Salary negotiation is a crucial step in the interview process. You risk losing a lot when you don’t ask for more. And yes, even if you do not think you have the leverage, you should still do it. Here is a complete guide to negotiating, especially if it is your first job.
How to negotiate when you don’t have much experience
If there’s one thing that’s arguably more nerve-racking than a job interview, it’s negotiating your salary. And if you’re a recent graduate or someone who wants to change careers, the stakes can feel even higher. How are you supposed to convince someone you’re worth more when you have next to no experience?
When you’re just starting out, you might feel like you have to accept the first offer, but if you do, you’re doing yourself a massive financial disservice. As Fast Company‘s Lydia Dishman reports, not negotiating your starting salary can set you back more than $500,000 by the time you reach 60. It’s also common practice for companies to low ball initial offers because they expect that job seekers will negotiate.
Jacqueline Twillie, negotiation trainer and author of Navigating The Career Jungle: A Guide For Young Professionals, recommends taking these steps below to put yourself in the stronger position possible:
Talk to members of professional associations of your target industry
Almost every article on salary negotiation will tell you that the first step of negotiating is to do your research, starting with finding out the market value of your position. Glassdoor and Google are great tools, but to be truly prepared, Twillie advises that job seekers shouldn’t stop there.
“I tell people to speak with someone in professional associations. Those folks normally have their ear to the ground,” she says. Instead of asking “how much do you make?,” however, Twillie suggests that job seekers should frame their question in the following way: “I’m considering this position in this city, and I’m thinking my value is $86,500, what do you think?”
You can get a much more accurate picture this way. Noting the gender wage gap, Twillie also recommends that job seekers speak with both men and women. “We know women get paid less than men,” so don’t just ask the women in the industry, she warns.
Treat your interview like a fill-in-the-blank test
Twillie tells applicants that, when they see a job description, they should “look at it as if it’s a fill-in-the-blank for a test. A lot of the time, it’s not a full picture of what you’d be doing day to day.” She encourages applicants to “generate some questions” and “read between the lines.” For example, if a job description says that in your role, you will get special projects assigned from time to time, you’d want to ask, what kind of special projects? Who are the key partners involved? Depending on the answers you get, you might have some connections that could be a potential partner on that project.
A deep dive into specifics, says Twillie, allows you to have a range of leveraging options that might not immediately be obvious. This is especially useful if you don’t have a lot of industry experience. “Once you finish the interview process, you should have a clear idea of how you can add value to the organization.” She suggests that candidates start preparing by using this information and asking themselves, “how can I leverage my network or my skills?” Having clear answers to these questions will help you a great deal come negotiation time.
Use the STAR method to highlight your experience
When talking about their experiences, Twillie is a big fan of the STAR method–situation or task, action, and result. Say the interviewer throws you a question about encountering conflicts in a team environment, and you wanted to use the example of working on a group project in your sophomore year of college. Describe the project and the circumstances that led to the conflict, the actions you took to resolve the conflicts, and the result. This is a great formula to show that you do have experience that is relevant to the job, even if it doesn’t seem like it.
For career changers and those who’ve held part-time jobs, Twillie also recommends mentioning numbers and tangible results–whether it’s sales figures or a percentage value. Make sure to mention what you learned from your experience and how you might apply that learning to the position you’re interviewing for. That tells them that you “have a great track record of learning and growing,” Twillie says, and that you possess the foresight to apply real-life learnings in a real-world situations.
Show your knowledge of industry trends
Even if you don’t have experience in the industry, you can show your value by illustrating your knowledge of the industry. Twillie says that job seekers should be able to talk about the steps they took to excel working in the role they are interviewing for. One obvious way to show this is to illustrate that you can “speak” the industry. “Show that you’re already deeply immersed knowledge-wise, speak to what’s happening in the new trends,” Twillie urges.
Find a way to use your disadvantage to your advantage
Unfortunately, negotiations are fraught with biases, deception, and hidden agendas. If candidates can identify possible biases (whether conscious or unconscious) ahead of time, they can find a way to work around them. Yes, that includes working around inexperience. As Stephanie Vozza wrote in a previous story for Fast Company, it’s all about demonstrating your value to the company. Vozza wrote, “If you’re familiar with a new type of technology, for example, mention that the company will save time and resources because they won’t have to train you.”
Practice in a low-stakes situation
If the thought of negotiation makes you drip with sweat, Twillie recommends doing a practice run in low-stakes situations. “For a person who’s uncomfortable negotiating, I advise them to call their recurring monthly bill.” Whether it’s your internet provider or your bank, ask the representatives, “am I getting the best possible rate?” Try to ask for a lower rate, or for additional services at your current rate.
Elicit feedback from friends who can give you a little bit of tough love
Lastly, Twillie recommends role-playing with a friend–someone who can hit you with the hard questions, but not be afraid to tell you what you need to improve on. It’s also a great idea to practice with someone who is knowledgeable about the role that you’re applying for.
Twillie also stress the importance of saying your target number out loud. “If you’ve never said $94,000, your voice might crack. Being aware of how you sound is very important in practice. That can make a big difference in $10,000 or $20,000.” To go a step further, she recommends that candidates record their practice negotiations–even film it if they can, so they can get an idea of their body language.
Four mistakes to avoid
You just got the call you’ve been waiting for. After several rounds of interviews for a job you really want, it’s finally time to get down to discussing the offer.
If you’re relatively new to the workforce–and especially if you’re about to negotiate your very first job offer–there are some common pitfalls you may not know to avoid. Here are four of the most common ways early-career professionals tend to get out-negotiated by employers, and tactics you can use to make sure it doesn’t happen to you.
You break the silence too soon
Silence is a negotiating tool that many employers use during salary negotiations. Don’t let them. Silence is designed to make you feel like the employer is losing enthusiasm for your candidacy during the course of negotiating an offer.
Once you state your salary requirements, many employers will fall silent or not react to your request. This uncomfortable moment often prompts candidates to volunteer information they shouldn’t–like, “If that’s too high, though, I can always consider a few thousand dollars less.” Resist that urge to backpedal. Just ride out the silence, calmly return the interviewer’s gaze (or wait out their silence if you’re speaking by phone), and force the person on the other side to speak next.
It doesn’t have to be standoffish, either. If you’re presented with a salary that’s lower than you’d hoped for, use that silence in your favor. Let them see that you haven’t been wowed by their offer. This can open the opportunity to ask for more money in the course of the discussion, because your interviewer won’t want to lose you and start the process over again–all over a couple of thousand dollars.
You ask for a salary that reflects your lifestyle, not facts
Lifestyle salary requests are based on a candidate’s cash needs to support their current style of living. And indeed, it’s hard to blame less experienced job candidates for thinking along the lines of, “In order to pay my student loans and live on my own, I need to earn around $40,000 a year.” Unfortunately, though, your lifestyle has no place in a salary negotiation.
To your employer, your living needs are your concern, not theirs. Most employers work within salary guidelines set by the company for entry-level positions. If you bring any mention of your lifestyle into the salary negotiation, the company can quickly shut that down by pointing to its compensation protocol.
However, if you present your salary requirements based on average salaries listed on Glassdoor, Indeed, and other job sites for jobs similar to the one you’re being considered for, you can now get on the same page–using facts that are pertinent to the employer, not just you. And once you do that, your chance of landing a better starting salary dramatically increases.
You accept a low salary without negotiating
Many early-career job candidates are grateful to be in the position to be offered a job with a company they really want to work for, so they accept an offer that’s below market value. The candidate’s thinking often is that they just want to get into the company at any cost, and they’ll worry about the money later.
But the truth is that if you do that, you’ll likely be underpaid as long as you stay at that company. That means the only way to get your salary up to industry standards is to leave, and you may not want to. Remember, there’s almost always room for negotiation in any salary discussion, even at the entry level.
The best way to handle a situation like this is to ask for a little more, not a lot more (where you might actually risk losing the job). Usually there’s no harm in asking for 4% to 6% more than what’s initially offered. This way you’ll walk away feeling that you’re being fairly compensated. Every company has a little more to pay you if they really want you.
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