Getting your first real job — you know, one that doesn’t require dish soap or sunscreen — is an exciting prospect. Years of schooling or training will finally pay off, and you’ll be on your way to a career in … whatever you want. Does that mean you should jump at the first opportunity you’re given, no matter the terms? 

Getting your foot in the door is important, but that doesn’t mean you should be a pushover when it comes to negotiating your entry-level salary. Prepare by evaluating your talents and researching the industry.

Figuring Your Worth

Your starting salary will depend on several factors. Before assuming you’ll be offered the same as a classmate, do some research. Trying to negotiate a wage based on incorrect information could leave both you and your future employer unhappy. Before asking for a particular income, make sure you’re being realistic. 

Location

Salaries are dependent on location. A company in Salt Lake City won’t pay nearly as much as one in San Francisco, simply because it’s much cheaper to live here. And we have better fry sauce — which you know for a fact, based on your first first job. Look up what the going rate is in the state and city where you would work.

Education and Experience

Your past experience and education will almost always make a difference in your initial salary. Depending on the job, you might benefit from holding a technical certificate, a license or a college degree. Consider this entry-level salary negotiation example. 

  • A. Applicant Bob earned an associate degree in accounting with a B average. He worked as a stocker for a grocery store during the summers.
  • B. Applicant Babs earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting with a B average. She worked as a night clerk at a hotel and completed an internship with a local accounting firm.

When they both apply to a local firm, who has more negotiating power? Both did well in college and have work experience. But Babs has more education and more relevant experience. As a result, she has a stronger argument for a higher starting wage. 

Dear Bobs: Don’t worry. While you’ll probably earn less initially, you can show how valuable you are and negotiate a raise at your annual review.

Salary Differences

A Northeastern University study found that an employee with an associate degree will earn an average $8,000 per year more than someone with a high school diploma. Meanwhile a bachelor’s degree holder will earn $19,000 more than that. 

But not all jobs require a college degree. In fact, only about 36% do, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. It found that, depending on the field, certificate holders sometimes earn just as much as those with a degree. That means if you have a certificate or license, you can feel comfortable negotiating your entry-level salary, too.

Unique Skills

Having something different to offer makes you a more desirable candidate, as well. If you have unique talents or experience, you may have an edge when it comes to salary negotiations. Point out your plus-size skills and what they will bring to the business.

  • Are you bilingual? Even if it’s not in the job description, speaking another language is a plus — you can help with global customers. Bilinguals earn an average 5-10% more per hour.
  • Do you have a side gig as a stand-up comedian? You’re a creative thinker and are comfortable getting in front of people. Your presentations will be fire!
  • Can you network faster than a politician? You are approachable, know how to listen and are positive. No awkward Christmas party conversations with you.
  • Are you in a rock band? You’ve developed fine motor skills, found a way to relieve stress and understand social skills (if you’re good enough for groupies). And you clearly know how to have fun.

How to Negotiate

You know what you should be paid, in theory. You know what your qualifications are. You know how your resume compares to the rest. How do you tactfully say that you deserve more than what’s being offered? Point out what you know.

Begin by thanking the company for the opportunity. Explain why you’re excited about the job — use specifics — and how well you’d fit in. Then, talk about your qualifications.

  • Review your achievements
  • Reiterate your experience
  • List your skills
  • Note what other companies are offering for similar positions

If you’ll be relocating, mention moving expenses. If the location requires a long commute, bring it up. You might not get a higher starting salary, but you could receive a signing bonus.

How Much?

What’s the top entry-level salary for this position? Ask for it. But be flexible. Don’t have a set number that you think you need to stick with — this isn’t a life or death deal on “Shark Tank.” Instead, have a general idea of what you’ll be satisfied with. This also gives the person offering the salary some wiggle room, particularly if your figure is much higher than what they had anticipated.

Will It Hurt?

Can you lose a job offer by negotiating a salary? As long as you’re not demanding, or asking for something completely unreasonable, it's unlikely. In fact, it’s not unusual to ask for more — and it won’t make you look greedy. Some 53% of employers say they are willing to negotiate, according to CareerBuilder. 

If you’ve made it through the interview process and are being offered a position, the company is already interested in you. And they want you to be happy there, so maybe you’ll stick around a while. If you’re disappointed with the proposed salary, and have valid reason to expect more, certainly speak up now. 

Remember the Benefits

Of course, asking for a particular salary doesn’t mean you’ll get it. You’ll have to decide if you are still interested in working there if you are offered less than you’d hoped. But before saying no, consider the benefits package, too, which could include:

A Big Fat No

Sometimes, an employer just can’t — or won’t — match the minimum salary you want. Is the job still worth it to you? If not, you can walk away. Express gratitude for the opportunity and politely explain why you are passing on the offer. Don’t burn bridges — “You guys are so cheap! You don’t deserve me” — no matter how tempting. There might be a future position with better pay.

Ready to put your negotiating skills to the test? Find jobs in your desired salary range on KSL Jobs. Start your career on the right foot with tips from our Resources page.