How to negotiate the salary for your first job offer

Getting your first job offer is exciting — joining the full-time workforce can mean a salary, benefits, and a path to financial independence.  But before jumping to accept an offer, it's important to assess what exactly the company is promising you and negotiate your salary.

Most people hate negotiating (who can blame them) and don't do it. More than half (56%) of workers don't negotiate when given a job offer, according to CareerBuilder.

But here's a news flash: Most employers will negotiate — even for entry-level employees. More than  half (53%) of employers said they would be willing to negotiate first-time salaries, according to CareerBuilder. It's actually built into their strategy: Most employers will offer a lower salary to start, leaving room for negotiations. So, by not negotiating, you could be leaving money on the table!

And the payoffs from those negotiations can be huge – in some cases, 11-20% higher, according to Jobvite's Job Seeker Nation Study.

So, let's say you get offered a starting salary of $40,000 — 11% of that is $4,400! And that's PER YEAR. So, if you stay at that job for 2 years, you would've made an extra $8,800. Three years — that's $13,200. Plus, if in a few years you go for a promotion, you're negotiating that salary from a higher rung on the salary ladder. And, as you move up, you'll keep earning more than you would have if you settled for the first offer each time. That means paying off student loans more quickly, having more money in your pocket, being able to afford a nicer apartment/house — you get the idea.

When you think of it that way, why wouldn't you negotiate?

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More than half (51%) of workers who don't negotiate fail to do so because they don't feel comfortable asking for more money, according to CareerBuilder. Nearly half said it was because they were afraid the employer would withdraw the offer. More than one-third said it was because they didn't want to seem greedy.

I sat down with some negotiation experts and those with some negotiation experience to talk through tips on how to approach your first job offer.

How to get over asking for more money

“You always negotiate a job offer … job offers are dynamic,” said Liza Babin, a 23-year-old who works in entertainment and negotiated her salary for her first two jobs.  “They chose you because you were the best person for this job, and you have a lot of value.”

Liza BabinSource: Henry Platt

She recommends never accepting an offer on the spot and, instead, take some time to research the marketplace for this position.  Once you know what you want from the negotiation, ask to talk through the offer “very calm, collected, and well-researched.”

Kate Dixon, a negotiation coach and author of “Pay Up: Unlocking Insider Secrets of Salary Negotiation,” said she tells her clients to phrase a salary negotiation as collaborative.  Phrasing a salary increase in such a manner, keeps both sides on the same team.  She suggested saying something along the lines of, “According to my research, jobs like this are paid between X and Y in the marketplace and I'm targeting the higher end.  How close can we get?”

This kind of phrasing helps show that you've done your research and gives them a range of options to solve this negotiation, while also empowering you to begin your relationship with the company confidently. 

But there are other options than just asking for a higher salary.

Peter Cappelli, a professor and director of the Center for Human Resources at the Wharton School of Business, said another strategy is to ask for one-time payments, such as a signing bonus or larger coverage of moving expenses. That may lead to more success than asking for the long-term cost of a recurring higher salary.

 “Look for things that you think might be easier for them to give to you and things that are valuable to you,” Cappelli said.  He said knowing what's on the table to negotiate besides salary — such as moving your start date back, more time off or job title — makes your negotiation stronger than making demands they can't meet like higher salaries or health-care packages outside of their standard offering.

How to prepare for a negotiation

An important part of the negotiation process is being prepared for whatever might come your way.  Knowing what a reasonable demand is shows the company that you did your research to make an equitable ask.  Cappelli stresses that it's important to have a reason why you're asking to negotiate.  For example, if people in your area, people at other companies in a similar position, or candidates with your education level typically earn more. 

“You need a reason why more pay is merited,” Cappelli said.  “Just saying, 'I want more' isn't going to get you it and you start to look foolish.”

Leveraging her prior experience as a basis for a salary increase was especially key for Alba Disla when she negotiated her salary at her first full-time job with the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion team at Comcast in 2019.

Alba DislaSource: Debbie Rabinovich

“I was very nervous because I just wanted any job at all … and I was so ecstatic I even got the offer,” Disla said about what was her dream job at the time.  “I didn't have any formal corporate experience, but I had a lot of prior experience in an academic setting, so I used that to buffer my counterargument.”

Disla ended up getting her offer raised by $4,000.

“I was really happy that I successfully negotiated because it was something I was very scared about, but I know it's important as I start my career, especially as a woman of color,” Disla said. 

“It's really important to advocate for yourself early on.”

Dixon said it's common for first-time negotiators to be nervous about the negotiation, but it's important to not take what amounts to a business transaction personally.

“If you can get a little bit of emotional distance, it enables you to be much more effective in salary negotiations,” Dixon said.  “What a company offers you says more about how they value that job than you're worth as a human being.”

Negotiation risks

One of the biggest concerns people have when negotiating is often that the offer will be taken away.  Negotiating a first job can feel particularly risky, since you're coming from a place of no employment and you feel like you don't have leverage.

But the experts I spoke to said that the biggest risk is only that the company will say “no.”

“I have never seen an offer pulled for somebody negotiating in good faith,” Dixon said.  “The risk of getting your offer pulled for doing a negotiation is practically nil.”

Disla said that was exactly what she was afraid of going into the negotiation.

“A really big psychological thing for me to get over was part of me didn't want to confront them or counter because — what if they take the offer away?” Disla said.  “But it just doesn't happen that way … The worst case is you get the original offer back.”

However, Dixon cautioned that trying to push someone beyond a “best and final offer” can lead to frustration from your potential employers.  Asking for more once the line has been clearly drawn is the only negotiation that can be considered a “risky proposition.”

She recommends approaching a negotiation with gratitude and excitement for the offer to set the negotiation up in positive way.  Thinking about the negotiation as a collaboration rather than a competition will make for a productive conversation rather than an aggressive situation.

Recognizing your worth

“Even if you don't get anything monetarily, you're still showing who you are as an employee.  You're showing them, 'Hey, I advocate for myself.  I understand my worth,'” Dixon said.

Understanding her worth is something Babin reminds herself of before entering a negotiation.

“Coming from that place of insecurity when you are leaving college and you have nothing to fall back on, it's so important to know your worth and be able to stay strong during those negotiations,” Babin said. “Make sure you remind yourself of your own worth throughout the process, because it can be very easy to get discouraged.”

For women especially, negotiating a first job is an essential way to start at a fair financial point.  Hired found that 63% of the time, men were offered higher salaries than women for the same job. However, only 7% of women even attempt to negotiate their first salary, while 57% of men do, according to a study done by Carnegie Mellon University professor Linda Babcock.

So, negotiating is essential to getting a fair offer — especially for women.

Jordan Mathews said she negotiated her most recent job offer, despite knowing how difficult it is to negotiate a salary with the government, because she felt that as a woman, it was “a priority” to at least try.  After three months of negotiations and undergoing a security clearance, Mathews started her job as a program analyst with the Community Relations Services team at the Department of Justice. Mathews said she doesn't regret the amount of time and effort she put into negotiating as she's “very happy with the final result.”

Jordan MatthewsSource: Kamil Hamid

“I knew that I had a lot of skills and experiences that were valuable and deserve to be recognized in my salary,” Mathews said. “Don't undercut or undersell any skill that you have that might be relevant. Everything is valuable … You have the most power when they want you.”

So, for anyone out there questioning whether or not to negotiate a job offer, you have very little to lose and possibly a lot to gain!

The experts I spoke to recommended LinkedIn videos, the NPR Life Kit podcast, or negotiation books to educate yourself.  Once in negotiations, Glassdoor and PayScale are great resources to get a sense of the market wage for your position.  For Mathews, Disla, and Babin, having a mentor who supported them through the process was essential in helping them direct negotiations with end results they were happy with.  Ultimately, don't be afraid to negotiate for what you think you deserve.

“People feel like millennials can be entitled in that we don't want to come off a certain way, but I think we need to shift our perspective,” Mathews said. “Having employees coming in who recognize their value and what they're going to add to a team is something hopefully [companies] want.  It actually shows confidence.”

CNBC's “College Voices″ is a series written by CNBC interns from universities across the country about getting their college education, managing their own money and launching their careers during these extraordinary times. Kelly Heinzerling received her undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her master's degree from Northwestern University. She was an intern on CNBC's creative services team in the summer of 2021. The series is edited by Cindy Perman.

Disclosure: Comcast is the parent company of CNBC.

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