If you’re entering the workforce, you’re probably more focused on just landing a job rather than what that job will pay. “Of course,” you say to yourself, “a big paycheck would be nice — but don’t risk turning off an employer by asking for too much.”
Instead, tell yourself this: “I’m not going to sell myself short.”
Experts say one of the biggest mistakes job seekers can make is not negotiating their starting salary, or only negotiating for what they think is fair.
“Salary negotiation is about the value you bring to an organization — your talent, skills and contributions — not what’s ‘fair,'” said Lisa Skeete Tatum, CEO and co-founder of Landit, a career resource for women. “Aim high, and be rewarded for what you’re worth.”
If you don’t negotiate for what you’re worth at the beginning of your career, it could cost you throughout your working years. “Even a small bump in pay translates into bigger annual raises and possibly bigger bonuses as well, year after year,” said Carla Dearing, CEO of SUM180, an online financial planning service.
So how do you get paid what you’re worth? Follow these seven steps.
Step 1: Know the Average Pay for the Position You Want
To be in a strong position to negotiate a good salary, it helps to know what someone in a comparable role in your industry is paid. “Accurate information will bolster your confidence as the negotiations warm up,” said Dearing. There are a variety of ways to get this information.
For starters, recognize that your pay will hinge greatly on your degree and the field you plan to enter. The average starting salary for a 2016 college graduate with an engineering degree is projected to be $64,891, whereas the average starting salary for a 2016 graduate with an education degree is just $34,891, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.
Free websites such as Salary.com, Glassdoor.com and PayScale.com can give you a general idea of what the pay is for particular types of jobs. But be aware that some sites typically rely on self-reported data, said Dearing.
Talk to your college professors or career counselors at your school to see if they know the salaries of recent graduates in your field, she suggested. And set up informational interviews with companies in the field you want to pursue but aren’t necessarily the places you want to work.
“With less at stake, you will probably feel more comfortable asking hiring managers what the market is like in that city for someone with your particular skills and experience,” said Dearing.
If you get an interview at a company where you want to work, ask to speak with employees in the same or similar roles as the one you want, said Evan G. Pellett, author of the forthcoming book “Cracking The Code to a Successful Interview.”
“If you build a connection with these top performers, even take them to lunch, then they may peel back the curtain when you ask them: ‘What do you think I should request for my starting salary?'” he said. “The $50 you spend on lunch may equate to another $5,000 to $10,000 in your first year’s salary.”
Step 2: Deflect the Salary Requirement Question
It’s acceptable to ask early in the interview process what the pay range is for the position you’re seeking, said Henry Goldbeck, president of Goldbeck Recruiting. But don’t rush into revealing how much you want to be paid, added Dearing. For example, if you’re asked to list your salary requirements on a job application, answer “not applicable” on the form.
“Or, if you are asked the question in person, respond with something like, ‘I’m sure we can find a number that will be fair, but first I want to see whether this job is a fit on both sides,'” she said. This will put you in a better negotiating position after the hiring manager has decided that you are a strong fit for the job.
If you share early on what you’re willing to be paid, you won’t have room to negotiate a higher salary later in the interview process, added Tatum.
Step 3: Focus on What You Can Bring to the Job
By delaying a discussion about salary, you can focus on selling yourself to employers first.
“If you get them super excited and emotional about hiring you, then they will dip deeper into their pockets to land you,” said Pellet. “You want to blow them away as a stand-out candidate.”
To do that, find out what the employer is looking for in a job candidate so you can deliver it, said Joel Curry, a career advisor and resume expert at ResumeGenius.com. Then, figure out what qualities and experience you have that set you apart from other candidates.
“Why should someone hire you over someone else with equivalent qualifications?” asked Curry. “You have to approach the negotiation table believing in yourself. Even if you’re entering a new field for the first time, being a smart, hard-working individual who fits in company culture is valuable to your employer.”
Step 4: Prepare Your Pitch
Researching the market rate for the position you want will help you avoid asking for a salary that’s lower than what you can get, said Tatum. But that doesn’t mean you should offer a single number. Instead, give potential employers a salary range with the amount you hope to receive at the low end and a high number at the top of range.
“Oftentimes, a company will come back and offer something in the middle,” said Dearing.
Once you’ve settled on a salary range, practice your pitch. You want to be friendly but assertive, said Kathy Downs, vice president with Robert Half Finance & Accounting staffing service. So, test out what you plan to say.
“If you sound awkward in front of a mirror at home, that’s probably how it’s going to come across when you sit down at the table to actually negotiate,” she said.
Also, practice what you’re going to say with a friend. Or, work with a specialized staffing professional who is trained on how to have those tough conversations, suggested Downs.
Step 5: Be Ready to Make a Counter Offer
“Remember, you never have to take the first offer,” said Tatum. If the salary you’re offered is below the market average and below what you think you deserve to be compensated based on your qualifications, ask for more.
Let the employer know that you’re grateful you were offered the position, said Amanda Crowell, an improvement coach and founder of PowerfulPeony.com. Then, point out that your research shows that the salaries for the position are higher and that you’d like to discuss an adjustment to the salary being offered.
Keep in mind, though, that employers might be offering a salary that’s lower than the average range because they see your potential but will have to invest in training you for the position, said Goldbeck. And if an employer does offer your ideal salary, don’t be greedy by asking for more, added Pellet.
Step 6: Consider the Whole Compensation Packet
Keep in mind that salary isn’t the only thing you should consider — “you should definitely consider the whole package,” said Tatum. That means looking at what sort of employee benefits the company offers, such as insurance coverage, a retirement savings account or pension plan.
“Some new hires negotiate for other valuable benefits — such as additional vacation time, flexible hours, a fully loaded new work laptop — or even unusual perks, [like] monthly dinners with the company CEO,” said Dearing.
So if an employer isn’t willing to budge on salary, you might be able to get more workplace benefits.
Step 7: Discuss Opportunities for Growth
If an employer isn’t willing to budge on a salary offer, try to take a long-term approach to getting the compensation package you want, said Dearing. That is, work out a plan to earn a raise in the future.
“The more specific the plan, the better,” she said.
For example, say that you understand what the starting salary is but that you’re qualified and offer a lot. So, you would like the opportunity to reach specific goals and have your salary reviewed after six months, said Dearing.
“Once you meet the agreed-upon goals, your boss will find it very difficult to refuse you the raise you’ve demonstrated you deserve,” she said.