Securing that very first job right out of college is an exciting time for any new graduate. This means you've successfully navigated the job search and interview process and your potential employer has deemed your talents fit for the position. Although this is time to celebrate, there's still one last hurdle standing between you and this next phase of your life--deciding on your starting salary.
Though many newcomers to the job market hesitate to ask for a higher salary, discussing your compensation is actually a normal--and generally expected--part of the interview process. In fact, employers will often have more respect for you, as long you approach the situation professionally.
Consider these tips before you sign on the dotted line:
1. Know your worth to the company and the industry.
As a new graduate in a tough market, it's easy to feel as though you should take whatever offer comes your way. But similar to any seasoned professional, you also have a wealth of experience to draw from, such as past internships, campus involvement and volunteer opportunities.
Research what others in your industry are making, says Meghan Godorov, career services director at Mount Holyoke College. She suggests looking at data from sites such as the Wage Project, NACE Salary Guide, Salary.com, and Glassdoor. "Compare ranges and definitely use tools on these sites that allow you to break it down by location and decipher cost of living expenses, including taxes."
2. Consider the total offer, not just yearly wage.
When trying to determine whether you should spend time negotiating your salary offer, consider the additional benefits available to you, such as overtime pay, educational services, signing bonuses, and health or retirement plans.
With the additional benefits tacked on to your yearly compensation, you might not feel the need to ask for a higher salary. But Patty Bishop, director of career development at St. Mary's College, urges students to "think beyond just base salary; consider negotiating a signing bonus, negotiate a shorter frame for a performance review, moving expenses, tuition reimbursement, and paid vacation." Being offered better benefits could be an even bigger help than simply a higher salary.
3. Research what you'll need to earn to pay for your expenses.
According to Michael Pennington, assistant director of career services at Juniata College, job seekers should keep in mind cost adjustments they may have to make to live in their desired city. For example, you may need to earn a higher base pay for an entry-level job living in New York City than you would for the same position in a smaller town.
For more information on what it will cost to live in your desired city, check out NerdWallet's cost of living calculator.
4. Map your strengths to the responsibilities of the position.
Identify the key responsibilities of the position and what skill sets will help you achieve success in the role. This preparation "will help affirm your worth," Godorov says, as well as why you're asking for a higher salary.
Discuss your strengths to negotiate compensation based on your level of skills and past experiences--what is called merit pay and performance pay, adds Pennington. The more you can show your skills are an asset to the company and should be rewarded with higher pay, the more likely you are to convince your potential employer to extend a better offer.
5. Request extra time to consider the proposal.
It can be tempting to accept an offer on the spot--especially if this is the offer you've been waiting for--but consider mulling over the terms before you sign on the dotted line.
According to Jennifer Whitten, graduate career services director at Arizona State University's Carey School of Business, "if you accept before agreeing on a salary, you might not be happy with the final amount, and that puts you in an uncomfortable position, since you have already committed to the role."
Postponing your final decision also gives you more time to gather your thoughts instead of trying to negotiate on the spot. For best practice, Godorov says, "always thank [the employer] for their offer and be prepared to ask for some time to consider the offer and review its terms. If they are offering you a contract, you want to fully understand its terms before signing it."
6. Ask, don't demand.
"One technique that seems to work in salary negotiations is to ask for things as a question rather than a demand, since it avoids the potential for sounding arrogant," Bishop says.
Bishop gives an example: "'I'm delighted that you are interested in me and I am very interested in the position and believe I could contribute to the organization, but I have several other opportunities that are in the $50k range, is there a way we could work this out?'"
Pennington advises an even simpler tactic to approach the situation: "Tell the truth." If you think you should be earning more than what is offered, being frank about your intentions might yield the best results.
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