Negotiating your salary when you receive a job offer can be intimidating — it's something just 39% of workers do, according to a 2018 study from staffing firm Robert Half. And when you're about to start one of your first jobs, negotiating can feel even tougher because you have less by way of work experience and accomplishments to use as leverage.
But that doesn't mean you shouldn't try. About half (53%) of employers say they're willing to negotiate with first-time job seekers, according to a 2017 survey from CareerBuilder. And, on average, negotiating leads to a $5,000 increase in starting salaries, according to a 2011 study published in the Journal of Organizational Behavior.
"Eight out of 10 times you're offered a salary, you're being offered at the lower end," says certified financial planner Shannah Compton Game, who hosts the Millennial Money podcast. So, she says, "Negotiate. Employers expect you to."
Here are some strategies to help you make your case.
Perhaps the trickiest part of negotiating your salary is figuring out what you should ask for.
If you're less experienced, you may need to do your homework. Game suggests using websites like Glassdoor, Indeed, or PayScale to get an idea of the typical salaries in your industry. It helps to narrow your focus to those in your geographic region, and for comparable positions, companies, and experience levels. That way, she says, you can have realistic expectations of what you should be earning, and have some numbers backing up your request.
Asking around can be helpful, too. Caitlin Boston, 35, who went viral this week for the video she made after paying off her student loan debt, told BuzzFeed News that she was able to negotiate a far higher salary for herself once she found out other employees are her level made much more for the same work. "Ask your other peers what they make — especially your male ones," she said. "It might make you feel uncomfortable but it's the sole reason I started making an additional 41% a year."
By doing some research and finding some data points in comparable salaries, you'll be able to home in on a fair request.
As part of the negotiation, point to what you have to offer a prospective employer. List out your strengths, skills, and experiences — like internships, classes, or side hustles — to help show that, even as an entry-level hire, you'd come in prepared to do the work well and learn quickly.
"Clearly articulate your skills and the value you're going to bring to the company," says Game. The key is to "tie those things to why you're asking for a larger salary."
When it comes time to settle on your actual salary, let the employer make the initial offer, and then come back with your counter, says Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster. "Let them come to you first with a number," she says. "That's when you can can ask if there's any flexibility, or if they can go any higher."
Letting the employer make the first move gives you the opportunity to prove your case: That's when you can reference the research you've done on salaries in comparable positions and how your skills align with the position you're being offered.
And when you are asked what exactly you want, don't feel that you need to give a specific figure. One tactic that can be beneficial is to offer up a range that you'd be comfortable earning, say $40,000-$50,000.
Your salary is only a part of your overall compensation package. If you feel like an employer won't budge on your pay, you can try negotiating for other perks or benefits. Ask for additional vacation days or paid time off, for example, or even for certain privileges, like the ability to work remotely.
And don't be afraid that asking for more will cause an employer to rescind an offer.
"It is very unlikely negotiating will lead to an offer disappearing," Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecruiter, told CNBC Make It last year. "Most employers say that when a candidate negotiates, it conveys confidence in their own abilities and in their sense of worth."
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