Why You Should Negotiate Your Entry-Level Salary

If you’re a recent graduate, and you’re interviewing for that first job out of college, you’d probably be pretty happy just to get an offer – bonus points if it’s for a job in your field. Salary negotiation might be the last thing on your mind at this stage. But here’s why it shouldn’t be:

  • Workers who don’t negotiate their salary at the offer stage potentially lose out $1 million in earnings over the course of their career.
  • That loss of cash is cumulative, not incremental, because most employers calculate raises as a percentage of workers’ salary. So if you’re paid $35,000 a year, and get a 3% raise at your annual review, your new salary will be $36,050. But if you negotiated for $38,000, and got the same raise, you’d be making $39,140.
  • In addition, many hiring managers ask for a salary history when considering candidates for a position. Take $5,000 less than you could have scored for this job, and you’ll be starting your next salary negotiation $5,000 behind.
  • Far from being put off by candidates who negotiate, most hiring managers expect it. Eighty-four percent of employers surveyed by NerdWallet said that attempting to negotiate would not jeopardize a job offer, and about three-quarters said that they had room in their budgets to increase their offer by at least 5%.

So, Why Don’t People Negotiate?

In short: fear. PayScale’s survey for its Salary Negotiation Guide showed that more than half of respondents — 57% — had never asked for a raise in their current field. Of the respondents who had never negotiated, 28% said they were uncomfortable negotiating salary, 19% said they didn’t want to be perceived as pushy, and 8% said they were afraid of losing their job.

Workers don’t ask for more money, in other words, because they’re afraid of the consequences of negotiating, despite the fact that most managers expect it, especially at the offer stage. But three out of four respondents to the PayScale survey who asked for money got some kind of raise, and 44% received the whole amount they’d requested. If you don’t ask, you won’t get.

Reasonable Employers Expect Negotiation – But What About Unreasonable Ones?

Whenever I talk with friends and colleagues about salary negotiation, someone brings up a story about a candidate who negotiated for a higher salary, and lost their offer. These stories, while not necessarily tall tales, have become the urban legends of salary negotiation. We don’t need escaped convicts or murderers who are already inside the house in the career world; a few anecdotes about people who asked for $50 more per paycheck and got shown the door are enough to frighten off most raise-seekers.

Of course, the reason these stories stick is that they do happen. If you’re nervous about negotiating salary, you probably looked at those survey stats earlier and thought, “If 84% of employers said they wouldn’t pull an offer because a candidate negotiated, that means that 16% of employers might.”

I’d never tell you that negotiating salary is totally without risk. But the question is, what’s the bigger gamble at this point in your career: asking for a bit more, and finding out that the hiring manager is less professional than you are, or keeping silent and losing out on hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of your career?

If negotiating a reasonable bump results in losing a job offer, you have to ask yourself if you’d really be happy working for that organization. Alison Green of Ask a Manager puts it well, in her response to a reader who lost a job offer after attempting to negotiate a $3,000 increase.

“Well, the first thing to know is that this guy is completely out of line,” she writes. “Assuming that you were professional and polite when you tried to negotiate, no reasonable employer would yank an offer just because you asked for a few thousand dollars more.”

How to Get the Salary You Deserve (Without Making Anyone Mad)

Regardless of whether you’re dealing with reasonable employers and hiring managers, you want to put your best foot forward when negotiating salary. That way, in the rare event that you run into someone who thinks negotiating shouldn’t be part of the process, you’ll know you were professional and appropriate.

  • Know your worth. The first step is to come into the process with reasonable expectations and data to back them up. That means having a salary range in mind, even if you’re hoping not to say the first number. Don’t go by what your friends say they earn, or what your expenses require. The goal is to find out what your skills, education, and experience will command on the market. PayScale’s Salary Survey is a good place to start gathering information.
  • Write a script. Knowing what you want to say and how you want to say it will help you keep the conversation on an even keel. The best salary negotiation scripts offer enthusiasm, as well as a sense of what the job market will bear. You want to show the hiring manager that you’ll be committed to the role.
  • Be polite. Negotiate for what you deserve, but don’t come in with a sense of entitlement. Hiring managers have their horror stories, too, and they feature candidates who demand an extra $10,000 because their dad said they were worth it or who declare that the offer is “totally off-base” and demand to speak to someone higher up the chain.

If you come in with accurate data about an appropriate salary, and politely express your request while being enthusiastic about the role, no employer should object – and most will probably give you more than the initial offer.

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