MHC workshop: Negotiating that first salary.

Meghan Godorov, CDC associate director for alumnae and community engagement, leads the salary negotiation workshop. Photo by Ebru Kardan

By Emily Harrison Weir

While many seniors are focused on landing their first postcollege job, fewer are likely to be thinking about negotiating a salary for that position. And that's especially true for female job candidates nationwide.

At a Career Development Center (CDC) workshop at Mount Holyoke College April 6, Meghan Godorov, associate director for alumnae and community engagement, showed students how not negotiating is like leaving cash on the table.

Women in America still earn on average only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns, according to research by the AAUW and the Wage Project. This means a woman can lose between $700,000 and $2 million over her working lifetime, Godorov told a group of juniors and seniors. Salary negotiation is one key way to narrow that gender wage gap.

"We are offering students the confidence, strategies, and opportunities to practice negotiating their salary," said Godorov. "By educating our students about the compounding effects of not asking and earning less money than their peers over their lifetime, we will help them contribute to closing this gender gap."

Erica Keller ’15, an astronomy major from Lakewood, Wisconsin, said that, before the workshop, she was unsure how the salary negotiation process worked.

"A friend and fellow senior recently negotiated her salary up after receiving a job offer," Keller said. "I was very impressed by her ability and the courage it took to advocate for herself financially, as this is not a skill that is often taught." 

Negotiation 101.

Godorov advised the job-eager seniors not to settle for the first salary figure they're offered just because they're excited to have a job.

“Taking the right position—one that will set you up for success—is important. Don't accept anything just to have something," she said.

Students should research the salary range for similar jobs and the costs of living in a specific geographic area, and then create a personal budget to calculate the minimum salary they could accept for the position.

Armed with that information, Godorov said, students are ready to make a case for a realistic salary.

"But don't talk about salary until you have a job offer," she cautioned. And when it is time to discuss it, be positive, persuasive, and flexible.

"The worst-case scenario is that the employer will say no," Godorov said. "But if you ask, most likely you'll get something." Asking for a salary boost should be first priority, but she recommends having several other negotiable items in mind too.

Even when an employer can't or won't budge on salary, negotiation for a better job title, working conditions, or benefits is often possible, she added.

Keller said she will put the workshop's lessons to use right away while searching for postgraduation jobs at educational technology companies.

"The workshop gave us specific tactics and phrases that can be used, which most definitely increased my comfort with negotiating," she said.

Godorov gives the "Start Smart" workshop each semester. In between, students are encouraged to discuss and practice negotiating strategies with CDC staffers.

Related article: Godorov's salary negotiation advice to new graduates was part of this Huffington Post piece.