How to negotiate that starting salary: Advice for female college grads


Women who graduated from college last year earned an average 17 percent less in their first jobs than the men who graduated with them. (Dayna Smith/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

There’s a lot of debate about why this gap exists, which Jena McGregor explores in her piece “Even fresh out of college, women still make less than men,” but several experts think it has to do — at least in part — with women’s lower propensity to negotiate. As Pamela O’Leary of the Public Leadership Education Network says, women ask for raises or promotions 85 percent less frequently than men do.

The Washington Post hosted a live chat on negotiating tactics for female graduates, with O’Leary and career coach Alyssa Best. Here are some of their key words of advice:

1. Do your homework online. Use online salary resources like www.glassdoor.com and www.payscale.com to get a better sense of what you should be earning in a given field or position.

2. Use informational interviews for additional fact-gathering. Before you’re in the hot seat yourself, these informal conversations are a good time to ask what the typical salary range is for someone with your experience who’s looking at jobs with that particular company.

3. Figure out your own salary range. Before you start the guessing game about what you could or should be paid, first go through the personal exercise of calculating what you need to be paid. As O’Leary and Best say, “Go through your entire personal budget and figure out the lowest number you can accept, then create a middle and a high number.”

4. Delay talking about money as long as possible. Once you’re in the interview or negotiation process, let the employer be the first to bring up the subject. And do everything you can to avoid giving a number. “The first person to mention a number is automatically in the less powerful position,” O’Leary and Best say. And they steer readers to this blog post for tips about how to stall.

5. Ask for more. If the offer is lower than you expect, here’s the magic phrase O’Leary and Best suggest: “$_ is very important to me. What can we do to get me closer to this number?” Then force yourself to breathe, smile and not say anything until they respond.

6. Have a plan B. If they won’t budge on the number, follow up by asking if benefits, title, vacation time and the like are negotiable.

7. Remember you have the upperhand. If you’re in negotiations, it means they’ve offered you the job and they want you to accept. “Don’t underestimate your worth,” add O’Leary and Best. “Keep in mind that your future salary history will be based on this number.”

Have advice, gripes or anecdotes for first-time job seekers? Share your thoughts using #ladygrads on Twitter.

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Lillian Cunningham is the editor and feature writer for The Washington Post's 'On Leadership' section.

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