How to Negotiate Your First Salary Out of College [Free Checklist]

Posted by Cory Davis on Apr 2, 2020 1:37:38 PM

How to Negotiate Your First Salary Out of College

Negotiating Your First Salary

So you’ve nailed the interview, impressed your recruiter or hiring managers, and now you’ve got the job. You can stop stressing, right? Soon, but not quite - you still need to negotiate your starting base salary and benefits. This negotiation is more important than you might think and can drastically affect your earnings for the rest of your life. Successfully negotiating a high starting salary means that relatively higher raises will follow. The skills that you’ll learn in this article will teach you the basics of negotiation; a skill you can use throughout your entire life. Negotiation can be scary and uncomfortable - especially when it involves someone that’s going to be paying your bills. However, there is no need to panic. If you know your value and are well prepared, the process of negotiating your salary will be much more comfortable and your boss will notice your confidence and respect you for it.

Know What Others in Your Field are Being Paid

Websites like Glassdoor and PayScale are useful in determining what others in your area are getting paid and a range for salaries that you should expect to receive. This is very important because arguing that you deserve $60,000 per year when the average salary in your area is only $40,000 will result in your employer dismissing your request for a higher salary entirely and could even cost you the job if you get too cocky.

U.S. map color coded with average wages per state

Using Glassdoor and PayScale, you can also see employee reviews of companies that help you understand how actual employees of the company that you’re looking at feel about working there. Several aspects are measured in relation to employee satisfaction such as whether the employees feel that they are being paid fairly or whether they feel that they have a good work-life balance. This information can help you decide how hard you want to work to get the job because if you know that employees aren’t happy there, then maybe you shouldn’t fight so hard to work for them.

While Glassdoor and PayScale are very useful, they restrict the amount of information that you are allowed to get for free. The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides you with an Occupational Outlook Handbook, a useful resource that can give you much more detailed information but may be harder to understand.

Figure 1 showcases the annual mean salaries of market research analysts and marketing specialists sorted by state. This is one example of the kind of information that is available, like which sectors of employment pay the best, what metropolitan areas have the highest employment, and many other factors that can be sorted by state, county, and even by the city in some cases.

Conduct a SWOT Analysis on Yourself

In order to convince your new employer of your worth, it is important to know what you are worth - specifically to them. Review the job description and look at what you will be required to do. To the best of your ability, find a way that you can meet every single one of those expectations and even exceed them. If you can’t meet these expectations, then that is fine. The expectations that you can’t meet are your weaknesses which you can focus on improving. Also keep in mind that if you meet these basic expectations then many of your peers will meet them, too. To differentiate yourself, brainstorm ways that you can exceed the employers expectations because you are competing with other job candidates.

Sharifa McClean - one of our past writers - created a very helpful article about creating a self-SWOT. You can find it here. 

Don’t Just Focus on the Base Salary

Focusing on just the base salary (the “sticker price” of the labor, or the cost of your labor without benefits considered) could mean that you are setting yourself up for failure. Sure, the average salary in your area is $40,000 and you’ve scored a $50,000 salary - sounds great, doesn’t it? Not so fast - what about benefits? Sure, you’re making $10,000 more than your peers but what if the company has a bad healthcare plan and they don’t reimburse you for travel? Would this higher salary still be appealing? Remember this: your base salary is just one component of the package that you receive from your employer. Laura Shin of Forbes suggests to “rank these [components] in order of importance to you, and know at what point you’re willing to walk away from the talks entirely when you have better alternatives” (

Be Prepared to Handle Rejection Professionally

Rejection is inevitable and is something that will occur throughout life. Learning how to handle it now professionally, will help you later. In the context of negotiating a salary, rejection can become part of the negotiation process. Just because you receive a “no” that doesn’t mean that your employer can’t be convinced. In other types of negotiation, (for things like cars and houses) walking away can sometimes be necessary. The seller will have more time to think about your offer. If they decide to take it, they’ll call you back, and you will have scored the price that you wanted. Jobs are different but in many ways similar. This is your livelihood after all, but if the base salary or benefits just aren’t enough, do not be afraid to walk away. Be careful to walk away as a last resort, because while the employer may call you back, you can not be sure of it.

Melissa Dawn of wrote an article about negotiation, and she makes a point that you should be careful not to burn any bridges, and to realize that “professional rejection is typically not a rejection of you personally. It can be beneficial to keep that bridge open and passable for the future. Follow up with a thank-you note or email. Add the person on LinkedIn, or like the business on Facebook” (


Negotiating a salary is one of the most important negotiations that you’ll make in your life - it will set the stage for all of your future earnings. Because it’s so important, I’ve created a checklist that makes it easier for you to apply the information provided in this article. You can find it here.

Knowing what others in your field are paid helps you figure out how much to ask for. Conducting a SWOT analysis helps you figure out what you’re good at and what you’re not good at so that you can mold yourself to be the perfect job candidate. Looking at the whole package, not just the base salary, helps you figure out whether or not you’re actually getting a good offer. Finally, understanding that rejection should be expected prepares you to receive it and helps you look at it in a positive manner.

Check out this checklist that will make it easier to follow through with the information in this article!

Download Checklist!

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Topics/Tags/Categories: Interview, Job Fair, Job Tips, Job Offer, Interview Follow-up, Selling Yourself, Job Research, Indeed, How To, OFJS

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