Why Young Professionals Don't Negotiate Salary (and Why They Should)
Salary negotiation is a pivotal step when you're interviewing for a new job. It’s your chance to get paid what you’re worth (or get closer to that figure), and could establish your financial trajectory at your new company for years to come.
Related: 5 Rules of Salary Negotiation
According to a 2018 survey from Robert Half, only 39 percent of people polled said they'd asked for more money upon receiving their latest job offer. In other words, more than half of all new hires accepted whatever they were offered, with no attempt at negotiation.
And that indicates that among millennials and young adults, negotiation is especially rare; in fact, only 37 percent of millennials have ever asked for a raise, according to Payscale.
So, why are so many young professionals reluctant to negotiate salary, and is that proactive move really that important in the first place?
Why young professionals are reluctant.
According to the Payscale study, there are many reasons why young people don’t negotiate salary or ask for raises, but two main reasons stand out: They feel uncomfortable in the negotiation process and don’t want to be viewed as pushy.
Discomfort is natural, especially if you’re nervous about the position, but it’s typically a byproduct of lack of exposure to an experience. If you’ve never negotiated your salary before, haven’t had education or practice on how to do it and haven’t witnessed anyone doing it, you’re bound to be uncomfortable trying it for the first time.
As for being pushy, most employers expect some degree of pushback or negotiation from new hires. And, sure, there are some ways to negotiate that can make you seem arrogant or demanding, but negotiation in and of itself is not the issue.
Why salary negotiation is so important.
So why is salary negotiation so important in the first place?
- No downsides. Unless you’re unreasonably aggressive, condescending, or unprofessional in your negotiation, there’s virtually no downside to negotiating your salary. All you’re doing is asking for more money, and your employer can accept or reject that request. If your request is accepted, you’ll instantly get more money for the duration of the job. If it's rejected, you face no inherent penalty. In other words, there can only be positive or neutral results -- nothing negative.
- Compounding returns. Negotiating for a higher salary sets you on a more valuable trajectory, and one that will reward you for many years to come. For example, data suggests that executives who negotiated their salary at their first job out of college stood to make at least $500,000 more over their careers, compared to those who did not. Imagine pushing for $60,000 a year instead of $50,000. Assuming proportionately similar raises in both scenarios, a person who negotiates for $60,000 would make $10,000 more each year for the remainder of his or her time with the company. That extra $10,000 would certainly be nice, but if you work at the same company for 30 years, that $10K could turn into $300,000.
- Future salary effects. Your current salary could also play a role in how your future pay is calculated. If you change roles within a company, it may use your existing salary as a baseline for determining your new pay. If you start out higher, you’ll have room to ask for even more money, eventually. You may also feel confident asking for more money in a role at another company in the future.
- Integrity, research, and power. Some employers may think more highly of you if you ask for more money. If you’re basing your request on objective data and research, you're demonstrating your willingness to put in the time to conduct research properly. If you’re up-front about your expectations, you're showing integrity. And the mere fact that you’re willing to ask for more money shows you’re confident in your abilities, which could reflect well on you.
- Employer incentives. Remember, employers are incentivized to pay you as little as possible. They aren’t motivated to give you more money up-front, so they may expect you to ask for more money no matter what. For these reasons, employers typically offer you a salary slightly-to-moderately lower than the going rate. If you accept that figure blindly, without pushing for more, you’ll effectively be operating at a loss. Negotiation is a way to counteract this issue.
If you’re a young professional, it’s in your best interest to start negotiating for your initial salary, and if you're looking for a raise, to do that as soon as possible. You can learn the fundamentals of negotiation by reading up on them, but if you want to feel more confident and get better results, role-play what you'll say, in a real environment. You don’t have to start with job interviews; instead, start small, with negotiations at flea markets or in your everyday interactions.
The more you negotiate, the better you’ll get, no matter where you start the process.