Ask Brianna: Should I ask for more money at my first job?

Whether you’re a man or a woman, a new grad or a career changer, you should negotiate when your employer offers you less money than you know you should be paid.

Kevin Lamarque/Reuters/File
Job applications and information for the Gap Factory Store sit on a table during a job fair at Dolphin Mall in Miami.

“Ask Brianna” is a Q&A column from NerdWallet for 20-somethings or anyone else starting out. I’m here to help you manage your money, find a job and pay off student loans — all the real-world stuff no one taught us how to do in college. Send your questions about postgrad life to askbrianna@nerdwallet.com.

This week’s question:

I got an offer for my first full-time job, and the salary is lower than I expected. Should I ask for more money?

I didn’t negotiate salary at my first two jobs after college. The first was a government position with a set salary limit. When I got the offer for my second job, at a nonprofit, I’d been out of work for months and was desperate to move out of my parents’ house. I took the first offer the organization gave me, which came out to about $25,000 a year after taxes — not much to live on in New York City.

My hasty acceptance became more of a problem the longer I worked there. My raises were based on the original salary I hadn’t negotiated. Eventually I was earning less than my peers at the nonprofit, many of whom had negotiated for higher starting salaries and gotten raises on top of those. I got a conciliatory “salary bump,” but I didn’t feel much better. I was embarrassed that I hadn’t spoken up for myself, and I could barely save a dollar after paying for rent, food and student loan bills.

Let my experience be a lesson to you: Whether you’re a man or a woman, a new grad or a career changer, you should negotiate when your employer offers you less money than you know you should be paid.

So why is it so hard to ask for more money? Maybe you’re worried, like I was, that it will make you seem greedy and ungrateful, or that the company will withdraw its offer. Maybe you have no idea how to start the conversation.

Nearly 60% of all workers surveyed by the career website Glassdoor in May 2016 took the first salary offer they received at their current or most recent job. Women were even less likely to negotiate than men: 68% of women didn’t negotiate, compared with 52% of men.

“The particular challenge is that we’re not necessarily taught how to do this,” says Lisa Ernst, executive director of Savvy Ladies, a New York-based nonprofit that offers financial education for women. It can be especially hard for women to negotiate, she says, because “they don’t want to be seen as aggressive and unlikeable.”

Some employers, like my first, have salary bands they can’t or won’t budge on. But in most cases, hiring managers expect you to negotiate. I negotiated salary at my third job, and I survived — and got more money.

Only 6% of employers said they were never willing to negotiate with entry-level employees, according to a survey conducted last year by my company, NerdWallet, and the recruiting platform LookSharp. Three out of four employers said they were not only willing to negotiate, but had room to increase their initial salary offers by 5 to 10%.

To figure out how much you’re worth, look up the average starting salary in your role where you live. Ask the career services director at your school, alumni in your field and connections you’ve met at industry conferences what the going rate is for recent graduates in the job you’ve applied for. Check online resources like PayScale. Come up with a baseline number and decide you’ll negotiate if you’re offered less.

Then practice what you’ll say if the offer is less than what you want — do it with a friend, a pet or while looking in the mirror. Your script should include gratitude, excitement at the job opportunity and a specific counteroffer. Most importantly, say why you deserve more and focus on the value you’d bring to the company.

For example, your response could follow this model: “Thank you for the offer, and I couldn’t be more excited to join this company and to contribute to the team. Taking into account the market rate for this area, I believe that [insert amount] is more in line with my skills and experience.”

Done respectfully and with research to back it up, negotiating will make you look good. A full 76% of employers told NerdWallet and LookSharp that new grads who negotiated seemed confident, while only about 25% said they seemed entitled. Besides, if your potential company rescinds its offer over a request for an extra $5,000 a year, maybe it wouldn’t be all that delightful to work for anyway.

Brianna McGurran is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: bmcgurran@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @briannamcscribe.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

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