What Every Recent Grad Should Know About Salary Negotiation

salary negotiation
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You hang up the phone and let out a little squeal. You got the job!  You can’t wait to tell your parents, your best friend, and your academic advisor. This is your first job and it’s officially a big deal.

But, after the initial excitement fades, you realize one big question remains unanswered—should you try to negotiate your salary? You’ll want to use a handy little website called PayScale, which helps you research average salaries based on your major, your industry, and your city. To help you with this process even more, PayScale recently compiled the Salary Negotiation Guide.

We recently caught up with Lydia Frank, Editorial Director at PayScale and editor of the guide, to pick up some advice on salary negotiation specifically for college students and recent grads. Here’s what she had to say.

What are salary negotiation trends you noticed in the recent graduate population?

Younger workers are more likely to be uncomfortable negotiating salary and more concerned about being perceived as pushy than older generations. A lot of that is probably just due to inexperience having to negotiate, but it’s worth working through those nerves and advocating for a higher salary when it’s warranted. There is a lot more salary data and information available to workers today than there was even a decade ago, so take advantage of it. Do your homework before you walk into a salary negotiation so that you know what your skills are worth in the current job market. Negotiating even a $5K increase in salary early on can mean hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a career.

The PayScale report shows that English Language and Literature majors are the most likely to ask for a raise (51%) and Homeland Security, Law Enforcement, Firefighting, and Related Protective Services are least likely (31%). Why do you think that is?

A lot of English majors end up working as either writers of some kind or teachers, both professions which are relatively low-paying and many would say are undervalued. It’s not surprising that workers in both these fields would have to be proactive about seeking out raises. In terms of law enforcement, raises are often dictated by federal, state, or city budgets, and are a bit more regimented in terms of raise schedules. You don’t see merit increases granted as often as in other professions.

What salary negotiation advice from the guide do you think is most applicable to current college students and recent graduates?

There’s a great article from author Anne Krook included in the guide that points out how often we all negotiate in our daily lives. Once you realize you have the skill set already, approaching a salary negotiation becomes a bit less scary. Koru CEO Kristen Hamilton also wrote an article specifically on negotiating your first salary which provides a lot of helpful tips, not the least of which is that you absolutely should negotiate and think about the whole package—not just salary but benefits, vacation time, etc.

What are some common misconceptions about raise and salary negotiation?

I think many workers think that good work will be rewarded, but the truth is that no one knows more about the good work that you do on a daily basis than you. You have to ensure that your boss and anyone else that has influence over your pay increases is aware of that good work. You are your best advocate, and it’s okay to ask for a raise that you’ve earned. If you’re talking about a job offer, I think the most important thing to remember is that employers expect that you’ll negotiate. If asking a few questions or making a counteroffer causes them to rescind an offer, you probably didn’t want to work there anyway.

Is there anything about salary negotiation for recent graduates and the PayScale report that you’d like to add?

Of the people we surveyed, only 43% had ever asked for a raise. But, of those that asked, 75% got a raise, even if it was less than they were hoping. The bottom line is that it’s worth asking, especially if you can show that you’re either being underpaid compared to the current market for your position or demonstrate your recent accomplishments that are deserving of a merit increase.

Find Out Your Salary Negotiation Ceiling

Will you be negotiating your first salary or raise in the near future? Spend some time on sites like PayScale and Glassdoor to learn about the average market rate for your position and location. And don’t forget to check out the PayScale Salary Negotiation Guide for more detailed advice. Want to hear how NOT to negotiate your salary? I share a few of my “oops” moments in A Few Failures from My Twenties to help you avoid some common mistakes.

This updated post was originally published in January, 2015.

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