4 Tips for Negotiating Your First Salary


In 2019, author and documentary film maker Adam Carroll spoke to NSCS members about negotiating their first salary. This was an important opportunity for students to learn about salary negotiations and their importance. After all, the salary you negotiate for your first job does not just determine your standard of living for the duration of your employment in that first position. It also sets the tone for how much you’ll earn over the rest of your career.

Learning to negotiate a salary is not always easy for recent graduates or soon-to-be graduates. However, Adam Carroll offered a few very useful tips that can really help.

1. Create a Budget First

The first step in negotiating a salary is to figure out how much you need to ask for. It’s far better to make a budget up-front rather than simply hope a job pays you enough to cover you bills.

As you create a budget, make sure you account for all regular expenses including rent, phone bills, student loan payments, insurance premiums, utility bills, and grocery expenses. Also keep in mind that approximately 30% of your paycheck will be diverted to pay taxes and other deductions. So, if you need $2,000 a month to cover your bills, you need to earn at least $3,000 a month, total.

2. Research What Jobs Like Yours Pay

Negotiating a salary is a lot easier when you know what jobs like the one you’re applying for pay, on average. Use resources like Glassdoor to research the average salary for similar positions in your area. You can use this to guide you as you negotiate.

For example, if research shows that the average starting salary for a certain job is $45,000 a year, and company offers you $42,000, then you can negotiate up by bringing up the average. 

Researching the average salary beforehand also helps you get an idea of what a company may offer before they offer it. You’ll be able to negotiate more successfully if the first number doesn’t come as a surprise.

3. Know How Ranges Work

Often when companies post a job, they include a salary range. The bottom number of that range is often the first offer they’ll make. You can negotiate that number up by pointing out the skills and experience you bring to the job. Keep in mind, however, that most companies do not plan on paying the top number in the range. They like to pay a bit less than that so they have some wiggle room to provide bonuses and raises later on, as needed.

4. Take Time to Think Over the Offer

When a company gets back to you with an offer, thank them for the offer, and tell them you need 24 hours to think it over. Then, once some time (24 hours or less) has passed, you can come back and ask them for a little bit more. For instance, if they offer you $50,000, you could explain how, based on your research on average salary and the cost of living, you’d like to be closer to $52,000. 

Companies expect you to negotiate the initial amount they offer you, so failing to do so is just leaving money on the table.

Negotiating your first salary may feel a little uncomfortable, but if you go into the situation knowing what you need to earn and how much you can expect to be paid, you’ll feel confident and prepared. Keep the tips above in mind, and good luck!

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