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8 Steps for Scoring a Good Starting Salary

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By Drew Hendricks

There are only two opportunities to negotiate a good salary when you’re scoring your first job: During the hiring process and after you’ve accepted an offer. Obviously, the preferable time (and the time where you have any leverage) is during the hiring process.

However, new grads often feel overwhelmed and figure they have no negotiating power because they think they should feel lucky to get a job at all. Plus, everyone says not to discuss salary during the interview, so what can you do?

There are hacks and best practices to getting a better salary as a new hire no matter where you are in the process. If you haven’t been made an offer (yet), you’re in a prime place to flex those negotiating muscles and leveraging joints. These eight steps can make the difference between thousands of dollars, added benefits, or settling for the bare minimum.

How Can You Ensure a Good Starting Salary?

1. Know your worth

Research the industry and job you’re applying for well before you send in your application. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is a great place to start and a resource for finding the average salary for you job (nationwide as well as regional), growth rate, how many people are currently employed, and what the workday should look like.

If you’re in a fast-growing industry and know the average salary in your state, you’re ahead of the curve.

2. Know the time to strike

It’s not necessarily true that you shouldn’t discuss salary during your first interview. It is true that you shouldn’t be the one to broach the subject. Come prepared to discuss figures just in case your interviewer brings it up (in which case, that’s a good sign). However, resist being forced to name your price. Instead, offer a range and cite it as the average salary in your state.

You’ll impress the interviewer and help level the playing field.

3. Sell yourself

Unemployment rates are still somewhat high, but that doesn’t mean you’re not worth a little extra. Showcase what you bring to the table and don’t be afraid to use examples that are transferable, whether it was from your college debate team or a previous job in retail. It’s your job to prove that you’re worth a higher salary. You’re not given a higher salary in exchange for proving yourself in the future.

4. Walk away if you’re low-balled

If you’re offered a starting salary that’s too low, be polite but firm and walk away. Yes, you might not get that job, but if it’s truly too low then the hunt continues. However, you might get a better offer in return for sticking to your guns.

5. Continuing your education

If you’re already employed in your first job but want to ask for a raise, go above and beyond. Take a continuing education course to prove to your boss that you’re ready for more responsibility. Of course, this also comes with a higher salary.

6. Redefine “salary”

For many companies, it’s easier to offer better fringe benefits instead of actually higher pay. If that works for you, that’s a much easier perk to obtain. Examples include flex schedules, telecommuting (part-time or full-time), child care on site or extra paid vacation days.

7. Tap into your networks

If you’re currently on the job hunt, make use of all the networks you built in college. Having a first-hand recommendation is taken much more seriously than an application from a stranger. If you can get a referral, the hiring manager might feel obligated to offer a higher salary in a six-degrees-of-separation situation.

8. Make yourself indispensable

Talk about job security! If you’re truly indispensable, most of the negotiation power is in your hands. This might include teaching yourself tricky software, launching a project or being the only person who knows how to manage social media.

There’s a balance between getting what you’re worth and taking scraps out of necessity. Respect yourself, play it smart and the right salary offer will come along.

Drew-HendricksDrew Hendricks is passionate about tech, social media, and the environment. He writes for several major publications, including Inc., Forbes, and Entrepreneur.