Ideally, salary questions should not be a part of the conversation early in the job search or interview process, but sometimes it does come up early so be ready before you interview!
Before the salary conversation:
Have some idea what you should be paid before you start looking. You know what you want to do and where you want to do it. That is enough info to use websites like glassdoor.com and mynextmove.org to get a general feel for the salary range you can expect for the job you are pursuing. If you can’t get a good idea from that, ask the career center. We keep data on past graduate’s salaries and can give you a rough idea of what to expect if we have had a QU student there in the past. We also have access to national salary survey data. This should be enough to keep you from radically underselling yourself or letting your expectations get out of line with reality. Be careful with some of the online calculators and estimates by job title. Some do a very poor job accounting for years of experience and geographic region. If a salary sounds too good to be true, it probably is and you should factor that into your estimates.
Try to avoid it. If salary comes up really early in an outreach conversation or early in an interview—really anytime before an actual offer is made—you should try to avoid giving an answer and see if they will give you more information first. An employer will usually say something like “What are your salary expectations?” or “What kind of salary are you looking for?” You can try to get them to answer the question for you by asking something like “I know some people in roles like this, in this city, typically make about $X but things can vary a lot from one company to another. What is the range for this position?” or “If you decide to make me an offer I’d evaluate the entire compensation package, but salary is important. Do you have a budget range for this role?” or simply, “I’m open to any fair offer. What does a position like this one typically pay here at XYZ?”
If they force you to give a specific answer, give a range. You should be going in with some knowledge of what is fair based on the company, location, and role. That should be enough to come up with a broad range. Always try to stick with that rather than giving a specific number. For example, “I did some research through my school and on glassdoor and I think entry‐level for this role is usually between $35,000‐$45,000 so I would hope based on my background and experience you would be comfortable with offering between $38,000‐$42,000. I don’t know what your budget is for the position but I know a lot more goes into compensation than just base salary, so I’d consider any fair offer. I’m really interested in working here!” An answer like that demonstrates research, thoughtfulness and maturity and puts you in a good position to negotiate a little once the actual offer is made.
Don’t just know what you want, know what you need. Before you start your job search, take a few moments to do some rough calculations about what your expenses might be after you graduate. Be careful to differentiate between your true needs and your wants. Think about cost of living where you will work, transportation costs, housing, food expenses, health insurance premiums and co-pays, taxes, student loan repayment, etc. Your goal is to come up with a bottom line number you can’t go below. If all your expenses mean you anticipate needing $32,000 a year before taxes just to survive, you wouldn’t want to accept an offer for $31,000 no matter where you would be working. Some of this is tough because it will be variable. You might get a job where you can live at home for a year whereas the same job 70 miles away would require an apartment. This is just about having a solid estimate so you can understand exactly what your offers will mean when you get them.
After an offer has been made:
First, if you did not receive the offer by mail or email you should politely ask for a written offer you can review. This will typically include not just a salary amount, but a list of all the available benefits (health insurance, vacation time, bonus structure, 401k, etc.)
Be sure you’ve figured out your acceptable salary range as noted in the section above. Does the offer cover your needs as well as some of your wants? Obviously, you need to be earning enough salary to cover your major expenses, but be sure to consider the whole package together when assessing the offer.
If the job pays less than you expected could you save money by living further away? If you did that, would you be happy with the daily commute? Would you sacrifice some other non-essential expense in your life to live closer? Does the extra vacation time make up for the daily commute? Lots of factors other than your salary will contribute to your overall happiness in the job. Think about it all as a whole.
The other reason for considering the offer as a whole is that more than just your salary may be negotiable. Different organizations will have different levels of flexibility when it comes to compensation. Some may have room to negotiate your base salary, while others my be tightly restricted to internal pay scales by position. At the same time, while base salary may not be negotiable, perhaps the bonus structure or vacation time can be adjusted.
Remember your leverage. For entry-level candidates, you limited experience means you often have very little leverage in a negotiation. It’s not that you shouldn’t ask at all, but tread lightly. Be sure to frame all of your negotiation requests based on the value you add and the experience you bring, even if it is limited. Asking for more money because you want (or need) it is not typically compelling to employers. Asking for more money because of the specific things you think you can bring to the employer that will add value for them is a different story. Think of this as an extension of the interview itself. You had to use stories and examples to prove you had the skills the employer was seeking. The same is true here. If you think you should get $5,000 more than their initial offer you have to tell them why. How will you add value to the company quickly enough to justify their increased cost?
“Thank you so much for your offer of $50,000! Based on conversations with some of our alumni who work in similar organizations I was hoping the starting salary would be closer to $55,000. I understand that my only experience until now has been in an internship setting, but I was able to help them improve their operations in only three months and I’m confident I would have a immediate impact here as well. Would you consider increasing the base salary to $55,000?”
As you gain more experience over time you are in a better position to ask for additional compensation at the offer stage. Entry-level candidates should feel free to make one “request” in the negotiating process, but ask for whatever you need all at once. You should not be going back and forth with the employer of each separate aspect of the compensation package. For example, if you are looking for a bump up in the base pay and an increase in a signing bonus, ask all at once rather than getting “yes” on the salary and then going back for the bonus. Often these decisions are not within the power of one person and moving a request through multiple people is a lot of work for the employer and can get annoying quickly if you keep “coming back for more”.
You’ve had an offer, a counter-offer request, and a final response from the employer. At that point, for entry-level candidates, the negotiation should stop and you should consider the offer you have as final and decide if it is a fit for you.
After receiving the final offer, if you don’t get everything you wanted from your negotiation, the other acceptable request is to ask for an expedited review. Let’s say you were hoping for $55,000 as a base salary and they came back and offered $50,000. You can politely request a bump up to $52,500. If you don’t get it, as part of your acceptance of the offer you can ask when their salary reviews take place (most are at one year) and see if an earlier review (perhaps at six months) might be possible. That gives you six months to show them you are worth the extra salary!