By Chelsea Keen, M.Ed. (’12), Career Coach and Founder of Uplifted Ambitions Career Coaching
Chelsea Keen is a results-oriented career coach who empowers ambitious early and mid-level professional women to land their ideal job, advance in their career, and find fulfillment in their 9 to 5. She launched Uplifted Ambitions Career Coaching several years after graduating from Wake Forest – she credits the OPCD staff for helping her identify and pursue her professional passions and now loves to provide the same support to others.
You’ve finally landed your first job offer – cue happy dance! But wait – BEFORE you accept and start sharing the good news, pause to evaluate your offer and negotiate your salary.
Negotiation can feel daunting to even the most seasoned professionals – which is why so many new professionals (especially women) avoid the process all together and simply accept the first offer they receive.
Hear me when I say: ALWAYS NEGOTIATE. Employers expect you to negotiate, and you are literally leaving money on the table if you don’t. (In fact, when you do the math, you could miss out on up to hundreds of thousands of dollars over your lifetime if you don’t negotiate – that should give you some serious motivation.)
Here are a few tips to set yourself up for success when negotiating your salary for your first job.
1. Research: Research and assess the market rate for your position and location; use reliable sources such as salary.com, payscale.com or the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Based on this data, decide on your target salary, as well your minimum acceptable salary.
- Tip: Research from Columbia Business School demonstrates that asking for a specific number, like $43,250 instead of a round number like $43k, will yield better results because it demonstrates you’ve done your research.
- Example: Let’s say you’ve been offered $40k for a media coordinator role in Washington, DC, which based on your research, is about the 35th percentile in terms of market rate. Using this data, you decide to ask for a target salary of $43,250 (the 65th percentile) and your minimum is $41,500 (45th percentile).
2. Articulate: In addition to your market research, prepare to articulate the professional value you bring to the organization during your negotiation. Craft 2-3 talking points that demonstrate why you are worth the salary you are requesting.
- Tip: Focus on specific accomplishments or skills that will make you an asset to this team – you may decide to share these points during your initial conversation or simply keep them in your back pocket in case your employer is hesitant to consider your request.
- Example: During your internship you assisted in developing a media campaign that increased engagement by 65% and you are confident that your digital media and SEO skills will produce similar results for your new company.
3. Rehearse: Prepare and practice your conversation out loud to increase your confidence. Express gratitude for the offer, assertively share your request, and then be SILENT and wait for a response.
- Tip: Record yourself on Zoom to simulate a mock discussion.
- Example: “Thank you so much for this offer – I am truly excited about the opportunity to join the team and I’d love to discuss the offer in more detail. You offered a salary of $40k, though based on my research and my unique SEO and data analytics skills, I believe a salary of $43,250 is more in alignment with my market value. Would you be open to adjusting the offer to align with that figure?”
4. Prepare Your Contingency Plan: Sometimes there is truly no wiggle room with salary, so consider alternative benefits you can negotiate if the employer is not able to meet your salary requests.
- Tip: Different industries and companies have different standards of flexibility when it comes to non-salary benefits. Consider whether it would be appropriate to request a signing bonus, relocation reimbursement, flex time, professional development funds, etc.
- Example: “I appreciate you increasing the offer to $42k, and while that doesn’t meet the salary level that I believe aligns with my market value, perhaps we could meet in the middle with a one-time relocation reimbursement of $1k to support my cross-country move?”
Now that you’ve effectively negotiated your salary for your first job offer, go ahead and get back to your happy dance!