Climb the Ladder

How to Salary Negotiate When You’re Just out of College

First of all, let’s tackle the question:

Should I salary negotiate for an entry-level job?

The short, easy answer? Yes. The more complicated answer? A little bit, and the right way. Which of course will make any entry-level job seeker ask “Ok, so how much is a little bit? And how will I make sure I don’t over negotiate and lose the job?”

Don’t worry! We’ll tackle that.

Although over negotiating isn’t the issue for most first-time job seekers because according to Nerdwallet, 62% of them don’t! The reason for that is probably because many of them are thinking…

Why negotiate salary if I’ll eventually get a raise anyway?

Business Insider paints a beautiful illustration that might help you rethink your non-negotiating tactics:

Alex and Taylor are entry-level job seekers who are both offered a starting salary of $45,000. Alex simply accepts the offer but…

“Taylor negotiates for $5,000 more at the outset for a starting salary of $50,000, gets a 1% raise each year, and negotiates a 4% raise every three years.

By the time they’ve reached retirement age, Taylor is making $121,370 a year, while Alex is earning $70,416. Over the course of their careers, Taylor has earned $1.06 million more than Alex.”

So yes, negotiating your salary is important and it does make a difference.

That being said, there are smart ways to go about negotiating and there are not smart ways.


Smart way #1:

Do your research

Just because you heard of a friend getting $XXX,XXX salary at a company, doesn’t mean you will. Everyone has something different to offer and jobs these days will offer salaries “commensurate with experience,” or in other words “depending on experience.” The good news is, this helps to level the playing field. The bad news? You’re just out of college so as far as experience goes… Let’s just say your resume looks something like Pam Halpert’s

In the end, you’re going to want to calculate how much someone with your experience, in your industry, in your area, makes at the type of company you want to work. In other words, if you, with 0-1 years of experience want a job as a marketing specialist in Denver, CO at a 50-200 sized company, you’re going to want to research the average income for a position just like that. Fortunately, there are lots of tools out there that can help you do just that!

Be able to give a reason for why you need a higher salary

Say you have an irregular expense your hiring manager could sympathize with. Maybe you’re starting a family or your rent and loan payment are threatening to take up half your paycheck. You might be relocating to a new city that has a higher cost of living than where you live now. Whatever the case, if you’re about to argue that your salary should be $55,000/year rather than $50,000, you might want to provide a couple good reasons to back that up other than, “I’ve grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle…”


Location is a great (and very reasonable) factor to bring up when negotiating a salary. If you’re moving from, say, North Carolina to Seattle, you’re going to need a significant bump in your expected salary in order to keep up with the cost of living. Try to break down the expenses you’ll have by the time you take the job and determine whether the salary being offered will be enough to cover those expenses. If negotiating a higher salary of 5%-10% could really help to cover your expenses, then do your best to explain your situation to the hiring manager and see what they have to say.


Whether you believe it to be fair or not, employers might consider the fact that you have a family or not when determining your appropriate salary. If you have a spouse and 2 kids, they might be much more willing to bump that number up a few notches than if, say, you’re a single with no one to take care of but your lonesome self.

Understand your worth

Besides comparing what those with similar experience would make at a similar job, in what ways might your specific skills be valuable to your specific company. Will you be starting a new department or initiative from scratch? How much as the company already invested in finding someone to fill your role? Will they be willing to budge on the salary a few extra thousand in order to not have to start from scratch and find someone new?

Show them the facts

Say you’re looking for a job as a marketing specialist and during your internship, you were able to make a real difference for the company. Be prepared to (nicely) prove how you were valuable to that company and what you’ll be able to do for this company. The key here in knowing when it would be appropriate if and when to ask for a higher salary. If you’re going after a job where there’s a lot competition for the position, you might want to consider playing it safe if you really want the job since the company could very easily give it to someone who doesn’t ask for so much. There may also be cases where the salary for a position is simply a fixed number and has been for years. Do your best to figure out if salary negotiation is realistic for the job you’re after if it

Take benefits into account

Remember, your compensation is more than just a dollar sign. Take into account the value of the benefits package the company is willing to offer you. Is the company offering health, dental, a 401K, and life insurance? What about other benefits like equity, paid gym memberships, a commute/parking stipend, or tuition assistance? Try using a calculator like this to determine the actual value of your benefits package in order to understand the total value of your compensation. Benefits are also a factor that could be negotiated in and of themselves. If the take-home pay can no longer be negotiated, you might be able to ask for commute stipend or tuition/student loan assistance. Maybe they’ll be willing to let you work from home once in a while. Just be careful to not overstep your bounds and look like you’re trying to nickel and dime your employer.

Be upfront about your job search

Say you’ve had more than one interview and now find yourself with competing job offers. Congrats! You might be able to use that to get your interviewer to swing a couple extra thousand your way. It’s perfectly ok to let a manager know you have another job offer in place, as long as you do it the right way. As much as hiring manager want someone who’ll be able to do the job well, they also want someone who loves their company. Very often, hiring managers will love a candidate who loves their company and has the same vision and feel meh about a candidate who can simply do the job.

So what’s the right way to handle a competing job offer? Try saying something along the lines of this:


“Hi John,

I felt as though I should be transparent and let you know that I’ve received another job offer. While your company is definitely my prefered choice and I can see myself fitting in well and making an impact, COMPANY X is offering me $57,000 and because of my living expenses, I’m not sure I’d be able to turn it down. I wanted to ask if there was any flexibility in the salary you offered. I’d love to try to work something out.

All my best,



Remember- you’re going to be working with these people

The downfall of many young job seekers who’ve had their offers rescinded was one thing: they forgot about life after the negotiation. Sure, you’ll have to speak up for yourself and be your own advocate during your interview and salary negotiation, but that doesn’t mean you’ll get away with looking overly self-important to your future supervisor. Always do your best to be civil, polite, and nurture the relationships with the people you hope to be working with. Remember- humility and confidence aren’t mutually exclusive. Do your research, know your worth, but don’t burn your bridges!

Always say thank you!

You may not think it’s worth saying, but we’ll say it anyway. Sometimes a job offer might not pay nearly as much as you hoped it would. Sometimes you may have to just walk away and that’s ok! In any case, make sure you thank the hiring manager for their time, let them know they have a great company, and then be upfront about your decision and why. Explaining why you can’t accept a salary will always be better than spitting the water out of your mouth and saying, “Uhm what?”

Prove it

Whether or not you get the salary you’re looking for, you’re going to have to prove you’re worth it. As a recent grad, you may have to take lower pay and then take the time to prove your worth to your employer. Then, you might have leverage enough to ask for a raise. If you were able to negotiate a salary you’re happy with, be sure you live up to it and convince your employers you’re really worth it! After all, they could find someone who might do the job better than for the same or less pay. Instead, make them thankful that you’re the one they hired, even for a higher compensation.

Have you negotiated your salary in the past? How were able to convince your hiring managers you were worth it? Share your experience in the comments below and share with a friend who’s on the job hunt!



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