New Graduates Guide to Negotiating Salary

The thought of negotiating salary is often daunting for many jobseekers. Many unemployed jobseekers feel that landing a job at “any salary is better than no salary.” Depending on your employer, salary ranges are often set by job classifications and while there is some room to negotiate, the range can be rather narrow, especially for entry level positions.

1. When to Talk About Salary

It’s generally acceptable to begin a conversation about salary at the end of the interview process, which could be the first or second in-person interview. You want your potential employer to have enough time to get to know you, so that your skills, degree and experience can be factored into the job offer and appropriate compensation. If an interviewer brings up the topic of salary requirements early, you would want to have at least thought about the salary range and may want to ask further questions. If you aren’t sure about whether the job is the right fit or want additional time to think about salary you might provide vague responses to salary questions, such as “I’m sure we can come to an understanding on salary” or “salary is negotiable.”

In many positions for new graduates, the entry level salary is posted on the job listing. This is often the case because an employer has assessed the job requirements against comparable market rates for that job. For the most part, compensation for jobs at this level do not change significantly from what is posted. If you are made a job offer, you can ask the interviewer further questions about the posted salary and highlight your skills and experience during these discussions.

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2. How to Increase Your Salary

Negotiating your starting salary upward increases your earnings immediately. Once you are hired, it will take time to prove yourself before you get a raise. New graduates who are successful at negotiating their initial salary are able to benefit from increased wages until they are able to earn their next raise, bonus or promotion.

During the interview process, make sure you communicate all of the things that are going to make you worth your salary. Maybe you are willing to work long hours, travel or you have learned special or rare skills (like software programs or foreign languages). If your employer feels like they are getting “more for their money,” that might be worth starting you at the higher end of the salary range for the job. If you have had internships or work experiences related to the job opening, be sure to focus on that with your interviewer. Experience in the field could put you ahead of other applicants, or possibly higher pay.

3. Informal Salary Offers

It’s common practice for your future employer to try to solidify salary arrangements before a formal offer is made. Illustrated below are two typical scenarios:

Scenario A – The employer begins discussing salary requirements with you, but hasn’t indicated that the position is yours yet. Note that it’s a good sign that salary is being discussed, but because an offer has not yet been made, you may want to remain noncommittal. Your employer could still be exploring the same possibilities with the other candidates, so you might not want to throw out a definitive salary until an offer is on the table.

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Scenario B – The employer begins discussing salary requirements with you, and indicates that you are going to be selected for the position. While you shouldn’t celebrate just yet (it’s an informal offer), it’s definitely a good time to work on negotiating your salary. You have been selected, so you know that your future employer values your skills and work ethic. You can now be more open about your salary expectations. Your future employer might not be able to meet your requirements, but since they have come this far with you, they may try harder to accommodate your salary requirements.

4. Multiple Job Offers

Negotiating salary becomes so much easier when you have other options. Work hard during your initial job search to land as many interviews at multiple companies during the same time period. With more than one offer, you can now compare the offers based on work environment and compensation. Securing multiple job offers gives new graduates confidence in attempting to negotiate on salary. Be flexible when negotiating. While salary is important, there may be other things that can be negotiated that would compensate for a lower salary at one company, such as better benefits or higher employer paid health care costs.

Once you receive salary offers from both companies, it is completely acceptable to ask a company to match or beat another company’s offer. Keep in mind that they don’t have to do so, but if they want you to work there they probably will!

5. Formal Salary Offers

Your future employer will send you a formal offer of employment, which will include salary and other compensation information. Once you reach this stage, the salary and general compensation for the position you were offered should not be a surprise since you would have discussed this informally during the interview. When you receive the formal offer, you have the option of accepting the terms offered to you, usually by signing and returning the formal offer. If the terms are not what you expected, contact your potential employer to discuss this further. Here are several examples of things a jobseeker could say in this situation:

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“I appreciate the opportunity you have given me to work at XYZ Company. I received the offer of employment, and I was hoping we could discuss the compensation….

Then provide a reason why you feel that the salary needs to be adjusted upward:

“The entry level pay for new engineers in my field is $x, which is above the offer you presented me. I was hoping we could discuss coming up to that level.”

Again, keep in mind that the employer may not be able to accommodate your salary requests (or may not want to). If an employer is unable to meet your salary requests, make sure you talk to them about future growth and earnings potential. If raises are given once per year, you might be willing to accept the salary offered to you. Good Luck!