For recent college graduates, negotiating a salary is like peering through mucky water.
In a job market where there are more applicants than jobs and other students are leaping at any chance to enter the same career field, your competition might be wiling to take a position for less money. So how do you know what salary to ask for? Do you negotiate or accept the first offer?
Sara Skretta, director of Human Resources at the University of Nebraska Foundation says one of the biggest mistakes people make when interviewing for a job is settling on the first offered salary and not negotiating at all. She thinks most human resources directors are expecting to negotiate.
“As a new graduate, it is very important to not accept the first salary offer right away — always come back and ask for something more.”
In 2003, economist Linda Babcock evaluated recent Carnegie Mellon University master’s degree graduates starting salaries. She discovered that seven percent of women negotiated their offered salaries, while 57 percent of men did the same. The result — men made about $4,000 more on average than the women surveyed.
“As women, research shows we think negotiating is kind of scary and don’t want to engage in it,” she said. “But those who negotiate their salaries will make more over the course of their career.”
Before entering an interview, an applicant should know what the average entry-level job salaries in his or her career field, Skretta said. Reach out to mentors, professors, other recent graduates in the same field of study and university career services advisers to pin down salary ranges.
“There is certainly an etiquette to the negotiating process,” said Sydnie Burton, a University of Nebraska advertising and public relations major. “I’m graduating in May 2012 and what makes me anxious is not currently knowing what the salary landscape looks like for an entry-level job in my industry. I will be reaching out to my network and researching salaries so I am prepared to interview.”
Career services offices sometimes have a list of starting pay salaries that its college graduates earned the previous graduating year, said Emily Wilber, assistant director of Career Services at the University of Nebraska who has offered career advise to Nebraska students for 15 years.
Online resources like National Association of Colleges and Employers, glassdoor.com and homefair.com are just a few websites that offer expected salary ranges for career fields. Wilber said specialty skill sets and past internship could be grounds for a higher salary.
“The more information you have about salary and benefits going into an interview, the better you can negotiate,” Skretta said.
Job candidates should let the company make a salary offer before the candidate should disclose his or her desired salary. If an employer asks for a desired salary during the interview, Skretta suggests responding, “What kind of salary can you offer? Your negotiating power will be stronger if you keep your cards close to the chest,” she said.
Recent college graduates also shouldn’t immediately accept or decline a job or salary offer, Skretta advised. Thank the employer for the offer and ask if you can think about it. Also ask if there is room for negotiation in salary and benefits. Call the employer back the next day to accept or negotiate.
“When developing a counter offer, ask for 10 to 15 percent more than the average salary,” Skretta said. “The worst thing an employer can say is no.”
If there isn’t wiggle room with the salary, there may be in benefits — possible a couple extra vacation days, performance bonuses or other company perks. But do not ask multiple changes in the counteroffer.
“You don’t want to burn any bridges before you have developed relationships in the office,” Skretta said. Lastly, Skretta recommends requesting the final salary offer in writing because the interviewer sometimes forgets details or changes jobs before you have the job salary settled.
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