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Life after graduation

Salary negotiation tips for the entry-level applicant

Feel confident in your first salary negotiation by knowing when and how to proceed.

Don’t take that job!

… at least, not until you’ve scrutinized your pay rate and every detail of your offer.

Many students fall into the trap of accepting their first entry-level job offer without realizing what a bit of research can do to drastically change the concessions in their favor. Even fewer realize just how crucial it is to negotiate their pay rate early on.

In 2016, The National Association of Colleges and Employers released an article on the importance of salary negotiations in closing the gender pay gap. While the article’s main goal reflects the importance of women knowing their value in the workplace to close the discriminatory gap, it also recognizes the significance in a practice capable of closing gaps between pay and cost-of-living, expectations, national averages, and more. Moreover, according to NPR, failing to negotiate early on could cost you between $1 million and $1.5 million in lost earnings over time.

While many employers are open to the practice, it’s important to note when and when not to engage in negotiations.

Consider negotiating:

  • Once you have the offer letter in hand. The interview is not the time and place to do it. The letter will include the figure being offered.
  • If you know your value. When negotiating your salary, you can’t just pitch a number. You need a grounds for your counteroffer.
  • If the job requires a specific, unique skill set. With the exception of entry-level roles requiring undifferentiated skills sets like barista, line-cook, waiter, and cashier, most jobs needing some form of unique knowledge will allow for negotiations.

Avoid negotiating:

  • When applying for a government job. Unless the salary is significantly lower than your state’s average for that position, this is unlikely. Government employers do a fairly good job at providing great benefits and fair pay that is usually fixed and commensurate on experience.
  • If the offer is well below your BATNA. That is, your "Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement." You’ve hopefully done your research or had the opportunity to interview at several places. If they’re offering something substantially lower (think 20%) to other alternative offers or fair pay for the position, it may not be worth the hassle. Your best decision may be to kindly decline.
  • If it’s a genuinely generous offer. If the benefits and pay package offered are competitive, leave it as-is. You may have found a great company that truly appreciates your potential, and you shouldn’t risk it by asking for more.

Once you’ve deemed the situation appropriate for negotiations, you need to develop a strategy.

Developing a strategy:

Start by researching the salary offered and whether it is in-range with state and national averages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics can provide you with this information when searching by job position. But if you want estimates straight from the source, try asking past and current employees of the company. The networking feature on Handshake can connect you with alumni who may have worked at that company or in a similar position.

Secondly, analyze the job description and research the company to determine what might be their most preeminent needs.

Lastly, determine which of your skills are most valuable to the company, or exceed the requirements of the position.

Your first counteroffer:

Base your first counteroffer on the information you’ve compiled.

  • Is the pay on the lower end of the average range? Do your skills exceed what’s required of you? Start with a figure that’s no more than 10-20% above their initial offer. Remember, you’re applying for entry level, and you shouldn’t expect something on the higher range. Consider negotiating lower if 10-20% places you above the average.
  • Is the pay in-line with average pay, but still believe you can negotiate based on your skills? Consider a range between 5-7% above. You don’t want to risk your chances with a company that is genuinely interested in your financial well-being.

With your number in mind, head into the negotiation room confident with the research and work you have done. But, remember, the negotiations should be a collaborative effort. One where both parties come together to compromise on one another’s necessities. State your case clearly, and communicate to your potential employers why hiring you at your offered figure will be worthwhile.

Any counteroffer will almost certainly come with another counter. Stay within the appropriate ranges, be willing to budge a little bit, and come to an agreement when both parties are satisfied. Even if it wasn’t the figure you hoped for, don’t be scared to negotiate the rest of your package. Believe it or not, vacation time, travel expenses, flexible schedules (coming in to work later, for example), student loan repayment (if offered), and relocation costs are all example benefits you can negotiate.

Do your due diligence and negotiate only the aspects of the package you wish to improve, you might and up walking away with something much better than you expected!

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