In the aftermath of the Great Recession, millennials have struggled to find good jobs in line with their education levels. And, burdened with crippling student debt, pay is one of their biggest job concerns.
Yet curiously, members of Gen Y are missing a huge opportunity to increase their pay: They are not negotiating their first salaries.
In an exclusive survey of 548 millennials in the U.S., 82% said they did not negotiate their first salaries because they either didn't feel comfortable (38%) or didn't know they were allowed to do so (44%).
Since your first salary is the baseline for all future raises, the impact of starting out behind is huge. "Not negotiating your first salary in a low-wage job can amount to a sacrifice of half a million dollars over the course of your career," says Sara Laschever, a negotiating expert and the author of "Ask For It." "In a higher-wage job, that loss is magnified."
Furthermore, with average incomes in the U.S. increasing so slowly, "if a whole generation starts out earning less than they could, it's going to suppress wages," she says.
Many millennials, those born between 1980 and the early 2000s, came of age in a deep financial crisis and saw friends struggling to get jobs or taking jobs below their education levels. They were grateful to get jobs at all and thought negotiating for more might put their offers at risk, Laschever says. That fear is compounded for women, who tend to view a negotiation as aggressive, which is antithetical to the warm and friendly demeanor they are expected to project.
There is, of course, always some risk involved in any salary negotiation. Not understanding the environment or taking the wrong tone could damage your relationship with the interviewer, says Martin Latz, CEO of the Latz Negotiation Institute and author of "Gain the Edge." In rare cases, the offer could be rescinded.
But in most instances, experts say, employers do expect some negotiation of salary or benefits and tend to offer less than they can afford in order to leave some wiggle room.
To strike the right balance and not come off as greedy, Latz suggests researching every facet of a typical negotiation in your field and at the specific company, including the standard salary range and benefits package, what's negotiable, who makes the first offer, and how the back and forth tends to play out.
Sites like Salary.com and LinkedIn, HR consultants in your field, and the career office at your college are all great resources for determining what's expected.
Latz also recommends providing a defensible reason for why you're asking for more, such as citing an independent study about the average compensation for the role. "Use benchmarks that support your conclusion of what might be fair or reasonable rather than asking for more for more's sake," he says.
Additionally, Laschever advises asking with a smile and offering plenty of thank yous. For example, you might say: Thanks for the offer. I'm very excited at the prospect of working here. I've done my research, this is what the market is paying, and I hope you'll consider giving me a little more.
It also doesn't hurt to practice with a friend beforehand, she says.
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