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Here’s How To *Actually* Negotiate Your Post-Grad Salary, According To Experts

If you’re like me and spend days and nights adjusting your resume, writing cover letters, and practicing interview questions, your biggest worry is probably just getting a job after college. So much so that it’s hard to even think about what life will be like once an offer arrives, and it’s easy to forget about aspects like salary and benefits. But once that incredible email comes to your inbox, don’t reply with your acceptance right away — it’s time to start negotiating.

For us college students and recent grads, we’re often conditioned to not discuss money. And although you may want a job for the experience — and feel you’re lucky to even get an offer in the first place — you’ll thank yourself later on for ensuring you’re receiving enough compensation for your time and skills. Besides, who doesn’t want to earn more money?

So, for those of us who know absolutely nothing about negotiating a salary (myself included), don’t panic. I spoke to three experts — Lucia Kanter St. Amour, employment attorney and VP for UN Women USA; Brandon Bramley, founder of The Salary Negotiator; and Matthew Warzel, certified professional resume writer (CPRW) and certified internet recruiter (CIR) — to get the inside scoop on how to best navigate this admittedly awkward discussion of negotiating your first post-grad salary.

Understand the importance of negotiation.

The first step to negotiating your salary is all about removing the uncomfortable, taboo feeling that comes with asking for more money. In a March 2023 survey of over 1,400 Gen Zers, Her Campus found that 50% of college women and recent grads felt talking about money made them nervous. At the same time, 92% of respondents in that same survey said the No. 1 factor when it comes to selecting an employer is salary. The truth is, no matter how weird it may feel to bring up the topic of money, countless experts advise against taking the first offer you’re given because of how common lowballing is.

Especially with new grads, salary negotiation doesn’t happen nearly as much as it should. “It’s normal to counter-offer,” St. Amour confirms. “In fact, if you don’t do this, you might be failing your first assignment — you don’t make a good impression as eager, appreciative, and cooperative; you make a poor impression that you lack savvy and strategic thinking.” So, contrary to popular belief, not presenting a counter-offer may be the riskier choice.

And, from one anxious thinker to another: Don’t be worried that the company will rescind their offer after you negotiate the salary. “I’ve helped facilitate hundreds of successful salary negotiations, and we’ve never seen a company pull a job offer because a candidate tried to negotiate their salary,” Bramley says.

Collect all the information you can, both from the company and through external research.

You may be tempted to come up with a counter-offer right away, but there are several factors to consider first. St. Amour says, “When you get the offer, always say thank you (and message your BFF and do a happy dance!). Then, ask, ‘Can you walk me through how you came up with that offer?’ Find out the standards and metrics they used. (Perhaps they missed something you think they should have factored into the offer),” St. Amour says. These details can make a world of difference in helping you learn which aspects of the salary should be improved upon.

Also, while you’re at it, don’t be afraid to ask about other benefits if this information isn’t in the offer letter — salary is important, but it’s not the only factor. For example, depending on your interests, you can ask about work schedules (in-person, hybrid, or remote), educational resources, promotion opportunities, 401K offerings, and more.

Include these additional benefits in your decision-making. You can use tools like The Salary Negotiator’s Total Compensation Calculator. “This will give you a better understanding of your true annual income and help you compare compensation across companies,” Bramley says.

But don’t stop there — it’s equally essential to conduct outside research to decipher how “fair” the proposed salary really is. “Before you start negotiating, research the industry and position you’re applying for to get an idea of the salary range,” Warzel explains. “Use websites like Glassdoor or Payscale to get a sense of what other people in similar positions are making.” 

This will help you discover any pay discrepancies or discrimination. In short, knowledge is power, so read up before deciding on a number.

Prepare a counter-offer.

Ask when the company needs a response, and in the meantime, come up with a counter-offer. This can be a salary amount or range, or even other perks.

I also recommend checking out your university’s career center — although you’ve graduated, your university will always be there to help. Plus, the advisors you’ll be able to speak to have certainly dealt with similar situations in the past, and can help you decide on a new offer based on your specific experience.

When it comes to actually stating the offer, Warzel recommends approaching the response in a confident and respectful manner, whilst emphasizing the value you would bring to the role. Here’s an example of a template you can use:

“Thank you so much for offering me this opportunity. I’m really excited about the potential to work with your team and contribute to the company’s success. I was hoping we could discuss the salary offer. Based on my experience and research, I was hoping to negotiate a salary range between $X and $Y. I believe this is a fair reflection of the value I can bring to the company and my skills and experience in the field. What are your thoughts?”

Make sure to personalize this message to remind the company about what you would bring to the role, and why you’re excited about working for them. No employer wants to receive a copy-and-paste email without any personal touches!

Respond to any questions or concerns, and accept the job!

The employer may reach out to you to ask you follow-up questions, or they may present a counter-counter-offer. This is expected and normal, so don’t panic if this is the case for you! Some negotiations take several conversations and back-and-forth emails to sort out.

“It’s important to be prepared for potential pushback or negotiation from the employer, and to be flexible and open to alternative forms of compensation, such as bonuses or benefits,” Warzel says. “Ultimately, the key to successful salary negotiation is to approach the conversation with confidence, respect, and a clear understanding of your own value.” 

Luckily, since you’ve done your research, you should be well-equipped to answer any of the questions they may have, and evaluate a counter-counter-offer if they present one. Before sending your initial response, make sure this is the case. “When you prepare your counter-offer, be able to answer the same question you asked them: ‘How did you calculate this?’” St. Amour advises. This way, if they respond to you with follow-up questions, you’ll be able to explain exactly where your offer came from.

At the end of the day, although it may seem complicated, negotiating a salary is just about knowing your worth, and communicating that value in a respectful and convincing manner. You may be a recent grad, but that doesn’t mean you deserve less — it means you have new, fresh knowledge others at the company may not have. And above all, be proud of yourself! Getting a job is no easy task, and you’ll learn new skills every step of the way.

Abby is a National Writer for Her Campus and the Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus at Waterloo. As part of the Wellness team, she covers topics related to mental health and relationships, but also frequently writes about digital trends, career advice, current events, and more. In her articles, she loves solving online debates, connecting with experts, and reflecting on her own experiences. She is also passionate about spreading the word about important cultural issues such as climate change and women’s rights; these are topics she frequently discusses in her articles. Abby began producing digital content at BuzzFeed, where she now has over 300 posts and 60 million overall views. Since then, she has also written for various online publications such as Thought Catalog, Collective World, and Unpacked. In addition to writing, Abby is also a UX and content designer; she most frequently spends her days building innovative, creative digital experiences. She has other professional experiences ranging from marketing to graphic design. When she’s not writing, Abby can be found reading the newest Taylor Jenkins Reid book, watching The Office, or eating pizza. She’s also been a dancer since she was four years old, and has most recently become obsessed with taking spin classes.