By: Nick Santangelo

For you, it’s personal. But for them, it’s just business.

Negotiating a salary can be overwhelming or confusing, especially for seniors and recent college grads entering the workforce for the first time. That’s why it’s so important not to go in blind. During a salary negotiation workshop in Anderson Hall last week, career experts from the College of Liberal Arts (CLA) and Temple University laid out four steps to follow for negotiating salaries:

  • Know your value.
  • Know your target salary and benefits.
  • Know your strategy.
  • Practice, practice, practice.

“Salary negotiation is intimidating if you’ve never done it before,” said CLA Assistant Director of Student Professional Development Liz Anselmo. “It’s very important that you practice and go through the steps so you can feel better about it.”

Overcoming Your Fear

To wit, one student confided that she was afraid of sounding greedy and upsetting hiring managers. Another student jumped in to say that she felt like job applicants are “at a disadvantage” because they don’t know who they’re up against or what’s feasible. Others chimed in that they might be too eager to accept any offer they get for their first job. However, students were simultaneously concerned that taking a low offer at their first job would hurt them for the rest of their careers.

Their fears weren’t totally off-base. Anselmo told them not to shy away from asking for what they feel they deserve—even in their first jobs. After all, she said, if an employer offers someone a job, it’s “because you’re worth it.” Once the offer is made—never before—it’s time to start talking dollars and cents. But before getting into a back-and-forth, noted Anselmo, it’s important to set the table for the coming negotiation by talking about how excited you are for the opportunity and how you’ve excelled doing similar work in the past.

“It’s very common for employers to spring it on you when you’re most vulnerable,” said Anselmo of the salary question. “It’s a business. Employers want to hire you for the most bang for their buck.”

That means students have to go in ready for the question from the moment they begin talking to an employer. But how do you prepare for something you’ve never done before and know nothing about? By using the research tools at your disposal, of course. Websites like Salary.com and Glassdoor.com allow users to look up jobs by keywords and regions—this is important since salary levels vary by location—and see average salary ranges.

Employers want to hire you for the most bang for their buck

Anselmo recommended seniors and recent grads within the 25th to 75th percentile range listed for the type of job they’re applying for. Students and grads should be prepared, however, for employers to come in at the low end. Anselmo said they will “always, always, always” start at the lowest number they think they can hire someone at.

Closing the Gap

That can scare some first-time job seekers. It’s easy to be frozen in your tracks by a low offer and accept it out of fear that it’s all you’re worth. But Temple Career Coach Karen Demmler said applicants can avoid this by taking some of the emotion out of things. Businesses approach salary negotiations with a cold, calculated but professional strategy. Applicants should do the same.

“A lot of time people get really apprehensive about the salary negotiation because they feel like it’s going to be a battle,” said Demmler. “But we don’t have battles in the professional world. We have conversations.”

Students should offer employers a range rather than a single number. According to Demmler, the bottom of that range should be the median salary range you’re seeking. That way students will negotiate up toward the high end rather than letting employers negotiate them down toward the bottom end.

While that can seem intimidating for all first-time applicants, it can be particularly so for women. Anselmo talked about the gender wage gap, which sees women making just 80 percent of what equally qualified men doing the same job make. Many women, she said, go out of their way to try to get others to like them. This happens in every industry at all levels of employment, as the students learned from a short video featuring actress Jennifer Lawrence who found out her male co-stars were making more money than she was.

we don’t have battles in the professional world

Lawrence said in the video that she used to try to act “submissive” toward employers because she didn’t want to seem difficult or spoiled. Upon learning of the pay gap between herself and her male co-stars, however, she changed her approach. Now she asks for what she believes she’s worth.

With Salary.com and Glassdoor.com, students can find out what they’re worth. But what do they need? To figure that out, Anselmo and Demmler had students put together a list of monthly bills: rent, food, entertainment, student loans, transportation, etc. By crunching the numbers on those items, students will be able to figure out what their “walking-away point” is, said Anselmo.

If the number an employer offers is at or below that point, however, Demmler said not to panic. There’s no need to make a decision the second an offer is extended. Instead, applicants can calmly ask how initial offers were decided upon before trying to negotiate against them. It’s possible that an employer that offers an exceedingly low number may have just misunderstood an applicant’s experience. And when the final offer is made, applicants should ask for it in writing and have the option of asking for 24 hours to consider it.

“You have to go and be an advocate for yourself,” said Anselmo.

Trying to Make It

She added that doing so can be “a little rocky” for first-time job seekers, even if they take Demmler advice and practice with Temple career coaches and CLA professional development counselors. But Anselmo had one final recommendation for the uninitiated.

"You know how they say fake it until you make it? Well, half the time I’m faking it and then, before I know it, I make it."

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