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Even at Entry Level, You Can Negotiate Your Salary

April 2, 2015
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When you’re searching for that perfect first job, deciding whether to negotiate your salary isn’t always your top priority. But as the economy improves and entry-level jobs are easier to come by, you should feel more confident asking for more money.

The unemployment rate for recent college graduates fell from more than 7% in 2011 to just over 5% in 2014, according to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. As scary as negotiating might seem, in many cases, the benefits outweigh the risks. Here’s how to decide if you should ask for a higher salary, and some expert tips for doing it right.

Have you done your homework?

Knowing how much you’re worth will help you decide whether to accept your employer’s offer. Check out, Glassdoor and PayScale to see what salaries other people with comparable jobs earn. Focus your research on companies that are in the same city and that are about the same size as yours.

Also, make sure your job description matches what other people who have reported their salaries are required to do. Responsibilities can vary widely among people with the same job title, says Heather Neisen, human resources manager at TechnologyAdvice, a startup in Nashville, Tennessee. A marketing director at a small company might have the same role as a marketing coordinator at a bigger one, she says, and you don’t want to ask for a salary that’s wildly out of sync with what you’ll be doing in the job you applied for.

How experienced are you?

A big part of deciding whether to negotiate is determining whether your experience matches the job description. You might think that because you’re new to the job market, negotiating your first offer is a luxury you can’t afford. But internships, part-time jobs and leadership positions in college activities all count toward your experience.

“Sometimes people coming out of school are just insanely qualified and have had five internships and two jobs. They’re just as qualified as someone with a job or two out of school,” says Neisen. If you get an offer that’s less than what you expected, don’t be afraid to ask for more. Just make sure you’re prepared to explain what skills and work experience you bring to the table to back up your request.

Do you plan to stay at this job for a while?

You’re likely to have a few different jobs throughout your 20s, so starting out with a lower salary may not be a huge problem if you work at your first job for a year or two. You’ll have another chance to negotiate in your next role. But if you want to stick it out for several years, negotiating during the offer phase is an important opportunity to start out with a solid income, because your future raises will be based on your salary.

Don’t lose heart, though, if your employer takes a hard line and won’t negotiate with you early on. “You have so much more negotiating power when you’re a great employee,” Neisen says.

If you work hard for six months and consistently knock your projects and assignments out of the park, you’ll be in a great position to revisit salary negotiations later on, she says. “Then when you’re saying, ‘Hey, let’s talk about my compensation,’ it’s kind of a no-brainer.”

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer covering education and life after college for NerdWallet. Follow her on Twitter.

Image via iStock.