7 Tips for Negotiating Your First Job Offer
You’ve worked your way through the entire hiring and interview process, and you just found out the job is yours. Congratulations! If it’s your very first job offer, take some time to be totally elated—and then get back to business. Now’s the time to evaluate the offer and negotiate before you dive in.
Even if you’re tempted to say “yes!” automatically, it’s worth your while to step back and look before you leap. You may worry that in a competitive market, the job offer will be retracted if you negotiate salary and benefits. But the key is to have a thoughtful negotiation strategy once the job is on the table.
How to Negotiate Your First Job Offer
1. Know Your Value in the Marketplace
Here’s where your research about the company, the job, and the industry will be essential. A major goal in negotiating is not to sell yourself short by quickly accepting a “lowball” offer because you’re simply so happy to get the job.
However, you also don’t want to go overboard and price yourself out of the position. A competitive job market makes it tough to negotiate for job seekers, especially those with little experience. It’s important to fully understand what your skills and education are worth in the industry marketplace, but also temper your expectations and be realistic because what you have in mind may not be attainable right now.
2. Don’t Play Hardball
While you want to be definitive during the negotiations, avoid a hard-nosed approach. Also, don’t make multiple offers compete unless you truly are in high demand. If you start a negotiation telling your potential employer that other companies are making you “better” offers in the hopes of swinging them your way, just know that they may not counter.
Negotiating your first job offer requires walking a fine line, but it’s important to make any requests known so long as you’re humble and strategic. Many employers actually expect some level of salary negotiation at this stage, even from younger professionals in their first job.
3. Be Clear on Job Responsibilities
Exactly what does your new job entail? What are the hours and goals? Understanding expectations now will queue you up to do great work that meets or succeeds your potential employer’s needs. It’s also good to know what your job title will be.
If you’re stepping into a position where the title has been determined beforehand, you may be happy with that. If not, research companies for jobs with similar duties and explore what job titles they use. You might be able to negotiate a different job title that’s more in line with your career goals. That said, at this point in your career, be open minded about job titles. The experience is what matters most.
4. Play the Long Game
When unemployment rates are high, job seekers looking for their first job won’t have much experience to leverage. If you’re having a hard time finding a job and the job market is struggling, it may make sense to take a “decent” offer to get your foot in the door and then reevaluate in 12-18 months when the market has stabilized. This will give you the experience (and income!) you need to go after your dream job when the time is right.
5. Focus on Growth and Skills
After the rough financial years of college (and potential school loan repayment plans on the horizon), it sounds enticing to slide right into a high-paying job. It doesn’t always work that way, though. Don’t underestimate the value of accepting a job offer at a growing company or a company in an emerging industry. Growth potential and the ability to learn transferable skills at these types of companies can often be enormous, quickly outpacing what you would experience at more traditional organizations.
6. Be Prepared to Hear No
Many companies have set salaries for entry-level employees, and there’s nothing you can do to negotiate your first job offer—the salaries simply “are what they are.” If this is the case, one good thing to ask yourself is if you’d be happy at the offered salary for the next year or two. When you take into account external factors like unemployment, the job market, and your skill set, is the current offer a good fit for the time being? If so, graciously accept and keep your mind open to other possibilities as time goes on.
And don’t forget that salaries aren’t the only things that can be negotiated! If the salary is set in stone, you can negotiate tuition reimbursement, work flexibility, additional PTO, potential relocation reimbursement, and more. But again, there’s a chance that employers won’t negotiate and will kindly stick to their original offer.
7. Don’t Be Afraid to Say No
This may be the scariest thing of all, but don’t be afraid to say no if the job offer just doesn’t measure up to your expectations. Be professional, of course, if you’ve weighed the job offer and decide to respectfully decline. However, if this is the first offer you’ve received in four months, it may be best to take it. Especially in challenging economic times, job offers may be few and far between, so getting into something now might be your best bet. Who knows, it may turn out to be a fantastic opportunity. And if it doesn’t, it can always be a stepping stone.
The First of Many
Though this may be your very first job offer, it certainly won’t be your last! Learning how (and when) to negotiate your first job offer will help set you up for success for many years to come.
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