A Guide to First-Job Negotiations for Gen Z Women

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You’ve just wrapped up college or an internship and now you’re headed into the “real world” where you must land your first “real job.” This is a thrilling and potentially scary time that could impact your entire career going forward.

Unfortunately, it can be extra perilous for Gen Z women, who are entering an environment where gender inequity still looms large. 

That is why negotiating is critical. Here’s how to do it. 

Know Your Worth — and Bump It Up

Before you even start applying for jobs, do your homework and know what the roles you’re eyeing pay. 

“Glassdoor and Indeed offer salary [averages] based on job title, location and company,” said Dr. Toni Collis, an executive coach. “Bear in mind that these do tend to underrate salary because it is based on historical data. I like to take the top end of research and add a little extra.”

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Negotiation Begins With the First Call or Email 

Just got an email or phone call from an HR department or recruiter? Congrats. Your negotiation journey has begun.

“Recognize that your very first conversation with a recruiter or hiring manager is the beginning of the negotiation — whether you realize it or not,” Collis said. “Many recruiters will ask you for your target salary or range. Bear in mind that in many states/countries there are rules around asking you about your current salary, but that doesn’t mean they won’t ask.

“Remember that being asked isn’t a bad thing. The recruiter wants to know they have someone in the right range — too low and you aren’t of the right caliber, too high and you are out of their agreed range.” 

Because this first step is Phase 1 of negotiations, it’s important that you don’t sell yourself short. 

“Sometimes recruiters will be looking for evidence to share with a company that their company range is too low,” Collis said. “So be honest about what you are looking for.”

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Don’t Start Negotiating Salary and Benefits Until You Have an Offer 

You may be gunning to get the salary and benefits dialogue going. Slow down. Wait until there’s a tangible offer on the table before you start getting in the weeds of negotiating.

“The first thing I tell every woman I work with is to not start negotiating until you have an offer,” Collis said. “What do I mean by that? Well, for some of us, we have very important red lines that we don’t want to cross, whether that is around maternity leave, working part time or a red line on the base pay.

“If you go in with your red line … you essentially go to the bottom of the pile of candidates. It might not be deliberate or intentional, but the words that they hear are ‘problem that we’ll have to figure out.’ My philosophy is ‘make them fall in love with you first, then negotiate.'” 

Don’t Ask If This Is a Negotiation — It Is  

You may be wondering, “Is it safe to negotiate? Should I ask first?” Don’t waver. You can and should negotiate. 

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“Literally everything has the potential to be negotiable, and if we ask a yes-or-no question and get a ‘no,’ it’s infinitely harder to try to negotiate from there,” said Lia Garvin, author of “Unstuck“, host of the podcast “Managing Made Simple” and an organizational effectiveness consultant.

Think Through Your Bottom Line

You might know what you want, but perhaps you’ve forgotten to think about what you don’t want — or simply should not accept. 

“Consider what your bottom line is so you know what levers you are working with,” Garvin said, “and have a plan for what you will say if the offer is below your bottom line.” 

You Are Wanted for This Job

“Remember that the person on the other end wants you for the job,” Garvin said. “Sometimes when we feel awkward talking about money or negotiating, we forget that we already landed the thing we want; now it’s just about getting into the details.

“Remembering this allows us to approach the situation looking for a mutually beneficial outcome instead of feeling like we have to convince the other person or that if we say the wrong thing we’ll blow our chances.” 

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Inquire About Student Loan Repayment Assistance

Many Gen Z women are entering the workforce with a boatload of student loan debt. A great starting salary will help you pay it down, but you might want to consider asking about student loan repayment assistance during your negotiation. This could be a tremendous perk you might not have considered. 

“[You] can do this by checking a company’s published benefits and by inquiring during the course of the interviews,” said Patricia Roberts, COO of Gift of College. “This type of employer benefit can greatly reduce the stress associated with years of repayment and, depending on the amount of assistance offered, can take months or years off of the repayment term when employer contributions are applied to reduce loan principal.

“With women holding two-thirds of the outstanding student loan debt (according to the American Association of University Women), more employers are considering student loan support as a component of their Diversity, Equity and Inclusion efforts.”

Pause and Reflect Before Deciding

You don’t need to say “yes” or “no” on the spot during or after negotiating. 

“Ask for a few days, a few hours, even 20 minutes to think through if you have any more questions,” Garvin said. “Trust me: The moment you step away from the conversation, you will be flooded with things you wish you asked.”

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Always Ask for More, But Don’t Walk Away If You Don’t Get It 

Once you have more experience under your belt, you will be better equipped to say “thanks, next” if you ask for more money and are denied it. But, when you’re just starting out, you need to be a little more accepting of a firm offer, even if it’s not as high as you’d like. 

Dr. Yuvay Meyers Ferguson, an associate professor of Marketing at Howard University’s School of Business, said, “Always negotiate for more money but know that it ultimately may be in your best interest to take a job slightly below your target in order to set yourself up with the skills/experience needed for your future roles.”

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.
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