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How to Negotiate Your First-Ever Salary

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“It’s my first job, so I don’t have any room to negotiate.” “The economy is really bad, so I’m just lucky to even be offered anything.” “The company has my best interests at heart, so I’ll save myself the trouble and just accept whatever they’re offering.” Any of this sound familiar?

If it does, you’re not alone. Negotiating can be one of the most stressful aspects of the job search, especially when you’re just starting your career. How do you justify asking for more than the company is offering you, especially for an entry-level position? We catch up with former VP of Products at AfterCollege, Teresa Torres (who also happens to be a seasoned career coach and consultant), to discover some techniques for successful negotiation.

What are some general thoughts to keep in mind when negotiating?

For a new college grad, most of the hard work should happen before the negotiating happens. If you don’t have a lot of work experience and you simply answer the questions asked of you in the interview, you aren’t going to be in a position to negotiate, as you won’t stand out from any other new college grad.

However, if you do your homework, and throughout the interview process show that you can do the work, you’ll be in a much better position to negotiate. Before you interview, spend a ridiculous amount of time preparing. Act as if you already have the job. What would you do during your first month? Not sure? Ask people who have similar roles. Do your research. Then come prepared to the interview with an outline of what you would do in the first few weeks. Present it as one potential option, as of course, you would want input from the hiring manager on what you should be doing. The goal is to show that you understand the role, the work that you would be doing, and that you are capable of doing it.

Then when it comes time to negotiate, you’ll be in a much better position. The hiring manager or recruiter will probably offer the low end of the range they can offer. You can use standard negotiating tips to drive this up a little bit. Again, do your research. What is the starting range for this position at similar companies? Ask friends in similar roles. Do research on Payscale and Salary.com.

What techniques are professional and generally acceptable?

Always be respectful. Don’t make it about what you want or need, but about what is fair market value. The key through all the research above is to show that you deserve the high end of the average range. You want to position yourself as well above average.

How long can you take to consider an offer?

Generally, one week.

How many rounds of negotiation should you go through?

This depends. If you have a competing offer, it could go two or three rounds. But generally, if a company gives you what you ask for, don’t ask for more.

What type of language do you use to justify asking for more?

See this blog post from Ramit Sethi’s blog, “I Will Teach You to Be Rich.”

The title of this blog seems super spammy, but Ramit (the author) is legit. He writes high-quality content based in psychology. He also writes for a twentysomething audience, so he has your needs in mind.

Are there any rules about negotiation that are specific to college students or recent grads?

I think the big one is if you don’t make yourself look exceptional, you won’t be in a good position to ask for more.

How should you handle multiple offers?

Don’t play games with companies. If you genuinely have multiple offers you are interested in, you can (and should) use them to get more out of your top company. But don’t drag out the process. Make a decision and stick with it.

Given the current economic climate, how should college students approach negotiation? Should this affect their strategy at all?

No. If the company is hiring, in the vast majority of cases they have a range. If you make yourself stand out as an exceptional candidate, they will move a little bit to keep you. But this assumes that what you ask for is within reason—do some research.

How do most companies approach negotiation? Do they expect candidates to ask for a certain percentage more? Are they open to negotiating other aspects of compensation like health benefits or time off?

Great question. Everything is negotiable. For salary, as long as you can back your ask with some research, you should be within reason. For example, you can bring a Salary.com/Payscale report to the hiring manager/recruiter and show why you think you deserve more. If you are asking for above average, you better have shown that you are well above average. Beyond salary, here are other things you can ask for:

  • more time off
  • for them to pay for your cell phone
  • equipment you need to do your job
  • a conference/education budget
  • the ability to work from home
  • modified work hours

No matter what you ask for, make sure you can argue that it will help you be more successful at the company.

Need more support? Check out these resources.

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Teresa Torres is the former VP of Products at AfterCollege. She blogs about building great products at Product Talk and she helps people interested in product management transition into their first product role, including helping them negotiate their first offer.

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5 Responses to “How to Negotiate Your First-Ever Salary”

  1. Jonathan

    Hi Melissa, I recently started a blog about conflict and negotiation in the workplace. One of my posts was similar to yours about how a graduate should approach negotiating their first salary. I think a lot of people are so relieved to be offered there first job that they don’t even consider the starting salary, which is a shame. If the company are not willing to offer a higher salary, The person could always try to ask for other benefits, such as travel expenses. Or they could perhaps ask for a 6 month review date, where they could discuss a pay rise based on their performance.

    If you’ve got a spare moment, please could you look at my blog post i mentioned earlier.

    http://apeacefulending.wordpress.com/2014/05/06/how-to-negotiate-your-first-salary/

    Reply
    • Melissa Suzuno

      Hi Jonathan, thanks for stopping by and for sharing your thoughts! That’s a really interesting topic for a blog and I think a lot of people could use help in both those areas!

      Reply

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