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How to Start Negotiating an Entry-Level Salary

4 min read

4 min read

Negotiation. It’s up there with “public speaking” and “heights” on the list of things people are afraid of. Ok, maybe not that high on the list, but still. It’s a task that often brings dread, even among seasoned employees. When you are negotiating your first job offer, it can seem downright impossible.

Take a deep breath and think through the offer as logically as possible – as opposed to being emotional. You might be elated, relieved, shocked or stressed, but approaching the offer in a calm and thoughtful way will produce the best results. Here’s how you can think about it.

Begin with the end in mind.

I was talking with a recent college graduate who had been filling out job applications. When asked what salary she was requesting, she pulled a number out of thin air. She wanted something that – she guessed – seemed reasonable. She didn’t want it to seem like a large number and be automatically disqualified. But there was a problem. The number worked out to $12 an hour before taxes. Once she factored in health insurance and taxes, there wasn’t enough left over to support her expenses.

Don’t toss out a number – or accept one – because it sounds “right.” Start by figuring out where you need to be on payday. What do your monthly expenses add up to? Get help making this first budget. Factor in how much you want to put away in savings, too.

Now you should have a sense of what you need to make on a monthly basis to cover your expenses, your debts and save for the future. Take that number and consult the current tax brackets. (These are for 2016.) If, for instance, you estimate you need to earn about $37,500 annually, you probably want to ask for something in the neighborhood of $42,600 (assuming you are single and filing as such). If you don’t consider the taxes that are automatically deducted from your paycheck, you will end up with a budget shortfall.

Ok. So that exercise has set your baseline salary request. Some people call this a “walk away rate.” Basically, it means that anything below this number can’t meet your living expenses, unless you plan to have supplemental income or drastically change your standard of living. What’s next?

Research the industry and company.

Use websites like Glassdoor.com, Payscale.com and Salary.com to research positions similar to the one you are offered, in your geographic location and at similar companies. Be realistic. If you are offered a job at a nonprofit, looking at the reported salaries at a Fortune 500 company in town will not make for a useful comparison. Have a good idea of what a fair range is. Remember, you want to make sure the offer is competitive – that doesn’t mean it will be better than every other out there.

Think beyond salary.

Let’s say the offer meets your baseline needs. You are excited about the company, you want to take the job and you have a pretty good sense that there won’t be much negotiation on the monetary compensation. That doesn’t mean you have to say yes automatically.

What else is important to you? If your family lives across the country, maybe you want to negotiate a few more vacation days. Since you are just starting your career, maybe you’d like to be paid for attending an industry conference. Flexible hours could also be a potential point of negotiation in some industries. Consider what benefits the organization is offering, think about what is important to you and determine if there are any other “asks” you want to make.

Keep conflict out.

You should always be enthusiastic and positive. When you make a request, thank them for the initial offer and establish a rationale for why you are asking for more. Present the data you’ve found. Stress how certain benefits will serve to make you a more effective and capable employee. Don’t let yourself become angry or offended.

Remember, this is the best opportunity you typically have to advocate for yourself, your income and your professional advancement. With planning and preparation, you will agree to a job offer you feel great about, and your employer will gain a happy and talented employee.

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