Should You Negotiate Your First Salary?

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The graduation parties are over, you’ve stored your mortarboard in the back of your closet where it belongs, and you’re likely spending a lot of time contemplating how you’ll handle the next step, now that college is a thing of the past. Welcome, friends, to #adulting, where business casual wardrobes, student loan payments, and a slew of very grownup decisions await. (Don't worry, the real world has plenty of perks, like office snack closets and Summer Fridays. You do get to have some fun here.)

Whether you’re interviewing for positions like it’s, well, your job, or you've had an offer lined up before spring semester even ended, let’s talk about one of the most challenging parts of accepting your first job offer: negotiating your salary. Speaking from personal experience, there are all sorts of unique ways to mess up something that is so crucial to your future wellbeing.

One of the biggest missteps we make when we first start working is underestimating our value right from the beginning. To make sure you’re set up for success from day one, we’ve partnered with Dice — your go-to resource for discovering opportunities, insights and connections in technology — to help you navigate your first ever salary negotiation like a seasoned pro.

Should I Really Ask For More Money?

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Long story short: yes. Erin Lowry, author of Broke Millennial: Stop Scraping By and Get Your Financial Life Together, recommends always trying to negotiate your first (and any subsequent) salary offers. “Not only is it a good experience, but think about the compounding effect of earning even $500 or $1,000 more starting around 22 or 23 and how that can snowball into your future,” Lowry says. “It's also important to remember as you move on up in your career that negotiating isn't just about salary. You can negotiate on benefits, such as an extra vacation day or working remotely twice a month.”

Tackle Imposter Syndrome Head On

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Increasingly, high-achieving workers are feeling like their accomplishments are a consequence of luck and circumstance. This is known as Imposter Syndrome, and it’s something we all need to keep in check before we allow it to impact our earning potential. “Don't give in to the rhetoric of 'you're just lucky to get a job' and let that dissuade you from negotiating. You know your value and if you're being undercut, then try countering,” Lowry advises. "The number you ask for should not be the bottom number you're willing to accept. If you were offered $37,500 and you want $40,000 then don't counter with $40,000 — you should counter with $42,000."

Consider The Benefits

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Aside from setting yourself up for financial success, the actual act of negotiating with your future employer has some additional perks. “When we negotiate our first offer, we’re getting invaluable practice, plus we’re building our negotiating muscle so that we’re better equipped and in the habit of negotiating future offers,” says money coach Ashley Feinstein Gerstley of The Fiscal Femme. “It  can also make a great first impression for your boss, especially if your role will involve any form of negotiating.”

To Lowry's point, a negotiation can provide benefits that go beyond your paycheck. Some employers provide student loan repayment programs, stock options, and tuition reimbursement, among other perks. Take a moment to think about what is important to you, or what could be useful in the future, and consider using your skills to barter for additional vacation days, more stock options, or even a housing allowance.

Get Informed — Then Have 'The Talk'

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First things first: Know your numbers. “Do your research,” says Feinstein. “Know the going rate for your role in the market.”

Lowry agrees — “Know how much similar companies pay entry-level employees and their benefits packages. Be sure that you're searching for this information based on where you either currently live or are planning to work.”

Through some simple online searches, leveraging useful tools like Dice's salary predictor, and asking your friends, mentors, and even old employers in likeminded industries, you can get an idea of what the going rate is for the positions you are interested in and qualified for. It could also pay to research the value of your unique skills for your industry. Certain skills for tech professionals — like a background in database and networking technology — are in high demand, which could give you more leverage during a negotiation.

Next? Practice. “When you get a job offer on the phone or in person, thank them for the offer and ask for a couple days to think about it,” says Lowry. “This gives you a chance to do some more research and then role play the negotiating experience with an older friend, sibling or parent. You want to have talked through your speaking points, but not so much that it sounds and feels robotic.”

Finally, know that this won’t be your first and last negotiation. “Treat it like an ongoing conversation. We often think of negotiating as a one-time conversation but it's a dialogue that we should be having with our boss and managers throughout the year,” says Feinstein. “Keep them posted on your successes at work, what projects you are enjoying as well as your goals. Then when it's time for your annual review, the fact that you want a promotion or a salary increase will come as no surprise. You've been laying the groundwork all year round.”

This article is sponsored by Dice.