Negotiate hard for your starting salary even if it feels weird.
Learning how to negotiate financial compensation is a skill you build. It’s not an easy one, and it’s commonly accompanied by feelings of impropriety.
Whether we like or not, this country’s forefathers decided on a capitalist economy, and what that means is, money really matters. It’s how we house ourselves, feed ourselves, pay off our (many times) exorbitant student loans, and the list continues.
I listed these items out because it helps contextualize that there are various institutions/companies that are on the receiving end of payments we make. This should help motivate young professionals to unabashedly ask for reasonable compensation in the workplace.
If negotiating your salary makes you uncomfortable, take it as a sign that you should practice this skill even more until you’re inured to the discomfort.
During my time in San Francisco’s health tech sector, one of my most jarring observations was how little many of my co-workers were compensated for roles in which they went above and beyond. This egregious mismatch often happened because they were at their first-ever job post-graduation.
According to Lydia Frank, director of editorial and marketing at Payscale, your first full-time paycheck matters a whole lot. “It may seem like a small amount of money and not worth the awkward conversation, but making that extra effort to get a small bump can add up to a lot over the course of a career.”
Thus, walking into an interview with a sense of your professional worth, even if you’re new to the game, is critical.
There is a very wrong way and a much better approach.
What probably won’t go over well is walking in brazenly, sitting down, and demanding to know what the highest level of compensation is for the role you have yet to interview for. There is absolutely an optimal time and situation.
Negotiating salary is best done with tact. Being strategic with your words helps boost you into a position of negotiating power, and it underscores your maturity to the recruiter or HR personnel you’re communicating with.
It’s important to note here that if the interviewing party tries to subtly shame you for asking compensation questions once it seems like you are a good fit for the job, take that as a red flag. Young professionals are always at a greater risk for manipulation simply due to the fact that they’re fresh blood.
Often, a recruiter will ask you the compensation you want. You might be tempted to give them some measly number just so you have a chance at getting the job. Avoid doing that.
Instead, cultivate the skill of negotiation.
My strategy is to start with a maximum amount that is informed by my professional or translatable experience and research from various open sources, like Glassdoor or Payscale.
After you have more time in the industry, you may also gain knowledge on average salaries for various roles, either through the colleague-grapevine or through a transparent workplace environment.
Here’s a script I’ve often used:
“X amount is the most financially feasible option for me because I would like to build a career at my next company. I’m willing to be reasonably flexible if the role challenges me.”
This way, I’m setting the bar high, I’m not underselling myself, and I’m leaving room for further negotiation if the interviewing party is unable to meet my ideal compensation.
Having a script alleviates the anxiety that often accompanies negotiations.
Every young professional should come up with a short script they can refer to with answers to common questions recruiters or companies ask. Even if the confidence is feigned, having words you’ve practiced gives them an edge of authority that on-the-spot words lack.
In closing, don’t undersell yourself.
If you want to grow at a company for a few years, remember the rule that your most important salary increase is likely to happen in that first negotiation. Everything subsequently builds on that.
If negotiating your salary makes you uncomfortable, take it as a sign that you should practice this skill even more until you’re inured to the discomfort. You’re not asking for a handout. You’re negotiating your compensation for a job.