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Fresh grads, this is how to negotiate your first salary

salary negotiation

Becoming a master of negotiation is a lifelong journey. Unfortunately, you are at the beginning of yours, eagerly hoping to land your first job and praying you get the compensation you desire. Sometimes what you want will be reasonable, other times you might need to fight for what you believe you’re owed.

But there’s a difference between coming off as entitled and ensuring you get paid a fair salary for your first job.

How can you make sure you get what you want?

Do your homework
Before you set foot in any job interview, do your homework. It is glaringly obvious to any employer when a fresh grad turns up, only having vaguely Googled their business. You should know the background to the company for context, who their clients are, any big projects they’ve worked on, and who the CEO is.

Be sure to check the news if they’re a big name company. Have they hit the headlines for any reason – good or bad – recently? You’ll want to have that conversation in your back pocket, as it shows you have been following what the company has been doing.

Beyond this, you need to do your homework about salaries in your industry. Is the current hiring environment an employer’s market or talent’s market (i.e. who’s got the upper hand?) Find salary surveys that give you an indication of what you should be earning in your role and with your level of experience and qualifications. Ask around and meet people in the industry and get their advice. You can never do too much prep work.

Know these 3 things before you enter the job interview

1. The general range of salary for your job (which you will now know if you have done your homework)
2. What the potential employer’s biggest issues are
3. How you, with your experience and passion, can help them solve these challenges

These points are essentially what any employer wants to know when deciding on a candidate. They’re not looking to hire just anyone – they want someone who understands their business objectives and where their key skills can help the company reach its goals.

Think about more than just wage
Your negotiation doesn’t have to be about cash, especially for a first job. As a grad, you have less leverage than someone with a couple years’ experience, but you might be able to make up for a lower wage by negotiating a few perks. This could be anything from flexible hours to taking part in various development and learning programmes. If the job requires travel, negotiate a travel budget, or if you’ll be making loads of calls from your cellphone, check to see whether they can supply you with a paid-for work phone.

Display competence
A jittery, sweaty, stammering interviewee is less likely to get the job over a confident, well-spoken candidate. Why? Because the latter comes across as a solid investment.

Don’t underestimate the power of how you dress, speak and conduct yourself in the interview. Even if the company is a jeans-and-t-shirt place, don’t show up looking scruffy in your faded denims. Speak slowly, with a smile, and maintain appropriate eye contact.

Get comfortable with talking about money
Eventually, in a second or third interview, you will likely be asked what your asking salary is. You should have a reasonable number in mind now – and the reasons to back up why you are asking for this – but don’t be afraid to ask them what they’re willing to pay.

Think of this discussion as more of a collaboration than a battle you have to fight. At the end of the day, an employer wants to pay someone well who can do the job well.

If your ideal salary is slightly above what they’re willing to offer, acknowledge this and explain why you think you deserve it. You still may not get what you want, but it puts you on the table as a confident go-getter, who is willing to work for what they want.

Go the extra mile and have a plan
So, you’re asking for X dollars per year. But why should they pay you that amount when you’ve got little experience? It’s time for you to show them.

If you really want to wow an employer, come up with a plan for what you’d like to achieve in your first 30, 60 and 90 days on the job. Remember, you have to prove yourself before you can ask for more money – and by showing them you have a plan to better your own professional development, you’re showing dedication to the job that many other candidates might not.

Know your plan if they say "no"
Although this can be where the real negotiation starts, it also might be where the conversation ends. If they say they can’t do that, don’t have the budget, it’s not in the plan, etc, know how you will respond.

In some situations it might suit you to keep negotiating and arguing your point, but you want to avoid coming off as pushy and entitled. Know your limit and when to walk away.

Even if this job doesn’t work out, always follow up with a thank you email after the interview process and remain on good terms with the business. You never know when they might want you back…

Now that you're armed and ready with negotiation skills, look for your first job here!