How to Negotiate Your First Salary

Suppose you’re fresh out of college and have landed the position of your dreams — or so you thought. Somehow through the office grapevine you come to find out that one of your coworkers — in the same position, mind you — is making marginally more money than you are. You’ve been in the role for the same amount of time, have the same level of education and work experience, yet your colleague is bringing home the bacon while you’re taking home scraps. Are you outraged yet?

Sadly, this is a common reality for newly minted graduates who leave thousands of dollars on the table by not negotiating their salaries and benefits packages. A 2015 NerdWallet/Looksharp survey of 8,000 new grads found that only 38 percent of respondents even tried to negotiate. Meanwhile, 74 percent of the 700 employers surveyed said they expected to negotiate and were willing to bump an offer by five to 10 percent for entry-level roles.

As a new grad, asking for a higher salary or extra benefits can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be if you go in prepared and keep these five rules in mind.

Negotiation Starts Before the Interview

While most candidates tend to focus on the asking part of the conversation, it’s important to remember that your power to negotiate depends on their perception of you as a competent, above average candidate. That means fully researching what an organization does, understanding the role you would play, asking insightful questions and demonstrating how you would help them succeed with concrete examples and ideas. If you aren’t an above average candidate during the interview, why should they provide you an above average compensation package?

Money Isn’t Everything

While a salary bump may be the most commonly negotiated aspect of a new job, there are other components on the table. If the company is firm on pay and denies your request for a salary bump, consider asking for things like a company cell phone, a continuing education budget, a more robust insurance plan or the option to work from home.

 It’s Not About You

When discussing a higher compensation package, remember that hiring managers want facts and figures. Rather than talking about how working from home makes your life easier, discuss how the hour saved from not commuting provides you with more time to work on assignments. Rather than saying you think you deserve a 10 percent higher salary, point out the latest data on salaries for similar entry-level roles. It’s a lot harder to negotiate with your personal desires compared to concrete data.

 Let Them Decide They Want You First

A common mistake new graduates make is to discuss money during the interview phase, thereby showing all your cards before your prospective employer does. Instead, try to avoid any discussion of compensation until the hiring manager calls to offer you the job. Once you’ve got them on the hook, you’ll be in a better place to negotiate.

 Know What You’re Worth

Hiring managers have a salary range for every position, and it’s important to let them be the first one to propose a number so you don’t undercut yourself. Once you know what that number is, visit reputable websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics and Payscale to research average salaries. You can usually find information on how high a salary should be based on company size, geographic location, education and years of experience.

The Gender Pay Gap

Attention, ladies! Did you know that women make an average of 21 percent less than their male colleagues? Aside from double standards in the workplace, women have to speak up for what they’re worth. Only 34 percent of recent female grads tried to negotiate their first salaries, compared to 44 percent of their male peers. When it comes time to negotiate, remember that you’re worth more than you may think. Regardless of the industry, most female grads think they’re due a starting salary between $25k and $50k. Men, on the other hand, expect a number that falls between $45k and $75k.

Most of us need to work to live, and we deserve to be fairly compensated for that work, too. It’s going to take confidence in your personal ability, perseverance to find the right job and a healthy bit of research on the average salaries in your field so you don’t sell yourself short.

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