How to Negotiate Your Salary for the First Time

Negotiating your pay can mean more money now and a higher earning potential over your lifetime. Here's how to do it and why it is so important to start with your very first job offer.

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Oct 1 2018, 4:36pm

Illustration by Lia Kantrowitz

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When it comes to getting paid, it can be a job in itself. After you get your foot in the door of a company, going through round after round of interviews, it can feel awkward to demand a raise before you’ve even started the job. You don’t want to seem arrogant or greedy, but you do need to pay your bills and that’s why it’s so important to negotiate.

Demanding more money is the first step toward getting more money, which is why you have a job in the first place, right? “It doesn’t matter if you’re a veteran in your field or a new hire: if you feel that your salary isn’t enough, you should feel empowered to negotiate your compensation in order to get what you deserve,” says Alison Sullivan, career trends expert at jobs site Glassdoor.

The average U.S. employee could earn $7,500 more each year if they just negotiated their salary, according to salary data from Glassdoor, a career and salary information site. Despite the possibility of getting extra beer/Gucci money (or, you know, extra cash in the 401(k)), three in five U.S. employees admit that they did not negotiate their salaries when they were first hired.

It’s not rude to negotiate your salary

Newcomers to the job world may not realize that hiring parties are prepared and often expecting you to negotiate with them. While you may want to avoid being the first person to mention money, when it comes up—and it will come up—consider their number a starting offer. “You are expected to negotiate up,” says Alexandra Levit, DeVry University's career advisory board chairman. “As long as you don't act offended—like you're being low balled, which can put people off—negotiations during the hiring process are anticipated by everyone involved.”

The trick to negotiating a higher salary is to simply ask. “While many factors contribute to wage inequality, I can say anecdotally, only 1 out of 10 men did not negotiate when I worked in recruiting, whereas only 1 in 10 women or people of color did,” says Monster Career Expert Vicki Salemi. “And more often than not, people who did negotiate when I extended offers typically landed a bigger salary, even if it was $2,000 at the time.”

Of course, figuring out how much you’re worth can be a complicated calculus of job title, seniority, and location to figure out the average salary in your field in your area. “It’s why it’s critical to do your research when it comes to pay and compensation and understand your worth,” says Sullivan.

Know your worth

The secret to successful negotiation comes straight out of the Scout handbook: Be prepared. “Long before you start the negotiation process, it’s important to do your research, establish a realistic salary range that feels right, gather a list of accomplishments you can point to and practice,” says Sullivan, noting that Glassdoor’s Know Your Worth salary estimate tool is an excellent place to look up salary ranges in various fields. “Heading into the discussion with a salary range versus one single number is one way to help you have a more productive negotiation,” she explains.

Salemi also recommends having open conversations about salary. “Always know your worth,” she says. If you’re just starting out your career, reach out to your network of friends, family, and former classmates for their insights. Be transparent, too, it never hurts to tell the number you were offered and ask if that seems fair. If someone helped you get the gig, they could be a great resource into what salary range the company can offer, too.

Negotiating a salary is particularly important for someone just starting out in their careers or at a particular company. Although entry level positions often have set salary ranges, the experts agree that it can't hurt to ask for a few more dollar bills each month. “You can always say you've researched the range for similar positions generally and why you feel you deserve to be on the upper end,” explains Levit.

Not only does is not hurt to ask for more money, starting out at a higher salary can have lasting implications for future earning power. “It's well known that failure to negotiate at the start of a career or new job often sets people back permanently,” says Levit.

Fight back against the pay gap

Negotiating starting salaries is particularly important for women, people of color, and anyone hoping to make strides closing the gender pay and race pay gaps. Currently, women in the United States make $0.80 on the dollar compared to their male colleagues, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy and Research, but that gap widens for black and hispanic women, who earn 62.5 percent and 54.4 percent, respectively, of the paychecks their male colleagues receive. It’s not just for women and women of color, though.

The wage gap between white and black men is growing. Negotiating starting salaries can be a step towards slowing that. “If you don't negotiate, you can definitely end up behind the salary curve and if you remain working for a company too long, that can push you behind even further,” says Monster’s Salemi.

“If you start making $35k, and everyone else is making $38k, then next year, if there's a 3% increase across the board, you're getting an increase based on $35k, not $38k, and every year after that your increase is based on your lower salary.” That can lead to a significant gap in lifetime earnings, where women and minorities already fall behind their male counterparts.

Say these words to get more money

So how exactly do you negotiate your salary? Salemi suggests that the easiest way to start negotiating is to say something along the lines of, "Can you go higher?" or "Is it possible to have a higher starting salary?” She warns against asking for a specific amount, because no matter how much research you do, you have no real way of knowing how much money the company has in their budget. You may ask for $5,000 over their initial offer, when you could have gotten $8,000, short-changing yourself before you even start.

Once the initial offer is made, Levit believes that asking for about 10 percent more is a reasonable opening negotiation. She does warn against negotiating with a sense of entitlement, though, suggesting that job applicants focus on their interest in the position, the organization, and the opportunity while making their bid for more money.

If the company happens to ask your salary in advance and then they match your expectation, don’t feel stuck. “You can still negotiate, especially if you gave them a range initially and their offer was near the bottom of the range,” says Levit. “At least try to get them to go to the top of the range. They can always say no.”

Remember that there’s no need to settle for the first offer that’s given to you. “If you feel confident about the homework you’ve done, don’t rush that process,” says Glassdoor’s Sullivan.

“Instead, stick to your initial request and ask for 24 to 48 hours to think about the offer before coming back and accepting or continuing the negotiation process.”

Salemi agrees that negotiations can occur over more than one round, however, she recommends being mindful of the fact that trying to negotiate after the hiring manager tells you their final offer can come across as annoying and potentially unprofessional. “Know when to say when,” says Salemi. Until that point, though: get what you deserve.

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