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How I Negotiated My Salary For My First Big Job & What I Wish I Had Done Differently

The best thing I ever did for my financial future was negotiate my salary. But let’s be honest here: I didn’t go through that moderately painful process simply because I wanted more money. I did it out of sheer necessity. It’s no secret what I make and how I manage to live on a small income, but I also want to demystify negotiating salary at a traditional, corporate company.

When I went into the interview, I was ill-prepared. Of course, I had practiced my interview, thought of some talking points, came with my resume and a hard drive filled with sample work, but I had absolutely NO IDEA what kind of income I could live off of or what my budget would look like. I remember my boss asking, “We want to start off at $16/hour. Is that okay?” I’m pretty sure I replied something like, “Uh I’m not uh sure this is my first job…I need to crunch some numbers…but it sounds nice?”

*Cue faceplant*

I don’t know what the hell I was thinking coming into a serious job interview not knowing what I wanted my salary or benefits to look like, and if I could go back and kick myself, I just might. Thankfully, the rest of my interview went phenomenally and my boss and I clicked really well, but looking back, I’m not sure I would have hired someone that seemed so naive if I had been in her position. Obviously, I am grateful that she picked me and that my job has turned into such a fulfilling part of my life — but I learned some hard life lessons in such a short amount of time. Here are some of the things I did that helped me get to a position I’m happy with, and some things I wish I had done differently. Happy negotiating!

What I did right:

1. Looked at the bigger picture

The biggest lesson I have learned from TFD is what a job is worth goes far beyond money. It takes its form in vacation days, education, money, insurance, a 401k, and so on. While the salary wasn’t right, I knew that my work offered amazing benefits and I literally put a number value on what I thought each of those perks was worth for me. In the end, I knew exactly what was too much money to ask for, and what looked more realistic, considering they were also offering me a generous benefits package.

2. Waited it out

It took me over a week to finish negotiating for my job. I’m not sure whether that was intentional on their part or not, but it is certainly intimidating to ask for extra money and then not hear very much for days. My mom, who is in sales, told me that in almost any negotiation, “the first person to speak, loses.” That roughly means if I reached out again or seemed too eager, my chances of getting more money would fail. I use this advice in many aspects of my life, and I am honestly telling you, it works. I waited it out and it paid off to the tune of an additional $1.50/hour plus 10 extra hours a week (an extra $2,700 a year!).

3. Communicated non-emotionally and effectively

I totally get it. Your quality of life and ability to pay bills are emotional, tolling parts of being an adult, but the best advice I can ever give you is to treat your job like the business agreement that it is. In my case, I simply could not afford to live on the money and hours they were offering me. I said something like, “I appreciate your offer but I’ve crunched the numbers and I really need $20/hour to do the best job possible.” Of course, they counter-offered and we came to an agreement, but I was ready to walk away from that job and move on to something else if my needs weren’t met.

What I wish I had done differently:

1. Extra research

Oh boy. If I could go back in time, I would have come into my interview with hard copy lists of similar jobs in the area with their job descriptions and what kind of money they were offering. I wish I could have said, “Here are some similar jobs in the field and what they are offering. I would like something comparable to these offers.” Not only would it have sped up the entire process, but instead of feeling like a babbling idiot, I could have presented myself as a thorough, prepared professional.

2. Counter-offered

I was scared of losing a potentially great job as unemotional and confident of a front I put on in negotiations. So when our CEO came back with less money that I asked for, I just accepted and moved on. I didn’t come back and really get the money I know I deserve, but even the smallest dollar amount adds up to thousands over a year. Even if extra money wasn’t tangible, I wish I had asked for time to work from home or extra vacation days. At the end of the day, I regret not finishing what I started.

Katherine is a content creator and graphic designer living in Louisville. When she’s not working, you will find her cuddling her spunky Chiweenie, Lucy.

Image via Unsplash

  • Bianca

    Really great article! You make negotiating seem more approachable

  • Clytamnestra Dunge

    this is some very good advise: be prepared, be willing to walk away, have the nerve to wait a few days

    I kinda disagree with your ‘counter-offered’ paragraph: you sound like you struck the right balance between ‘having the nerve to talk back to your future boss’ and ‘not making your employer feel like you are some entitled a-hole’. That is not failure, that is ‘being the kind of graduate that people _want_ to give a chance’