How to Negotiate a Salary for Your First Job After College

Two women talking in office

Hinterhaus Productions / DigitalVision / Getty Images

When thinking about salary negotiations, it's important to know what it takes to strike the best deal you can with an employer prior to accepting a job. As a student just graduating from college, you may be thinking that you’re just happy you got the job and that you know the company will offer you the best salary they can. Wrong!

Why You Should Negotiate

Negotiating salary can seem scary, and you may not feel you have any negotiating power as a new graduate just out of college. The truth is that even in the salary negotiation phase the employer is still evaluating you and your ability to communicate and compromise in a business situation. You will want to communicate the value of your college education along with any relevant experience you have acquired over the last four years. Be sure to consider your leadership positions while in college along with any research, internships, or community service projects you’ve completed as well.

The First Step

First, evaluate the going rate for similar jobs in the same location. Resources such as The Occupational Outlook Handbook can provide you with information on the median salary for each type of job as well as information about what the job entails and the type of training required. Next, evaluate yourself and what you bring to the table. Have you done any internships? How well did you do in college? Do you have strong leadership skills developed through coursework, clubs or sports participation? All of these things can count when an employer evaluates the totality of your previous experience.

Health, Dental, and Other Benefits

When negotiating salary, it’s also important to take into consideration the benefits package. Benefits can be costly and if the employer picks up a good percentage of health and dental benefits, provides a retirement match, tuition assistance to assist in your professional development, plus ample sick and vacation time, you must consider these when evaluating the base salary.

Ongoing Negotiations

Salary negotiations are not a one-time deal. You will also want to establish what the company’s expectations are from the very beginning and have an open discussion on how you will be able to grow over time within the organization. Will you be evaluated on an annual basis and are there salary increases or bonuses if you do a good job?

How to Name Your Price

When negotiating a salary, you probably will not get everything you want, so it’s important to increase the amount you’d like to get by 10 to 15% in hopes of coming out even. When you do receive an offer from the employer, be sure to ask the employer if the offer is negotiable. Never give your acceptance of a job offer on the spot; let the employer know that you want to think about it and ask how quickly do they want to hear back. Several days is usually a fair amount of time to think over any job offer. Also, make sure you get the offer in writing before making a final decision. Once you accept a job offer, you are technically off the market. If you are in negotiations with any other employers, be sure to let them know that you have accepted another offer and thank them for their time.

Getting the Best Deal

At the end of negotiations, both parties should feel that negotiations resulted in a win-win situation. You want to feel good about what you have negotiated, but you also want the employer to feel that they were able to get an excellent employee for a fair wage and that the negotiations were beneficial to both parties.