This is a guest post by Nader Mowlaee.
As a fresh graduate of any technical course or engineering program, it can be difficult to find a company that accepts applicants without any experienced On-The-Job Training during college or university years, much more than those companies offer a higher than average salary. With that said, I’ve helped several young engineers negotiate an extra $5K, which isn’t that bad when you start to break it down into monthly income ($416/month) and what you can do with that extra money.
After a numerous number of interviews, finally, the anxiety has diminished and the hard part is almost over. After the final interview with the manager, he says the sweetest thing you can hear at that moment “you’ve got the job”, then they’ll tell you that they will prepare the employment offer letter and that if you have any questions you should ask them. But for most applicants, they’re still at the peak of their happiness and will sign the contract immediately, without even bothering to read it first. I’ve seen new graduates doing that thousands of times without even bothering to search for more info on the average salary amount for someone in their position, their industry, and location.
Remember that it is a binding contract, so there is no turning back, once you sign it, the deal is done. There may be other reasons why newly graduate engineers are just signing contracts without asking any questions; they may be thinking that a degree is not enough for someone to land a good paying job, and lack of self-confidence will almost always raise concerns, as there may be thousands of applicants. When they have finally chosen you, negotiating becomes even more difficult, since this deals with money and the employer considers your salary expectations from the first moment they engage with you.
Remember this: You are the person offering your services, and you expect to get compensated accordingly; and the employer is someone who’s in need of someone with your skills; and has a budget for compensating you. Even though you are a rookie, you still have the right to negotiate your terms, even if it is your first job. They want to hire you because they see potential in you which they didn’t see in other applicants; that means you’re important to them and they feel you can be an asset for the company.
Negotiating is not easy, but it can easily be done when you prepare for it from the moment you start conversations with an employer. If you know what you’re worth and can confidently communicate your value, then you can get paid well; and if you want a salary increase you, must have leverage. In this article, I’ll give you 5 steps you can follow to identify and use leverage to ask for that salary increase, up front, and get it too.
1. Plan & Prioritize
Figure out your numbers. The number of hours you’re willing to work per week, and the amount of dollars you want to get paid per working hour. This is important as you have to know how much you are willing to do and take on in order to get what you think is ideal as a salary per hour. You need to figure this out because this is what you are negotiating.
There are two sources I recommend for figuring out the average market value for engineers in your industry and location: https://www.linkedin.com/salary, and https://www.glassdoor.com/Salaries The more you learn, the more you earn; which perfectly leads us to the next tip.
2. Learn how to talk about money
The more you learn about how much others are getting and how much you can expect when you get a job, the more comfortable you’ll be talking about it. It may a difficult topic to discuss with others, as they may not want to disclose how much their salary is, but if you don’t feel comfortable asking a straightforward question, you can subtly ask how much they think you should look for, before signing the contract. Or ask them how they figure out if they are offering salaries that match industry average?
In that way, you can at least have an idea of what they look for before finally settling on that offer, and how much they value their employees. The two salary sources above are used commonly and information you find there can be trusted. Make sure to ask your questions and convey your messages confidently and accurately so that you are taken seriously.
3. Begin with the interview
Many companies ask salary related questions at the first stage of the interview process, primarily to ensure your expectation match their budget. Therefore, it’s important for you to do your research to know how much you are expecting and the terms & conditions of work that you are being considered for. It will make the assessment a lot easier for the employers when you genuinely tell them exactly what you’re looking for. It will show and tell the employers more about your own interpersonal and communication skills and if you’re going to be satisfied with what they have to offer you.
Always aim for the median amount and avoid giving them a range; because if you do, you’d most likely get an offer at the bottom end of your range. Be assertive and back up your answer with the reason why you chose that number.
4. Make up your mind
It is normal for someone to take time in making up their mind, this is proof that you’re really thinking about your future. Most companies do not just retract an offer just because you said that you need more time to think about it. If you’re unsure, just be honest but make sure to thank them for the opportunity and show them that you are very excited about it. Take the time you need, but not too long, two or three days is an acceptable time frame, then get back to them and let them know what your salary expectations are based on the research you did. This is regardless of which stage of the interview process you’re in, although it’s best if you’re ready prior to the first interview.
5. Build your case from day one
If the last 4 tips were about preparation, this step is about execution. This is key in negotiating. You have to convince the employer why they should hire you and pay you the amount you desire. Even though you just graduated and still don’t have any track record or experience, always remember the ‘type of person’ they were looking for. Don’t get too focused on the skills that you have or don’t have; that is NOT the reason companies hire new grads.
Employers often look for qualities such as personality, drive, and aptitude. Your ability to learn and your passion for the company, the industry they’re in and the product they develop, or the services they offer; that is what’s most important. They already know that they’ll have to train you, so sell them on how great of a fit you are in their environment. Demonstrate your knowledge of their products and your interest in being a contributor to their success. You must show you’re in love with what they do. The deeper in love you are with them, the higher they’ll pay you. If there was only one secret to successful negotiation, it would be this one, the power of persuasion. [Check out this episode of The Engineering Career Coach Podcast where we talk about Dr. Robert Cialdini’s book: Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion]
A few more tips: Be Realistic & Prepare for a NO
You’ve got to be realistic, which is why I talked about an extra $5,000, which will most likely be within their budget and well worth it to spend on the right person who will likely stay in that company for a long time. Some companies are not willing to negotiate, so be prepared for a No. This will show them how you will accept the answer. It is important to be prepared mentally and don’t get discouraged in negotiating. Normally the bigger the company, the less they will be willing to negotiate.
At last, remember that your success in negotiating a salary increase will heavily rely on your communication skills. How you communicate is much more effective than what you say. And your body language is the differentiating factor. Physically show the employer that you’re excited about the opportunity and that you’re fascinated with what they do. Sound and look certain in everything you say and ask directly for what you want. If done right, you will earn their respect in this process.
About Nader Mowlaee:
Nader is a career coach who believes you can get everything you want in life if you just help enough other people get what they want. He is inspired by motivating confidence in engineers and helping them take calculated actions to move forward towards their career and life goals. His mission is to enable engineers to break away from their fears and create the ideal lives and careers they desire. You can learn more about Nader through his LinkedIn account.
We would love to hear any questions you might have or stories you might share on negotiating a salary increase as a fresh graduate engineer.
Please leave your comments, feedback or questions in the section below.
To your success,
Anthony Fasano, PE, LEED AP
Engineering Management Institute
Author of Engineer Your Own Success