How to Negotiate Your Salary as a New Graduate

Negotiation is an age-old art form, and like any skill, it takes time to develop. As a new graduate, you might not be fully aware of your worth in the job market. But you must understand your value to negotiate a salary that reflects that.

Remember that as a top talent, hiring companies probably paid headhunters a hefty sum to bring you on board. They have already factored in the cost of losing you to another company and are willing to pay more to keep you. With that in mind, here are the steps to negotiating your salary as a new graduate.

woman negotiating her salary and contract

Timing is Everything

Before you can even begin to negotiate your salary, you need to know when the right time is. Generally speaking, the best time to negotiate your salary is after receiving a job offer but before accepting it.

The reason is that once you have accepted the job offer, the company will be less likely to negotiate because they have already made their best offer. They will be expecting you to either take it or leave it.

On the other hand, if you try to negotiate your salary before receiving a job offer, the company may be turned off by your lack of commitment and rescind the proposal altogether. So, wait until you have an official job offer in hand before beginning salary negotiations.

Research Industry Standards

Now that you know the right time to negotiate, you need to do your research. You can’t just go into salary negotiations blind and expect to get what you want. Asking for more than your manager makes in a year is a surefire way to get laughed out of the room.

To avoid this, research the average salary for your position in your industry and your region. This research will give you a good idea of what you should be asking for. You can use sites like or to research salary data.

If you know people who work in your field, ask them what they make. It can give you a more accurate picture of what to expect regarding salary because you will be comparing apples to apples. 

Quantify Your Value

In order to get what you deserve, you need to be able to show your worth. That means being able to quantify your value to the company. To do this, make a list of your accomplishments, both in school and in any previous jobs or internships you may have had.

For each accomplishment, note how it can benefit your employer. For example, if you increased sales by 10% at your previous job, make a note of that. If you helped streamline a more efficient process, write it down as well. You should also include any skills you have that would be beneficial to your employer. 

For example, if you are bilingual or have experience working with a certain software program, you might save the company money on training costs. The key here is to show how you can benefit the company and make their life easier. The more value you can offer, the more leverage you will have in salary negotiations. 

A cover letter is a great place to list your accomplishments and skills. Be sure to tailor your cover letter to each job you apply for to highlight your most relevant achievements and skills.

Create Benchmarks

Next, you need to set some benchmarks. Benchmarks are specific goals that you want to achieve in your salary negotiations. They can be based on the average industry salary or what you need to live comfortably.

For example, you might set a benchmark of 10% above the average industry salary. Or, you might set a benchmark of $5,000 more than your current salary. Once you have set your benchmarks, you can start working towards them.

man discusses benchmarks with boss to negotiate salary

You might also include other benefits in your benchmarks. For example, you might ask for more vacation days or flexible working hours. If insurance is a priority for you, you might ask for a higher health insurance allowance. Remember to be realistic with your benchmarks. If you set your sights too high, you will likely be disappointed. But, if you set them too low, you might end up leaving money on the table.

Know Your Bottom Line

In any negotiation, it is essential to know your bottom line. This is the absolute lowest amount of money you are willing to accept. Once you have reached this point, you can walk away from the negotiation without feeling like you have made any concessions.

When setting your bottom line, include things like the cost of living in your area and any other benefits you might be receiving. The aforementioned health insurance plan might entice you to take a lower salary.

Remember that a job is more than just a paycheck. Consider the other benefits of the job when setting your bottom line. For example, if you are offered a position closer to home, you might be willing to take a lower salary since you’ll save on transportation costs.

The Start of Negotiations

Think of the previous steps like a lawyer would think of building a case. The research you have done, the data you have gathered, and the benchmarks you have set are your evidence. Now it’s time to present your case and start negotiating. 

Here are some negotiation tactics that are tried and true:

Display confidence

When you are negotiating, it is important to display confidence. This does not mean that you should be cocky or overbearing. Instead, you need to show that you believe in your value and worth.

Speak calmly and avoid using filler words like “um” or “like.” Stand up straight, and maintain eye contact and use an assertive tone. If your employer senses nervousness or lack of confidence, they might try to take advantage of you. 

Be Willing to Walk Away

Even if you only have one job offer on the table, you must be willing to walk away from the negotiation. Show your employer that you are not desperate and that you are confident in your value.

Of course, if they come back with a counteroffer that meets or exceeds your bottom line, you can always accept it. But, if they don’t, you need to be okay with the idea of leaving the negotiation.

Be Prepared for Counteroffers

Not every employer will be willing to meet your demands, at least not right away. Many employers will start with a low offer and then increase it incrementally as you negotiate. 

When you receive a counteroffer, take a step back and evaluate it. Does it meet your benchmarks? Is it close to your bottom line? If the answer to both of these questions is yes, you might be able to accept the offer.

If the counteroffer is significantly lower than you were hoping for, you can continue negotiating or walk away from the job. The important thing here is not to get rattled. Remember that you are in control of the negotiation.

Be Prepared to Hear No

In some cases, no matter how confident you are or how well you have negotiated, the answer will be no. Your employer might not be able to meet your demands, or they might simply not be willing to budge.

However, salary negotiations are among the few places where no doesn’t necessarily mean no. Many employers use the excuse of a low budget to try and get away with paying their employees less than they are worth. If this happens, you can ask for other forms of compensation, such as more vacation days or the ability to work from home.

You can also ask to revisit the salary conversation at a later date. It gives you time to prove your worth and ask for a promotion instead of a raise.

Don’t Rely on Pity

Asking for a higher salary is not an act of charity. Your employer is not doing you a favor by paying what you deserve. Instead, you are ensuring that you are paid fairly for your work.

Avoid phrases like “I need” or “I can’t afford.” These make it seem like you are begging for a raise and put the power in your employer’s hands. Instead, focus on what you have accomplished and how you have helped the company.

Practice Beforehand

Whether in the mirror or with a friend, it is vital to practice your negotiation skills. Practicing will help you to become more comfortable with the process and make it less likely that you will get nervous when it comes time to negotiate.

Role-play different scenarios with a friend or co-worker. What would you say if your employer made their first offer? What if they countered with a lower number? How would you respond to each of these?

The more prepared you are, the easier it will be to navigate the negotiation process.

Know How to Diffuse Tension

Negotiating can be a tense experience, especially if you are not used to it. You can do a few things to diffuse tension and make the process more comfortable for both parties.

The first is to avoid using ultimatums. For example, don’t say, “I’m not going to accept anything less than $60,000.” This puts the other person on the defensive and makes them less likely to want to work with you. As explained by FBI negotiator Chris Voss, negotiation is a collaborative process, not a competitive one.

The mirroring technique is another negotiation strategy where you repeat back to the other person what they have said. This technique can build rapport, gain trust, and make the other person feel understood.

If your employer says, “We’re looking for someone who is self-motivated and has a lot of initiative,” you would mirror back by saying, “So you’re looking for someone who is proactive and takes the initiative.” 

Mirroring can diffuse tense situations. If the negotiation is starting to get heated, repeating back what the other person has said in a calm voice can help to de-escalate the situation.

Final Thoughts

Negotiating your salary is an integral part of securing your dream job. With practice and confidence, negotiating will become easier and more natural. By being prepared and doing your research, you can ensure you are getting paid what you deserve.

And if the company you want to work for is unwilling to meet your demands, don’t be afraid to walk away. There are other opportunities out there that will respect your worth. For further learning on negotiation strategy, check out our class The Power of Negotiation with Vanessa Van Edwards,

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