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Negotiating your first salary can be daunting. Here’s how you can get your salary to accurately reflect your value.

July 17, 2023

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Negotiating your first salary can be tricky if you don’t know what moves to make. There is an understated importance in negotiating your first salary, as snagging a salary that reflects your value will set a foundation for future jobs — and salaries.

Studies have shown that recent graduates who successfully negotiated their first salary find that their raises are built on a higher foundation and are generally able to retire more quickly than graduates who do not negotiate their first salary, according to Alexandra Carter, an award-winning negotiation trainer, a professor at Columbia Law School and the author of “Ask For More: 10 Questions to Negotiate Anything.” 

Negotiating your salary is not just about the numbers on your paycheck, it’s also an important aspect of showcasing your value to the organization you’re interviewing with and that you know how to take charge, Carter noted.

The first step in any salary negotiation is to do your research. While more and more companies are posting salary ranges alongside job descriptions and qualifications, you may need to take some extra steps to learn about what kind of salary range you should be asking for during a negotiation.

While Glassdoor and Payscale can be helpful tools for learning about salaries within the organization you’re interviewing with or its competitors, having a line of human intelligence by leveraging your network is the best bet, Carter said.

“You also want to research yourself,” Carter said. “That may sound strange. But you want to think about how you’re packaging your strengths.”

Carter gave tips on negotiating pay during a July 11 virtual training panel hosted by the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing (SABEW). Cindy Perman, who previously worked for the Wall Street Journal and CNBC, led the panel, which was made up of John Yearwood, the editorial director for diversity and culture at POLITICO, Dr. Jeffrey Timmermans, the director of the Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University, and Carter.

Start building where you are

Yearwood, who has been making hiring decisions for more than two decades, emphasized that journalists interviewing at various media organizations should reiterate their accomplishments on a previous job, whether it be getting a big scoop, breaking a piece of news, or working on a successful collaborative project. He added that you don’t need to be coming from a major publication to prove this — you can make your mark in your college paper.

“One of the things many of us have been reading about over the last few days is the story coming out of Northwestern, where the student newspaper there has really been kicking butt on the story about the coach,” Yearwood said. “So if you come to POLITICO with those kinds of stories and say you were deeply involved in breaking those stories, that’s something we would really want. So it’s really important to make those points clear when you’re negotiating.”

Having an edge in your skillset, like being fluent in a second language, having an up-to-date grasp of different multimedia tools or even being knowledgeable about the rapid developments in artificial intelligence can make you stand out, Yearwood added.

While the interview process and subsequent salary negotiation is the time to showcase your value to the hiring organization, eventually the discussion of numbers will arise or you’ll need to make ‘the ask’.

If you have a breadth of insider information on what salary range accompanies the role, you can confidently give the range you’d like to fall into to your prospective employer, Carter said. If you’re still unsure what the appropriate range to ask for would be, try to toss it back to the employer by asking how they value the position in comparison to their competitors.

If you know the salary range for a position, asking the hiring manager what the organization factors in when determining where you could fall is a smart move, Carter said. Figuring out if the organization values years of experience, the quality or quantity of previous work, the ability to break stories, or a candidate having an entrepreneurial spirit can give you leverage when asking for a specific range.

Crafting a connection

Echoing Carter’s sentiments, Timmermans noted that before initiating talks about money, you should make a case for yourself and invest time in researching the company you’re interviewing with. 

“Show you care, show you’re interested, show you’re curious,” Timmermans said. “And maybe give some ideas, or just even compliment something you saw in the paper or publication in the last few days that you thought was really good, and say why you thought it was good. That means so much because this is a negotiation, but it’s also creating a personal connection with somebody who could be your boss.”

Negotiating for things beyond a salary is also important, and it always depends on what situation you find yourself in, Carter said. You may want to negotiate for a more comprehensive healthcare package, a specific title, or ample resources to support you in other endeavors. Negotiating for extra vacation time is also on the table during this process, Yearwood added.

There can also be intangible things you can ask for during the negotiation process, like the opportunity to shadow an experienced reporter working on a big story, or the ability to work from home or on a hybrid schedule, Carter added.

It’s also no secret that a number of media companies are facing economic headwinds and cutting staff, which can make negotiating a salary even more daunting. But Carter suggests using “and instead of but” in order to continue advocating for yourself.

“So instead of ‘I know times are tough and we’ve had job losses, but I also need to be valued appropriately,’ it could be … ‘I know that things have been tough and I also know that in this position I’m poised to bring a tremendous amount of value,’” Carter said.

Surveying salaries

The panel also touched on findings from a recent salary survey conducted by the Reynolds Center, which found that business journalists earn a median salary nearly $30,000 more than non-business journalists, likely due to a wave of pay increases reported by survey respondents.

“The reason we started doing this survey was to show journalism students that business journalism is a fantastic career,” Timmermans explained. “You’re going to make more money, and you’re going to have more opportunities for growth than you will in almost any other field.”

Despite an increase in the median salary for business journalists, a pay gap between men and women persists. For younger business journalists, however, the gender pay gap is almost non-existent, Timmermans said, and there’s hope that the gap will continue to wane as these journalists age into their careers.

Not all women are equally situated, Carter noted, and there’s research to show that Black women get much more pushback when negotiating salaries compared to white women, especially when it comes to the numbers.

“Sometimes we absorb the message that’s out there in the atmosphere that we should be lucky to be there,” Carter said. “I know this from personal experience because I almost didn’t negotiate my first salary.”

Carter recalled almost accepting an offer on the spot before calling a senior woman in her field to ask for advice, who told her to go back and negotiate for more because “when you teach someone how to value you, you are teaching him to value all of us.”

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