A higher salary in your first job out of college can compound to make a difference of hundreds of thousands of dollars as your career progresses. So, why do so many applicants have trouble negotiating, especially in their first jobs out of college?
Negotiation is a completely normal part of the job process – everyone does it. It is completely expected. You should use it to emphasize why you’re a good candidate and leave them wanting more. We work with hundreds of fellows to make sure that they know how to make the most money in their first jobs. We’ve come up with some tips for you to follow so that you, too, can negotiate with confidence.
- Don’t reveal too much
The negotiation starts at the beginning of the relationship. Everything you do from the first time you interact with the recruiter is part of the negotiation, so make sure that you are deliberate with what you share. Don’t give out a number (even a range!) or be too specific in where you are with other application processes.
Keep in mind:
- How you perform technically
- How you interact behaviorally
- What you say
- What you DON’T say
All become part of your negotiation
- Be specific when you can
That being said, feel free to share big names so that the company understands that you have other pieces in the works. If you are interviewing with big companies or meeting with high up team members, that will help show your worth and give them some idea of what your alternatives can be.
- Know how to counter gotcha questions
Be on the lookout for these tricky questions. If you’re not prepared, you might slip up.
Examples of gotcha questions:
- What are your salary expectations?
- What is your current salary?
- What other companies are you interviewing with?
- What is the [other company] offering you?
- What do you make now?
When you hear these questions, be deliberate about the information you share. If you’re caught off guard, ask for more time and reaffirm excitement.
For example, if you’re asked salary expectations, here are a couple counters you can say:
- “You know, I haven’t fully considered that yet, I’m just really excited about <company> right now and am really focused on these and other interviews”
- “You know, I haven’t fully considered that yet, but I would hope the salary could be justified based on my performance and value”
If they tell you that they need to know right now, you can share the market rate for the position:
- “I do know market rate base for software engineers in the area seems to be about <$130k>, so I guess my expectations may lie around there, but I’ll definitely do some research and let you know. Right now I’m definitely focused on giving it my all in these interviews.”
Recruiters might take on emotional extremes to compromise your position and anchor you to lower numbers. We call this the sour and sweet spectrum. In the middle of the spectrum, is the collaboration zone. The more unobjectionable, collaborative, and sympathetic you are in your counters, the better.
Examples of sour statements:
- “I can’t believe you’re…”
- “We may need to pull the offer if…”
The goal of these is to increase your sense of panic
Examples of sweet statements:
- “You’re the best…”
- “I’m on your team here”
- “We need you…”
- “I can do this, but it can ruin my reputation. Do you want to do that?”
The goal of these is trigger feelings of guilt or flatter you to increase the likelihood that you agree with them.
Examples of collaborative statements:
- “Would love to learn more about the role from <X> first”
- “A weekend with the family, student loans, financial circumstances, the move”
- “I’d like to be thoughtful and deliberate so we can come to a conclusion that’s best for both of us”
- Know your best alternative
What is your BATNA – best alternative to the negotiated agreement? If this doesn’t go well, will you take the job anyway? Or do you have another offer or a final round interview? Maybe you can stay at your current position or go back to school? Knowing what your best alternative is will help you in the negotiation meeting so you know how far you’re willing to go.
As we mentioned before, negotiation is completely normal and you should feel confident in your worth. At the same time, you should know that the company has a BATNA, too, so you should not be unreasonable or come off as never satisfied when you are negotiating. Batch your requests together to limit the number of requests.
A unique tip is: it’s helpful to frame the bottom of your range as a livable minimum or financially responsible minimum while framing the top of your range as market rate so as to push companies towards a higher “market” ask while still sounding flexible.
When deciding the medium for your negotiation, we almost always recommend email. There are some pros to phone calls, like you can interpret tone more easily and develop a repartee. But, the cons outweigh because it is much easier to make mistakes and panic. If you negotiate over email, you can take your time in your responses to make sure you are thoughtful and deliberate.
Here is a sample negotiation email template that you can use to make sure you hit the right points. We’ve also added annotations with explanations on why each part is important.
Thank you so much for your kind email. I really appreciate all of the work you’ve done for me throughout the process and I’m really excited about the opportunity to work at [Company].
Annotation: Start off your email positively and with gratitude. Your recruiter/hiring manager will be put off if you start by immediately making demands without even showing excitement.
I would just like to quickly lay out my situation and hopefully we can talk a few things over. [insert situation here]
Examples of situations:
- I have another offer from [big company] that pays more [include amount]
- I just finished an onsite at [another company] and have a couple more in the pipeline
- My current position pays more
- I have [x] years of experience and I know I can bring a lot to the table
- I currently live in [city], so would need to relocate to [job’s city]
Annotation: You want to make sure you are on the same page as the company when you negotiate. If you have any concerns or situations that may showcase your ability or need to negotiate, it’s best to set them out first
With this said, though, [Company] is still my top choice. The only thing holding me back is [introduce your ask, for example, the offered salary of $X].
Annotation: Re-emphasize excitement frequently throughout your email, but now that you’ve laid the groundwork you can introduce your ask
[Make your ask here, for example:] For me, personally, I just don’t think [offered salary] is competitive to my market rate, especially with the cost of living in [city] and student loans I need to pay back. I spoke with some of my friends and professors who let me know that [your field] positions often pay in the [$100k] range, which is why I was thinking the offer would be higher.
Annotation: Here you want to add detail to your ask, usually split it into 2 phases. The first is where you introduce the ask and clearly define it. The other is where you provide research, justification, or anecdotes to showcase why you made that ask. To do this, you can look at sources like Glassdoor, Paysa, Indeed, Angellist, and other pay collection sites, as well as ask your friends and family.
I understand it’s no small ask, but [describe and re-emphasize how you can bring value to the company, like referring the alignment of your existing technical skills].
Annotation: Optionally, it’s strong to conclude with reminding them just why you’re so valuable. Remember, the point of negotiation is not to hassle, but rather to convince them it’s a good idea for both of you to increase your salary or provide the other ask, bonus, or benefit you’re making a claim to.
Pathrise is a career accelerator that works with students and young professionals 1-on-1 so they can land their dream job in tech. With these tips and guidance, our fellows see an increase in salary by 5-20%, resulting in an average of $12,600 more than industry standards.
If you want to work with any of our advisors 1-on-1 to get help with your negotiations or with any other aspect of the job search, become a Pathrise fellow.