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Why You Should Negotiate Salary, Even at Your First Job

Topics: Career Advice

“Your starting salary at the first company you work for is always going to suck.”

I can’t exactly cite this quote to anyone in particular since I’ve heard it too many times to recall the original source. Point being, I was under the impression that my starting salary at my first job was going to be subpar. Yet, I realize now after checking out Payscale’s Salary Negotiation Guide that being complacent about a low salary when I enter the workforce can really hurt my chances of earning more in the long run, as it is hurting lots of young people starting out in their careers today.


(Photo Credit: Travis Isaacs/Flickr)

Do You Know What You're Worth?

In one sense, understanding that your starting salary won’t be great isn’t the wrong approach; I don’t expect to be making as much as my colleagues who have been working at the company for years. The goal is to make sure that your salary is appropriate for your role and experience, not to out-earn the experienced workers. It’s also important to understand that accepting a salary that’s less than what your skills are worth can really cost you – potentially $600,000 over a 40-year career according to study published in The Journal of Organizational Behavior.

Why Is It So Hard to Ask?

The problem seems easy to solve, right? Just ask for a higher starting salary and things will be fine and dandy. Well, not necessarily – there are other confounding factors. As a young woman looking to enter the workforce, I find the thought of having to negotiate my salary intimidating. For one, as a woman, I worry that I’ll appear aggressive where a man would merely seem assertive. As a young person, I’m also concerned that my age will imply a lack of experience, and make me appear as if I think I’m deserving of something that I have not worked for yet.

According to Payscale’s Salary Negotiation Guide, my worries are common among members of the groups of people I belong to. Women are more likely than men to state that they are uncomfortable negotiating salary (31 percent of women versus only 23 percent of men). Additionally, members of Generation Y, people born between the early 1980s and 2000 (including myself), struggle to ask for appropriate pay for their work compared to their Baby Boomer counterparts.

Things to Consider When Negotiating

Regardless of my reservations, I recognize the importance of salary negotiation and will work with my future employers to secure a reasonable starting salary. I know it’s important to develop both self-confidence and a solid foundation of knowledge to support my case.

Understanding the macroeconomy can really help with providing a logical argument for a higher salary. Being aware of the value of your skills on the open market can also add ethos to your argument during negotiation; Payscale’s Salary Survey can help you figure this out. Furthermore, recognizing when employers ask inappropriate questions including those about citizenship, family, and previous health records, can help you avoid being discriminated against based on things that don’t pertain to the job’s qualifications. But knowing all this will only help you if you actually use the information to ask for a raise.

I have an incredible fear of confrontation, so I know better than anyone else how much easier it is to say that people should ask for a raise, than to actually ask for one myself (but it’s way easier to do with a script).

The bottom line is that salary negotiation is more important just having a higher starting wage. It’s about securing your financial future the minute you begin working.

Tell Us What You Think

Are you uncomfortable negotiating salary? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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Kim LairetLucila de AlmeidaHarry Recent comment authors
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Yes it is a big problem. As if you start your Career with salary that is less than your degree or skill it would affect you when you go for another job they would just give you a hike of 15 -20% on your last drawn salary
So that’s so bad for all of us. ……

Kim Lairet
Kim Lairet

The book “Women Don’t Ask” by Linda Babcock addresses the issue of negotiation with tips for positive results, Lucila. It was helpful to me.

Lucila de Almeida
Lucila de Almeida

I find that we all recognize the importance of negotiating a salary, not only at entry level, but also when you realize you fell way behind in terms of what the market offers! The point is, how? I would appreciate hearing of techniques, and arguments to use when you negotiate specially in today’s environment when employers go way too often into the re-structuring mode thereby creating an atmosphere of intimidation that you will also be on the layoff list if… Read more »

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