The No. 1 thing that can help you negotiate for higher pay at an entry-level job, according to a career expert

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Key Points
  • Nearly 6 in 10 recent and impending grads say the employer has the upper hand in entry-level job negotiations, according to a recent survey from Monster.com. But about as many employers say grads have an edge.
  • "How to market yourself and how to negotiate are things they don't teach you in college," says Salary Transparent Street founder Hannah Williams.

In an era that some experts are calling the "golden age" for job-seekers, you'd expect recent college graduates to be optimistic about their career prospects. In some ways they are: Four in five college grads are confident they'll get a job offer that matches their career goals, according to a recent survey from Monster.com.

Yet when it comes to who has the upper hand in negotiations for entry-level jobs, employers and prospective employees are on two different wavelengths. Despite their overall confidence, 58% of recent and impending grads say the employer has the advantage. Meanwhile, 57% of employers say entry-level applicants do.

So are grads under-selling their prospects? Maybe as a collective, but individually, they may be lacking an important tool for getting the things they want in early career negotiations.

"The No. 1 thing is attitude. If we come into these negotiations kind of scared or worried, we're going to undercut ourselves because we're afraid to ask for what we're worth," says Hannah Williams, founder of Salary Transparent Street, a social media series in which Williams asks strangers on the street to discuss their salaries.

"You can figure out exactly what you should be making based on your experience, job title, industry and where you live," she goes on. "When you have that number, you have confidence, which makes for a successful negotiation."

Salary: Numbers are 'the most valuable piece of information'

Given rising costs of goods and services and housing and everything else, salary is likely at the top of mind for most new entrants to the workforce. And, frustratingly, it's still standard practice in many industries to withhold salary information in job postings.

That can lead to situations in which you end up being grossly underpaid for work you're qualified to do.

"How to market yourself and how to negotiate are things they don't teach you in college," says Williams. "And if you don't know what you should be making, companies have no ethical or moral incentive to pay you fairly. They can make more by paying you less."

That's why it's essential to gather as much salary information as you can for any prospective position, career experts say.

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"There are websites, such as Glassdoor and PayScale, that provide workers with information about what people are making. But looking at those alone makes it hard to know what people in your position, your age group, and your experience level are making," Bankrate analyst Sarah Foster recently told Grow.

"You need more than one source," says Williams. "Having that market research is important, but the second piece is talking to people in your network. If you have a contact who lives near you and does a similar thing, you need to be talking. It's not a competition."

Remote work: Be transparent about what you want

The top "deal-breaker" listed by grads in Monster's survey: Remote or hybrid work, with 38% of grads saying they'd pass on a job if such flexibility wasn't offered.

The possibility to spend at least some of your time working from home won't necessarily be listed on the job description. If it's something you feel strongly about, you'd be wise to begin negotiating for it out of the gate.

"Be upfront about what you're looking for, the same way you'd want an employer to be honest with you. You wouldn't want to get to the end of the interview process and have them say, 'We need you in five days a week. Did we mention that?'" says Salemi.

"I would be transparent but open-ended. You can get further into the details as conversations progress."

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It could be that the employer tells you they think it's important that you work in the office to ramp up your work and assimilate into office culture. In that case, don't be afraid to negotiate for an in-office trail period followed by a more hybrid model, says Salemi. "You might ask, 'Is it a possibility that after the first 90 days, if I'm successful, we can switch to one day working remotely?'" she says.

If a company says no? "Then you know where you stand. Tell them if they reconsider, they can reach out to you," Salemi says. "Companies continue to hire and are in need of valuable talent. There are so many other doors you can open."

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