Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Negotiating that first salary can help or hurt your future earnings

I learned a lot of valuable things in college: how to write a press release, how to write a news article, how to write a public service announcement (I was a public relations major after all), how to give a strong oral presentation, how to write a paper that was supposed to take a whole semester in a matter of hours...the list could go on. But one thing I didn’t learn at my alma mater; which prides itself on its graduates getting offered great employment opportunities was how to negotiate my first salary.

In hind-sight, I definitely low-balled myself when I accepted my first job. I did not learn this until a few months later when I left that company for a better opportunity and my boss earnestly told me that they would have offered me more money if I had indeed asked for more. I feel everything happens for a reason and maybe the stars aligned for me to learn that lesson when I did. Salary negotiation is an important consideration for recent graduates on the job-hunt to know.

I appreciated my first boss being frank with me so I learned this lesson early in my career. I am currently at my third job and know I still have alot to learn. Low-balling yourself on your first job could potentially cost you thousands of dollars in income. Women in particular do not always feel comfortable negotiating for more money and are faster to accept a first offer than men who normally don’t have a problem with negotiating to get that higher salary. I mean salary is important, It’s not uncommon for members of Generation Y (or Millenials as I’ve heard people my age also called in the media) to graduate with more student loan debt than you will make in your first full year of full-time employment or credit card debt. It’s no wonder so many of us elect to live at home a while longer even though we have degrees. I didn’t have this luxury because I sought employment away from home.

But how do you ask for more money?
Do your research ahead of time and know the salary range for your field based on your experience (or lack of) and the cost of living where you live or are seeking employment. is a starting point for learning about salary ranges in your field. But talking to a mentor or seasoned professional who makes hiring decisions in your field might be more helpful. If you are in need of a mentor, join a professional networking organization in your field. I find sometimes that those salary calculators are skewed or may not offer jobs fields that are more unique. And remember: A salary of $35,000 in North Carolina is NOT the same as a salary of $35,000 in New York City!

Make a strong case for your skills and what you would bring to the company and in the most polite way possible, when discussion of salary comes up in an interview, try to let interviewers bring up exact numbers first so you won’t low-ball yourself. Specifics such as salary in my experience don’t come up unless the company has made a formal offer or plan to in the near future - but this could just be the way it’s done in communications-related industries, as that is where my work experience lies.

As David Bach says in his book, Smart Women Finish First in his 12 Commandments for Attracting Greater Wealth “Don’t accept less than you are worth!”

If you already have a job, ask for a raise (strategically).
If you were like me and did not know the pitfalls of low-balling yourself when it comes to salary, ask for a raise. BUT ask for a raise in a strategic way. Become the ‘go-to’ person or problem solver at your job. If something needs to be done, do it and don’t complain. Come in early and leave a little later. Offer ideas on projects or create your own. Build a portfolio of all of your contributions and if you are numbers savvy, put monetary value to your work. For instance if you work in a commission-based or sales industry, state outright how much money you have generated for your company. If you work in a creative field like writing or graphic design, create a file (website is even better) of your best work and make a nice power point or (inexpensive) portfolio of your work to help strengthen your case. This may take some time, but it will be worth it and you can always use it at future jobs.

If your job sucks and your salary is dismal it may be time to move on.
I am all for not giving up and making the best out of a situation, but sometimes you have to cut your losses and move on. This may be more difficult to do as you get older, so take advantage of this if you are younger and single or your significant other is okay with you quitting your job. Leaving your job on your terms should be even more encouragement (if the state of our economy already isn’t) for you to stack up money in your emergency fund. If you have a nice cushion of savings, you don’t have to stay at a job your aren’t happy with.

So, for those entering the work force or even switching fields, happy job hunting! For those already working, Do you think your first job cost you money in future earnings?


Money Maus said...

I am about to enter the workforce, and I accepted a job at $33K per year. I attempted to negotiate it up to $35K but they did not accept that - even though they did initially tell me that the job pays in the "low-to-mid 30's"... a bit disappointed, but I can survive on it! (My resume, 4 internships, and degree are great in my opinion for my industry, but hey... gotta start somewhere!) :)