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How To Negotiate Your Salary When You Have No Obvious Leverage

Just because you’re a recent college grad or a career changer doesn’t mean you can’t ask for a pay bump.

How To Negotiate Your Salary When You Have No Obvious Leverage
[Source photo: ieang/iStock]

If there’s one thing that’s arguably more nerve-wracking than a job interview, it’s negotiating your salary. And if you’re a recent graduate or someone who wants to change careers, the stakes can feel even higher. How are you supposed to convince someone you’re worth more when you have next to no experience?

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When you’re just starting out you might feel like you have to accept the first offer, but if you do you’re doing yourself a massive financial disservice. As Fast Company‘s Lydia Dishman reports in a previous story, not negotiating your starting salary can set you back more than $500,000 by the time you reach 60. It’s also common practice for companies to lowball initial offers, because they expect that jobseekers will negotiate.

Jacqueline Twillie, negotiation trainer and author of Navigating The Career Jungle: A Guide For Young Professionals,  recommends taking these steps below to put yourself in the stronger position possible:

Talk To Members Of Professional Associations Of Your Target Industry

Almost every article on salary negotiation will tell you that the first step of negotiating is to do your research, starting with finding out the market value of your position. Glassdoor and Google are great tools, but to be truly prepared, Twillie advises that jobseekers shouldn’t stop there.

I tell people to speak with someone in professional associations. Those folks normally have their ear to the ground,” she says. Instead of asking “how much do you make?,” however, Twillie suggests that jobseekers should frame their question in the following way: “I’m considering this position in this city, and I’m thinking my value is $86,500, what do you think?” 

You can get a much more accurate picture this way. Noting the gender wage gap, Twillie also recommends that jobseekers speak with both men and women. “We know women get paid less than men,” so don’t just ask the women in the industry, she warns. 


Related: The Gender Pay Gap is Even Worse At The Top

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Treat Your Interview Like A Fill-In-The-Blank Test

Twillie says she tells applicants that when they see a job description, “I tell them to look at it as if it’s a fill-in-the-blank for a test. A lot of the time, it’s not a full picture of what you’d be doing day to day.” She encourages applicants to “generate some questions” and “read between the lines.” For example, if a job description says that in your role, you will get special projects assigned from time to time, you’d want to ask, what kind of special projects? Who are the key partners involved? Depending on the answers you get, you might have some connections that could be a potential partner on that project.

A deep dive into specifics, says Twillie, allows you to have a range of leveraging options that might not immediately be obvious. This is especially useful if you don’t have a lot of industry experience. “Once you finish the interview process, you should have a clear idea of how you can add value to the organization.” She suggests that candidates start preparing by using this information and asking themselves, “how can I leverage my network or my skills?” Having clear answers to these questions will help you a great deal come negotiation time.  

Use The STAR Method To Highlight Your Experience

When talking about their experiences, Twillie is a big fan of the STAR method–situation or task, action, and result. Say the interviewer throws you a question about encountering conflicts in a team environment, and you wanted to use the example of working on a group project in your sophomore year of college. Describe the project and the circumstances that led to the conflict, the actions you took to resolve the conflicts and the result. This is a great formula to show that you do have experience that is relevant to the job, even if it doesn’t seem like it.

For career changers and those who’ve held part-time jobs, Twillie also recommends mentioning numbers and tangible results–whether it’s sales figures, or a percentage value. Make sure to mention what you learned from your experience and how you might apply that learning to the position you’re interviewing for. That tells them that you “have a great track record of learning and growing,” Twillie says, and that you possess the foresight to apply real-life learnings in a real-world situations.


Related: This Is The Stage Of The Hiring Process When Jobseekers Have The Most Leverage 


Show Your Knowledge Of Industry Trends

Even if you don’t have experience in the industry, you can show your value by illustrating your knowledge of the industry. Twillie says that jobseekers should be able to talk about the steps they took to excel working in the role they are interviewing for. One obvious way to show this is to illustrate that you can “speak” the industry. “Show that you’re already deeply immersed knowledge-wise, speak to what’s happening in the new trends,” Twillie urges. 

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Find A Way To Use Your Disadvantage To Your Advantage

Unfortunately, negotiations are fraught with biases, deception, and hidden agendas. If candidates can identify possible biases (whether conscious or unconscious) ahead of time, they can find a way to work around them. Yes, that includes working around inexperience. As Stephanie Vozza wrote in a previous story for Fast Company, it’s all about demonstrating your value to the company. Vozza wrote, “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.”

Practice In A Low-Stakes Situation

If the thought of negotiation makes you drip with sweat, Twillie recommends doing a practice run in low-stakes situations. “For a person who’s uncomfortable negotiating, I advise them to call their recurring monthly bill.” Whether it’s your internet provider or your bank, ask the representatives, “am I getting the best possible rate?” Try to ask for a lower rate, or for additional services at your current rate. 

Elicit Feedback From Friends Who Can Give You A Little Bit Of Tough Love

Lastly, Twillie recommends role-playing with a friend–someone who can hit you with the hard questions, but not be afraid to tell you what you need to improve on. It’s also a great idea to practice with someone who is knowledgeable about the role that you’re applying for.

Twillie also stress the importance of saying your target number out loud. “If you’ve never said $94,000, your voice might crack. Being aware of how you sound is very important in practice. That can make a big difference in $10,000 or $20,000.” To go a step further, she recommends that candidates record their practice negotiations–even film it if they can, so they can get an idea of their body language. 


Related: These Are The Biggest Mistakes People Make During Interviews


As an entry-level candidate or career changer with little obvious leverage, following these tips above will put you in a strong position to ask for a bigger salary. But at end of the day, Twillie says, “negotiation is like a muscle: The more you practice, the better you get.” And yes, sometimes those practice don’t  yield successful results. 

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She tells candidates not to worry too much if they don’t get their desired outcome early on. “Continue to work hard and be diligent, but evaluate what you can do in that situation to continue to grow.” That way, when the next salary negotiation time rolls around, you’ll be armed with a whole lot more leverage than what you started with. 

About the author

Anisa is the Editorial Assistant for Fast Company's Leadership section. She covers everything from personal development, entrepreneurship and the future of work.

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