Negotiating your first-ever salary pays off over the course of your career. But asking for more money when you’re just starting out can be intimidating. Here’s how to negotiate your pay when you don’t have much formal work experience.
Negotiating your salary is important. Start a job with low pay, and, sure, you can eventually move up. But you’ll only move based on that low initial amount. Negotiating a higher salary doesn’t just pay off in the present — it’s also a long-term investment. Anything you negotiate in the future will use that higher amount as a benchmark.
Think Like an Employer
Thomas Frank is the founder of College Info Geek. He says the key to any negotiation is considering what the other person wants.
It’s so easy to think about the salary increase you want, but when it comes to the actual negotiation, that doesn’t matter. What matters is whether or not the decision maker (your boss) is willing to trade what you want in order to get what they want.
So it’s important to consider the negotiation from his or her perspective. Frank adds that this is especially important when you lack experience. Without a proven track record of your abilities, you’ll have to work harder to show the potential employer that you can provide value.
What an Employer Wants
As someone who has hired people for his own business, Frank reveals a few questions an employer asks themselves when hiring someone:
- Does this person have the skill set and experience required to do the work? If not, can they learn it quickly?
- Will their output be of the same quality that I could do myself, or that someone else at the same pay could produce? Can it maybe be better?
- Will this person actually care about my company/product, or do they just want a paycheck?
- Will I constantly be pestered with questions, or can this person find solutions on their own?
- How long will this person stay? Am I going to waste money training them just to see them leave soon?
- Am I going to be happier overall with this person on my team? Will I be stoked to work with them each day? How will my customers/other employees feel about this person? Will this person it into the culture?
He then breaks these questions down into eight basic factors:
- Learning ability/adaptability
- Quality of work
- Social skills and fit
Based on this info, Frank points out that technical skills and past experience are actually only two of the major factors that an employer looks for in an employee. To make up for your lack of experience, focus on polishing your abilities in those other areas.
Do Your Research
Research is an important part of negotiating salary for anyone. But if you lack experience, you’ll especially want to be equipped with knowledge. Here’s what you should know to prepare your negotiations.
Salary range: Of course, you should know what salary to ask for in your potential job market. Sites like Glassdoor or Salary.com can help with this. Clarke University says that your employer can probably budget 15-20 per cent more than they initially offer. Obviously, this is a generalization, and companies will vary. You’ll have to figure out an amount you feel comfortable with, but research helps with that.
Company background: Texas A&M’s career services recommends gathering info about the company. “Learn what the company does, its financial position, its status in the business community, and recent information about its successes and failures.”
The employer: Frank suggests getting to know the employer, too, in your research.
I mentioned Social Skills and Culture Fit as two important factors – to make a good impression in these categories, maybe you can scan my tweets or ask my peers what my interests are. Reading How to Win Friends and Influence People beforehand wouldn’t hurt – it will reinforce the fact that I’ll like you more if you take an interest in me and the things I’m passionate about.
Overall, the more you know, the more leverage you have to work with. Knowing a company’s past failures, for instance, could help you figure out where to focus your value to that company.
Focus On Skill
iGrad.com reminds us that, ultimately, skillset should trump experience. More than a list of places you’ve worked, an employer wants to know you have the necessary skills for the job. Keep the conversation focused on those skills:
…make a business case for why your skill set deserves the pay you ask for, according to Caroline Ceniza-Levine, a career expert, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart . “Share market data that shows how much people with this skill make. Show how the skill will add to the company’s bottom line. Focus on what you can do from here on and not years of experience. Keep the discussion centered on the skill as opposed to experience to maximise your negotiations.”
You may have acquired these skills in an internship, university organisation, or part-time job. Either way, try to keep the conversation about your skills and how you’ve honed them.
Offer A Game Plan
If you really want to stand out, you might consider bringing a game plan to the negotiation. Frank suggests:
Maybe you could ask somebody who works in your target department within company to coffee before the interview; ask them what they do on a daily basis and what they think could be improved within the department. Research some ideas for making improvements – you’ll show that you’re passionate enough about the company to put in effort before even being hired. This is hard, which is why most people won’t do it. More opportunity for you.
Over at AfterCollege, career coach Teresa Torres offers a similar suggestion:
Act as if you already have the job. What would you do during your first month? Not sure? Ask people who have similar roles. Do your research. Then come prepared to the interview with an outline of what you would do in the first few weeks. Present it as one potential option, as of course, you would want input from the hiring manager on what you should be doing.
You want to prove you understand the responsibilities and role of your potential job. You know the day-to-day work that goes into it, the long-term goals associated with it, and you have the ability to tackle all of that.
Learn Some Negotiating Techniques
Not everyone agrees on some of the most basic methods for negotiating. For some techniques, you’ll have to learn the pros and cons of each and decide which ones work best for you.
For example, in his post on this topic, money writer J.D. Roth suggests waiting for the employer to make the first mention of money. Thus, don’t mention your salary expectation until they give you an actual figure. ” If you do, you provide an anchor for the negotiation, and that can only hurt you,” he says.
But for some, this method may not work. Our own Alan Henry writes:
The game of salary chicken doesn’t work for everyone, and more and more employers know full well that candidates want to hear how much they’re willing to pay before disclosing how much they make. They will insist on at least knowing how much you make now, and many will even call your current or previous employer to find out if you’re being truthful.
We’ve also suggested the Briefcase Technique. In a weekly video Q&A, author Ramit Sethi explained how it works:
So the client says, ‘You know, I’m really just curious. What’s your price here?’ And what you say at that point is, ‘Oh, actually, before we get to that, let me just show you something I put together.’ And you literally pull out, from your briefcase, a 1-, 2-, 3-, 5-page proposal document. And this proposal…is actually about…things you found in their business that you could improve, and exactly how you would go through it.
This is similar to coming up with a game plan. But by bringing it up as the money conversation starts, you can prep the discussion by impressing them with your research and foresight.
Many recent grads feel lucky enough just to get a job and don’t bother negotiating their pay. But you can be grateful for a job and negotiate an income that matches your worth in a workplace. In fact, doing so is critical. Not only will it serve as a benchmark for future pay increases; it’s also a good introduction in what it’s like to be part of the working world.