5 tips for negotiating your salary for recent graduates

By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17 

Many recent college graduates are so happy to simply have a job offer that they immediately accept the terms of the offer – including salary and benefits – right on the spot.

In some cases, it’s a mistake that’s costing millennials thousands of dollars.

The Washington Post reported last year that only 38 percent of recent college graduates negotiate their salaries. The rest don’t bring it up at all.

But the truth is, simply asking for a salary increase can, literally, pay off big time. That’s true even for college graduates getting hired for their first job.

According to a PayScale.com study in 2015, 74 percent of working millennials who asked for a raise got the pay they requested or a smaller raise after popping the question. In fact, learning how to negotiate your salary early in your working career can lead to thousands of extra dollars in income over your lifetime.

But when is it appropriate to negotiate salary? How much of a raise in pay should you ask for? What do you say to your employer during that conversation?

Lauren Cavicchi, the assistant director of career development at the Career and Talent Development Department, helped answer some of these questions at a salary negotiation workshop for students.

“A salary negotiation is a conversation,” Cavicchi said. “It’s a conversation with a positive ending, where we’re getting something and the employer is getting something, too. It’s all about the attitude, the approach and the preparation you do beforehand.”

Here are some key tips to help you become a better salary negotiator:

1. Timing is key

Whatever you do, don’t start talking about salary or negotiating salary during the interviewing stage. Wait until the employer makes their offer and then, if you feel like there may be room to negotiate, broach the subject.

When you apply for a job, many times the job listing comes with the salary or the salary range of the job offer. In these situations, there may be less room for negotiation. Other times, the listing will simply say the salary is “negotiable” or say nothing at all. It’s for these listings when it may be most appropriate for you to negotiate.

If you are already in a job and thinking about asking for a raise, many times there will be some sort of evaluation process involved where you can bring up your salary.

RELATED: 12 ways to prepare for your job search

2. It’s not just about salary

Once you get the job offer, make you sure you are aware of what comes with the offer – and this goes beyond the salary.

Take a close look at the whole compensation package: How much vacation time will you have? What retirement options are available? What about health, dental and vision insurance? If you’re thinking about graduate school, will they be willing to help pay for it?

When it comes to negotiating, there are times when the salary might not be negotiable – but other parts of the compensation package are. Keep those things in mind when you’re in the negotiating process.

 3. Do your research and know your worth

When you’re negotiating your salary or asking for a raise, just going in with a random number that sounds good without any data or reasoning to back it up is probably not a good idea.

Go online and do some research about what kind of salary range you can expect for the type of positions you are applying for. Also keep in mind that location matters. The median salary for a mechanical engineer in Miami compared to one in Boston is going to be different. Websites like Glassdoor.com and Salary.com can help you figure out a range of salary you can expect for a particular job or industry field.

If you’re asking for a raise, it helps to give some reasons why you deserve one. Think about any special projects, accomplishments or additional responsibilities you have taken on recently and use that as part of your pitch.

 4. Understand the needs of the employer

When you’re talking about salary, it’s important to not only think about your needs, but the needs of your employer as well.

If an employer is having retention problems or looking to hire someone urgently or someone with a unique set of qualifications and skills, those are factors you can use to your advantage in a negotiation.

Keep in mind that your employer is looking for a particular set of skills and qualities in candidates to fill a position in their organization. They want to secure the best and most qualified candidate for that role while maximizing their retention rate and building up their organization’s reputation.

When it comes to negotiating your salary after getting a job offer or asking for a raise in a job you already have, it’s important to reinforce what you bring (or will bring) to the organization and how you best fit to meet the needs of the employer.

 5. Mind your tone and body language

A negotiation is a conversation. And in a conversation, it’s not just about what you say, but how you say it.

In a salary negotiation your body language and the tone of your voice often communicate louder than your words do. Display professionalism, show confidence, remain calm and in control of conversation with the employer and show your excitement about the position you are applying for.

If you can, find a friend or family member who can help you practice the conversation beforehand. You can also set up an appointment with someone from Career and Talent Development to schedule a mock salary negotiation and give you feedback and pointers.

To set up an appointment or to find out more about salary negotiation, go to Career and Talent Development website or visit one of their offices (SASC 305, WUC 255 and EC 2852).