Negotiating an Offer
Don't be afraid to ask for time in making up your mind. Once you have been extended an official offer, you should be given sufficient time to decide whether to accept. You should ask for your offer in writing (not over e-mail).
Never accept one offer and then later renege if a more attractive one materializes. To do this is unethical, and reflects poorly on you and Thayer School. It may sound old-fashioned, but "your word is as good as a written contract." If you verbally tell one employer that you accept a position, then change your mind and accept another...you could potentially be the target of legal action for not honoring your word. While this rarely happens in today's challenging market, it is an important consideration in the job search.
If you have any questions about the timing of a response, ask Thayer Career Services for assistance.
Whether to pursue, accept, or decline a position is a delicate issue for both employers and job seekers. As always, if you have questions or would like individual assistance with making your decision, you can have a confidential appointment with Thayer Career Services staff to discuss the issue.
Salary Lesson One: Don't Bring Salary Up Until It's Brought Up With You
Salary negotiation is one of the final steps in the job search process. While it may be a factor in your mind, most employers would not ask you for an interview if they did not think that they could afford the "going rate" for your talents. You should not ask about salary during your initial interviews. Deb Koen, a columnist for the Wall Street Journal's CareerJournal.com advises, "Always start from the premise that you are in the best position to negotiate salary after you've interviewed and an offer has been made. With this in mind, try to hold off discussing compensation as long as you can." In most cases, you should never introduce the subject. Leave discussions about money and benefits to your prospective employer; they will broach the subject with you at an appropriate time.
Salary Lesson Two: Be Ready to Name a Salary Range when Asked
Regardless of when an employer brings up salary, you will be expected to be ready to discuss it. There are a number of resources that you can use to prepare for the conversation so that you are familiar with the typical salary range for the position that you are seeking. First, we report and publish average salary information for Thayer School graduates each year through Thayer Facts and Figures. You can also find national averages for graduating students in engineering-specific industry sectors through quarterly Salary Survey reports published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) (these reports are available in Career Services). NACE also offers a salary calculator. Also check NerdWallet's Cost of Living Calculator.
You may also want to contact members of our Alumni Network who are working currently in your field, provided that they are not working for the same company with whom you are interviewing. This should help you develop a realistic picture of the salary range to expect as well as the going rate for individuals with your education. (If you are receiving a graduate degree from Thayer School, keep in mind that some of your peers may have additional work experience accrued prior to their participation in graduate school and that, as a result, they may be offered higher salaries or additional opportunities to interview on the basis of that previous experience.)
- Note: If you are asked to supply your salary requirement for a position with your initial resume and cover letter, say "I am familiar with the general salary range for similar positions in this field, and I would appreciate your continued consideration for this position." The rationale for this approach? Such a response may help you stay in the game: Many employers place salary requirements in position announcements as a tool to screen candidates out. If your salary expectation is too high, they won't consider you. If it's too low, they may take you at face-value or see you as inexperienced.
Salary Lesson Three: Figuring Out What You Need to Live On
In general, Thayer School average salaries place graduates well above the poverty line! Regardless, you will need to determine how much money you will need to support yourself. The following are steps you can take to determine your monthly budget:
Add up any recurring known expenses you have (loan payments, credit card debt, cell phone bill).
Determine the cost of living. Average rent, state, and local taxes vary greatly depending on where you live. We recommend the Salary Center to compare these factors
This MonsterTrak site contains up-to-date salary ranges based on job category, title and location. There is also a cost-of-living tool which you can use to measure how well your salary fares in different locations—i.e.. if you made $55,000 in Burlington Vermont, how much would you have to make in San Diego to live equally as well?
(Note: HomeFair also has a good calculator which includes more rural locations such as Hanover.)
Next, estimate rent, food, commuting and clothing costs for the cities or areas you are considering. Make sure you factor in incidental or miscellaneous expenses, such as any costs associated with your social and entertainment activities. Then total everything up.
Salary Lesson Four: Decide Whether it's Worth Negotiating
Once you know both the standard salary range and your financial needs, you are ready to decide if you have grounds for negotiating. What are good reasons for bargaining? You may want to consider negotiating if you:
discover that you will be unable to make ends meet with the offered salary; or
are aware that you have experience or other qualifications that exceed those of other candidates offered positions by the organization; or
learn that similarly qualified candidates have been offered more appealing employment packages by the same organization in the same location; or
will only accept the offer if the organization will negotiate the terms.
This final condition suggests two other important points:
Enter into negotiation only if you plan to accept the offer if needs are met. Don't attempt to engage organizations in a bidding competition; you will annoy your potential employers, and...
While it is not common for employers to rescind offers to students who attempt negotiation, it is within the realm of possibility that you will end up empty-handed. However, with a tactful approach, you should be able to avoid putting your offer in jeopardy.
Last, try to determine if the organization has a history of negotiating offers. Alumni are often helpful in determining which organizations and industries are typically receptive to bargaining. You will quickly discover that while many employers that recruit students on college campuses consider their salary offers non-negotiable, a few others will bargain to get top candidates.
If you are still uncertain about whether you've got grounds to try bargaining, feel free to make an appointment at Thayer Career Services. Remember, you shouldn't feel pressured to negotiate for the sake of negotiating. If you are satisfied with your offer, then accept!
Salary Lesson Five: What May or May Not Be Negotiable
If you are being offered a job in a position in which many new graduates are being hired at the same time, you will be quoted a salary that all the members of your peer group will be receiving, with perhaps a $1000-$2000 spread to reward a candidate with summer experience in the industry, an outstanding academic record, or other special qualifications. You will therefore have very little room to negotiate. Having a competing offer at a higher figure, however, can be useful in getting the organization to come up a little (as long as the positions, industries and geographic cost of living are comparable. This is possible in some industries, though it is important to note that there is often less "wiggle room" in academia.
If the employer begins the conversation by asking you what your salary requirements are, ask what the range is for the position rather than providing a specific figure. If you are forced to name a figure, answer with a range, with the low figure the minimum amount you would accept.
In factoring in your total compensation, consider three things: salary, benefits package, and lifestyle. Depending on whether or not stock options or signing bonuses are included in your benefits, a full employee benefits package can add as much as 30 to 40 percent to your base salary. Many employers will offer great benefits that may well exceed your expectations: for example, some companies and organizations will subsidize or completely pay for continuing education and a graduate degree. Others share profits with their employees. General benefits that you should look for include vacation and sick time, health and dental insurance, life and disability insurance, retirement contributions (i.e. 401 K matching). (Note: It is not unusual for employers to require you to pay a small fee for health coverage; in comparison with the individual cost of health insurance this is negligible.)
Generally, benefits packages are not negotiable, but individual benefits are important to factor in. Some of the benefits may not be important to you now (e.g. daycare access or parental leave policies if you are single with no immediate plans to pro-create). Others will be or could potentially be—if you've ever used any sort of retirement calculator, you know the value of starting your savings early!
One-time expenses are often easier for employers to handle than an annual salary increase. For example, you might be able to negotiate for the purchase of a laptop or PDA. Moving expenses are another one-time expense for which employers may offer to provide compensation. (Note: Save all receipts as your moving expenses may be tax-deductible, including food and lodging expenses during the physical move). If you are able to have part of your move reimbursed and are asked to come up with an estimate, I suggest getting several estimates from different moving companies.
A quick precautionary tale on lifestyle: be careful to take it into consideration. If you were active in the Dartmouth Outing Club and can't imagine going for three days straight in the summer without rock climbing, a job that averages 80 to 100 hours a week in a business suit may not be for you.
The Perfect Job, With Un-Perfect Salary
What should you say if you've just been offered a job which meets all your career goals and ideas of what work should be, but the salary doesn't meet your expectations?
Be enthusiastic about the position. Express your continued interest in the work opportunity. But ask if there's any flexibility in determining the salary. Pay careful attention to the employer's response; it should give you an idea of whether there's any "give." If the beginning salary point is non-negotiable, one possibility is to negotiate for an early review at, possibly, three or six months, when you might be able to receive a raise. Remember that some salaries start low, and increase fast based on performance (this is particularly true in some industry sectors). In other areas, such as academia, salary raises frequently do not exceed three percent per year, regardless of performance.
The bottom line: if you're in the wrong job, the right salary won't make you happy. Don't let salary be the only factor in making your decision.
Salary Lesson Six: What to Expect in Terms of Outcome
Be prepared for possible responses, including:
"What salary are you willing to work for?"Respond by providing a salary range with your ideal salary as a mid-point.
"That figure is beyond our salary range for this position." You have the opportunity to make another counteroffer if you are willing to consider a salary lower than your targeted range. Even if the base salary can not be negotiated further, you could try the strategy described below.
"The salary we offered was at the top of the range for your position," or "We are offering all of our new hires the same, non-negotiable salary." You may wish to talk about alternate methods of achieving your financial goals. Alternate methods may include a signing bonus, a 60, 90 or 120 day performance and salary review, or bonuses during the year.
Particularly in today's tight market, it is difficult to negotiate a marked increase in salary. Candidates are rarely able to increase their salary more than $5,000 as a result of negotiations, generally $1,000 to $2,000 is all that you can expect. A better strategy may be to use the tactic mentioned above, and ask for an early review.
Salary Lesson Seven: Be Nice and Take Your Time
Be assertive but not arrogant. Remember, if you choose to accept the position...the individual who negotiates your salary will soon be a colleague. It is just as important to be courteous during the negotiation process as it was during the interview. Making ultimatums could potentially harm relationships later. You want to make sure that you continue to give a good impression.
Salary Lesson Eight: Communicate Your Final Decision
If you feel that you can't agree on a mutually satisfying compromise, you do not have to accept the offer. If the employer's counteroffer is not what you expected and you are unsure about accepting the terms of the offer at the end of the negotiation process, you may ask for a short period of time to reconsider. If you feel you can agree, you should be prepared to accept the offer.
Once the negotiations are over, and you've agreed on a salary, immediately notify other employers who have offered you positions, so that those slots can be opened up for other students. Also, be sure to thank everyone who was helpful in the job search, and inform them of your decision. Don't forget to let the staff of Thayer Career Services know what you'll be doing by filling out a Career Services Exit Survey. This information will help next year's students in the negotiation process.
Additional Reading Material
There are many on-line resources to help you in salary negotiations, as well as several books in the Thayer Career Services Library.