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.



Making sure you’re applying for the role that’s right for you is tough enough as it is. Colleges offer so many career focuses, and new grads often find themselves struggling to figure out exactly what entry-level role is the “best choice” to commit to. On top of this, the journey to finding a fitting workplace can be a short race or a long marathon, depending on whether you ask employers the right questions. If you’re lost trying to define what the right job and company look like to you, ask yourself if it’s a fit for your personality and values, before asking them about learning opportunities and job stability.

Choosing the Right Job…

As a recent graduate or new recruit, choosing an unfitting career path is dangerously common. Some students chose their major out of pressure from family, for the expected salaries or status upgrades, or out of fleeting passion for a certain subject – among other reasons. Skills don’t have to be narrowed down to fit under the title of some major of study, industry, or vertical. Instead, you can ask yourself a few simple questions to find similarities in what you like, what you like doing, and what’s important to you[1]. Start out by writing down 10 things that you enjoy doing. Don’t think too much about how lucrative any of them are. Next, figure out the skills that you employ when doing those things, and write them down as well. Record some other details too, such as your passions, skills, and what you seem to excel in. Look at all this data on a single piece of paper to draw a pattern between what you like doing, your unique skills, and any relevant passions to keep work fulfilling.

If you’re already confident in your chosen path and have been looking at positions to apply for, don’t forget to maintain an open mind. Most career experts will agree that newcomers to the job market should be patient in cementing their chosen careers, and open to the possibility of a career change down the line.

With the Right Company

Does the Company Match Your Character?

Most companies are searching for a certain type of individual when adding members to their teams, though it doesn’t mean you should change who you are. Instead of morphing your personal traits to match the expectations of a potential employer, as many fresh faces in the workplace attempt to, it could be a mismatch in personality or core values. An office with less inter-team interaction may not feel right for a collaborative individual, for example, or maybe you’re an environmentally-driven person who appreciates the green initiatives of a certain company. These are the factors to think about when building the roster of potential companies. Simply put – if your personality seems to jive well with other team members and the company aims to uphold many shared values of your own, these are initial signs of a great fit in the long run.

These things will come to light over the course of employment, though you can get a feel for them ahead of time by getting a feel for the current employees. If you’re being placed on a tight-knit team, then knowing a bit about your possible team members will help you discern whether you’ll enjoy collaborating with them. These people typically interview directly to get a feel for candidates, so understanding how they communicate, what they expect from coworkers, and what drives them will help you decide whether it’s a match.

Does the Company Encourage Advancement?

As a new recruit in the workplace, you probably want assurance that your industry education and career development will continue to grow with your next position. Avoid stagnant workplaces by asking how often they train and educate their workers, since it will directly impact your career progression. This goes hand-in-hand with whether there’s room to grow within a given company. Businesses that cultivate their staff with effective training and continued education often value their loyal employees by promoting from within. This is a great end-of-interview question and will give you a feel for the roadmap of advancement within the company. If you’re an intern with the chance at earning a job offer post-graduation, this is a good sign that your company allows for advancement from within.

Will Your Future Be Secure?

Another crucial trait to assess when scrolling through companies is a history of stability. Has the company been around a while? Does it uphold a good reputation? These are things that can be researched with a simple Google query and a glance at some Glassdoor reviews. Feeling secure in your next job will keep you relaxed, more engaged, and is often shown through low turnover rates. Ask a recruiter or hiring manager about their turnover rate to get a better outlook on employee sentiment towards the company. Job security is a multifaceted metric, and a big part of it is how a company sets its employees up for success down the line. This typically starts with orientation and is sustained by ongoing training. Periodic performance checks accomplish this with constructive feedback to speed up the learning process. Small items like this, as well as weekly goal-setting and one-on-one training, makes people feel like their boss truly values them and their professional future. Knowing that you’re learning skills that can carry over into your next position is important too. The job description usually lists the duties and responsibilities required, but sometimes they don’t tell the full story. Do some research on the job title itself, and don’t be afraid to ask an interviewer whether their company offers skill shops and other learning opportunities. This way, you’ll get a finer sense for how much the company is truly willing to invest in its employees’ future well-being.


When preparing for an upcoming interview, there are a few key questions to ask to make sure the company, position, and expectations align with your skill set. Questions related to the position’s details, any benchmarks for success, the company culture, and possible next steps will cover all the bases, and there are a handful of ways to gather this information. Asking about common challenges faced in the role, the day-by-day duties, and the position’s turnover rate will help you decide how your skills line up and whether the staff tends to stay on board or frequently jump ship. Getting to know the company culture, figuring out what you like about the company, and discovering other traits like management style will give you a deeper feel for the workplace as a whole as well. Lastly but possibly most important, wrapping it all up by confirming the timeline for next steps is a great way to figure out when you’ll hear back after the interview.

Understand the Position at Hand

You can start with the basics by digging deeper into the position itself. Ask if there are any challenges unique to the role for some easily missed details, for example, and briefly explain how you’ll overcome them. To get a view of the daily atmosphere and duties that await you, ask your interviewer to describe a usual day on the job. You could dig deeper and ask how each day is split according to the core tasks to ensure the job is as initially described, so that you know exactly what each day on the job will entail.

Also, questions about turnover can reveal more about whether employees tend to leave or stay. You can ask how long previous employees have remained in the position for. Getting a sense for their recent turnover rate rather than a general percentage will give you current information to go off of. Ask these questions to reveal hints of poor management, ineffective training or weak recruiting which tend to drive high turnover.

Know the Benchmarks for Success

Take the opportunity in an interview to learn how success is measured in the position at hand. By doing this, you’ll know exactly how to advance in your future role. Start out by asking what the monthly, quarterly, and yearly expectations are for their desired candidate. It’ll help you see what kind of pace they work at, how achievements are determined, and whether those achievements are defined by a team or individual standard. You’ll also get a feel for whether the work environment is more competitive or collaborative. Uncovering any unique traits that successful employees seem to commonly portray is an impactful inquiry as well. This will show you the hiring manager’s desired profile, which is essentially a roadmap to success – so long as the right questions are asked.

Is the Company Culture Right for You?

Ask some targeted questions to get a feel for how the company defines its culture and outline the shared characteristics between current employees. After all, value alignment and getting along with colleagues can make or break an employment experience. Asking the interviewer how they would describe the culture in the office will help you see whether your personality aligns with the atmosphere set by the company. If you thrive in a loosely structured workspace versus a more hierarchical organizational style, this could be a telltale sign to look elsewhere. If interaction with other coworkers is a daily expectation, and you’re an extroverted type of person, then maybe the environment is a fit.

You can also directly ask the interviewer what they like about working at the company, and find out how supervisors treat their teams by asking about the management styles employed by the company. If you’re an independent worker and are suddenly dropped into a team setting, this question will save you from future discomfort. People who typically complete their assigned tasks with minimal check-ins could be swayed by an open work culture versus a more standardized, micro-managing style. Maybe management expects the position to have weekend availability, and your schedule just can’t meet those needs. Game-changing details like these can be sorted out ahead of time so that you don’t blindly walk into an unhealthy workplace.

Make Sure to Establish Next Steps

Finish off the interview by establishing when you’ll hear back regarding your potential employment. You want to leave the interview with a decision timeline so that you:

  1. Can rest easy until the response date has come around
  2. Know when to follow-up if you haven’t heard back
  3. Understand what to expect, and when

Even if you feel that the interview has dragged on long enough, take the few extra seconds to ask when you should expect to hear back. If the interviewer says it’ll take a week, then you know when to follow-up if they haven’t reached out by then. It’ll also save you from false hopelessness if the timeline is much longer than expected. You might expect it to take two weeks for your hiring decision to be made, but their usual timeframe is a month long. So, save your psyche and establish a contingent follow-up point by asking, “Where do we go from here?”