How to negotiate your first salary, according to a career coach

 As millions of new college grads enter the job market, some may have certain ideas of what their first offers could look like. Undergrads expect to make an annual salary of $103,880 one year after graduation, according to a March 2022 Real Estate Witch survey of 1,000 college students.

Their hopes may be a bit off, especially as many will be starting their careers with entry-level positions. Starting salaries for the class of 2022 bachelor’s degree graduates are projected to range from $50,681 to $75,900, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers.

If you’re a recent grad yourself, whatever that starting offer, it’s important to know you can always negotiate. In fact, “know that the person on the other end of the phone call extending the offer is fully expecting a negotiation,” says Octavia Goredema, career coach and author of “PREP, PUSH, PIVOT.”

Here’s how to go about ensuring your first job offer is as close to what you want as possible.

“Do your research in advance”

When it comes to considering your desired salary, before even beginning the interview process, “do your research in advance,” says Goredema.

“There are online resources that aggregate salary brackets for people in your roles, and those brackets vary dependent on the years and level of expertise and experience,” she says. Do a search for the title of your role on sites like PayscaleSalary.comZipRecruiterIndeed, and LinkedIn, and see what range employers are offering. Then base the range you’d want to receive on that.

Remember when setting this range that, top to bottom, it should cover a comfortable living salary to the extent possible (post taxes) and, “realize nobody’s paying the higher end unless you meet and exceed everything they are looking for,” says Stacie Haller, a career expert at

So bring evidence from your internships, work outside of school, or work in a school that proves you deserve that higher end of the range.  

“Make a list of the must-haves”

Beyond just your salary, consider what benefits would be important to you. Is there a type of health insurance you need to cover certain visits to the doctor? Do you prefer unlimited PTO? Are you interested in stock options?

“I would make a list of the must-haves and would-love-to-haves so at least going into your job search you know what you need,” says Haller, adding, “You might be able to give up a little bit on salary if you have flexible hours or if you’re going into a training program.”

Some companies list their perks on their websites, she says, so if you’re eyeing a certain job, you can take a look at the company’s site to see what they’re offering. Among some of the fastest-growing work perks are a signing bonus, remote work, pet insurance, and mental health and wellness benefits, according to ZipRecruiter.

Say, “I would like to discuss the salary, is it negotiable?”

As you begin your interview process, some companies may tell you upfront the kind of range they’re offering, which gives you a chance to see if their package could match your needs. Nobody wants to “waste each other’s time,” says Haller.

If what they’re offering hits your range, or if they haven’t said specifically what the parameters of the job are in that respect, wait until you have an offer to begin negotiation. “You’re in no position to negotiate your salary until they fall in love with you,” says Haller.

Once you receive it, “You start off very positive about everything that you’re excited about” in the role, she says. “But then I would say, ‘But I would like to discuss the salary, is it negotiable?’” Tell them the range you’re looking for, and explain why, including how your experience sets you up to excel.  

They might come back to you with a salary that’s in your range, or they might say they can’t offer more at this point. If they say the latter, you can bring up some of your other benefit priorities and say, “Can we talk about other pieces of the compensation package that may help?”

“There are always trade-offs”

After you’ve discussed both salary and benefits, give yourself a hard stop. “What you do in that negotiation process is showing your hiring manager how you will behave on the job,” says Haller. Make sure to be reasonable, respectful, and gracious.

Ultimately, “there are always trade-offs” when it comes to what you get. They might not be able to give you as high of a salary as you want or as much remote work during the week as you prefer. But if you’re excited about the job itself, it might just be a great opportunity regardless.

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