How to Negotiate Salary: 4 Essential Tips for College Grads

How to Negotiate Salary: 4 Essential Tips for College Grads
portrait of Ciera Graham, Ph.D.
By Ciera Graham, Ph.D.

Published on May 11, 2021

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When an employer extends a job offer, a compensation and benefits package usually accompanies it, presented either in writing or verbally. Candidates should always negotiate at the time the job is offered — when they have the most competitive edge and leverage.

Studies show that a college degree significantly increases employment prospects and earning potential. Still, for many college graduates and entry-level candidates, negotiating a salary can be frightening. Many candidates believe that they have to accept the first offer or that initiating a conversation about increasing one's salary is inappropriate.

According to research, underrepresented groups are less likely to negotiate their salaries, with women negotiating less often than their male counterparts.

Additionally, biases and discrimination in the workplace serve as barriers for women of color and people with disabilities who try to negotiate their salaries, placing them at a disadvantage and negatively impacting their chances of promotions and advancement.

Many candidates believe that they have to accept the first offer or that initiating a conversation about increasing one’s salary is inappropriate.

Knowing how to negotiate your salary is a skill, and many candidates report that they lack the know-how to do so properly. According to an Indeed survey, more than half (58%) of respondents claim to never negotiate their pay. Choosing not to negotiate your salary can significantly impact your earning potential and can lead to decreased job satisfaction, work-life balance, and overall happiness.

So how do you work with an employer to get the wage you want? Below, we introduce our top four tips for negotiating a salary offer.

4 Salary Negotiation Tips for Recent College Grads

Research Comparable Salaries

When differentiating salaries, employers consider many factors, such as position demand, job requirements (e.g., skills and degrees), and cost of living. You may find that a software engineer makes more money in Silicon Valley than in Columbus, Ohio, due to the former's higher living expenses and greater demand for engineers.

Researching comparable salaries can help you understand your market value as well as how your desired salary aligns with those of similar positions. Tools like the Indeed Salary Calculator, Salary.com, and Buffer can give you a clearer idea of the average pay for a given job.

Researching comparable salaries can help you understand your market value as well as how your desired salary aligns with those of similar positions.

While salary research can serve as a useful baseline, you should also take into account the type of company you're seeking work from. Smaller, lesser-known companies tend to have smaller budgets and less room to negotiate, whereas larger firms often have more flexibility.

As you search for comparable salaries, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. What is the national average salary for this position?
  2. What is the average salary in your geographic location and surrounding cities?
  3. How much do companies similar in size and brand reputation pay their employees?

When you decide on your desired salary, make sure you negotiate starting at the top of your range. That way if you have to come down because an employer can't meet your desired salary, you should still end with a salary you feel is fair.

Assess Your Value to the Company

An excellent salary negotiation pitch includes an assessment of your skills and qualifications, as well as what in your background makes you deserving of a higher salary. In your pitch, highlight how your skills and experience will benefit the employer, their organization's success, and, most importantly, their bottom line.

The easiest way to assess your skills is to compare them with the job requirements posted in the position's description. When you assess yourself, consider the following factors:

Education Level: What degree does the job require? Possessing a degree or credential higher than the minimum requirement usually warrants a higher salary. Years of Related Industry Experience: Like education level, if an entry-level job calls for 1-2 years of experience and you've got 3-4 years of experience, this too warrants an increase in salary. And this doesn't just refer to traditional part-time or full-time work — internships and apprenticeships count as well. Leadership Experience: Were you a club leader in college? Or maybe you held an executive position in a student-run organization. In your negotiation pitch, highlight these experiences, which can give you skills valued by many employers, such as teamwork, exposure to diverse perspectives, time and conflict management, and delegation. Other Licenses, Certifications, and Skills: If you possess any certifications or unique skills that are not required but may still be highly desirable to a potential employer, be sure to mention this and explain how these experiences will be valuable to the position you're applying for.

Know What Additional Benefits You Can Negotiate

Sometimes factors beyond your control — such as company size, geographic location, and budget — preclude you from securing a higher salary. But if you believe the organization will provide you with the personal and professional growth you need, it's important not to leave the negotiation table without asking about other benefits and perks.

Here are some other items you might include in your negotiation pitch:

Job Title: If the position's title doesn't reflect the duties outlined in the job description, ask about being given a different title. In particular, if the job requires managing people or projects, you may prefer a manager title. Technology and Equipment: Many of today's jobs rely on technology to carry out key tasks and functions. If your job requires a laptop, a cell phone, or access to a particular software program, try negotiating the cost of this equipment. Professional Development Funding: If you're interested in furthering your education, earning a certificate, or joining a training or professional organization, ask whether your employer will cover the cost of these professional development opportunities. It's equally important that you explain how these opportunities can help you succeed in your role. Additional Vacation Time: Some companies might not have the budget to grant a higher salary but have the flexibility to give you extra paid time off. If a job offers you two weeks of paid vacation time, it's not too much to ask for three or four weeks instead. Health and Wellness Benefits: Make sure you understand what health benefits and wellness perks a company offers, beyond employer-sponsored health insurance. Asking for perks such as a standing desk or a gym pass are reasonable requests. Propensity to Relocate: If a job requires you to move to a new area, ask whether they will cover or assist with moving and living expenses.

Practice, Practice, Practice

When offered a job, don't hesitate to request a few days to evaluate and think over the offer. It's also best not to negotiate over email; instead, ask to speak to the hiring manager over the phone or in person. Talking directly with this person should allow you to clearly communicate your needs.

Once you've secured the extra time to prepare, practice your talking points in front of a mirror or with a friend. Don't think of negotiation as being arrogant or rude — it's a completely normal part of the hiring process. Practice speaking confidently and articulating your points.

Show that you've done your research, that you understand the market value, and that you know how your skills and experience will benefit the company. And don't forget to convey why you're excited about the position.

Salary negotiation can be uncomfortable and even frightening for recent graduates just entering the workforce, but with a little practice and confidence, you'll set yourself up for success now and later in your career.


Feature Image: laflor / E+ / Getty Images

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