Let’s talk cold hard cash for a minute here, because I’m going to get real with you: Part of the problem we face in achieving salary parity is that we don’t talk about it enough. And while we continue working toward equal pay, we can start making change just by changing our daily conversations around money.
When I was job searching in my last semester of college, one of the first things I paid attention to was salary, because the dreaded salary negotiation part of the interview process gave me ridiculous anxiety. How TF was I supposed to negotiate salary when I was feeling lucky to get an offer at all? Who was I to push back, when for all I knew, I was already getting a good offer?
The issue with that mindset is obviously that if you don’t push back, you could very easily be leaving money on the table- and worse yet, you could be setting the bar low and setting yourself up for years of lower pay. Think about it this way- if you accept your initial offer at the beginning of your career, it could cost you $1 million over time. Because that money you left on the table- even $5,000- would have gotten higher and higher over time, and haunted you for years. Thanks but no thanks. I’ll take the $1 mill and run with it.
The key to negotiating your salary is to come prepared. Arm yourself with information about your specific career path, your location, industry averages and your own experience. Here’s how you can check how much you should really be making, so that you have the info you need to ask for the salary you deserve and provide a smart answer to the sweat-inducing question, “What are your salary expectations for this role?”
Start with your industry average, by location and sector
While this will only give you a rough estimate, it’s extremely helpful to know what the industry average is for your job. Next, go beyond the industry (for example, my industry was PR) and check individual sectors (for example, technology, health/beauty, consumer, B2B). I found averages in PRWeek, a PR trade publication, and knew from the get-go what I could expect to make as an entry-level PR professional in technology at a small agency in San Francisco.
Get a narrower ballpark estimate from job search sites
Peep sites like Glassdoor to find salary estimates at specific companies, job titles and locations. I used Glassdoor to set expectations for what I could earn at different PR jobs in different locations- the salary at a large PR agency in St. Louis was very different from a small agency in San Francisco. Salary.com, Indeed, and Payscale.com are other good sites to check. This will give you a good range to keep in mind when you’re hit with your first offer- and then you’ll have a pretty accurate idea of whether you’re getting low-balled. It’s also really fascinating and I found myself deep in the salary rabbit hole on Glassdoor looking at salaries in completely irrelevant jobs. It’s a fun time. Go look.
Talk to other professionals in your field
While it might seem awk at first, you can simply ask others what to expect. I have yet to see anyone offended when I ask- if anything, people appreciate a candid, authentic conversation about your career. I talked to trusted mentors to get their honest opinions, and I also had honest conversations with my peers who were also graduating and getting job offers. My friends in my PR classes and I made it a point to openly discuss our salaries, and as a result we all got a better picture of what we all should be earning.
Consider your own background and qualifications.
What’s your education level? If you have your master’s degree, you might deserve a pay bump. Got any experience? Internships count. Remember that you have something to bring to the table, even as an entry-level applicant. Make a list of everything you’ve got- from work experience, to specialized courses you’ve taken, to soft skills like public speaking and project management. Be ready to use this list to make your case for more salary.