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Updated: 13 Sep 2019

Salary Negotiation Training Tips for College Students

Salary Negotiation Tips for College Students


Sharing negotiation training advice for college students approaching their early business career negotiations.

by Calum Coburn

Occasionally, college graduates are lucky enough to have their employer pay for their spot on one of our negotiation training courses. How well do college graduates perform on our negotiation skills seminars? College students almost always get the lowest scores using our online Sims role plays and generally struggle to hold their own against seasoned negotiators in our negotiation classes. Despite this, college students tell us they’re very happy to have learned so much about business negotiation. After taking our negotiation courses, these students feel much more confident going into their future negotiations. Since experience counts for so much, in this article, we would like to share some business negotiation training advice with college students that covers some of the most important dimensions of a first job offer negotiation.

Tip 1: How should college students balance their experience deficit?

Get some practice. Most students go into their first negotiations at an extreme disadvantage. College students either don’t achieve favourable terms or lose the job opportunity entirely due to bungling the interview process. By contrast, the managers that college students are up against have typically trained themselves from conducting hundreds of interviews and have earned their stripes from negotiating tens to hundreds of salary negotiations. The matchup between managers and college students is like entering the ring with an experienced boxer after only having seen boxing on TV.

So, aside from coming on one of our negotiation workshops, what can college students do to bridge their experience gap? Most students will personally know a business manager with job interview and salary negotiation experience. Most experienced negotiators are happy to help if you ask for a limited amount of their time and can give them a specific briefing. Get together with your ‘coach’ and train yourself via a salary negotiation role-play exercise. There are also many books on tough interview questions. Write your answers down; these questions are too important to risk making up responses off the cuff.

Tip 2: How should college students negotiate other aspects like vacation days, sick days, relocation, signing bonus, benefits, retirement plans, etc.?

The biggest challenge most college students face is not attempting to negotiate ANY of these important terms. Without negotiation training, they talk themselves into a corner, holding inaccurate beliefs, such as, “If I try to ask for more than the next student, the employer will push me aside and take someone who is less demanding and is just too happy to land their first real job.” The first challenge is to ask the employer what their standard offer is and on which terms they can be flexible.

Watch your interviewer closely as you ask them for their full offering. You want to train your eyes and ears to see and read their non-verbal or body language signals to see where they are more firm and where they are more open. Ask around to find an employee who works or has worked for this company to figure out their standard offering and where the company has previously flexed. If you’re able to talk with HR, then bring your questions to your HR interview. Rather than asking what they are willing to budge, ask where they ‘typically’ have more flexibility. Most employers are happier talking in the hypothetical rather than feeling like you’re cornering them to improve their offer.

Tip 3: When negotiating with an employer, what should students focus on?

Smart, recent graduates in our negotiation training courses tell us that they care most about gaining the best experience to set a solid foundation for their future career. While money is important, money shouldn’t be your primary focus for your first position. It’s worth commuting further, earning less, working longer hours, enduring a less desirable culture, and having fewer benefits so long as you’re gaining the best experience to set you up for your NEXT career move. Students don’t sacrifice several years studying plus accumulate a silly amount of student debt only to compromise their career trajectory by settling for short-term incentives and comforts. At the same time, if you intend to stay with your employer for the long haul, then your starting salary will affect your future salary potential. You may find it useful to ask for a review after three to six months and agree on performance measures that could lead to you earning a raise.

Tip 4: What should college students research before their first interview?

Research your position on offers at your preferred company and also, research your preferred company in general. Then, interview with their competitors or other companies.

  • Research: Most students don’t do enough homework on their employer. You need to know your employer before you negotiate with them. Few applicants do enough homework on their prospective employer or their offers before attending interviews. By researching, your employer will be impressed and more likely to award you with the position. Your questions will also be far better as a result of what you uncover in your research. If you know who’s going to interview you, research your interviewers, too. LinkedIn is a great place to start, and their Facebook and Twitter accounts may reveal personal information, too. Students are better trained than most at doing online research. So, capitalise on your advantage. 
  • Yes, you read correctly: Interview with their competitors. At least, interview with other companies first. When it comes to training for your negotiation, you need to have alternatives up your sleeve, and you need to acquire valuable interview practice. Yes, you still want to, and hopefully will, land that perfect role with your ideal company. Train your mind to remember that the best path between two points is often not a straight line. You don’t want to be choosing between a lousy offer from your preferred company and nothing. Get two or more offers on the table; you’ll either enjoy salary negotiation leverage to get your preferred employer to make a better offer or be prepared to walk away and work with another company who’s willing to make you an offer that you’ll feel happy saying yes to.

Ongoing Career Training

If you liked this article and want to learn more about salary negotiation, then read our 32-point salary negotiation tips post. Your most important asset is you. So, if we would like to leave you with one negotiation training piece of advice, it’s ‘invest in yourself.’ Your lowest cost long-term route is often going to be reading books or listening to audiobooks. One book a month will quickly add up over a few years to place you ahead of your colleagues. The information you learn from business and negotiation books can lead you towards delivering results that your employer can’t help but notice, want to reward, and retain. Let your college graduation be the start of your lifetime self-training journey.

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