Finding your first full-time job is a heck of a lot of work — after all of the research you do, applications you fill out, and interviews you prep for, it can be tempting to rush through an acceptance once you’ve been offered a position. But signing the dotted line on an offer letter without hesitation is a decision that can haunt you for years down the road. Not only do you miss out on a lower base pay now — subsequent pay raises are often based on a percentage of your annual salary, so the cash you’re missing out on only compounds. Similarly, settling on a lower initial salary might discourage you from asking for more later down the road or at your next position.
So even (and perhaps especially) if you’re fresh out of college, you should put the work in now to ensure that you earn what you deserve. Not sure where to start? Josh Doody, author of Fearless Salary Negotiation, shared some of his top tips for new grads — read on below if you want to see your savings grow as fast as your career.
1. Know Your Worth
You can’t score a great first salary if you don’t even know what a great first salary would be — so before you even come to the negotiation table, it’s critical to do your research. Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth™ personal salary estimator offers a free, customized estimate of what you should be making based on your job title, location, years of experience and other factors that you can use as a baseline. Once you have your estimate, compare it to the salaries listed on the company’s Glassdoor profile and the salary included in the job description, if applicable. Concrete data like this is often better than simply approaching your friends to see what kind of offers they’re getting, as “it might be a little too intimate to ask acquaintances about their job offers,” Doody points out. In addition, you may be drawing an apples-to-oranges comparison if your friends aren’t in the same line of work, company, or geographic location as you.
Once you’ve done your research, Doody recommends using the information gathered to set a minimum acceptable salary — the lowest salary that you’re willing to take. This “helps you evaluate the quality of each job offer you receive” and lets you know which offers to walk away from, Doody says.
2. Don’t Throw Out the First Number
Once you’re actually sitting down to talk turkey with your potential employer, “the first step to setting yourself up for salary success is to allow the company to be the first to state salary numbers. Even if you’re directly asked for current or expected salary, you should politely decline even if it’s your first job,” Doody says. Why exactly is this so critical? “They’re essentially asking you to take a guess as to what they plan to pay for the position… [and] guessing wrong will cost you money.” Even if you have a good idea of what a certain company will pay based on their Glassdoor salary information, it never hurts to see if they’d be willing to pay even more.
“You also want to defer the salary conversation as long as possible because the longer you can defer that discussion, the more time you have to impress them in your interviews and convince them that you should be paid at the higher end of the range they have budgeted for the role,” Doody adds.
If a recruiter or company directly asks you what your current or expected salary is, Doody suggests replying with: “I don’t have a specific number in mind. I prefer to focus on the value that I can add to your company, and I look forward to hearing what you think is an appropriate salary for this position.” If they continue to push, you can research advanced answers to the current and expected salary questions.
3. Keep Total Compensation in Mind
Your annual base pay is the key factor in your overall compensation, but you shouldn’t ignore things like the number of paid vacation days, signing bonuses, relocation stipends, performance bonuses, and equity — all of which are commonly negotiable, Doody says.
“My rule of thumb is to prioritize the factors that matter the most to you, then work down the top two or three of those factors during your negotiation. If the company says ‘Yes’ to your last ask, then your negotiation is complete. Otherwise, you can move to the next item on your list by saying something like: ‘I appreciate you working with me, and I understand that you can’t come all the way up to the salary I requested. Can we settle on the salary you just suggested plus an extra week of paid vacation time?’” Doody suggests.
You can also use “a salary negotiation script… to plan for your own negotiation using this method,” Doody adds. “It helps to literally write down your preferences and plan your negotiation ahead of time so you don’t make silly mistakes in the heat of the negotiation.”
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Push Back
If the number that your potential employer suggests is below your expectations, you absolutely do not need to settle for it. While new grads, in particular, are often afraid that asking for more could cause their offer to be rescinded if a company can’t match it, there is little merit to this fear. “Most offers have a buffer built into them just in case you do negotiate. But even if they’ve made their absolute best and final offer, they’re extremely unlikely [to] retract a job offer just because you negotiate, even if this is your first job,” Doody says.
“Why? Because it’s expensive for a company to get to the point where they make you an offer. They’ve usually spent quite a bit of money to employ the recruiter you’re working with, pay the wages of the folks who spent time interviewing you, pay for a plane ticket plus room and board if they brought you on-site for an interview, and lots of other costs associated with the hiring process. Hiring people is expensive, and once they’ve made an offer, their investment is so substantial that they’re not inclined to just throw all that money away because you counter offered,” Doody shares.
You may worry that, as a new grad with limited professional experience, you don’t have the leverage to negotiate, but “the primary reason to negotiate has nothing to do with leverage or experience,” Doody says.
“The primary reason to negotiate is… there might be room to negotiate! It’s that simple. Maybe the company will say, ‘That was our best offer. Take it or leave it.’ But maybe they’ll say, ‘Ok, how about another $3,000 a year?’ So why not give it a shot!”