Negotiating Your First Job: 5 Experts Share Their Best Tips

Every year in my Organizational Behavior class, I run a job offer negotiation simulation where students play the role of either a candidate or a recruiter. The simulation is quantified, and the goal for each student is to get a high number of points.

Over the years, I have noticed an interesting pattern. Students in the “candidate” role tend to score lower than students in the “recruiter” role. When I ask the class why that is, I am invariably told that it’s because “recruiters have more power than candidates.”

Except in my simulation, they don’t. Both roles have the same potential of points.

The actual reason candidates get a lower score is because they underestimate their negotiation power, which limits their aspiration. I observe the same pattern in the field, with most young graduates deciding to avoid negotiating their job offers.

The only way to motivate young graduates to negotiate their first jobs is to go to the root of the problem: misconceptions about the power dynamic between recruiters and candidates.

I reached out to 5 recruitment and human resources experts to describe their perspectives on candidates and negotiation. If you are a student or a young graduate, I believe these expert testimonies will clarify what the recruitment process is and give you important advice on how to approach a job offer negotiation. Ready? Let’s go!

Understand your value Melissa Sonberg
Professor of Practice at McGill University and Corporate Director

Melissa Sonberg has enjoyed international leadership success across a wide range of enterprises, playing key roles at the heart of transformative change. With a proven track record working with organizations facing complex, multi-stakeholder mission-driven opportunities to deliver real impact within their industries, she is currently engaged in board-level roles, while contributing to the education of our next generation of leaders.

Here you are, with a (reasonably) freshly-minted degree, an eager heart, and a deep dread of a long road of rejection in front of you. Is this how young professionals feel when engaging in the job hunt? Probably, but a better way at looking at the challenges of finding and negotiating for your first few jobs may lie in flipping your perspective from ‘what do I have to offer’ to ‘what do companies really need.’

So, what do companies need, and how can you meet those needs early in your career? Today, business is operating in a VUCA world (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous), facing many risks that may be best handled by the freshest eyes they can attract and hire.

The need for innovative responses to long-standing problems, understanding, and influencing clients for whom traditional platforms for communicating, selling, and servicing just no longer fit, and most importantly, the speed of adaptation as conditions around them shift constantly. As a young professional, you’ve just spent the last 15 or so years in learning mode. Your most valuable attribute is your capacity to learn and adapt – that is your negotiation super-power!

As an early career job hunter, you may believe that if somebody, anybody, follows up on that application, you will say or do whatever it takes to get the job. However, that significantly discounts your worth and potentially reduces your negotiation power. Your readiness to look at problems in a new light, challenge the status quo, and bring curiosity into a business trying to find creative new approaches has real value.

Get in the right mindset

buy provigil from uk Radia Abdi
IT Talent Acquisition

Radia Abdi is a co-founder and talent acquisition manager at Alento jobs, an IT recruiting agency. Passionate about career empowerment and subjects, she shares valuable content via her podcast “Carrière Talk” and on different social platforms.

Early-career candidates avoid negotiating their job offers for many reasons. Some worry about what the recruiter might think of them, while others are paralyzed by old society scripts, stereotypes, and modesty norms.

One of the biggest myths out there is that job interviews follow a dominant / dominee dynamic, where one party has all the power and the other needs to obey. Nothing could be further from the truth.

From my perspective as a recruiter, early-career candidates should approach job offer negotiations by considering these facts about recruitment:  

  • A job interview is a two-way conversation to assess the fit between the company and a candidate. Nobody has more power than the other; it is a matching process.
  • Recruiters expect candidates to negotiate. It is a normal part of the recruitment process that does not reflect poorly on you.
  • Most recruiters prefer that you tell them how much you exactly want and why. To do this, you need to know your exact worth on the market, your value proposition, and your competitive advantage.

To be comfortable negotiating, changing your mindset is key. Just remember that recruiters won’t see you as greedy if you support your ask with objective facts.

Ask targeted questions

Bassano del Grappa Romina Muhametaj
President of Six 7 Radius LLC
United States

Romina Muhametaj is the founder of Six 7 Radius and the host of the “Coffee with Romina” podcast. She comes from a sales and marketing background where she worked on B2C and B2B campaigns as a marketing project manager and sales leader for 10+ years.

Early-career candidates often assume that they have no negotiation power when it comes to job offers. That would be true if professional experience was the only way to get leverage.

You can get leverage by asking a few specific questions to the hiring manager at the end of the interview. These questions will put the recruiter in the position of selling you the company and seeing how you fit in their upcoming projects.

These are the best questions to ask:

  • What is the company’s biggest challenge currently and how would my position help in overcoming those obstacles? This question gives the hiring manager the opportunity to open about a new project they might be working on or something that they are looking to improve internally, and that gives you leverage over other candidates. Why? Because you are building a rapport with them already and “crying your troubles together.” You have become part of the solution to their problem.
  • What is one of the company’s current goals, and how can I help you reach such a milestone? During the hiring process, we often look into just getting the job and don’t think long-term. Asking this question gives the recruiter opportunities to see that you are interested in a long-term commitment with the company.
  • How will my success be measured? I love this question as it shows you are striving for success and not be just another employee. This question also opens the conversation of you being coachable and aiming for the top.

If all goes well, having answers to these questions will help you make a stronger case as to why your salary should be higher. Why? Because the recruiter demonstrated to you how central you were in their upcoming projects.

Take an active role in the interview

Assma Benrhouma
Consultant in Global Executive Headhunting

Assma Benrhouma has 10 years of experience in cross-border executive search for top and middle management in various sectors including automotive, industry, and retail in Europe, Asia, Middle East, and Eastern countries. She is also leading in-house recruitment for a French global executive search company, as well as a training strategy program dedicated to international young graduates joining the firm in Paris, Warsaw, Moscow, and Shanghai.

The global health crisis has sped up the digitalization of our economy, which provokes a deep transformation of all organizations and leads global companies to drive change through an intergenerational transition.

New generations of graduates will highly contribute by taking the lead, driving the change, and building the future. Be a key player and get the chance to be a driving force in the process of negotiation rather than passively endure it.

Below are some tips on salary negotiations from a global executive headhunting perspective.

  1. Have a data-driven approach: In this “customer-centric” era, get all the data you can find concerning the field (market intelligence) and salaries based on years of experience. This will be the base of your negotiation and show your ability to take the lead using factual data.
  2. Have a constructive approach and project yourself in the long-term: Global companies are investing in young leaders having high potential and an ability to grow within the company. Take the lead in this projection with a salary target to get into a “win-win agreement” based on a long-term perspective.
  3. Trust yourself, think, and act globally. Have an “agile mindset.” Soft skills become mandatory in this context of transformation.

Global companies are seeking their futures leaders! Be this leader.

Should you give a first offer?

Ganesh Thirumurthi
Co-Founder at Moonchaser

Ganesh is the co-founder of Moonchaser, a company that helps tech employees negotiate their compensation. He specializes in negotiations with large-cap tech companies all the way through Series A VC-backed startups and has helped employees secure millions in compensation increases.

Applicants often ask me whether they should make a first offer or not. Being the first to give a number can influence the entire negotiation, but it comes with the risk of setting your anchor too low or too high. So, what information do you need to know to be in a position to make a first offer?

  • The compensation ranges for your role, to make sure your anchor is in the right ballpark. Finding ranges takes time and effort. The way you approach it should be different depending on your industry, role, and location. The first way to find the range is to ask. Depending on where you live, you might be legally entitled to the range. For example, in California, thanks to the Equal Pay Act, a company must share the range for a role when asked. If the recruiter won’t share the range, then you need to do some research. Start by looking for self-reported compensation at the company that you are considering. If you can’t find their compensation, then take a look at competitors in the same city. Your goal isn’t to find the exact range but instead a reasonable ballpark.
  • How desperately the company wants you to join, to let you know where in the range your first offer should be. To know if you can anchor in the top (or even above) the range, you should do the following. First, ask for interview feedback or better yet an interview score. If you did well, then immediately you can anchor on the higher end of the range. Second, understand how unique your skillset is. If the role is senior and requires specialized knowledge, then it will be harder for the company to find another qualified candidate. Finally, ask how long the role has been open for. A role that has been open for more than four weeks often means the hiring company has struggled to find qualified applicants which gives you additional leverage.

For example, if you know the range for the position and your interviews went incredibly well, you are in a position to make a first offer that is the higher number of the range.

Where do we go from here?

This week’s Master Negotiators provide a rich view of the recruitment process for young graduates. If you are a student or an early-career professional, I hope their testimonies will give you the motivation to negotiate your next job offer.

To conclude this article, I want to thank the five Master Negotiators for contributing their best advice on how to negotiate your first job. Please follow them on LinkedIn to read more about them.