Tips for Negotiating Your First Salary
Congratulations, you did it! You walked across the stage, got your diploma, and waded the treacherous waters of meddlesome job questions from friends, family, former professors, and even your pet iguana, Izzy. Now you’ve done what once seemed impossible: You’ve landed a job offer!
When landing your dream job—or any job—it’s easy to run straight to the champagne aisle. But before you pop the bottle and buy yourself sensible slacks, you’ll want to think about your salary.
Why Negotiate Your Salary?
In a recent study , only about 39% of prospective employees surveyed tried to negotiate for a higher salary than the one initially offered by their potential employers. This number is even lower for women. It’s typically important to negotiate up front because:
• Your potential employer likely expects it; thus they made you a lower offer than they expect to pay.
• You’re unlikely to have a chance to negotiate again before a full year at your new job is up.
• It shows that you value yourself highly—and that means the company should, and hopefully will, too.
So consider having that uncomfortable money talk (there’s still no Venmo request for your salary). There are all sorts of things to consider when negotiating your first salary but how do you even prepare for such a conversation? Here are some tips that may help.
Using Your A+ Research Skills
As a recent college grad, you may have hoped you’d have some time before embarking on a new research project. Fortunately, researching salaries probably won’t include consulting academic journals.
When researching applicable salaries, consider finding what the average and median salaries are for your industry, position, and location. There are a number of resources available, such as Glassdoor , PayScale , and Salary.com .
This is also a great time to utilize that network that you’ve been cultivating. That could mean talking to your already-hired college roommate, your older sister (even if you don’t want her ego to get too big), or someone you might find on LinkedIn or at a networking event.
For the latter, you’ll probably want to ask those who are in or have had the role you’re considering accepting, as they’ll have a better sense of negotiable salaries. And asking both men and women can be helpful, as their compensation may differ.
Knowing Your Worth
An important part of knowing what you’re worth is knowing what it takes to keep you being you—the you the company already wants to hire. That includes things like the cost of your living space, your car payments, gas, and/or public transportation fees to get you to and from work, self-maintenance like haircuts and professional attire, and of course medical, vision, and dental insurance—not to mention student loan payments. You’ll want your salary to cover more than what you think your regular expenditures have been up to now.
That being said, your spending needs aren’t necessarily the concern of your potential employer. Consider offering evidence of what you can provide rather than what you yourself need. Although you are your own bottom line, to the hiring manager, the company is their bottom line.
When thinking about how much you’re worth, consider this: Just because you don’t technically have a ton of work history in your field doesn’t mean that the company you’re in talks with hasn’t already made a significant investment in you.
Think about the time they’ve spent reading and weeding out resumes and interviewing you—sometimes several times—just to get to the place where they’re happy to give you an offer. They’re already invested in you, the question is now how much they’re willing to invest.
Knowing What You Want
You’ve done your research and you’ve thought about what you’re worth. Now it’s time to settle on a number that works for you. Since this may not be the salary you end up with, it’s good to have some compromises in mind, as well as other benefits to negotiate. These could include:
• 401(k) matching
• Vacation days
• Work-from-home days
• Extended lunch time
• Fitness benefits (think gym memberships or even spa allowances)
• Transportation benefits (bus or train passes, parking allowances, etc.)
• A higher-ranked title
• Adding a signing bonus
When negotiating your first salary, thinking beyond just the dollar signs can be beneficial. You should be happy with the total compensation you receive for spending roughly a third of your life in the workplace.
Ready, Set, Negotiate!
Alright, you’ve done your homework. But now that you’ve entered the room (or email exchange), what do you do?
First off, practice, practice, practice. Who said your starring role in your senior year production of Hamlet was never going to pay off? You can practice your lines as though it were a regular “To be or not to be” moment, or you can just set out a list of bullet points. Unlike your English final, you are totally allowed to bring your notes (it’s even encouraged).
Know what your points are (that’s your research from before) and don’t get discouraged—you’ll do fine! And consider this: pauses and deep breaths never hurt anyone. Whatever makes you most comfortable and confident will show when negotiating.
Signing on the Dotted Line
Whether you do or don’t accept the offer, you’ve weathered the first of many financial decisions you’ll face in your new post-grad (read: adult) life. Now you just have to decide where and with whom to live, how to get to work, and how to pay off your student loans.
Paying off your student loans can be an important part of negotiating your salary—and something to keep track of going forward. Refinancing your student loans could get you a better interest rate—especially with your new job offer and salary—potentially saving you money over the course of your loan payments. That said, it’s important to note that refinancing your student loans may cost you federal repayment benefits, such as student loan forgiveness or forbearance .
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Student Loan Refinancing
If you are a federal student loan borrower you should take time now to prepare for your payments to restart, including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. (You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.) Please note that once you refinance federal student loans, you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans, such as the SAVE Plan, or extended repayment plans.