How to Negotiate Your Salary at Your First Job (and Get What You're Worth!)

Mary Beth French fell into the trap that many young professional women find themselves in post-college: She needed a job to pay bills and student loans, but had zero experience negotiating her salary.

"At the interview, I was put on the spot with the question, 'How much do you have to make to live on?' I gave my honest answer and said $35,000. The owner made a face as if I asked for too much, and I quickly said, 'but I would also take $30,000,'" the 24-year-old tells Yahoo! Shine. "I was desperate for a job."

The graphic designer got the job on the promise that she'd earn $30K for the first eight months -- a trial period -- and then get a $5,000 salary bump. That didn't happen, and she eventually confronted her boss.

"Instead of giving me the money I was promised, he suggested a few different routes I could take to get to work that would save me gas money," she recalls.

The worst blow came on her last day at work. "I was told that the male graphic designer who worked before me made $75,000 a year. I was sick."

Mary Beth's experience isn't that uncommon. Young female professionals are particularly vulnerable when negotiating salaries at a first post-college job, says Mariela Dabbah, corporate consultant and author of Find Your Inner Red Shoes.

"Women are leaving money on the table because they tend to ask for less than they deserve," she tells Shine. "Research shows that men negotiate the first salary much more often than women do and that in average they get 4.3 percent more than the initial offer. Meanwhile, women are able to increase that offer by 2.7 percent."

Most colleges provide little-to-no instruction on the art of negotiation, so young women are left to feel out the negotiation process. It's not easy, but Dabbah has a few tips to make the process work in your favor.

Know how much money you need to live

In a perfect world, you would earn enough at your first job to get a cushy apartment, pay your student loans and have enough left over for some serious shopping. In the real world? Not every job pays that much, but it should pay enough for you to cover your expenses.

"Before you go into a negotiation, you need to know how much you need to cover your monthly expenses, including your student loans, rent, and other living expenses," Dabbah says.

Otherwise you can't afford to take the job.

Do your research

Think your research days are over now that you've graduated? Think again: The first step to getting the salary you want is to do some legwork before the offer is on the table.

"It's important to use websites where you can learn what the industry pays for comparable jobs such as PayScale and Salary.com," Dabbah explains. "The more you know about the company you're negotiating with, the better you'll do."

Finding out what other comparable companies in your area are paying for the same job helps, too -- as does learning as much as you can about the company.

"Ask yourself: What are they trying to solve by hiring you?" Dabbah says. "What are their future goals to which you could contribute? How are they doing financially? How can you make them look good with their decision to give you what you want?"

Know the unique skills you bring to the table

When negotiating your salary, Dabbah explains it's critical to take in consideration the market conditions: Are your skills in high demand? Are there a lot of people with your same skill set? Do you offer something unique that gives you an edge over the competition?

"Quantify your achievements," Dabbah advises. "The more you can quantify how well you've done in your internships, in school projects, in your volunteer activities, the better you will look."

All of that supporting evidence strengthens your argument for more money.

Get over your fears

You might be afraid negotiating simply out of fear that the job offer will evaporate if you look greedy. Don't be worried about that, says Dabbah.

"If the employer wants you, they'll be willing to negotiate," she says. "If they don't, then they wouldn't be making a job offer."

The worst that will happen? They'll say no. However, that's still an opportunity.

"Sometimes the salary may not be negotiable but other things are: Your ability to work remotely, flex time, your title, or any number of benefits," Dabbah adds. "If you can get a better package for yourself, why wouldn't you try?"

Play ball

Use all of your research -- and new-found confidence -- to make a solid initial offer. Most hiring managers have a range they can work with and won't make their highest offer on the first round of negotiations. You should follow suit: Ask for a salary that's higher than you would expect to receive and work down from there. Eventually, the hiring manager will either meet your demands or indicate that she can't go any higher.

If that happens, you have a decision to make.

Know when it's time to walk away

Sometimes even the best negotiation efforts don't pan out. Listen to your gut and don't attempt to make an abnormally low salary work just to have a job.

"No matter how tempting the job sounds, if you can't reach an agreement that covers your bottom line, you have to say thanks, but no thanks," Dabbah says.

Tell us: What are your best salary negotiation tips?

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