Negotiating a Starting Salary

If you’re a recent graduate or someone breaking into the job market, negotiating a salary can seem a bit rash. Maybe you’ve completely rejected the concept, thinking that your lack of experience means no leverage during negotiations. Maybe you have a few offers and want to negotiate, but you’re a bit lost on how to communicate your desires. These are common dilemmas that can be solved with some insight into your unique skills, and the confidence which comes with recognizing your own professional value. Before countering your most recent job offer, consider these five tips.

Stay Optimistic

A job offer is always exciting, especially as a recent graduate. This is why it’s so easy to immediately accept whatever salary an employer offers you. The next time you’re deciding between one or multiple job offers, consider trying your hand at negotiation. Now, some would suggest that you only negotiate your salary once you’ve gained some experience. This may give you more leverage in salary discussions, but employers often low-ball with initial offers, meaning they have some wiggle room to work with. The only roadblock to negotiating your salary is most likely the lack of experiential confidence, or a false notion that it will come off as ungrateful towards the person who has just graced you with a job offer. After all, this is your first job – there isn’t much room to let feelings take over. A starting salary is the root of your career for which any promotions and bonuses will add to, not to mention how 401(k) contributions are dependent on your salary. Put simply: don’t listen to passive advice on whether to negotiate a beginning salary or not, because the answer is the same across all experience levels.

It’s easy to see a link between experience and leverage when starting out, or to believe in the need for multiple offers before entering negotiations. This follows the assumption that candidates in the later stages of recruiting are expendable, but the staffing process is actually quite expensive. Interviews take time as well as examining the sheer volume of profiles received by employers. So if you’re nearing the final stages of the interview process and question your leverage due to slim experience, take comfort in the company’s ongoing interest and investment in your potential. Additionally, a secondary or handful of offers is a false prerequisite for salary negotiation. Try directly asking a prospective employer to increase their offer, just be sure that your tone is inquisitive rather than demanding.

Believe In Your Skills

Make sure to keep confidence in your skills, rather than feeling intimidated by the health of the market itself. In the wake of COVID-19 and its dent on U.S. employment, around 9.6 million American jobs have been lost according to a recent tally by the Pew Research Center[1]. It’s a valid fear, but COVID has only made dependable talent even more desirable. Value your potential as an up-and-comer in negotiations and reject the assumption that an unhealthy job market determines your professional future. Also, negotiations don’t have to be limited to just your salary. There are a number of items attached to employment:

  1. Possible tuition reimbursement
  2. An alternate work schedule
  3. A stipend for relocation
  4. A better-fitting position

Open your mind up to these overlooked factors for any necessary accommodations to your new career – the right employer will understand.

Common Questions & Suggested Responses

If you’ve already negotiated your first salary before, then you’ve surely been asked about how much your last employer paid you. It’s tempting to be transparent and ensure that you at least make more than your last position, but you’re potentially limiting yourself. Instead of being too honest with this question, wait for an initial offer to be made. Then, counter with the desired amount, supported by evidence and any research on the position’s average salaries. Some starting salary negotiations will bring up any offers from other employers. This is always an asset and valuable leverage, though it’s not a good idea to lie. Using another offer can backfire on people early in their career since recruiters and hiring managers can always onboard a different candidate, and they can usually tell if you’re lying through your teeth.

Study Up & Know Your Strengths

It’s always a good idea to know the pay range you’re walking into in the stages leading to a negotiation. Sites like Glassdoor and PayScale are popular tools for quick research on company-specific salaries from past and present employees. You can also reach out to your network and ask people in your desired position about a fitting starting salary. This is great phrasing for an otherwise awkward question – instead of asking for their salary directly, you’re asking them about an accurate range for a position of less experience. Additionally, try to avoid focusing on your newness in the job market. Recent graduates typically have no professional experience, though things like internships and applicable volunteer work are indicators of valuable industry knowledge. Maybe you were a group leader at your last internship position or executed some interesting projects. By noting these strengths and experiences beforehand, your responses will carry confidence come negotiation time.

Unfitting Times to Negotiate There are a few cases where negotiating your salary isn’t as welcomed, starting with extremely stable jobs paying out public salaries. Some examples of these sectors include military jobs or even management consulting[2]. Secondly, jobs that are high in supply with less differentiation between employees will pose little room for negotiation – an example here is an entry-level cashier. One last note is to do some preparative market research so that you’ve got an expected salary range in mind. Try referencing statistical support when needed to rationalize your reasoning and show employers how prepared you are.