How to Negotiate Your Salary

By Laura Hills, Assistant Director of Career Development, Schar School of Policy and Government

Discussing money is considered very taboo in our society, and you may be intimidated by the thought of negotiating for a salary after you receive a new job offer. You might worry about seeming disrespectful or demanding when you are new to an organization, but in actuality, negotiating is a common part of the job search process.

You can feel confident entering a salary negotiation by viewing the situation as a conversation and preparing yourself with the following tips:

  1. Do Your Research
    Researching salary information for your specific field is one of the most important aspects of a salary negotiation. It is crucial for you to recognize two items: first, the value in what you bring to the company, and second, the salary trends in your industry.

    Your value as a candidate is based on a variety of things, including your degree level and your previous work experience. There are a variety of factors that impact an organization’s job offer as well. The location of the job, type of employer (public sector vs. private sector), hiring rate, and degree type all can impact the salary employers can offer. Educating yourself on all these components allows you to understand the job market in your industry and region as well as identify what a reasonable salary range would be. There are many resources online that collect salary data and cost of living information that can assist you in your research.

  2. Evaluate the Offer
    Though a base salary is primarily the focus of a job offer, there are other elements that add value that you should consider. The employer may offer items such as competitive health insurance packages, paid time off, student loan repayment, continuing education coverage, telework opportunities, and more. Consider how these options add to the offer, and evaluate the whole package.

    It can be helpful to choose three to four items that are the most important to you in an offer. You might be willing to accept a lower base salary if you feel that the overall benefits package is worth it, contains those desired items and in turn, improves your work/life balance.

  3. Feel Comfortable in the Conversation
    Armed with your research and evaluation, you should focus on having a conservation with the new employer if you hope to negotiate on your job offer. Many students are afraid of a “no” or are worried about being perceived as combative in the beginning. That’s not the case, as most hiring managers are amenable and prepared to discuss job offers. A good way to start the salary negotiation conversation is by asking the employer if they are open to negotiation. It is important to be kind and respectful, yet firm in your discussion. Provide concrete reasoning for your request based on your experience and salary research. Most hiring managers that are able to negotiate will listen and work with you if your request is well-researched and makes sense based on your qualifications.

  4. Know your “Walk-Away” Point
    Some organizations may not be able to negotiate and hopefully will share that with you early on before you enter the process. Organizations may be restricted by a budget or have a standard rate for new hires. It is important for you to be cognizant of what type of base salary and benefits offer you need to be successful. Many students have financial obligations (families, student loans, mortgages, car payments, etc.) that they need to fulfill. Taking into consideration those factors, it is important to identify the lowest number and/or benefits package you can accept that still supports your lifestyle and makes you feel comfortable. That becomes your “walk-away” point. If an organization cannot offer you a job at your comfort level, it will not be a successful career fit for you.

    All in all, successful negotiations involve research and evaluation. With intentional preparation, you can feel comfortable stepping into a situation where you are talking about your salary with your new employer. Be confident in the value you bring to an organization and don’t be timid in expressing your worth to a hiring manager.