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Salary negotiation for beginners

You’ve nailed the interview, and you have an offer in hand. Now comes the tough part – negotiations! Don’t be afraid to ask for what you are worth (based on research, of course). Following are some handy tips for getting through this conversation.

I’m a recent graduate and don’t have much experience. I should probably just take whatever they offer me.

Wrong! Certain circumstances warrant salary negotiation (read what those circumstances are here), while other times you may not have a "case" for negotiations.  First determine if your offer warrants negotiation--and understand that the worst that can happen if you negotiate is that the employer says “no.” Many employers expect candidates to negotiate, whether they are fresh out of college or have 15+ years of experience. Often they have a certain number in mind that they are willing to meet, and all you have to do is present your evidence-based case. Be aware that there are some companies that have very structured new grad programs where there isn’t flexibility in the salary. 

Salary negotiation seems like an awkward conversation to have. What is the first step?

First, you never want to negotiate via email. While this might seem like a less stressful approach, it is far easier for an employer to say “no” in writing. The usual process is to first connect with the person who presented you with the offer. This is where it is appropriate to send an email. First, make sure they know you appreciate the offer and you are very excited about the potential of working for their company. Then indicate that you have a few questions about the offer and you’d like to set up a time to talk via phone. You do not have to tell them you are planning to negotiate your salary. Make sure that you set up this conversation well before the acceptance deadline..

OK, I’ve set up the phone call. Now what?

You need to do some research! First, you should have two numbers in mind. Your target salary (basically, your best-case scenario), and the minimum you are willing to take. Think about whether you would accept the offer as-is if there is no flexibility. Don’t pull these numbers out of thin air. Take a look at the location-specific salary information for the type of position being offered. The NACE Salary Calculator, Salary.com, and Glassdoor are good places to start. Also, be sure to look at the salary data reported to Engineering Career Services by your fellow engineering students. We track offers and acceptances for the College of Engineering, so you can see wage/salary averages based on degree level and major.

After you decide on what you want to ask for, you need to work on the “why.” Build your case! The company has already decided you are the best candidate, so you have some leverage in the conversation. What are you bringing to the table that exceeds the minimum qualifications?

Bottom line: Know what you want and why you’re worth it!

So how exactly do I phrase what I am asking for?

Remember, do not go into the conversation with a sense of entitlement. Make sure they know you are excited about working for their company and are very grateful for the offer. Share with them that you’ve done your research on comparable salaries for your level of experience, and that you feel that you have a lot to offer the organization. Provide the numbers and the evidence. Then ask if your desired salary is a possibility. Keep in mind that this isn’t like buying a car – you don’t want to haggle. Most companies will be flexible. But be prepared for them to say “no”. Also be ready with a decision depending on both scenarios!

The company won’t offer a higher salary. Can I negotiate other things?

You can certainly have a Plan B. Some people will opt to ask for a signing bonus or relocation expenses. Some companies may even be willing to negotiate your title, vacation days, or other perks.

I am happy with the final offer. What is the next step?

Get a new offer letter in writing. Take time to review it and make sure it indicates everything that was agreed upon. Return the signed offer letter, and you’re on your way!

“The most difficult thing in any negotiation, almost, is making sure that you strip it of the emotion and deal with the facts.”
-Howard Baker

About the author

Krysta Kirsch

Krysta Kirsch is a Previous On-Campus Recruiting Coordinator at Engineering Career Services.