The New College Grad’s Guide to Pay

In a recent talk with college students about pay negotiation (at Skidmore College – go Thoroughbreds!), lots of questions came up that don’t typically arise with my mid-career and executive salary negotiation clients. So I thought I’d write a post just for the new college grad.

Here are my 5 best salary negotiation tips for recent college grads:

  1. Get clear.
  2. Your pay package is more than just base pay.
  3. Do your homework, and it’s okay to have questions.
  4. Use the 7 magic words.
  5. It’s not personal.
Hey, recent college grads! Want some tips on pay negotiation? Check out these 5 tips! #paynegotiation #7magicwords Click To Tweet

Get clear.

The most important part of your pay negotiation (and arguably, the most overlooked) isn’t about pay at all. It’s getting clear on what you want out of a job – and an employer. Papering the universe with your resume might feel productive, but ultimately, it doesn’t serve you (no matter what your uncle says).

Are you targeting a specific location, or are you flexible (and how flexible are you)? Do you have principles that you want to see reflected in the place you work (things like sustainability, community service, “work hard/play hard,” or justice)? Are you looking for a large/small, private/public, profit/nonprofit organization? And what types of roles fit your education, experience, and career goals?

It sounds a little counterintuitive, right? Why would you want to narrow things down? It’s pretty much impossible to make a case as to why you’re the perfect candidate for a wide range of jobs and employers. And it’s hard for other people to help refer you without a specific goal in mind.

When you can clearly articulate what exactly you’re looking for, it’ll be easier to target specific employers and get help networking, which can help you connect with the right job for you.

Your pay package is more than just base pay.

Base pay

When most people think about their pay packages, they think about base pay. But in reality, base pay is just one element. Granted, for your first job out of college, it’s almost certainly the largest element in your pay package, but there are other things most jobs will have, too.

Annual bonus

An annual bonus might be part of your pay package. If you’re eligible, your offer letter will generally tell you what your bonus target is (typically a percentage of your base pay), explain that you have to be a strong performer to receive it, and when your first payout might happen.


Benefits, like paid time off or vacation, health insurance, and retirement savings are pretty common. Both the benefits and the amount you have to pay every month (or paycheck) can vary widely between companies.


Relocation benefits or a “relo” allowance is relatively common if the company wants you to move your stuff across the country or the world. These benefits can also vary widely from place to place.


Equity, stock options, and/or RSUs aren’t common in jobs right out of undergrad (much more common for grad school graduates), but some high-tech companies do offer them.

If you’re in the enviable position of comparing offers, it’s important to look at how the entire packages stack up, and not just the base pay numbers.

Do your homework, and it’s okay to have questions.

Don’t forget to do your research. There are lots of great sources of information about the going market rate for the new college grad in different locations. I recommend starting with your college’s placement office – a great source of information, and from people who really super-want you to be successful in your job hunt.


Other sources include job posting sites (like, workplace information sites (like, and friends who are looking for similar jobs. Make sure you check out the website for the company you’re interviewing with, too. Many organizations have a page dedicated to their pay and benefits.

And read everything that comes with your offer letter/email. Every. Thing. There will usually be information about benefits (and relocation and stock, if applicable). And information about the company itself.


You are definitely going to have questions. Like, “what is PTO?” (Paid Time Off, btw). That’s natural and normal. If you don’t understand something that’s included in your offer, ask the hiring manager or HR person to explain things to you.

Once you’re at the offer stage, the company is really hoping you say yes, and getting answers to your questions can help you feel more comfortable.

But remember the homework piece, too. If you have tons of questions that can be easily answered by reading the stuff the organization already gave you, that can get irritating after a while. You want to save that energy for negotiating!

Use the 7 magic words.

Salary negotiations can be tricky, especially if you’re doing it for the first time.

My best tip for first-timers is to think about what you’d like more of, and then use these 7 magic words: “What kind of flexibility do you have?”

Not, “Do you have any flexibility?” or, “Are you willing to negotiate?” or anything like that. Just the 7 words. Even if you’re already okay with the offer. Even if you hate the idea of negotiating.

As a new college grad, you might not get more of what you’re looking for (base pay, vacation days, relocation allowance, or whatever it is), but what if you do?

Try the 7 magic words and let me know how they work for you! And if you want even more tips on pay negotiation, check out this post, this post, and this post.

It’s not personal.

The job hunt and pay negotiations feel intensely personal, because their outcomes affect us personally. But the answer to the question, “why do I keep getting rejected?” isn’t “because you’re a bad person.” It’s because it’s not a good match. And trust me, that’s something that you’d much rather discover before you accept the job.

Sometimes there’s no match because you haven’t been clear about what it is that you want and what you can offer. More often, though, it’s because the employer is trying to solve a specific problem that they think another candidate is a better match for.

If you can remember that hiring managers and talent acquisition experts come to work wanting to do a good job (just like pretty much everybody but sociopaths do), it can take a bit of the personal sting out of the match/no match process.

Are you a new college grad in the middle of a job search? Tell us your best tip below!

Insider Secrets of Pay Negotiation

Ever wonder what’s going on inside an organization when you’re in the process of pay negotiation? Here’s my insider’s perspective, based on my many (many!) years of helping companies figure out how to pay people.

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It’s not personal

It absolutely feels personal, because your pay impacts so many facets of your life, but it’s not. How much an organization is willing to pay says a whole lot more about the value of the job to the organization than about what you’re worth, personally.

I was talking with a woman the other day who was telling me that she had multiple job offers (yay!), but with wildly different starting salaries. She wondered why some places valued her more than others.

After getting more details, it sounded like the different companies wanted to hire her for different levels of jobs. They all valued her and her experience (enough to offer her a job!), but each organization valued the job they wanted her to do very differently. That’s an important distinction.

Companies are kinda mercenary (and you should be, too). Bottom line, the company’s job is to get the best talent (that’s you!) in exchange for a competitive pay package. Your job is to get the most from the company that they’re willing to give in exchange for what you’ll contribute to them. Business. Not personal.

So yeah, a bit mercenary-ish. But that said, recruiters and headhunters advocate better for people they have a connection with, and nobody likes to deal with jerks. If you can get into the mindset of negotiating on behalf of someone you like, and of curiosity, it can be easier to take the emotion out of the negotiation.

Some stuff just can’t be negotiated

(and that’s also not personal)

Especially in larger companies, salary & benefits elements can be policy-driven. This can include who’s covered with benefits, bonus percentages, 401K contribution, stock treatment, and stuff like that. Making exceptions to some policies can put the benefit plan itself at risk with government regulators, so that may be a reason you’re not able to negotiate on specific things.

Some companies are simply more flexible than others when it comes to pay, too. Smaller organizations can often have flexibility with the mix of elements in the pay package, trading more of one thing for less of another. But larger organizations often have more & different pay & benefits and less flexibility about mixing.

There will also be things at play internally that you don’t/can’t/won’t have visibility. Internal equity (how people are paid relatively to each other inside the organization) can often be a factor. If your salary requirements are higher than others doing the same job, that can be tough for the company to accommodate. If they’re higher than your new boss’ pay, it can be a dealbreaker. And that’s not saying you’re wrong about what you’re asking for, but it can make things a mismatch between you and the company.

Know, too, that with equal pay coming to the forefront, there may not be much wiggle room with starting rates, either. But that shouldn’t stand in the way of asking for what you want, because . . .

Lots of stuff can be negotiated

The most common things for folks to negotiate include:

  • Start date
  • What’s included in a relocation package
  • Base pay
  • Sign-on bonus or stock
  • Paid time off (especially in the first year)

When negotiating, start with the big/ongoing stuff first (base pay, bonus, annual paid time off) and move to the less important/one-time things afterward (sign-on bonus, relocation costs, vacation in the first few months). And when I say “important,” I mean “important to you” and what you stand for. It’s cool if you care more about vacation time than base pay, or vice versa, or something else. You do you.

And just because you could negotiate something, it doesn’t mean you should. Pay particular attention to how the negotiations are progressing, and remember that negotiation fatigue is a thing.

For more tips on how to negotiate pay and why your negotiations might not be working well, check out my blog posts.

What’s your big “aha” about an insider’s view of pay? Tell us in the comments below!

“Never Eat Alone,” by Keith Ferrazzi: Book Review

Want the ultimate guide to connecting with people at work? Read Never Eat Alone, by Keith Ferrazzi. There’s about 3 books’ worth of great advice here, but my biggest takeaways are:

  • Service first
  • Be authentic
  • Persist
  • Get creative
  • Follow up like a boss
Ever wonder how some people seem to be connected with EVERYBODY? Check my book review of 'Never Eat Alone,' by Keith Ferrazzi, and find out how they do it! #networking #communications #peoplegenius Click To Tweet

Service first.

Ferrazzi’s networking & communications foundation is built on service to others: we should seek to serve others before serving ourselves. If you’re just in a conversation for what you can get out of it, you’re missing the point.

By helping others, they’re more likely to reciprocate when you need it. Not to mention the fact that you’re generating a bit of positive cosmic energy. Woo, but true.

Be authentic.

Make sure any networking or other communications you do are rooted in what you stand for. People can tell when you’re being fake, and you can’t build trust with them from that space.

If you’re not a naturally exuberant glad-hander, don’t try to fake being one. You can still connect with people, no matter your personality dynamic.


When people don’t respond to an email or call, it’s not because they hate you (!). Folks are incredibly busy, and with our 24/7 inflow of information, emails, social media, calls, meetings…well, you get the picture.

That said, Ferrazzi advises against being a pest, and the line between persistent and pest-y can get pretty fine there. Persist, and be self-aware.

Get creative.

With connecting, sometimes the easiest way in isn’t the front door, so to speak. Getting to know gatekeepers (like executive admins), connecting via a mutual friend’s introduction, or building a bridge through your kids’ Brownie troop can all be great ways to meet and serve.

And if there’s someone you’d like to get to know, make a plan on how to get to know them, don’t just leave it to chance. It won’t always work, but what if it does?

Follow up like a boss.

Since connecting is faster/easier/better when there’s trust between people, follow up is a crucial part of the equation. And in this crazy world, it’s a great way to differentiate yourself. Most people don’t because they’re super-busy & don’t prioritize it.

For those of us in consulting roles, being known as a “do-what-you-say-you-will” person is a critical piece of our personal brands. So follow up, say thank you, send a note when you think of someone, and for heaven’s sake, when you tell someone you’re going to do something, do that thing.

What’s your best networking/communications/connection tip? Tell us in the comments below!

p.s. Want even more tips on networking? Check out my blog post.

Network Like the Pro You Are

Networking – ugh! It can feel so fake and weird.  What to do? Network like a pro with these tips for:

  • Before the event
  • During the even
  • After you network
Up your networking game with a plan for before, during, and after the event. #networking #trueyou Click To Tweet


Have a plan.

Know what you want to get out of the networking event. Is it a recommendation for a vendor (general contractor, anyone?), or a lead for a job, or an idea for a blog topic?

Know your elevator speech.

It doesn’t have to be long & involved (in fact, it shouldn’t be). Write it down, and practice saying it a zillion times until you get the words just the way you want them. Include what you do, who you serve, and the results your clients/customers get. This is a great approach, whether you work for a large firm, small organization, or you’re an entrepreneur.

Know what you’ll wear.

I know, I know, but it’s important. You want to wear something that’s comfortable and also is consistent with the personal brand you want to portray. Make sure it doesn’t require any major adjusting when you sit down or stand up or write on a business card (because you will be doing all of those things while networking).


Look at the person you’re talking to.

Nobody wants to see your eyes darting around the room, looking for someone More Important and/or Cooler Than You. Seriously. The person in front of you is the most important one at that moment, so treat them like it.

Be curious.

Ask interesting questions that will help you get to know your network-ee better. “What do you do?”: not interesting. “What’s the toughest problem your industry is facing right now?” or “What’s the best thing about working where you do?”: more interesting. And more likely to get authentic answers.

Carry a pen.

This will come in handy – you can write a little note on any business cards you collect with any follow-up action the moment you’re done networking with your person (who you’ve looked at, not annoyingly, the entire time you’ve talked with them). A side note, if you’re getting new business cards made, make sure they’re easy to write on.


Know how you’ll capture your information.

I have an app on my phone that lets me scan a business card, and it’ll automatically load it to my business software. That’s a huge time-saver for me! But you can also keep the paper cards in a file or hand-enter information into your address book. Whatever works for you!

Have a follow-up plan.

You won’t need to take action with every single business connection you make, but you’ll definitely have some. It might be sharing a link to a lecture you spoke about or an article you discussed, or it could be adding someone to your newsletter list (note: that’s only cool if you have their express permission). Maybe it’s setting up a phone call.

Whatever your little scribblings on people’s cards say, make sure you have time the day after the event – or the day of, if you can – to do your follow up. Being meticulous about your follow up will put you well ahead of most people, and will help you add “a person of their word” to your personal brand.

What’s your favorite networking tip? Tell us in the comments below!

Joy, Gratitude, and Abundance…at Work

I see a lot of people working hard in their personal lives at getting more joy, gratitude, and abundance. Which is AWESOME. But why limit it to your personal life? What is possible when joy, gratitude, and abundance come to work with you?

How do you get more joy, gratitude, and abundance at work? It's easy! #joy #gratitude #abundance Click To Tweet


Hearing a baby laughing, watching your dog play, smelling freshly-baked cookies, can all bring a sense of delight. But those are most likely to happen away from work rather than at work. What can bring joy there, especially when you’re having a rough time of it? Try stacking up some micro-joy at work by seeing things that light you up, getting outside, and being a little silly.

Make sure you have images that make you smile – of your favorite people, places, and things – where you can catch glimpses of them during the workday. My favorite “glimpse-catchers” are my phone & computer screen savers, bulletin boards, on my desk, and inside a notebook.

You can also change your environment at work, even temporarily. It’s great to get more light, and to get outside if you can. (Ever have a walking meeting? They’re great!)

Play, acting silly, or elsewise being a goofball, can bring you joy, too. Share your kid’s favorite knock-knock joke, wear silly socks, or waltz down the hall, and give yourself a dose of joy.


Gratitude at work can sometimes feel a little awkward. But as more and more people practice thankfulness in the workplace, it makes it SO much nicer to be at work! And it’s a huge part of compassion, a key leadership skill.

Should I thank someone for doing the job that their employer already pays for? (Yes. Full stop.)

Is it super-weird to write a thank you note at work? (No. But it is rare, and it’ll help you stand out. If it’s consistent with your personal brand — who you want to be seen as at work — go for it!)

Is it dumb to write about work stuff in my gratitude journal? (Absolutely not. But don’t force it. Forcing it is dumb.)


Scarcity, rather than abundance, is the norm at work. We never seem to have enough time, resources, or even patience to accomplish what we’d like to. How, then, to bring abundance into the work environment? The best place to start is a mindset shift.

One of my favorite sayings is, “you can do anything, you just can’t do everything.” Bringing focus and intention to your work can free you to do anything (abundance thinking).

Competition, a la Highlander (“there can be only one!”) is the ultimate scarcity thinking. By encouraging collaboration and shared goals, it’s possible for your entire team to succeed. At the same time. Yes!

Need more joy, gratitude, and abundance at work? What will be your first step to getting it? Tell us in the comments below!