Education Career Services

March 4, 2009

How Much Are You Worth?

Knowing how to negotiate salary is tough, especially in today’s economy.  The other day, I was dollarsquestions1talking to a friend about her current job and it really got me thinking – where does one draw the line between a reasonable argument and pushing it overboard when it comes to negotiating salary? 


Take, for example, two candidates interviewing for the same position as an entry-level mechanical engineer for the same mid-size pharmaceutical company:    


Candidate #1: A young woman with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering who has been out of school for a few years and previously held full-time positions as a quality engineer.  The last company went through financial difficulties, leaving her as a part-time engineer on an as-needed basis.  Being out of work for a few months, she is in need of a job and, most importantly, something in her desired field.  She is shy, but offers a good amount of technical knowledge and hands-on experience in the mechanical field.   


Candidate #2: A young man with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from one of the largest schools in the nation.  After seven years in the undergraduate program, he is now a new graduate and recently turned down an opportunity to work as an engineer for one of the largest engineering companies in the world to go traveling in Europe after graduation.  He is direct, outgoing, and confident, but can only bring strong character and book knowledge to the table.


Which one do you think landed the higher salary?


Even as an entry-level candidate, it’s important to understand what someone in your position with your skills should expect to make.  Times are hard now, which makes it critical to follow three guidelines: know when to negotiate, what to negotiate, and how to make your argument. 


  • When – You should never bring up salary unless you’re far into the process and are confident you are going to receive a job offer.  Being presumptuous can jeopardize a perfectly good opportunity. 
  • What – Do your research.  Understand what people in your field, entry-level and above, are getting paid.  Do not go in blind because you can either pass up an opportunity to get paid what the job is worth or you can come off too strong. 
  • How – Weigh your strengths with those you find mentioned in your research.  Remember that as an entry-level candidate, you still have a lot to learn.  Secondly, be confident, but not pompous.  It can be equally detrimental to aim too low when asked about salary expectations.


In the scenario above, Candidate #2 walked away with the higher salary.  It wasn’t because he was more qualified, but because when offered $40,000 a year, he responded, “Make it $45,900 and you have yourself an engineer.”  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend using those exact words, but Candidate #2 was confident that he was worth more than the initial offer.  Candidate #1, on the other hand, took whatever she could get due to her situation – she played it maybe too safe.  She walked away with $40,000 and now works side-by-side with Candidate #1, answering his questions and giving him guidance on a daily basis. 


Don’t sell yourself short, even if it means getting out of your comfort zone for a little while.


Sigmarie Soto, CPRW

Senior Writer – Career Services International


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