Why Your First Salary Negotiation Is Your Most Important

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* Guest Post *

Your first salary negotiation can be intimidating, especially if it’s right after college. Should you even negotiate? Will they be turned off if I try for a higher salary? How do I start that conversation?

All valid questions to be asking yourself.

It can be easy to let the nerves or uncertainty of those questions pass you by and simply accept what’s on the table. Or, you’re simply just excited that you’ve landed this job and what they’ve offered you. Hey, it’s only your first or second job out of school, what is there to lose, right? Wrong.

You shouldn’t immediately discount your opportunity to negotiate your salary the first time (or ever) because it can affect your salary for years to come in your career. Now, if you didn’t negotiate your first chance have no fear because it’s just all the more reason to make sure you do in the future. I’ll let you in on a little secret, I didn’t. I was happy to get the job and I didn’t see any need to negotiate.

But, whether you’re approaching your first salary negotiation or another opportunity will present itself in the future,  it’s important to start thinking about your value and how you’re being compensated in exchange for your time, experience and skills early on in your career.

So, let’s break it down. Why is your first salary negotiation the most important? Or, any of them in your career for that matter?

Your current salary plays a role in what you’ll be offered in the future. 

That’s right, what you’re making now could have a significant impact on what you could make in the future. How come? Because more often than not an employer is going to base your pay bump, raise or next job offer on what you’re making at the time.  
When you’re at a company that you enjoy and one you see yourself growing at, there are two standard instances in which you could expect to receive an increase in pay (outside of you directly asking for a raise): an annual merit increase as part of the performance review cycle or a raise in conjunction with a promotion.
Both of these opportunities for a salary increase are based on the foundation of your starting salary.
When it comes to an annual merit increase, it is a structured, performance review-based means for the company to give you a salary increase. While you shouldn’t discount the standard merit increase cycle many companies have instilled. It’s good to approach it at face value. They’re designed by the company at their advantage to be systematic and allow them to give a small pay bump across the entire organization.
On average you can expect a 2 – 5% percent increase based on how your performance was rated for the raise. You can expect the high end if you’re designated in the high performing category of employees, an ‘exceptional’ rating will usually earn you that 5% increase.
So for example, if your annual salary is $40,000 with an average 3% annual merit increase in one year you’ll see an extra $1,200 in the year ahead. Now let’s pretend you negotiated your salary to $45,000 your 3% annual merit increase would add up to $1,350.
Now, an extra $150 might not seem like much. But over time it adds up and also adds to your salary base that future increases and raises will be based on.

The same principle applies to a deliberate raise in your salary. 

Fast forward to a promotion. On average you can expect a 7 – 12% raise for a job change up the ladder. So if we apply that to a $40,000 salary and a 9% raise you would be making $3,600 more a year. With a $45,000 salary at the same rate that would mean a bump in pay of $4,500.
See what I’m getting at? Without taking time to negotiate you’re not only leaving money on the table at the time, but for the future. Because normally in the world of pay raises it’s not based on a lump sum, it’s based on a percentage of what you’re already making.

If you make a job change, your current salary may still come into play too. 

You’ll come to find that if you are looking for a new job recruiters will ask you what you’re making. There are even online applications now that require it as an entry if you want to complete it. Annoying, I know. Simply put, it’s not a part of the conversation you can always avoid.
They want to talk turkey and have an idea if you and the prospective company are aligned on what they can and are willing to offer you, and in turn what you’re looking for.
So, guess what? Whether you divulge what you’re making exactly, or give them range, they’re more than likely going to take that into account when making you an offer.

It all comes down to knowing your worth.                                                                                                       

When we look at each of these scenarios, all of which you’ll likely encounter at least once in your career, your salary is directly tied to your future compensation. Which is why we should seize each chance we have to negotiate and know our worth in the workplace.
And, that’s the first step in a successful salary negotiation, knowing what you bring to the table. You can grab my Know Your Worth worksheet to help get you started, giving you the lowdown on my favorite tools to help you begin determining what you should be asking for.  

Did you negotiate your salary at your first job? Why or why not?

Salary Negotiation Tips | New Job | Start your career off on the right foot by negotiating your salary | The Sophisticated Gal


About the Author:

Taryn O’Hare is the editor and gal behind TK+Co, an online space to inspire and arm girlbosses of the world with the tools they need to cultivate a career they don’t just like, but absolutely love. A writer of many topics from job hunting to making your mark in the corporate world, her work has been featured across a number of publications like, USA TODAY College. On her days off you’ll find her spending time with her fiancee and their pup, often cuddled up for a good Netflix binge. Find her on Instagram @tarynkrisitneco.


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  1. Great tips! I just found you from the “show your blog love” feed on FB and I am so glad I did. Wish I had of sooner 🙂 Great content and I will be reading more of your posts to come!

  2. This post is so important for everyone starting their career! This negotiation is very important and you need to make sure you do it right so that your know your worth and will be happy with your salary!

  3. This is so incredibly important. I’ve written a ton about this topic (negotiating, what to say in interviews to get best value, etc.), — it’s easy to get caught up in “OH I’M SO LUCKY TO HAVE A JOB AT ALL” that you forget to fight for what you’re worth! Love this, and would love to syndicate it on my blog: email me!

    Tori || Victori Media

  4. YES YES YES this post is so important. I think as women we are especially nervous about negotiating our salaries. I know for my first job out of college I was terrified to negotiate but I did and it paid off. Now I go into the entire process knowing negotiation is part of the hiring process and honestly that mindset has made it less intimidating. Great guest post!

  5. These are such good points! I did not negotiate my salary at my current job, because they told me they had a strict no-negotiating policy. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but after a season of unemployment, I was just too thrilled to have gotten the job to push my luck! I will definitely keep this in mind for the future, though.

  6. This is so interesting to read! I am a teacher and I cannot negotiate my pay, but this is so good to know for students that might come back to me with questions about this! So good to advocate for yourself and really set the bar for your own self-worth. xx

  7. LOVE this because it’s so darn true and there are so many people in the field who don’t take this into consideration when they’re applying for jobs, potential promotions, etc. Thanks so much for sharing more on this!

  8. This topic is so interesting to me, especially since as a public school teacher our salaries are pretty much set in stone. I think that if you are in a career path where it’s possible to negotiate salaries that you should definitely learn to do so, especially for the girl bosses out there who are working in male dominated fields!

    xoxo, SS

    Southern And Style

  9. As someone who will soon be going through (hopefully) a salary negotiation, I would love to know how to go about that. How do you begin that conversation?

    1. Great question! A good time to bring up salary and compensation farther into the process (second or third interview) or once you’ve gotten the job offer (unless the recruiter of hiring manager brings it up first, which is certainly a possibility). Usually that question comes up with them asking you: What are your salary expectations?

      Some questions that can help you begin the conversation or progress it when it comes to talking about your prospective salary can be:
      – I’m very interested in this opportunity, but I also want to make the best use of everyone’s time as we move forward in the interview process. Would this be a good time to discuss the salary range for this position?
      – Would this be a good time and are you the best person discuss the salary range for this position?
      – How did you determine the salary and compensation package for the person taking on this role?

      This is just a snipit, but I hope it’s helpful. I’ll be continuing to share negotiation advice over on TK+CO. Good luck in your job search, and upcoming negotiation!

  10. I love your post, it caught my eye as I’m currently in university and in a program that will finish by next year in May. But this was a great read and good tips to know how to negotiate! I’ll also be using your worth sheet, thank you!

    Janine | prettylittledetails.com

  11. I totally agree – your current salary plays into what you will make at your next job. I’m probably doing this whole #adulting thing incorrectly but when I go in for an interview, esp. in the legal field, I’m asked about what I’m making currently.

    I’m coming up for a raise negotiation soon so this gave me food for thought! Thanks xoxo

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