How to Negotiate Your First Real Adult Salary

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Unfortunately, all fun and care-free college days will eventually come to an end. If you’re a senior, then the beginning of adulting will close in on you soon. You make sure you cover all your bases to get the job offer of your dreams. But when you get the offer, should you simply accept the salary without thinking twice? Of course not, this is your life, so be bold and negotiate for an extra zero on the end (too ambitious?) Grab a pen and paper to take notes on some of these helpful tips from the experts.

Get Comfortable With the Process

You may think that new graduates don’t have much leeway for initial salaries, but that’s not always the case. Companies want to see that their new workers know how to handle themselves. You can prove this by demonstrating your flawless communication skills when negotiating for a higher starting salary. Jodie Charlop, Executive Career Coach for Potential Matters, explained that college graduates need to get over their fear of the negotiation process, because it comes back to haunt you.

“Negotiating effectively is not only critical for career growth and advancement – it’s a must have skill to become a leader,” Charlop said. “You have to negotiate for support, resources, budgets, customers – everything we do practically day-to-day in almost any job has some form of negotiation woven into the task.”

Don’t Throw Out the First Number

Employers may ask you outright what you’re looking to see in the bank. Turn the conversation back on them and ask about the salary range. This forces them to give numbers and allows you to stay clear of pressure. Throwing out numbers that are too high could make you seem like you don’t have a clue. Selling yourself short with low numbers limits how much the company may be willing to pay you.

Katherine Kammer, President and Founder of Kammer and Associates, specializes in organizational consulting, career management and corporate placement. Her advice to college graduates is to stay cautious when the conversation turns to direct salary amounts.

“Rule number one is to never give a number answer to questions like, ‘What salary are you looking for?’” Kammer said. “The chance that the number you say is what they’re looking for is zilch. If you give too low of a number then the conversation stops there. They’ve got you.”

Be Gracious for Any Number

Regardless of the initial salary offer they give, always express interest, even if it barely covers your rent. As a new prospect, you never want to come off as ungrateful or just plain rude.

“The second [most important thing] is about emotion and approach — being positive and respectful,” Charlop said.  “Many people who are unskilled see negotiation as an adversarial point – like taking a hard stand. Seek to understand their world and the parameters they are working within.”

Take Time to Think

It’s okay not to immediately scream, “I’ll take it!” Don’t rush into anything if you aren’t sure. Politely ask if you can review the offer in writing instead. Or ask to take some time to consider the offer. In most cases, they’ll respect that you took it seriously.

“You can say things like, ‘I’m so appreciative of the offer and I’m thrilled about the possibility of working with you,’” Charlop said. “‘But like all good business decisions, may I ask for a reasonable time to review? What is your time frame for acceptance?’ Typically that can range from a few days to a week.”

Do Your Research

We’ve gone through years of school, so we know better than to walk into any negotiation blind (like when you persuade professors to round up that 89.8). Go ahead and look up the typical salary range for your job position and compare it to the one you were offered.

“It’s important to do your research,” certified career coach Hallie Crawford said. “See what the going rate in your industry is for your area so you know how much you should be making. Indeed.com and glassdoor.com have good salary research.”

Time to Work It 

After spending your weekend reviewing the package and researching salary ranges, go back to discuss whether you want to join the company or not. Explain that you’re thrilled to actually have a job offer, but you’d like to know if there’s any wiggle room in the salary. It’s a simple yes or no for the employers to answer. If they say yes, start explaining why you deserve a fatter check. Sell yourself in the best way.

“If they do the research, they can start at any level,” Kammer said. “They are young, excited, beautiful youth with great computer skills and can sell that in negotiating.”

If your employer denied the salary increase, then don’t get discouraged. It’s still up to you whether or not that tiny office is worth it. If you do accept, your new employer already knows that you’re a skillful communicator and you mean business.

“Keep building your negotiation muscle,” Charlop said. “You won’t get everything you want every time. But if you stay smart, practice and build that muscle you will ultimately win more than you lose – just by smart asking. Over time, it will add up to significant dollars in growth over the career span.”

Check out 10 more tips for how to negotiate your best salary

Written by Laura Smythe

Whether your degree already rests in the palms of your hands or you can practically see the end of your last college semester, you have likely begun your job search. From stocking your professional wardrobe to rehearsing interview questions until you mumble answers in your sleep, the stress seems endless. Not to mention, once you get offered a job, how do you ensure the sweetest deal possible? Negotiating your salary ranks just as important as landing a job itself.

“Negotiating your first salary with an employer is arguably the most important as it sets the tone for how you value yourself and the contribution you can make,” said Jennifer McDermott, consumer advocate for finder.com. You just spent at least four years grinding away to get your degree. Make sure to let your confidence shine through in negotiations and value yourself enough to ask for the starting salary you deserve.

1. Be Conversational, Not Confrontational

If Mr. Potential Employer gives you a salary offer you don’t agree with, open a casual conversation. Kindly ask him to walk you through the process with which he came up with that amount so you can understand how the company looks at you as a candidate. “Always realize it doesn’t hurt to ask, but ask in a thoughtful way,” said Karen Demmler, a career coach in the Temple University Career Center. This way, the company explains to you what skills they value when coming up with a number and you can see their point of view. After hearing their side, explain your position. Tell them why the offer might not work for your financial situation. Keep things light: The company has invested a lot of time and effort into selecting you for the position. They don’t want to start over from scratch with someone else.

2. Know Your Target Range

The job market already teems with competition. Don’t sell yourself short. Instead, do your research and come up with a target salary range. The bottom of your range should be the salary you can afford to make, the middle should be what you feel comfortable making and the high end should be the amount you’d immediately accept. When a company asks your ideal salary, place the middle of your salary range at the bottom of your requested range. “It’s a lot easier to accept a salary than negotiate one, but you have to be practiced and prepared to get the number that you want,” Demmler said. For example, if you major in public relations and would feel comfortable with a $55,000 salary, let your company know you envision making between $55,000 and $60,000 per year. That way, you won’t settle for less than you deserve.

When formulating your salary range, also take into account how much it will cost to live comfortably in the city you’ll call your new stomping ground. The price for making yourself at home in New York City will differ greatly from how much you’ll shell out in Des Moines, Iowa.

3. Put a Price on the Overall Experience

Just because you just graduated college and want to get your career rolling doesn’t mean you should accept an offer with a decent salary that will make you miserable in other respects. City life versus rural life, proximity to loved ones and where you envisioned starting your life when you were six-years-old all play into whether you should accept a job offer. Building a happy life doesn’t mean solely considering salary and benefits.

Maybe you’ve always envisioned yourself living in Portland, Oregon, but haven’t yet sprung out of Philadelphia. Or maybe you just want to live a little closer to your brother and your new niece. “There’s nothing wrong with incorporating those [aspects], but you just have to make sure you’re giving [them] the right weight,” Demmler said. Solicit advise from your friendly college career center staff before accepting an offer. They can help you lay out whether a position across the country merits a move by looking at the pros and cons in an unbiased way.

4. Don’t Push

The key to successful negotiation lies in not letting fear stop you from asking for what you want, but you also need to make sure you don’t cross the line. “You cannot negotiate everything. It would leave a sour taste in the mouth of your new employer,” said Gordon College finance professor Alexander Lowry. Rank the items you care most about and start with the highest item you can get the most from.

Once you’ve negotiated your top items, stop asking. No need to wring your future company dry before your first day. “You don’t want to be fearful of negotiation, but once you get that sign to stop you should take heed,” Demmler said. Doing this will also help you come off as someone with great flexibility—a quality that will shine through as an asset to your new boss. If your negotiated offer still doesn’t make you squeal with delight, table the discussion by asking politely if you can discuss a performance-based bonus down the road (just make sure it ends up in writing).

5. Consider the Long Term

Most of the time, you won’t get your dream salary and benefits package fresh out of college. But accepting a position with a company might present you with other valuable opportunities for career advancement. Maybe the company chasing after you has a great reputation in your industry and offers tons of potential for career advancement. Or maybe what a potential company lacks in salary they make up for in a matching 401k plan and ample hands-on experience.

Instead of basing an offer solely on the salary, consider where you’d like to go long term in your field. Accepting a slightly lower offer with comprehensive health care, mentoring and internal promotion might just prove your best move. “Be creative when you negotiate. People always go right for the salary raise, but it’s short-term thinking,” said founder and CEO of EMinei Consulting Dr. Elizabeth Minei.

6. Don’t Let Fear Stop You from Asking for a Better Deal

Dreaming of extra sick days, prolonged vacation time and an irresistible signing bonus? Unfortunately, many items on your list might not budge, even if you negotiate like a champ. But that doesn’t mean you can’t try. Aim for a fair starting salary that will allow you to live your desired lifestyle (within reason), but if you run out of wiggle room in the salary, don’t hesitate to ask if you can open up negotiation on other fronts.

“Starting salaries are generally not negotiable, so seeing if you can add in other benefits that are not monetary could make the offer enticing,” said co-founder of career coaching service Early Stage Careers Jill Tipograph. See if you can amp up those non-financial benefits. Ask about tuition reimbursement, career training, paid transit or working part-time from home to see if anything can sweeten a less-than-stellar salary.

7. Let the Employer Take the Lead

Once you’ve done sufficient research and have your salary range and target compensation in mind, show your hand strategically. Play coy with your ideal number. “Above all else, I recommend that the student does not name a number to the employer, primarily because the first person to name the number loses,’” Minei said. If the company asks you during an interview what salary you seek, let them know you’d like to get further in the interview process before disclosing potential numbers.

Place the responsibility on the company and inquire what salary range they envision. Once they disclose a range, let them know the amount falls near the range you are considering. Don’t pinpoint your number too early. “As with your salary itself, you should never be the first to mention salary and benefits during the interview. Any discussion about salary should be about your total compensation,” said Theresa Hoffman, account coordinator at Dick Jones Communication. Also, feel free to ask what the former employee in the open position made. Ultimately, the job should feel as good a fit for you as it does for the company.

8. Know Your Reasons

Having justification for your requests ready to roll off your tongue will help you land the salary you seek. Prepare to explain what you want, why you want it and how it will benefit the company. If you request extra moving time to relocate to a new city, let the employer know this will help you show up on day one well energized and ready to go. Delve into your wealth of experiences and explain what makes you the most-qualified candidate for the job. “Whenever you negotiate your salary, you need to understand what value you bring to the employer,” said University of Nort Georgia, Gainesville internship coordinator Lori Cleymans. If you have a high-demand degree, special certifications or work or internship experience that sets you apart from the crowd, vocalize it. If you don’t advocate for yourself, no one else will.

9. Understand the Ins and Outs

To avoid confusion later on, make sure you fully understand your offer before accepting it. This means a crystal-clear salary as well as specifics on when you’ll get bonuses, your pay schedule and what taxes and benefits will come out of your salary. Understanding these details will ensure you don’t come up short when you have to pay bills a month after starting your new gig. $50,000 a year before taxes means something completely different than $50,000 a year after taxes.

10. Make Realistic and Data-Driven Requests

Hold off on filling your wardrobe with a different pair of Yeezys for every day of the week just yet. Requesting a crazy salary fresh out of college won’t help you land the position you want. Understand what your requests truly mean. If a company offers you a $50,000 starting salary and you ask for $60,000, that equals a 20 percent increase. A typical yearly salary increase falls between two and three percent, so you inherently just asked for the equivalent of two promotions. Your company (especially startups or smaller businesses) likely can’t accommodate that. “Be ambitious, but realistic about what you ask for, and always back up your request with data about the company, the job title and the role’s responsibilities, not second-hand knowledge you’ve heard from friends or family,” Tipograph said.

Also, don’t assume telling a company their offer falls lower than average will work. Instead, do some detailed research on sites like Payscale and Glassdoor to come up with detailed insight on how a company’s offer compares to those made by similar companies. That research will help you articulate and justify your rationale for requesting a higher salary.

**Updated on April 23, 2018 to include list items 11–20 by Laura Smythe.

I am a sophomore, Journalism major at the University of Georgia. I enjoy spending time with family, reading, shopping, hanging with friends, and creating amazing memories.

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