The Careful Art of Negotiating Your First Salary

by Kristen Hamilton

Negotiating Your First Salary

Salary negotiation is always challenging, but it’s especially intimidating for young grads starting their careers. Any how-to on salary negotiation will advise you to use your skills and experience as leverage. So, how do you make a strong case for yourself when you don’t have a lot of ammunition?

First of all – do negotiate. Some studies have shown that negotiating a few-thousand dollars more can add up to one million more in total earnings over the course of your career. Here’s my advice for young job-seekers on keeping their negotiation tactics professional, friendly, data-driven, and timely when they receive their first offer.

  1. Be enthusiastic. Even if the offer is lower than you expected, an offer is an offer. Always be gracious and express excitement before you begin to discuss details.

  2. Unless it’s the most perfect offer ever, don’t feel the need to accept (or negotiate) right away. Even if pushed to accept, ask to review the offer in writing if you’d like more time. It’s important to be able to weigh your options and do some research on how the offer stacks up. That being said, don’t take too much time. They have a job they need to fill.

  3. Do use the offer call (or email) to ask about benefits in addition to salary. When you’re doing your research after the call, make sure you know a typical salary benefits range. A full-time, but hourly gig might not come with benefits, whereas some of the best companies provide benefits that end up being worth 50% of your salary. Consider your entire package.

  4. Speaking of the whole package – look at vacation time, moving allowance, and signing bonus. It’s not typical for entry-level employees to be offered all of these, but it’s important to know if any are not included, as you may be able to negotiate these into your offer. Plus, moving bonuses are definitely worth bringing up if you’re moving to a new city.

  5. Be prompt. Once you’ve researched, respond quickly. Email is your friend. It allows you to collect your thoughts, craft ideal responses and put your best foot forward during the negotiation.

  6. Lead with enthusiasm. You’re still interested in the job and want to make it work. Then, bring up what you want to discuss.

    • If you’re going to ask for something, be prepared to explain what you want, why you want it, and if possible, how it will benefit the company. Example: “I’d like to start on X instead of the Y as I would benefit from some extra moving time and then be able to start with all of my energy focused on learning the job.”

    • If you’re going to ask for more money, don’t assume that saying their offer is lower than the average will work. Compliment your research with an explanation of what you want and why. Take the Job Offer survey on PayScale for detailed insight into how this offer compares to similar ones. This will allow you to justify your rationale for a higher salary. It is important to be data driven when negotiating.

    • Be thoughtful about what you ask. I’ve seen someone who was offered a $50,000 salary ask for $60,000. That’s a 20 percent increase. When you consider that a typical yearly increase is between two and three percent, and promotions are typically are usually between eight and 12 percent, that person essentially asked for the equivalent of two promotions. (Remember, be data driven!) 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.

    • Accept or Decline. At some point, you’re going to either have to accept or decline. Show either positive enthusiasm or that you’re grateful for the offer. If it’s not going to work for you, it’s not going to work for you. Bow out with grace. You don’t want to close off an opportunity for them to come back with another offer.

Kristen Hamilton

About the Author
Kristen Hamilton is CEO of Koru, a Seattle-based company that provides career training and coaching to recent college grads. Before serving as Koru’s CEO, Kristen worked as COO of a global non-profit, launched mobile media devices for a Fortune 100 company, and helped take Onvia, which she co-founded, public.

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