How to Negotiate Your Salary as a Recent Grad

Some jobs require you to negotiate your salary, which can be nerve-wracking for a recent grad. Here are some tips for your first salary negotiation.

As a recent grad, you’re probably ready for a “real” job post-school. However, once you start the process, you might find yourself in a situation that involves salary negotiation.

Some jobs post a salary that you can choose to take or leave. Others require you to negotiate your price. That can be a nerve-wracking experience. 

If you’re a recent grad, here are some things you can do as you enter your first salary negotiation.

Prepare ahead of time

First of all, it’s important to note that you might end up in an entry-level position since you’re just finishing school and starting your first job. There are some things you can do, though, to make the most of your salary negotiation.

Research your position and pay

Start by reviewing what someone with your skills, education and experience can expect to receive for your position. Your college career center should help you set expectations based on your major and an internship or other experience that you might have had while in school.

Websites such as Payscale can also help you get a feel for what to expect in your position. Consider searching average salaries for your role in the area where you’re applying. Pay isn’t always just about work and experience; sometimes it’s about location as well.

Build your case 

You need to communicate your value during a salary negotiation. Before you have your meeting, make sure you’re ready with important information about why you’re worth the pay. If you have some concrete examples of the value you’ve provided in past jobs or internships, this is a great time to share that information.

Focus on the skills you bring to the table as well as your past accomplishments. Researching the company ahead of time can be helpful since it will help you understand the company’s needs and you can show how your experience and skills are well suited to meet the needs of the company.

Be ready with an exact number

After all of your research, you should be ready to provide an exact number. Research from the Columbia Business School indicates that you should avoid suggesting a range. Instead, by pinpointing a salary number, such as $63,450, you create a powerful anchor that offers the impression that you’ve done the legwork to arrive at this conclusion. If you can back the number up with information about similar salaries for the position and showcase your experience and skills, you’re more likely to get an offer closer to what you ask for.`

Realize, though, that you might not get the salary you ask for. It’s a negotiation, so the employer will likely counter your salary request. Start by asking for more than you want so that the final number is likely to be closer to your preference. Additionally, know how low you’re willing to go and at what point you’ll walk away.

During the salary negotiation

While you’re actually in the negotiation, it’s essential to pay attention to how you’re reacting and take some steps to ensure that you’re ready to go. Proper preparation can help because it provides you with a basis for confidence. However, there are a few things you can do to enhance your negotiation technique.

Enter the room confidently

Walk into the room with good posture and a smile. When you enter confidently, you give a good impression of yourself as competent and confident. Practice a confident pose in the mirror ahead of time. Also make sure that your clothes reflect the office’s environment and that you look like you already fit into the culture.

Ask questions

Find out what the company is looking for and its biggest priorities. Before throwing out a number, you want to show that you’re interested in meeting the company’s needs. By asking these questions, you set yourself up as someone who can run diagnostics and meet a need. 

You can also get an idea of the company’s needs and understand your potential boss’s priorities, which can help you showcase what you bring of value. When you can demonstrate an ability to meet a need, you’re more likely to get a higher salary offer.

Remain polite but firm

It’s possible to be polite and firm during a salary negotiation. As you move forward with negotiations, pay attention to your body language and maintain a confident yet nonthreatening demeanor. Speak politely but remain firm on the value you bring to the table.

Consider the benefits package

Sometimes compensation isn’t just about the salary. Your total package can make a difference. If you have a generous retirement match and good insurance, it might be worth accepting a smaller wage. Think about the type of compensation you receive — from paid time off to flexible hours — to figure out the worth of the total package.

What if you don’t get the salary you want?

Sometimes, as a recent grad, you’re kind of stuck getting what you can land. As a result, you might need to take steps to get your dollars to stretch further. Here are some things you can do:

  • Income-driven repayment: If you can’t afford your federal student loan payments, income-driven repayment can help. Your payments are reduced so you can better afford them. After you move on to another job with a better salary, you can get off income-driven repayment.
  • Student loan refinancing: Sometimes, it makes sense to refinance to a lower monthly payment and interest rate. Refinancing with an organization such as Juno can improve your cash flow while saving you money over time. When you refinance student loans, though, it’s important to consider the consequences. Refinancing federal loans means a loss of federal benefits. Sometimes, it makes sense to use income-driven repayment for federal loans while you refinance private loans.
  • Deferment and forbearance: You might also be able to pause your payments for a set period if you can’t afford them. That can come with additional fees, though, so be careful.

Bottom line

Salary negotiation can be complex. However, if you prepare ahead of time and practice, you’re more likely to see an offer that makes sense for you and provides you with satisfactory compensation.

Miranda Marquit
Written By
Miranda Marquit

Miranda has 10+ years of experience covering financial markets for various online and offline publications, including contributions to Marketwatch, NPR, Forbes, FOX Business, Yahoo Finance, and The Hill. She is the co-host of the Money Tree Investing podcast and she has a Master of Arts in Journalism from Syracuse University

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