Posted May 18, 2015 by

A Graduate’s Guide to Negotiating Your First Salary

Smiling woman having job interviews and receiving portfolios

Smiling woman having job interviews and receiving portfolios. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

Congratulations! Whether you’ve just graduated or you’ve had a couple months to contemplate the degree you’ve earned, completing a college career is no small task. And for many, it’s just the kind of warm-up you need for a successful job search. In my years counseling young professionals, I’ve helped many prepare for every step of their journey in landing the career they love. That’s formed the basis for this negotiation guide:

Understand the hiring process. After years of navigating the halls of academia, the hiring process can appear daunting. Take a little time before you interview with a company to build a general understanding of the process: how long the application window is open, what steps are involved for screening potential candidates, and any expected timeframe the company wants to conduct its interviews. This helps set expectations for how long a company’s process is expected to take. As a result, you can focus more on your skills and unique qualifications when you sit down across the table from your prospective future boss. It also helps you understand where there are opportunities to negotiate.

Understand the benefits landscape. This is perhaps the least interesting part of a job search, but it’s just a homework assignment in the end. Educate yourself on the ins and outs of various 401K and health care plans before you begin your meetings. This will help you better measure the true value of the benefits for employees of this company. A simple matter of how they contribute to your retirement savings can make a big difference to the long-term value of your compensation package.

Before you negotiate, make sure you have the job. No successful candidate ever started a preliminary interview by outlining their wage requirements or benefits questions. That only shows the hiring manager that you’re less interested in how you can help the company – and more interested in how you can help yourself. Jumping into negotiating your benefits during the preliminary interview indicates to the hiring manager that you’re not concerned with the right things – namely, how you can help the company. Once you progress past the initial interview, wait until you’re either in the final interview or receiving the job offer to ask for a benefits summary.

Comparison is key. A job offer is more than the salary. It includes health care, vacation time, sometimes tuition reimbursement, professional development, retirement account contributions, and more. When you receive your offer, take into account the value of all benefits including the salary.

If you are in a position of power, use it. What is a “position of power”? If you have a couple other offers on the table, or if you possess especially valuable skills or experiences, you are in a position to negotiate for greater compensation– whether additional vacation time, home office expenses, or even subsidies to cover dues for related professional organizations.

When you negotiate, consider how your requests fit the company’s culture. A collaborative conversation, with carefully-worded requests, can help you change your compensation or benefits. While they’re excited to get you in the door, there is still the expectation that you will embrace their work culture…not fight it.

Ask for more money only if you can justify it. In larger companies, there’s a pretty defined range for a starting salary. But if you think you deserve more money, do your homework. Research reputable sources to understand what a fair compensation is for the kind of work they want you to do. Don’t make this personal: a hiring manager doesn’t care about the size of your student loan debt or other financial pressures. And these are not justifications for more money. Another equally-qualified candidate may not make the same request, but may accept their job offer.

Throughout the interviewing and negotiating process, what is most critical is a continued awareness of what’s important to you as an employee, how much you value yourself, and what you can expect from an employer. Negotiation of a job offer may not give you everything you want, but until you ask you may never know.

By Tara Wyborny, Genesis10

Tara Wyborny is recruiting lead for the G10 Associates program at Genesis10 – http://www.genesis10.com/associates-program/about/. In this role, she recruits college students and recent college graduates for business analysis, project management, instructional design and IT consulting roles.

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