A New Grad’s Guide To Negotiating Pay


In university, you spent hours formatting your resumé, perfecting your cover letters, prepping for job interviews, and attending career fairs – but how about learning how to negotiate your first salary?

The economic instability and high youth unemployment rates in recent years have made many young professionals feel like they should accept anything they can get for their first post-grad positions. They have come to expect low-pay internships and entry-level positions as the norm since, after all, ‘something is better than nothing.’

However, after four (or more) years of developing the diligent, in-depth research skills required for the real-world workplace, you now have the ability to critically analyze and question perspectives rather than simply accepting the way that things are. This is where pay negotiation comes in.

Even a 5% increase in the base salary for your first job can make a huge difference in the long run of your career. While negotiation may seem daunting at first, it won’t be once you’ve equipped yourself with the proper research and professionalism. If you don’t ask, you’ll never get it, so why not try?

Here are some tips to get your started!

Take your time


So you’ve been offered the job. Now what?

You can ask for a couple days to think about the job offer, since you’re probably in no way emotionally prepared to start negotiating a salary the same day you’re celebrating your offer. Additionally, time will allow you to further craft your negotiation points now that you have a better idea about the company and its goals from the interview.

Do your research


You wouldn’t win a case in court without any evidence, so why ask for a raise without proving you deserve one?

On your position

Your position’s average pay scale will be the foundation of your negotiation.

  • Use sites like Payscale.com, which will show you in-depth salary data for specific jobs and degrees. Since different positions may be in higher demand depending on the city or province, the pay will be different; be sure to add the specific job location to get an accurate result.
  • Ask friends, family and colleagues, “what is a reasonable salary for this kind of job with these expectations?” Your network may have more knowledge of pay in your particular field, or about the average starting salary for your position in a specific location.

On what you want

What is important to you? Your negotiation skills are more valuable than simply using them to get more money.

  • Make a list of the things that matter to you for your first career job out of university that you may not have thought deeply about before. This may include your scope of responsibilities, base salary, annual bonus, what kind of pension plan the company offers, and how much vacation time is allowed.
  • Think outside your paycheck. Think about other leniencies and additional benefits the company can provide you, such as options to work from home, relocation expense coverage, or flex-scheduling. This will allow you to open up the conversation to negotiate other parts of your position just in case your base salary negotiation doesn’t play out the way you would have liked.

On what the company wants

  • Think about what the company’s goals are and how you can help accomplish them with your fresh talent and in-demand skills.
  • See what numbers you are working with. Did the job posting come with a salary range or benefits offered? Can they offer you more? If the company has seen strong growth, you might have more room to negotiate. If revenue is down or the quarter was especially bad, you might have to re-adjust your request.

Practice makes perfect


  • Come up with more gentle questions to throw in before the tough ones, such as what amenities are available in the building, or even where your work space would be located.
  • Prioritize what benefits are most important to you. During negotiation, if vacation time is the most important to you, be prepared to sacrifice other perks.
  • Practice maintaining eye contact and speaking in a calm, articulate manner to project confidence and professionalism.

Be prepared to accept the offer

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Once you have practiced what you want to say, be prepared to accept the offer on your well-thought out negotiation conditions.

  • Re-sell yourself. Remind your employer of your experience, your degree, and what you are worth in the market.
  • Demonstrate your plan of action to help meet the goals that your company wants to achieve.
  • Speak calmly and clearly as you justify why you deserve a higher base salary.

When it’s not appropriate or harder to negotiate


To start, be realistic. A 5% increase is usually a good place to start when negotiating your first salary. Also, it’s much harder to negotiate for your first salary if:

  • The job you are seeking is a government job or military job, or even management consulting job, when the salary is a known amount.
  • It is a paid internship with a stipend each month.
  • There is a massive amount of applicants with the same potential, such as an entry-level retail position.

According to Forbes, 84% of hiring managers expect a candidate or employee to negotiate their salary. It’s not considered a deal breaker to ask, and the opportunity is open to everyone, including new grads.

Good luck!