Negotiating A Salary

negotiating-salaryWhen people talk about school, they often contrast it with “the real world.” They say things like, “In the real world, there are no grades.” Or, “Sure, you’re book-smart. But wait until you’re out in the real world.” And they’re right, in a way. “The real world” can be scary, crazy different from the structured life of academia. One of the scariest parts about life after graduation? Negotiating a salary.

Sure, your life is going to change once you stop being a student and start being a grown-up with a career. But you should keep in mind that a salaried job is what you’re working toward while you’re in school. It’s what your coursework is preparing you for. Those essays you’re being forced to write? They’re teaching you to be an effective communicator, a persuasive person, a critical thinker. And these skills will all come in handy when you sit down to negotiate your first salary.

It may seem hard to fathom negotiating a starting salary. What leverage can you, someone who’s never even had a salary before this, possibly have going into this negotiation? But salary negotiations aren’t just for people who are well-established in careers. The first salary you have can set the base rate for the rest of your life.

Most grads start out at salaries that are below-average for their field. And women-who are less likely to be praised for assertive behavior growing up-are even less likely than men to start out with a decent salary. (It’s part of the reason why there’s such a persistent wage gap between men and women-when it comes to starting salary negotiation, women just don’t ask to be paid what they deserve. So when they and their more-assertive male peers are getting their annual raises, women are at a disadvantage, having started out behind.)

But it’s not just a gendered problem. It’s hard to be assertive when you’re a recent grad. What do you have to offer, other than good grades and an eagerness to learn?


Sure, recent grads lack the experience of people who’ve been out in “the real world” for a while. But there are ways that you can stand out even in your first salary negotiation. You’re internet-savvy, accustomed to doing research. So put those skills to use and come to your first salary negotiation prepared.

Remember that having a fresh perspective is an asset. Have you traveled? Are you from another country? Do you speak other languages? Come from a culturally diverse background? These are all extremely valuable skills for a new hire to have, things that will make your company even more successful in our globalizing economy. You can even use your non-academic life experiences as a way to justify some less-than-stellar grades and show that you have skills beyond what your transcript shows.

Asking for a Good Starting Salary

Do your research. There are plenty of sites where you can figure out what you should be making, salary-wise. They can be as simple as entering enter your location and job title, or they can incorporate your skills, experience, and education into their estimate of what you should be earning. (I’ve included some links at the bottom for you. Go nuts!)

Remember that your life experience counts for something, even if you don’t have much paid work experience. And you’re going to negotiate with the expectation that they won’t accept your opening bid. Overshoot by 10-20 percent and you’ll be more likely to meet them at your goal salary when you “compromise”. You might be a little embarrassed to ask for so much at first, but remember that negotiations are no place to be modest.

Have them give the first number and negotiate from there. They might surprise you with a generous opening offer. Even if their opening offer is generous, though, never accept that first offer. Always ask for 5-15 percent more.

You should not let new employers know what you’ve made in the past (if you’re lucky enough to have had previous jobs); make them pay you what they think you’re worth.

And if it’s your first salary negotiation at your first job (congrats on acing those interviews!), remember that the salary negotiation is the final hurdle, not a make-or-break discussion. No employer is going to rescind their original job offer if you ask for a starting salary that’s too high. And it’s always impressive to show that you’ve done your research and are willing to ask for what you deserve.

Asking for a Raise

Nobody is going to hand you your first raise-you have to ask for it! Try to take on as many responsibilities and tasks as you can while you’re still new. Not only is working hard a great way to learn, but it’ll give you hard evidence that you’re an asset. Which will come in handy when you ask for a raise that’s in the upper range of industry average.

Bosses are busy people-they have to do all their own work, plus supervise yours. And you’re probably not the only person they’re supervising. So they’re unlikely to notice all the value you actually add to the company. Going into your 6-month evaluation meeting, you need to remember to point out everything that’s escaped your boss’s notice. Talk about what you do to make the company better, how efficiently you work, the progress you’ve made, the goals you’ve exceeded. From there, asking for a raise is not just logical, it’s expected.

If you don’t have a six-month evaluation to take advantage of, ask your boss if there’s a time when the two of you could talk. Say you’re interested in discussing your career, getting some advice, talking about how you can be a better asset to the company-whatever gets you two talking seriously about your work. Get lunch together. Ask for some career advice. Talk about your contributions.

Make sure you mention how much you love your job. You want to show that you’re not just a hard worker-you’re an investment, someone on a career track. Give examples of how you’ve contributed, and mention your career goals with the company as they connect to the work you’ve been doing. Show that you’ve done your research, and mention the industry average. Maybe don’t ask outright for a raise; but ask what your boss something like “what would you recommend for me to increase my value to the company?”

Your first raise is a lot like your first salary negotiation. But it should be easier, because you’ve had that first discussion as practice, right? Go to your boss with your data in hand and ask for the raise you deserve. And keep in mind that inflation rates mean that going too long without a raise actually means getting a decrease in your spending power. Your salary should be inflation-proof.

It can be a bit intimidating, but your company needs good workers just as much as-if not more than-you need your job with the company. So get negotiating!

Takeaway Points:

Make sure you’ve researched what the industry average wages are, so you can ask for a salary that makes sense for whatever business you’re in

If your boss doesn’t seem to respect you when you’re negotiating, maybe you should look elsewhere else. Being well-informed and valuing yourself are positive traits, and any employer who doesn’t respect you for displaying these traits in your salary negotiation probably isn’t worth working for.


With all these job salary calculators, remember to try variations of your job title to get an accurate salary prediction. And be generous in your self-assessment of “years of experience!”

photo credit: FutUndBeidl via photopin cc


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