Summer jobs and internships can help you sharpen your interview skills, but when it comes to negotiating your first salary, there aren’t many dress rehearsals. Entry-level positions often have set pay scales, but it’s still wise to prepare yourself for the conversation, says Jill Tipograph, cofounder of Early Stage Careers, a career guidance firm that works with recent college graduates.
“One of the toughest things first-time graduates have to do in terms of getting a job is talking about salary,” she says. “They’re often so focused on making sure it’s the right job, culture, and growth opportunity that they’re not ready to approach the subject of money.”
Talking about money can also make you feel uncomfortable, says Tipograph. “That opens up Pandora’s box,” she says. “If you have anxiety around the topic, you can ruin an opportunity or show a side of yourself that won’t be accurate on the job. You might leave an impression you didn’t intend.”
Before you get an offer, it’s important to do your due diligence. Here are some things to consider.
The first step is finding out the going rate for your position, location, and company, says Tipograph. She recommends using the website Payscale.com, which allows you to enter variables and receive a salary range for your job. Glassdoor also provides good insight on salary.
“Knowledge is power,” Tipograph says. “When you select a college, you prepare by taking a tour, reaching out to professors, talking to other students and more, so you know what to expect and if there’s interest. You need to do the same with a job.”
In a first job, career growth can be more important than salary, and it helps to think about a first job in terms of what you will learn, says Dana White, author of Leader Designed: Become the Leader You Were Made to Be.
“You spend most of your life working,” she says. “Experience helps you evolve as an individual. Your first job will give you entrance into a network. Choose the right one, and you’ll never have to look for another job; you’ll get introduced to them through your network.”
Tipograph suggests that candidates evaluate a job’s potential offer by asking these questions:
- What is the trajectory if I start in this position?
- What might my next position be, presuming I earn the opportunity?
- What would that role’s responsibilities be?
- When might that promotion occur?
- How often will I be reviewed?
The answers to these questions will help you better evaluate the salary offer: “If you won’t get a review for two years and the salary is lower than you think it should be, it’s good to know this before you accept a job,” she says.
Once you’ve done your homework and evaluated the opportunity, it’s possible to ask for more money if the offer doesn’t fit. If the salary is below the market range, for example, White suggests asking, “Can you tell me why your offer is lower than other companies? Are there skills or responsibilities that aren’t required with this job that are in another?”
The company may have a valid reason for offering less. If not, you will demonstrate that you’ve done your homework, and it may or may not result in a higher offer.
Your negotiating leverage will also depend on where you fit in the marketplace, says White. Did you go to graduate school? Is your degree from an esteemed college? Did you graduate with honors? Do you have a unique skill set?
“These things can translate into a higher salary, but the onus is on the applicant to demonstrate why they’re worthy of more,” she says. “You don’t have salary history or work experience; you have to prove why you should get more.”
When you ask for more money, present it in terms of the value-add you bring to the company, says White. If you’re familiar with a new type of technology, for example, mention that the company will save time and resources because they won’t have to train you.
“Millennials are often labeled as being entitled, and you want to be sure you don’t look at your desire for more money as the employer’s problem,” she says. “The employer doesn’t care about your rent. You have to do better than that. Always come from the angle of the value you bring.”
Instead of negotiating a higher salary, you may have better luck asking for non-financial benefits, such as training, paid transit, or more vacation that can translate into better compensation by saving you money.
“A lot of people forget to ask for these things,” says White. “Know what’s important to you, such as tuition reimbursement or a Metro Card, and put those things on the table. If you don’t know what’s possible, ask, ‘Are there any other benefits you can offer?’ Some companies are creative and offer one-day telecommuting. That will save you gas, time, energy, and dry cleaning. It can add up.”
If the offer is not right, move on. “It is not good to take a job offer that you instinctively feel is not right,” says Tipograph. “It will likely lead to you leaving after a short time. There will be another offer; don’t fall to the anxiety of taking the first job if it’s not a fit.”
While it’s more acceptable to job hop than it used to be, Tipograph says it’s good to look for an opportunity where you want to stay for at least two years. “If you ask questions up front, you’ll find a better match,” she says.
People get stuck on money, says White. “If the experience is going to be so phenomenal and more marketable in the future, it may be worth taking,” she says. “Never chase money; chase opportunities. There comes a time when it has to be about what makes you happy.”