It’s never too early to start negotiating

A young woman is talking on the phone and smiling. She is negotiating for her next job.

Whether you’re a parent, auntie, grandmother, or sister of a young woman – or you’re a post-secondary student yourself, I want you to pay attention so you can share an important message with the young women in your life. You can and should negotiate for your summer job, your first job in your field, and every job after that. “I’m just a student. I haven’t even finished my program. I’m just happy to have an entry level job in my field.” I hear this from young women all the time – and it’s thoughts like this that compel them to accept whatever job offer is presented and not even try asking for more. But that stops today! It’s never too early to start negotiating. That’s because negotiation is one of the most powerful skills that you will need throughout your career, and the sooner you start, the greater the benefits.

Post-secondary experience is an asset in negotiation

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard young women downplay their post-secondary experiences in interviews and salary negotiations. They feel as though, because they don’t yet have the degree, diploma, or certificate, their experience doesn’t count. But it does.

Every difficult class that you take teaches you to overcome obstacles. Finding your way through difficult and complex material is no different than finding your way through difficult and complex problems at work. Your ability to balance multiple priorities (hello school, part-time job, time with friends/partners, and family obligations) is exactly what your employer needs when they throw multiple projects at you at once. Have a history of never missing an assignment deadline? That’s a point of reliability that your employer will appreciate. Think about what you’ve struggled with and overcome in your studies – all of those experiences translate to valuable skills and competencies that your employer will appreciate – and will reward financially, if you ask.

If you’re applying for an entry level job in your field and you’re still working on your program, that doesn’t mean you aren’t a qualified candidate. Sure, there might be some areas that you haven’t yet mastered, but you probably have a ton of foundational knowledge that will help you succeed. Combine that with the transferable skills that come with overcoming challenges, and you are a terrific candidate. If you weren’t, they wouldn’t be offering you the job.

Negotiation has an immediate benefit.

If you’re a post-secondary student, I know you need every penny you earn. Whether it’s to cover rent or avoid student loans, a bit of extra cash over the summer will give you breathing room – and maybe even an opportunity to splurge a bit.

For example, if you just negotiate an extra $2 an hour, you’ll net an additional $1,280 over the four months of summer (assuming full time work for 16 weeks). What would you do with an extra $1,280? I promise, you’ll have no problem finding places to spend it.

But guess what? Nobody is going to give you that extra salary unless you negotiate.

Your employer will always low-ball you

Everyone loves a deal. And unless you’re going to work for an organization that has transparent and equal pay practices, you need to know the most important truth in salary negotiation.

Your employer will always offer the lowest salary that they think you might say yes to.

It’s not an assessment of your value – it’s them hoping that you won’t stand up for yourself and they will get a terrific employee for a helluva deal. The truth is, most reasonable employers expect you to come back and ask for more. And the truth is, they’ll respect you more for having the hard conversation than for avoiding it.

Negotiation is even more impactful over time

Just like investing for your retirement (trust me, it’s worth it, even though it sucks), negotiating every time you accept a new job has an effect even more powerful effect than compound interest. And that’s because there’s a psychological element to it.

Let’s say that last summer, you took a job with a company in your field of study, and they paid you $20 an hour. This year, you negotiate for $23 an hour – because you’re a whole year smarter, inflation means your costs are higher, plus you have all the experience with the company from last year. That $3 per hour difference means almost $2000 in increased earnings this summer. But the power is in the psychological impact of negotiation.

Next year, after another year of post-secondary studies and two years of experience at the company, there’s no way they’re getting you for $23 an hour again. You’ll obviously negotiate up, because you’ve done so before. You’ve conditioned yourself to set the bar higher each time. And that’s a damn good thing – because with every year that passes, you’re getting more qualified, more experienced, and more valuable.

If you continue this pattern and negotiate every time you get a new job offer, it is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in your bank account over your career. When you finish your program and apply for your first professional job with full qualifications, that extra $2,000 over the summer will feel tiny. And that’s because you’ll be negotiating for 15%-20% on what they offer you. If the initial offer is $50k, that means you can easily negotiate at least an extra $10k over the opening offer.

Negotiation will always be uncomfortable, but practice helps

Fast forward 10 years into your career. If you start at 50k and don’t negotiate at every opportunity, you’ll have missed out on just under $170k, accumulated over the ten year period. I know you can come up with some pretty great ways to spend $170k. So don’t risk looking back and wishing you negotiated. Do it. Every time.

The way forward is to practice every chance you get – for salary, for benefits, for internships, with professors, with family, with your friends and community. Negotiation is like a muscle. If you don’t use it, it’s really awkward and hard to do (if you don’t believe me, drop and give me 20 pushups and then tell me that practice doesn’t matter).

Custom advice for women is important

Men and women negotiate differently. But beware: most of the advice you’ll find online is based on research conducted on traditional white male business students. So be careful what you trust. You want to look for advice that helps you overcome the blind spots that you probably carry because you have been socialized as a young woman. For example, you might find your sense of loyalty or gratitude for the opportunity gets in your way of asking for what you deserve.

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2 thoughts on “It’s never too early to start negotiating”

  1. Any advice for negotiating salary for a unionized position, where HR decides on the pay scale based on a predetermined job description, regardless of the successful candidate’s experience or education?

    1. This is a great question. It really comes down to what is defined in the collective agreement. Some agreements define the specific levels at which people can come into positions at. Often, the agreements will describe what happens when people are promoted between classifications. Usually, there is some flexibility within the range at the time of your initial hiring into the organization, with less flexibility if you’re moving around within the same organization. It’s ALWAYS worth it to ask. But you should look up the range before you do. They won’t be able to go beyond the range that’s specified. That said, I strongly encourage you to negotiate on non-monetary benefits like extra vacation time, the ability to work your preferred schedule, and a commitment to pay for learning opportunities. Those can be extremely lucrative and also provide you with the flexiblity and life/work integration that helps you feel like a human instead of a cog in a machine.

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