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How to negotiate the salary at your first job

New grads: Master the skill of salary negotiation with tips from college career counselors.

How to negotiate the salary at your first job

Not sure how to negotiate? Read this for tips.

Money might make the world go ’round, but one thing’s for sure: No one likes talking about it. And negotiating salary? Forget about it. But if you want to get paid what you’re worth so you can afford the little things in life (like rent, car payments, and the other perks of adulting), you’ve got to push past the awkwardness and learn how to negotiate a salary offer.

Yes, salary negotiation is tricky—but necessary. “It’s important to not sell yourself short and miss out on hard-earned money, or over-quote yourself and hurt your chances of landing your dream job,” says Josh Domitrovich, coordinator for career mentoring and internships at Clarion University’s Center for Career and Professional Development.

Negotiating properly can mean the difference of thousands of dollars. The good news is, you don’t have to go it alone. Monster spoke with college counselors to get their best advice for your first salary negotiation.

Know your budget

Sure, everyone wants as high a salary as possible, but realistically, your first full-time job will likely be one of—if not the—lowest-paying full-time jobs of your life. That means you need to be smart about how much you ask for, so, you know, you can have a life, too.

“Aside from researching companies and salaries, you should create a value-based budget,” says Domitrovich. He says to factor in everything from your current rent and school loans, to any relocation costs and other reasonable living expenses. “Your offer needs to cover expenses,” he says, “and without creating a detailed budget, you’re just guessing.”

Understand why the offer is what it is

Think your skills and experiences are worth more than you’ve been offered? Domitrovich recommends asking the company how they came to their offer.

“This is a great way to ensure all your skills and experiences are being taken into consideration,” he says. “If they are not, it’s time to counter.”

For instance, if you’re up for a job, but you’ve had three internships in a similar position and you’ve mastered entry-level skills that other candidates may need to learn on the job, stress how valuable your experience will be to them—you’re ready to go and won’t require basic training.

Consider the whole offer

It’s easy to get deflated (or elated) when you hear the hiring manager throw out a particular salary number, but remember: Job offers are not just about salary. If you’re disappointed by a number and they just won’t budge, that’s when it’s time to hear what else they’re willing to offer—and consider what that might be worth to you in the long run.

“When assessing an offer, it is important to consider all aspects—including benefits like tuition reimbursement, time off, and employer contributions to retirement savings accounts—in addition to the salary figure,” says Vickie Cox-Lanyon, former career services director at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Things like retirement contributions are cash. Tuition reimbursement could mean a much bigger pay bump down the road. Bottom line: Don’t get thrown by the initial number.

Know how location is affecting your salary offer

Location, location, location. When you’re considering an offer, be sure to think of it in the right context. An entry-level salary in New York City can differ wildly from an entry-level salary in a small town. Check Monster's salary page to see what you'd get paid in different locations.

“It’s important for students to look specifically at the salaries of students graduating from their institution, as well as salaries in the geographic location where they are accepting jobs,” says Stephanie Kit, executive director of the Center for Career Development at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. “Salaries can vary tremendously for a number of reasons, so the more specific the comparison, the better.”

Negotiate at the right time

Knowing how to negotiate a salary offer is also a matter of knowing when to do so. Even if you’ve sailed through multiple interviews and it seems like the job is yours, until the company formally offers you the job, don’t try to negotiate the salary.

“Wait until you have an offer in hand and you understand your benefits package,” says Lisa Gavigan, director of career services at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts. “The offer and benefits are often communicated to you by HR personnel. If, at this point, you believe that you should be making a higher salary, present your case based on your education, work accomplishments, skills, and potential.”

Practice your salary pitch

Just like your elevator pitch, your salary pitch will go a lot more smoothly if you practice first. And that’s where your job squad comes in. Practice with your roommates, friends, parents, and of course your college career counselors!

“Once you’ve done your research on comparable salaries and can articulate what you bring to the position, it is time to work on your negotiation skills, and your career services office is the place to do that,” says Kristen McMullen, director of the Student Success Center at the College of Charleston School of Business in Charleston, South Carolina. “We will help you practice responses to employer pushback and help you perfect your pitch.”

Become a better employee

Understanding how to negotiate a salary offer is a vital career lesson. Getting paid a decent salary is one negotiation you'll likely experience a few times, so definitely put the time in to become good at it. And that's not all you'll need to learn how to do to better your career. Could you use some help navigating these uncharted waters? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can get career advice and job search tips sent directly to your inbox. From gaining the trust of the boss to delegating assignments to co-workers on a group project, there are a good number of tricky lessons Monster can break down for you. 

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