June 22, 2023
If you have a recent college grad in the process of looking for their first full-time job, I want you to encourage them to negotiate their salary.
I know that might seem odd. It’s common to think that the goal should be to just land a job you want. Get in the door, at whatever salary is offered.
But that can be a costly mistake. Your first salary becomes the base for subsequent raises with that employer and will likely be the reference point for what you’re offered at your next job.
When you negotiate your initial salary, it has a positive cascading effect throughout your work life.
This advice is especially important for women. Research shows that women don’t naturally gravitate toward negotiating. In part, out of concern they will be perceived as too aggressive/pushy, which research has sadly shown can be an issue. That’s not a reason to not negotiate. It is a reason to be smart about how you negotiate.
Know what that employer is paying for that specific job.
Online salary websites such as Glassdoor and PayScale have valuable info. The career/job office at an alma mater might have salary info, or it can connect job seekers with recent alumni working where you are interviewing. In today’s e-connected world, there is no excuse for not having specific timely data on the salary range for a given job.
Ask for “at least”.
Ideally, the employer will start the process by offering a salary. That’s an offer, not an ultimatum. Based on the research you’ve done, it’s now your turn to propose a counteroffer. Again, not an ultimatum, but a negotiating volley. I recommend conveying something along the lines of, “Based on my research of typical salaries for this job, I am hoping to start at a salary of AT LEAST, $X.” You are setting a floor here.
Negotiate for a friend.
Squirming at the thought of negotiating? Research from leading academics on this topic has found that if you imagine you are negotiating on behalf of a friend it can remove stress and anxiety and make it easier for you to advocate for yourself.
Be calm and professional.
Leave the emotion at home. When you communicate in a strong and respectful tone you are not just advocating for yourself, you are telegraphing to the hiring manager that you possess a valuable skill. Navigating any office requires different forms of negotiation, within your team, or when you find yourself working with other groups. The same goes for dealing with clients or suppliers. When you negotiate for your first salary with confidence and calm, you are giving the hiring manager one more reason to get you on board.
Benefits are not salary.
Sometimes in a negotiation, the hiring manager might tell you they can’t budge on salary, but they can offer you an extra week of vacation, or the ability to work remotely a set number of days per week. While you may value those benefits, I want you to carefully think through accepting this tradeoff.
Is the salary they are offering in the range of what you know they are paying other people in the role you are exploring? You have to respect your employer, and that’s hard if you know from Day 1 you are being underpaid. You don’t need to accept this offer. Consider a script along the lines of, “Thank you for this offer, I indeed value those benefits. But based on my research, I remain interested in a salary of at least $X.”
Ultimately, it’s up to you what you decide to accept or reject. Just promise yourself that you won’t immediately accept the first salary offer. The hiring manager will be thrilled if you do, but only because you made their job easy. They expect you to negotiate and have baked that into their initial offer.
And if you do decide to accept extended benefits, such as vacation or flex time, be sure to get that in writing. It will help clarify your agreement if somewhere down the line you have a new manager.