How To Negotiate Your First Salary

You've sent out your job applications, had an interview, answered those tough questions, and landed the job. You may think the job hunt is over, but something many new job seekers overlook is the importance of salary negotiation skills. Personally, I think telling your prospective employer your desired salary is one of the most awkward questions to answer as a recent grad. This is your first real job. You may have absolutely no real-world, professional experience. You're lucky to even be considered for this position in this economy, so who are you to chalk up that perfect little number?

The plight of the first-time job hunter is real. When exchanging job interview stories with some of my friends, I realized just how clueless we all were when it came to things like salary requirements and benefits packages. Whaddup adult world, turns out I am so not ready for you. Aside from not knowing what we should be asking for, we almost felt guilty going for those higher figures or even thinking about negotiating after being offered a specific amount.

Up until that point, all we really cared about was the learning experience and the opportunity to get our foot in the door. This is why, in the beginning, many of us answered this question with, "I'm open-minded about salary and more concerned with the opportunity." And that's totally fine for a fixed entry level position in which salary is non-negotiable.

But when we are posed the question or we're given the opportunity to negotiate, it's important to know what the heck we should be asking for. Here are six tips to help you figure out what salary you should be asking for when it's your first real job.

1. Be Prepared

This may seem obvious, but it's important to really be prepared and assume you are going to be asked this question. Even if it's not the type of job where they'd ask you that right off the bat, it doesn't hurt to have a number in your head.

As pointed out by Aaron Taube in Business Insider, it's generally considered a bad idea to ask about salary during your first job interview with a company, but that doesn't mean the people interviewing you won't bring it up. If they do, it's important to know how to respond and not let the money questions distract you from your goals in the interview.

Remember that the interviewer knows the position that you're in very well. He or she has — hopefully — looked over your resume and your cover letter, and has been drawing his or her own takeaways from your answers to their questions. And if you truly want to work for them and prove you're worth hiring, they're going to expect you to have done your homework within all aspects of the job hunt. This tells them you take the role seriously, the company seriously, and yourself seriously.

2. Familiarize Yourself With Your Industry

This is where the fun research comes in. And it really should be fun. Because if it isn't, you may be job hunting in the wrong places. That's not to say that absolutely every job description you come across should sound like your dream job, but you should want to find out more about the ins and outs of your professional industry.

As Kristen Hamilton, CEO of Koru, a Seattle-based company that provides career training and coaching to recent college grads suggested to PayScale, you should also be data-driven in what you ask for. Be well-informed and realistic about what you're offered and what you ask for, and back up your request with information about the company, the job title, and the role’s responsibilities.

3. Research The Company

Once you've researched the typical salaries for similar positions around the country (because location matters too), it's time to do some more sleuthing on the actual company. What are some of the company's milestones? What are some of the company's needs? Where does your role fit in? How can you contribute and what can you offer?

This will help you calculate how much you should ask for or what you should be negotiating. As Melissa Suzuno pointed out on AfterCollege, the hiring manager or recruiter will probably offer the low end of the range they can offer. That's why doing your research is so important. She suggested asking friends in similar roles (bonus points if they already work there) or doing some research on PayScale and to get acquainted with salary ranges of similar roles so you can ask for the higher end. By being able to justify your desired figure with actual knowledge about the company's needs and your skills, you'll have placed yourself in a good negotiating position.

4. Know Your Worth

When you're sizing up your skillset with your desired salary, of course you have to know what you're able to offer. Evaluate the job description and determine how you can satisfy each responsibility. How relevant are your skills to the job? It's OK if they aren't directly related, but it's still something to keep in mind when you're going over what you'll be bringing to this role. CollegeRecruiter also provided a nifty little salary calculator for students and recent grads that helps put into perspective where you stand on the pay scale with whatever experience you have. It accounts for factors like years of related experience, location, and degree-job relevance, for example.

5. Calculate The Fair-Market Value

Salary expert Jack Chapman told TheLadders that a fair-market value consists of three components: your objectively researched value, your individual value, and your future value. In familiarizing yourself with the industry and researching the company as suggested above, you've determined that objective research value. Honing in on any special training you've had, specific skills, and experience has allowed you to formulate your individual value. Your future value consists of long-term rewards like performance bonuses and raises to help factor in any benefits into the package. This is something you should bring up while figuring out your base salary. Chapman explained that blending these three numbers together will allow you to calculate the right amount that gives you that negotiation power. Instead of saying "here's what I like," you can say something along the lines of "here’s the range of what others are paid, and why I should be paid the top of the range.”

6. Don't Feel Guilty

Reading through some of this advice, a little skepticism is totally normal. Because things like playing up your skills to convince your prospective employer why you should be paid the higher amount for your range sounds like a load of BS You're humble, you want to maintain integrity in your field, and you may feel guilty asking for more than you deserve. But don't. Because that's the point of it all. You don't really know how much you deserve and how can anyone, really? Placing a value on anything someone does is awkward and difficult to measure, especially in the creative fields. But that's precisely why, in such a competitive job market, it's important to be both ambitious and realistic.

At the end of the day, one would hope that this job consists of work you enjoy and you're pushed more by the opportunity of the experience rather than the money. But it's good to be prepared for any possible conversation that may arise during the job hunt so you can stay ahead of the game.

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