About me. As a young professional I am writing to share my perspective with other professionals in a similar stage in the career. I am a soon-to-be advertising and marketing communications graduate from the Fashion Institute of Technology. Working with a boutique recruiting agency has given me a behind the scenes look at the job search process as well as what candidates and clients look for.
Whether you’re proceeding through the interview process or have a secure job, talking about compensation will always be part of your working life. For some, the ability to talk about salary comes naturally, but for others it is a source of stress and anxiety. It can be tough trying to quantify your value, especially entering into a new field. So how exactly do you place a dollar amount on your skill set, experience, and work ethic?
First things first: understand that discomfort surrounding compensation discussion is common. You are not alone. Many other high-achieving professionals have experienced this feeling at some point in their career. Compensation assigns value to you, making it highly personal.
Secondly, if you are a young professional just getting started — seek out help and more information about compensation. You need to benchmark your experience against a) other young professionals across the industry and b) other theoretical applicants to the role. This means talking with friends, colleagues, mentors, former supervisors, (and maybe recruiters), to get some feedback about what they think. Without this info it may be difficult to know where to aim. You should enter an interview process with a target and a minimum in mind. Your target should be a reasonable number based on your benchmarking discussions.
So now we’re prepared and ready to go. At the end of your first interview for a new role the interviewer will ask: “What are your compensation expectations?”
You basically have 2 options for how to response — decide based on how confident you are in your benchmarking.
- If you’re not sure: “My expectations are to be paid a fair salary for the role that’s in line with the industry. Being a young professional, you probably have a better idea of what that is than me. What’s your budget for the role?”
- If you can work with their budget proceed with the interview. Their answer will rarely be their max. Don’t start negotiating until final stages of an interview process – when you know they like you and want you.
- If you have collected enough feedback to understand a fair salary, share your target salary with them openly. It should be honest and reasonable. A few things to remember:
- Requesting a number that’s far higher than their budget will often result in an immediate rejection, so be thoughtful about this number.
- Don’t use a range. When you say a range the employer only listens to the bottom number, while you really mean the top number. Pick in the middle.
As recruiters, we work with salary and compensation discussions daily, and it’s important to share a little about the employer perspective here. A common misconception is that a potential or current employer is trying to cheat or undervalue you if they offer you lower than your perceived value. What is important to remember is that their budget based on what makes the most sense for the company. Companies often stick to a compensation structure that has worked for them in the past and will be reluctant to make significant exceptions, especially for junior roles. Some employers are willing to do this if the company allows it, or if they feel a person is the perfect fit for a job. But sometimes an employer might see you as a great fit for a position, but they are working within a strict budget that cannot be broken. In these situations, make your case for compensation while allowing for flexibility and try to meet in the middle.
In summary, to get the best outcome:
- Get advice feedback from your personal network
- Present your reasonable expectations, clearly
- Allow for flexibility when needed
- Remember that getting your career started is just that, the start