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Advice for College Seniors: How to Negotiate Your Salary

by Noel Rozny

posted in Business : Recruitment

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If you're fresh out of college and preparing to enter the job market, I've bet you've got a brand-new power suit, a meticulously-edited resume, and the perfect elevator pitch. But how prepared are you to negotiate your salary?

If you've never been through the offer and negotiation process before, it can be a little tricky. It takes most people are few times to get the hang of it, but fear not. Here's a little cheat sheet for you so you'll have the information, skills and confidence to ask for what you deserve the first time around.

Do Your Research
One of the most important parts of negotiating your salary is knowing your industry. But if you're entering the professional world for the very first time, you may not have a good reference point for what brand-new elementary teachers or fledgling web designers are supposed to make.

First off, you need to find out what the average salary is for professionals in your industry. These statistics tend to provide the whole salary range, from entry level to the top positions in the field, so you can see where everyone falls.

From there, you need to figure out where you fit into the picture. Are you just graduating college and have little to no work experience? Did you work in your chosen field while you were in school, allowing you to build your resume? Do you have an Associate's, Bachelor's or Master's degree? All of these factors—level of work experience and level of education—can affect the final offer. Use the salary range, or the salary calculators on sites like payscale.com, to determine what your offer should be.

Build Your Budget
In addition to knowing the average salary for your profession, you also need to know how much you personally need to live on for one year. That $23,000 salary offer may sound great—until you realize that with your student loans, credit card debt, and living expenses, you need to make a minimum of $28,000 (and that's if you eat Ramen noodles for breakfast, lunch and dinner).

Start off by figuring your monthly budget for rent, utilities, loans, groceries, car payments, renter's insurance, and entertainment. Then multiply that by 12. Then add between $3,000 - $5,000 for emergencies, travel, doctor's visits, dental cleanings, birthday gifts, or anything else you'll need to spend money on during the year. Then add how much you want to contribute to your personal savings account each year. That should give you an idea of what your annual salary should be.

So what if your salary offers and your annual budget don't match up? Then it's time to do some prioritizing. Cut down your entertainment budget, sell your car and start using public transportation, or find a roommate for the early years of your career. As you get more experience and establish a salary history, you'll be able to increase your compensation and adjust your budget accordingly.

Consider All Your Options
One of the key elements of salary negotiating is factoring all the options into the equation. It's easy to forget about the many benefits employers have to offer, and only focus on the cold, hard cash.

So consider exactly what is on the table--are they offering you health insurance (and what kind of insurance; is dental or optical included)? Vacation time? Sick time? Flex time? Relaxed dress code? These benefits don't always have a set dollar sign affixed to them, but can be worth a lot throughout the year. You have to figure these items in to the annual compensation when you're contemplating an offer.

The benefits listed above can also be used as a bargaining tool or decision maker. If you can't quite get the salary you want, for example, see if you can get some extra vacation time instead. If you've got two companies presenting you with two enticing financial offers, see which benefit/vacation package works better for you. If one job is offering you more money, take their dress code into account: having a full business wardrobe adds up quickly, so it might not be that much extra after all.

By taking all parts of a job offer into account, you'll be able to decide which company's compensation, vacation and insurance policy works best for your lifestyle.

Just Do It
Yes, negotiating your salary can be tricky and intimidating, but don't let that keep you from learning how to do it. It will be an important skill you'll need throughout your career, and most companies expect it during the offer process. By showing that you know your field and by asking the right questions, you're telling future employers that you've done the necessary preparation and research, and that makes you that much more desirable as a candidate and as a future employee.

About the Author:

Noel Rozny writes myPathfinder, the bi-weekly career blog for the myFootpath website. myFootpath is a resource to help you in your search for a college, degree program, career, graduate school, and non-traditional experiences. Visit myFootpath to start your college or degree program search.

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