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Should you negotiate an entry-level salary?

Breaking down the decisions and method of salary negotiations for entry-level jobs
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REBECA MOYA/THE VARSITY
REBECA MOYA/THE VARSITY

Have you ever felt like you weren’t getting paid enough for your work? Was your boss ever so intimidating that you didn’t think you could speak up about your salary?

Many students starting at an entry-level job feel as though they are underpaid or doubt their skills. However, Rotman Career Educator & Coach Mollo Miller recommended that every entry-level worker consider negotiating their salary if they feel they are not getting the pay that their job is worth — and such negotiation is not as difficult as you may think. 

When to negotiate a salary

First, identify a genuine reason for negotiating a salary. “Don’t negotiate for the sake of it, to see if you can get more money, or because it’s something you should do,” Miller said in an interview with The Varsity. You should negotiate primarily to address genuine concerns about the salary you’ve been offered.

Miller explained that the decision to negotiate depends on a combination of what you are trying to accomplish with this job and the original offer itself, so be sure to define what your professional and personal goals are. Whether you want to gain professional experience, earn more money, learn or improve a skill, or practise leadership or teamwork, knowing what you want out of a job is crucial to weighing the pros and cons of an offer. By reconsidering and evaluating your goals, you can then begin to prioritize the importance of your negotiation and determine your flexibility for compromise. 

She also stressed the importance of always considering the entire job offer, including any added benefits. While your given salary may be less than you anticipated, you may want to take into account benefits such as vacation days and insurance. 

You could also negotiate a specific adjusted compromise by trading off one benefit for another. Possible benefits might include the job’s start date, flexible hours, work-from-home days, cost coverage for cell phone bills, training opportunities, bonuses, vacation days, and more. This is also a great time to ask for a mentor within the organization! 

Lastly, Miller said, do your research. Compare your offered salary to others in the market. Platforms such as LinkedIn and Glassdoor are useful for this purpose. You can also connect with your university’s career centre and find career resources available to students. Talking to peers within your network to compare rates or asking for advice are other ways to go. When comparing rates, be sure to note your peers’ backgrounds to watch out for discriminatory practices in your offer. 

Going about the negotiation

If, based on all the criteria above, you do decide to negotiate, Miller suggests putting together a case with the research you have prepared. Be ready to justify and defend it. 

Don’t turn the negotiation into a long chain of emails. Instead, ask for your employer’s availability and meet them for a conversation to discuss the offered salary. Lay out all of your arguments, concerns, and thoughts on your current situation, and ultimately try to reach some form of compromise or agreement by the end of the meeting. 

However, throughout this negotiation process, it is imperative to remember that employers are people too. The point of the negotiation is to appeal to their understanding and present your own concerns in hopes for a positive change. That makes it all the more important to be respectful and reasonable. 

Miller recommended replying to the person that sent you the offer, saying, “Thank you so much for this. This is great; really happy to receive this. I do have a couple of questions and points of concern that I would love to discuss. Are you available in the next couple of days for a conversation?” This stresses the importance of a conversation rather than an email.

“We have to acknowledge power dynamics and leverage,” she continued. “As young professionals and students, we often have less leverage than what we will later on in our career when we may have more experience and education than others. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate if you don’t feel the offer is fair.”

It can be incredibly daunting to stand up for yourself and assert your needs in a situation where employers are bound to have more power, but it is equally important to be aware of and be confident in your own abilities and goals when entering a new job. Regardless of your fears, your needs come first.

And who knows — you could leave the conversation with a better offer than the one you came in with!