Salary negotiation tips for graduates of master's degree programs

Negotiating your salary takes more than charisma alone. You'll need the statistics to back your argument.
    Negotiating your salary takes more than charisma alone. You'll need the statistics to back your argument.

    Salary negotiation tips for graduates of master's degree programs


    After completing your master’s degree, you might be ready to plunge into the workforce. Even if you had a job during your time in graduate school, coming into your first position after completing an advanced degree can open you up to opportunities individuals with a bachelor’s alone might not have.

    If you’ve received a job offer from a prospective employer, you should investigate your salary offer. If you find that it falls below industry and geographical standards, you may decide to negotiate a higher salary. When negotiating a salary with your future employer, there are many factors you should take into consideration in deciding your counter offer and persuading them to offer you a higher income.

    Research salary trends
    A good starting point in the salary negotiation process is analyzing typical salaries in your intended field. You might be so thrilled with a company’s proposal that you don’t realize whether they are undermining your worth. Before you celebrate a job offer, make sure you don’t accept a salary that falls under industry standards.

    The city of the job you are offered should influence your salary goals. If you live in an expensive city like San Francisco or New York City, you may need a higher salary than if you live in a more affordable location. The cost of rent and other living expenses in your city should influence your salary expectations. If you are moving to a new city and are not sure of salary requirements to maintain the cost of living, do some research. A salary in one city could put you in an excellent spot financially, but this same salary could cause immense distress in pricier areas.

    Websites like and PayScale provide salary estimates based on a number of factors, including:

    • City of employment
    • Years of experience
    • Highest degree achieved

    Another way to get a proper assessment on salary trends for your intended career is to ask friends and acquaintances in the field. Asking someone how much they make out-front can be off-putting, so you should be strategic in your phrasing. A proper way to pose the question is in a subjective manner: “What is a reasonable starting salary for X job?”

    Between these two resources, you should have a salary range in mind. When negotiating salary, it’s best to aim in the middle of these two numbers. For instance, if your salary range is $60,000-$70,000, meeting halfway at $65,000 can be your sweet spot for negotiation.

    Benefits matter
    When negotiating your salary, understand that base pay is not everything. A job’s desirability is based on a number of factors. A company’s benefits package is one of the primary reasons you might accept a lower-salary opportunity.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that benefits make up approximately 31 percent of your compensation package. Companies pay a lot of money to attract and retain extraordinary employees. Some organizations pride themselves on their excellent 401(k) plan or medical benefits, while others boast their work-life balance perks by offering outstanding paid time off, work-from-home perks and flexible hours to accommodate employees’ everyday lives.

    Some companies might provide employees with money-saving benefits, like reimbursed public transportation, free catered lunches, a gym membership or tuition reimbursement, so you can go back for a doctorate on the company’s dime. If you plan on taking advantage of these opportunities, it may be worth accepting a lower salary.

    Likability makes a difference
    Never underestimate the value of charisma. Human resource individuals are more likely to fight for you if they like you. You may want to find the right balance of personality to present to recruiters. You should be:

    • Polite, but not a pushover
    • Assertive, not pushy
    • Persistent, but not a bother

    Attend a salary negotiation workshop
    Many graduate programs, especially MBA programs, offer students salary-negotiation tools. If you didn’t have this resource, or could use a refresher, you may decide to attend a salary negotiation workshop. Many cities offer these lectures as a free tool funded by your state’s career services department. These classes can walk you through scenarios and instruct you on effective wording.

    Rehearse your speech
    Practice makes perfect, right? Present your salary negotiation strategy in front of a friend or family member, allowing them to give you critiques as needed. They could even interact with you, providing different responses to your proposal so you can be prepared with different responses.

    Rehearsing will build your confidence for the real conversation. If the salary negotiation meeting is in person, you should be aware of how your body language conveys your message, as well as your words. Sometimes, you can present an alternative offer over the phone. In this case, feel free to take extensive notes to guide your justification.

    Your results
    If the employer has met your expectations or increased their offer, congratulations! You should be proud of your negotiation skills. If they did not go up, don’t give up just yet. If they don’t want to increase your salary, an employer might be open to providing you with more paid time off or the opportunity to work from home several days a week.

    Remember, a “no” isn’t the worst thing. Human resource individuals are used to negotiating salaries with prospective employees. If you’ve communicated your desires in a productive, considerate way, you’ve done the best you could do. Perhaps you can use your salary negotiation skills in the future when you’re asking for a raise.

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