Negotiating without experience
November 18, 2014 2:32 PM   Subscribe

How can I negotiate an entry-level salary well when it already exceeds most posted ranges?

I will be graduating in May 2015 with both an MA and a BA in quantitative fields. I'm interested in pursuing consulting, and I have a few offers (but none with the biggest firms). The offer that (I think) will allow me to advance my career farthest and is the best fit for me is also the one that offered me the most money. Yay!

The only reason I want to negotiate is 1) that it's been drilled into me that female grads don't do it enough and should and 2) a friend of mine, with a less-relevant degree (and only a BA) just got the same offer from the same company. While I think she's a fantastic candidate, I also think I have more relevant and valuable skills than she does. I'd like my compensation to reflect that.

Also, the position requires relocation, and all other offers I have are in NYC, where I currently live (my friend's offer is also here; my relocation is tied to a preference for a specific industry). I don't think relocation is standard for recent grads, but from what I can see, places do occasionally offer it. I'm comfortable asking for that, especially because most of their other candidates with offers are more local.

I'm also not trying to be greedy - honestly, their initial offer is plenty for me to live on. I'm frugal and it's waaay over what plenty of my friends will be making. I'm one of few within my peer group who even has offers yet, and I don't want to jeopardize this opportunity.

I have a recruiter who was designated the point person I should go back to with any application questions, so I'm going to call her tomorrow. I've read plenty of info about negotiation, but I'm stuck on a few particulars:
-What's a reasonable counteroffer, percentage-wise, over my current offer?
-How can I ground negotiation in real-world information when I have no experience/salary history and this offer already matches or exceeds most posted salary ranges?
-Is negotiation really a good idea here?
posted by R a c h e l to Work & Money (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I also think I have more relevant and valuable skills than she does.

Might be worth bearing in mind that it' sonly you that think you have those skills. With no work history, a starting salary may be just that - you may be able to negotiate your worth relatively easy if you prove yourself, but all you are right now is just another person with a couple of bits of paper. Qualifications do not always translate to people actually being good at the field they are qualified in. You have very little to negotiate with, right now, other than your own feeling. Proceed with caution.

That doesn't directly help you but it may make your mind happier if you decide to take the more cautious path and take the job (especially as the wage is good) at the offered salary. Personally having a job right after graduation at a salary that is pretty good by your own admission would be worth more to me than trying to get recompensed for how good you think you might be right out of the gate. Plenty of time for that later.

-Is negotiation really a good idea here? So basically, I am saying no, because you are getting what you want, but you think you can justify more. I think you could harm yourself easily, here.
posted by Brockles at 2:46 PM on November 18, 2014

If you're making the same money someone is making in NY pretty much anywhere that isn't in NY then you *are* making more money than your friend in NY for cost of living reasons.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:51 PM on November 18, 2014 [10 favorites]

With something like this I'd use a soft touch:

Them: "Our offer is $X"
You: "Is there any flexibility there?"

Then see what they say. If the answer is yes, ask for 5-10% more. If the answer is no, move on. Or counter with an inquiry regarding relocation expenses, or half relocation expenses. As long as you're not asking for the moon, they're not going to pull the rug out from under you for asking questions. But I'd be careful with firm counter-offers, e.g. "I'll come work for you for 110% of X" -- that might be too strong for something like this.
posted by craven_morhead at 2:51 PM on November 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Absolutely negotiate.

Ask if there's flexibility in the money, ask if you can get more vacation, weigh the benefits packages, etc.

This article was linked in another thread today and it's outstanding.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 2:57 PM on November 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Promise I won't threadsit after this, but I do want to address a few things:

As far as experience, I'll have an additional degree in directly relevant technologies and skills over said friend. While I may or may not end up working with the same software or languages, I'll have a couple years experience with certain ways of thinking and problem solving, both in school and in internships - in fact, based on my resume, they had initially asked me to interview for a position that was way outside my technical abilities (so I asked to interview for this one instead). She's a very smart person, but has a nontechnical background and the position will ask her to build those skills (or only certain projects will be accessible to her). I do think I can be worth more, more quickly, to them.

While the position isn't in New York, it is also in an expensive city that has a reputation for slim, if any, cost of living advantages. And I heard a recruiter say that location doesn't affect the offer amount for this position, anyways.

Also - from googling, people have absolutely negotiated entry level salaries at this company before. It just sounds like initial offers were also much lower in those cases so I'm trying to figure it out based on this offer instead.
posted by R a c h e l at 3:03 PM on November 18, 2014

Seconding jacquilynne - if the actual dollar value of your offer and your friend's are the same, your offer is worth significantly more due to cost of living expenses being lower pretty much everywhere else in the country.

You should negotiate for certain fixed items - relocation expenses, possibly including at least one trip (travel + lodging) before your official move so you can scout places to live and sign a lease. Possibly also (assuming your family is also in/near NYC) one round-trip flight home for a week(end) of your choosing to see your family.

Definitely ask if there is any flexibility in the actual salary - even a bump of a few grand will be worth more over time, as most raises are a percentage of your then-current salary - so a larger starting salary will compound over time as you get raises.

If they can't budge on the salary now, ask when they typically do annual reviews and raises. If it's around each worker's individual work anniversary (unlikely), ask for an extra one to be thrown in at six months for you, essentially giving you two opportunities to earn a raise in the first year. If it's at a certain time of year for everyone (likely), and it's within your first six months, ask for a promise that they won't withhold a raise only because of your short tenure - many companies won't give newbies a raise until they've been there a full year, so if you can get this promise, they will have to use your favorable review to give at least a token raise.
posted by trivia genius at 3:08 PM on November 18, 2014

Just saw your update - I definitely would not bring up the topic of your friend's offer. First of all, you don't know for sure (unless you saw her offer letter) what the whole package consists of. Second, the company won't like that their offer information is being shared and won't look favorably on either of you.

I would perhaps respond with a slight rewording of what you just said:
I have a couple years experience with certain ways of thinking and problem solving, both in school and in internships, that you find valuable. In fact, based on my resume, you had initially asked me to interview for another, more senior, position. It turned out that it was outside my current technical abilities, but your high initial assessment of my value was accurate. I believe am worth more, more quickly, to you because I will be up and running with my projects much faster than you expect of most new hires.
posted by trivia genius at 3:14 PM on November 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

In my experience it's very reasonable to ask for 10-15k more at your level. And/or a relocation stipend of $5000 or something.

If she has job experience where you have an MA, those two may "equal out" in their minds. They probably don't care at all if your degree is "more relevant."
posted by amaire at 3:16 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

And also: most hiring managers budget for you to negotiate upward. Whatever the max is that they are willing to pay you, they offer a bit less so if you ask they have some room to make you feel like you won.

Exceptions: government jobs, jobs with publicly posted strict payscales, place with a strong union.
posted by amaire at 3:19 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm interested in pursuing consulting, and I have a few offers (but none with the biggest firms)

Are your offers with management consulting firms? So when you say "biggest firms" you mean McKinsey and Bain and your offers are from lower tier companies? Assuming your answer is yes...

I believe consulting, like banking and maybe other industries that hire recent grads in bulk, has standardized starting salaries. A possible loophole is the relocation stipend/signing bonus. I'd try that angle and consider it a very low risk endeavor. Another non-monetary element to consider would be where you are placed internally, like consulting for tech companies vs pharma companies or whatever.

More negotiating and internal politicking will be possible come bonus time.
posted by mullacc at 3:26 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sure, you can try to negotiate but bear in mind even though you worked have an advanced degree and learned things, that's not necessarily valuable to companies.

Companies appreciate educated workers but they place more value on work experience. So while you feel as though your hard work in school should get you more than an entry level salary, that's not how companies perceive the situation. You're an educated entry level worker, but still an entry level worker to them.
posted by kinetic at 3:40 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

You can also consider asking for a salary review in 6 months instead of a year, if they balk at increasing your starting salary.
posted by jeather at 4:02 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Soft pedal it, but bring up these two points you made:

I also think I have more relevant and valuable skills than (they may be aware of). I'd like my compensation to reflect that.

Also, the position requires relocation.

So ask is there any flexibility, are they aware of (relevant and valuable skills/experience you feel they may have overlooked) and asked about relocation benefits.

I'm also not trying to be greedy - honestly, their initial offer is plenty for me to live on.

I think I would let them know "I'm really interested in this position" upfront, then do the gentle inquiry into flexibility (mentioning, if possible, "do you realize I am bringing x, y, z to the table and I think maybe that's more than a lot of entry level people have to offer") and possible relocation, and if they don't budge, just say yes. Since you feel it would be satisfactory and are willing to work for that amount, you likely won't regret saying yes, but you might regret trying to play hardball here and possibly losing the offer. As others have indicated, you may be able to negotiate for more later if you really are as good as you think you are.

You might want to pick up some negotiating books so you are better positioned in the future to go to bat for yourself. A quick read is "Getting to Yes." It is research-based. There is a meatier book, "The mind and heart of the negotiator." So brush up on negotiating skills and then, the other thing that helps in negotiating is knowing more facts about the thing being negotiated. Otherwise, it's kind of a gamble as to whether your inquiry will sound reasonable or not. So arm yourself with data about standard dollar amounts for relocation and similar information so you can make really good counteroffers and not be making counteroffers rooted in "Well, women aren't aggressive enough and I should do this cuz REASONS." A strong negotiating position grows out of not only having good negotiating skills but also being armed with data so you know what's reasonable and customary, what they can afford, what X is worth to people and so on. (I honestly suspect a lot of women don't negotiate because we seem to often be network-deficient. We cannot get the keys to The Boys Club and we simply lack a lot of information men don't realize they have but we lack. I think it's a data problem more than a confidence problem.)
posted by Michele in California at 4:55 PM on November 18, 2014

1. Yes negotiate
2. Follow advice about asking about flexibility
3. Arm yourself with data
4. Some of that data is "what do I want and need?"
5. Forget your friend. Altogether. Forget it. Seriously. Not another thought. No.
6. This stuff, forget it too. Don't devalue yourself in any way, it's unhealthy for you and for your career I'm also not trying to be greedy - honestly, their initial offer is plenty for me to live on. I'm frugal and it's waaay over what plenty of my friends will be making. I'm one of few within my peer group who even has offers yet, and I don't want to jeopardize this opportunity.

All the best of luck to you!!
posted by chasles at 6:53 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Here's when you should negotiate salary on a job offer:


How you do this matters.
1) Express enthusiastic interest in the position.
2) Ask about flexibility in the salary.
3) Make a case for a reasonable (10% sounds good) increase based on your skills and experiences. They will either not budge, or make a counteroffer, or accept your offer. I have done a few rounds offer and counteroffer in the past, but I did that as an experienced professional. As a new grad, I would be inclined to accept a first counteroffer. Let them know at the time you are negotiating salary that you are also interested in discussing relocation benefits. This keeps it from feeling like you are "and one more thing"-ing them.
4) When all the terms meet your requirements, graciously accept and re-emphasize your enthusiasm for the position and the company.

There is never a downside to politely and professionally negotiating your salary for a new job. Worst case scenario is that you don't get any more salary than originally offered. Any employer that takes offense at that is operating outside the well-established norms of the professional world and is probably full of crazy - and should be avoided as an employer.

Good luck, and congratulations on your academic and soon-to-be professional success!
posted by jeoc at 6:55 PM on November 18, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think it's fine to ask if there's flexibility. I like it when candidates ask me this, as I can tell the truth, which is sometimes yes and sometimes no. I want them to accept and I want them to be happy, so I want to know what it's going to take, and try to get them to "happy" if I can.

However. Absolutely do not bring up your friend; and make sure they know you want the job and appreciate the offer as it's given. I have seen a similar situation -- a candidate whose friend had been started at $10k more, and who insisted that she really needed her starting salary to be no less than her friend's -- and we rescinded her offer, for having poor judgment and discretion more than anything.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:22 PM on November 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

Be aware that at large orgs graduate salaries are typically fixed, age, experience, undergrad or postgrad - none of it matters. If you are hired as a grad you are in the grad salary and that is that.

This shouldn't stop you from asking by any means. But just be prepared that there may be no flexibility at all.
posted by smoke at 9:28 PM on November 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't want to jeopardize this opportunity.

Negotiating won't jeopardize this opportunity, negotiating like an asshole probably will but just asking if there is any flexibility and seeing what they say isn't going to cause them to rescind their offer.

They may say that this is the starting salary for all new grads, no negotiating. They may ask, "what did you have in mind?" But negotiating is a standard part of accepting an offer and no recruiter is going to get all up in arms because you asked the question.
posted by magnetsphere at 8:21 AM on November 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

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