The job market has been so disappointing for so many years that many new grads are simply happy for a job — any job that pays. This reality is reflected in the current pay that many college grads can expect to see. Right now, reports the Economic Policy Institute, new grads are earning less for their first jobs than new grads did 15 years ago.
You can buck the trend, though, by negotiating your first salary. Many grads are reluctant to negotiate salary, but the reality is that you won’t get what you don’t ask for. Simply negotiating your salary at your first job after graduation can mean an extra $500,000 over your lifetime by some estimates.
The benefits of negotiating your salary are twofold:
You earn more: The immediate and obvious benefit is that you earn more — about $5,000 more a year, or a little more than $400 extra per month. To someone who’s used to making a college budget stretch, that extra $400 per month can be a big deal.
You position yourself for better bonuses and pay later: Pay, benefits and bonuses for future jobs are all based on your starting salary. You’re often asked what you made at your last job, and bonuses might be based on a percentage of your salary. The higher your starting salary, the higher your jumping-off platform for the future.
As you prepare to enter the workforce, here are 5 tips for negotiating your first salary:
#1 Know When It’s Appropriate
Realize that not every job is going to be open for salary negotiation. Some jobs, like those in the government, have very structured pay scales. You can’t negotiate those. Additionally, if you are applying for a job in which there are large numbers of applicants and roles aren’t very diverse, you might not have bargaining power. That cashier job you take out of desperation isn’t going to have room for negotiation. You are most likely to have success negotiating when you have a specific role to fill, and when you are doing some type of specialized work.
#2 Research Pay for the Position
Understand what people with your experience level and education are making in your area. You can’t base a salary negotiation in a mid-sized Midwestern town on what someone in New York City is making. Know what is normal for where you are at, and make sure that you also highlight any extra experience you have. If you’ve completed an internship during college, you have hands-on experience that can give you an edge over someone with just the education — and it can be a justification for better pay.
#3 Understand the Company Needs
You need to be able to present yourself as what the company wants and needs. You can’t just focus on what you want to be paid in a salary negotiation. You have to be able to show that you can provide what the company needs — and that you are worth the higher price.
#4 Try to Put Off Salary Negotiation
Do your best to put of the salary negotiation until after you have the job offer. You don’t want your salary to become the deal-breaker for your employment. Also, try to encourage the employer to throw out the first number. That way, you have a better idea of what to expect in terms of pay. If you are pressed into revealing your desired pay, try to give a range, rather than a single dollar figure.
#5 Don’t Forget to Include Benefits
Perhaps you won’t get higher pay, but benefits can be quite important. You might be able to negotiate more vacation days or some other perks. Don’t forget that an employer match for your retirement account can be extremely valuable over time, as can a great health plan. Even being able to negotiate more flexible hours or a certain amount of telecommuting can be a good solution. Think out of the box and consider different package scenarios that go beyond just money.
By Miranda Marquit, Staff Writer