshi also did a phone interview with Google, which offered him a $162,000 salary. Recruiters began setting him up with other major startups like Stripe, Uber, and Twitch, all of which wanted to hire him.
Landing the Airbnb Job
Qureshi was about to take the Google offer, until he received a call from Airbnb – the same company that had rejected him just weeks before. What changed is that the CTO from App Academy referred Qureshi to Airbnb.
He gave an outstanding interview and was offered $220,000 per year ($130k salary; $25k signing bonus; $65k worth of restricted stock units, or "RSUs"). Google countered with a $211,000 offer, which caused Qureshi to considered negotiating for more with Airbnb.
"I told myself: if I’m choosing Airbnb, just remember. 220K was their initial offer. That means there’s money on the table," he explained.
Airbnb countered by raising the RSUs by $30k, thus bringing the entire value of the job offer to $250,000. He promptly signed because he wanted to work for Airbnb in the first place.
Qureshi blogged that all of the companies with software developer jobs are offering around $130,000 in base salary. But he found the negotiating wiggle room in the signing bonus and stock options. He added that all of his offers came from referrals, rather than through job applications. This makes networking a key to moving up.
Qureshi's Tips on Negotiating for a Better Offer
Not everybody has the same factors going for them that Qureshi does, including solid referrals and a lucrative job market (he lives in San Francisco). But anybody can learn from Qureshi when it comes to negotiating for higher pay.
He blogs that much of the advice he received online is "garbage," such as "wear the right suit and be confident" and "don't give the first number." Qureshi also offers the following tips on his blog:
Tip #1 – Don't Make a Decision Immediately
Qureshi is a firm believer that you need to maintain some power in the negotiation process and avoid being pressured into a quick decision.
“You have to be in control,” he explains. “You have to decide very thoughtfully when [the process] begins and ends. Companies almost always try to end it prematurely. The number one mistake is [interviewees] feel compelled to make a decision on the spot.”
Tip #2 – Keep Some of Your Information Private
It's standard practice that job candidates aren't supposed to pry into the company's information on a job offer. After all, you wouldn't ask the interviewer about the max amount they're willing to pay for a position. But on the same token, Qureshi states that you should keep some of your own information private too.
“Companies often capitalize on information dis-symmetry,” he explains. “They want to know how much you make and want to make. But if you ask the company 'how much did you pay somebody in my position?' they think it's not okay. This is purely a socialized thing. It's the way the job market evolved.
“It's very advantageous [for candidates] to protect some information about themselves." He adds to “be mindful that the company is protecting information and you are not forced to give up information. Period.”
Tip #3 – Know Your Opponent (a.k.a. Potential Employer)
A job interview isn't quite like a poker game, where you're trying to win money from opponents. But in the interview process, you need to know what exactly the company wants so that you can supply this during the negotiation.
“This one is the most fundamental,” Qureshi writes. “If you understand what they're trying to hire you [to do] that's extraordinarily valuable.
“If you come in and show them, 'I understand what you're looking for and here's me showing you I'm going to double down to provide that,' that's so rare in a candidate. If you can effectively signal that they're going to pay more. Most people get that wrong, and it would instantly improve most people's negotiating.”
Qureshi adds that he doesn't expect everybody to take his advice and double the size of their salary offer. But when it comes to large companies with flexibility, it can certainly help.
“I am obviously an outlier,” he writes. “I wouldn't expect that most people can double their offer. Depending on where you are and your socioeconomic status and intersection it might not be a good idea to negotiate.”
Qureshi Finding Success after Girah Scandal
Some poker players may remember Qureshi as the famed online pro who tarnished his reputation with a chip dumping scandal. The matter revolved around a player named Jose "Girah" Macedo, whom Qureshi was staking.
Qureshi and his partners needed to get Macedo $100,000 for staking, and they didn't want to wire the money directly. So they arranged a chip dump at the now-defunct Lock Poker, where Qureshi purposely lost $100k to the Portuguese poker pro.
Afterward, Macedo revealed that there was a BLUFF Challenge points contest going on. Qureshi was immediately angry because Macedo would jump to the forefront of the challenge after cheating through the chip dump.
Qureshi's link to Macedo only become more questionable when the latter outed himself for multi-accounting/cheating on Lock Poker. Feeling terrible over the incident, Qureshi quit online poker in 2011 and gave away most of his bankroll ($500k) to his family and charity.
He put his English degree to good use afterward, starting a blog and writing about his various thoughts. And Qureshi advanced himself even further by getting a $250,000 job with Airbnb. Now, he's on to his next venture with a startup that he'll discuss in the near future.