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Important Advice on How New College Graduates Can Negotiate Salary

Negotiating salary is a nerve-wracking but important part of a new job. Here are some tips on how to master this skill and get the pay you deserve.

Landing a full-time job is a great accomplishment for a new college graduate. You’ve devoted a lot of time and money toward your college education, so having a salary commensurate with your qualifications is important—especially with the increased costs associated with rent, utilities, groceries, and leisure activities. A comfortable salary gives you the ability to both afford basic living expenses and enjoy life outside of work. The annual inflation rate in the US has increased from 3.2% in 2011 to 8.3% in 2022. With rising inflation and the increased emphasis on work-life balance from Gen Z employees, mastering salary negotiation is key to career satisfaction.

The idea of negotiating a job offer and discussing your pay may feel intimidating and uncomfortable to you, and you’re not alone! In a recent Indeed survey, 58% of respondents claimed to never, or rarely ever, negotiate their pay. Having open and honest conversations about your salary is nothing to be afraid (or ashamed) of. Are you wondering how to negotiate your salary? Check out these tips!

Assess your skills and qualifications

As a student, you’ve not only acquired a degree but also technical and soft skills through work, internships, and club involvement. Technical skills, also known as hard skills, are defined as competencies associated with tools, software, or programs such as Microsoft Office, graphic design, or Search Engine Optimization. Technical skills can also include certifications and licenses. Soft skills, on the other hand, are a combination of social, emotional, and communication characteristics—like teamwork, time management, and leadership. Consider making a list of your soft and hard skills and comparing them to the job description. If you’re bringing additional years of experience with a specific skill, this is something to mention in your salary negotiation pitch.

Research the market average

There are many factors that impact how an employer decides a salary. Geographic location plays a big role; for instance, salaries in Los Angeles, California, will be a lot higher than  salaries in Montgomery, Alabama, given the higher cost of living. If you’re going to be incurring moving expenses or an increase in living expenses, this is a valid reason to negotiate a higher salary. Start by using resources like Indeed Salaries to determine the market average. Market average is the amount of money an employee should be paid for their position based on current market conditions. This tool uses salaries listed from current and previous position postings as well as data submitted anonymously by other users. Research averages to get a sense of what you should be asking for during salary negotiation conversations.

Related: Top 10 Career Fields in America: What You Should Know

Determine the best time to discuss it

The best time to negotiate your salary is at the time of a job offer. Discussing salary or benefits before an offer is given might jeopardize your chances of getting the job. If you’ve already accepted an offer and haven’t negotiated, some companies do offer merit or cost of living increases for new employees. You can also bring up a salary or compensation change during your annual performance review after you’ve been with a company for a while.

Sell your impact

In your salary negotiation pitch, it’s important to sell your accomplishments and how they’ll impact the future success of the company. Give specific examples of when you met or exceeded a goal or took initiative to learn a new skill. If you’re applying for the role of Social Media Manager and you have a demonstrated history of creating successful social media campaigns, increasing audience reach, or improving brand reputation, it’s important to highlight these in your pitch. Employers are willing to pay candidates who have shown they go above and beyond in their dedication to the job.

Related: 7 Things to Do on the First Day of a New Job

Ask questions

When negotiating your salary, your goal is to ensure the employer agrees to your expectations. However, there are also other important questions to ask in the process:

  • What’s the outlook for salary raises or promotions? This question allows you to understand the likelihood of future salary raises or promotions. Some organizations may face future budget cuts, which may inhibit their ability to accommodate future pay increases.
  • What metrics do you use to evaluate the success of your employees? This question provides you with insight on how you can be successful in your organization and how to obtain future salary increases.
  • Can I get the salary offer in writing? It’s important to always ask for your offer in writing when you and the employer have reached a final number for financial security.

Consider other fringe benefits

What happens if an employer can’t meet your salary expectations? Don’t worry! There are other fringe benefits to negotiate to counterbalance what they can’t offer you, like additional vacation time; funds for attending conferences, training, or seminars; a different title; and work equipment. It’s important to elaborate on how these items or benefits will allow you to do your job better.

Related: 7 Ways to Prepare to Ask for a Promotion

It’s important to negotiate your salary early on in your career, as it can help increase your lifetime earning potential. While it can be scary, it’s a skill you’ll need to continue to refine over time as the working world changes. The worst that can come of it is you are denied, and the best is an increased salary for all you’re worth.  

Looking to get a head start on career prep? You can find a lot more advice to begin your professional life on the right foot in our Internships and Careers section.

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