It can be one of the most nerve-wracking situations you ever encounter and a lot of students are in the dark on how to handle some of the basics. How much should I ask for? What happens if they don’t like what I say? What’s even considered normal? These are all valid concerns. While salary negotiation can be intimidating, I’m going to break down some important things to keep in mind to help ease you into the process.

Know what you need to earn. This is different from what you want to earn. I’m asking you to calculate how much you’ll need to make after factoring in rent, utilities, health insurance, student loan payments and other living expenses. You can make some vital mistakes if you’re unaware of how much is needed just to make ends meet. This is also an opportunity to see if your budget is appropriate or if you should make any adjustments to lower your cost of living.

Do your research. Figure out an estimated starting salary for the position you’re applying for. Glassdoor.com is one of the best tools for this information, they provide both minimum and maximum amounts locally and nationwide. While they do provide an average, keep in mind that includes people with varying years of experience. So, if you’re just starting out you’ll be referring to your city’s minimum range for the position and anticipate growth opportunities after your foot is in the door.

Government positions require salary information to be publicly available, so search for your state’s accountability portal to find the most accurate information. Our center also keeps track of national salary surveys, provided by NACE, which are updated quarterly.

You can also go to the source by calling the company’s HR department and asking for the posted position’s range. There may be some restrictions in what they can reveal, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

Ask appropriately. Some applications may require you to disclose your salary requirements before the actual interview or in your cover letter, which is fine if you’re well established in your field and want to be transparent in what you need. It’s a little more tricky for those that are brand new, don’t have a previous salary to refer to, or are switching industries. For those situations, if you can communicate your salary expectations without locking in a number, you may be better off. For example, “my salary expectations are comparable in the field appropriate to my time and experience.” If you need to disclose a dollar amount, utilize your research tools mentioned above and always indicate that you’re open to negotiation. Be very careful not to ask for an excessive amount, that is the quickest way to get passed over as a candidate.

If you are offered the job and the salary presented doesn’t quite meet expectations, that’s when you should be prepared to counter. A good format is:

Good Morning [name].

Thank you for the job offer, I’m really excited to be a part of the [company name] team and I know that I will bring a lot of value. I appreciate the offer at [original $ amount], but I was expecting it to be closer to [requested amount] based on my research of similar positions in the area. I want to reiterate my enthusiasm for the position and working with you and the department. I can assure you that my drive and commitment will be worth the investment, please let me know if [requested amount] is a possibility. I look forward to your response.

Sincerely,
[your name]

Keep in mind, if your salary expectations are more than $5,000 of the offered amount, you may want to consider if your ask price is reasonable or if the role just isn’t a good fit.

A job offer will not be revoked just for asking for a higher salary. If the company responds rejecting your counter, you will simply decide if you want to accept the original amount or not.

Consider the alternatives. 

It’s important to keep in mind possibilities other than money if a company can’t reach your desired amount. Time is a big one, consider asking for additional vacation days or flexible work hours. Or request a professional mentorship which could increase your visibility in the company or compensation for added training or education. You could also ask for a performance evaluation at 6 or 12 months where you could revisit the salary conversation at that point.

You will always have a stronger argument for yourself if the company is familiar with your work or if you are able to provide examples of past-work to justify your request.

As always, if you have questions about salaries or want us to proofread an offer before you hit send, don’t hesitate to send them our way.