Tips for Early Career Salary Negotiation
Updated: May 15
Today's tip is about how to approach your early engineering career salary negotiation.
A mentor of mine some time ago once said:
"You don't get what you deserve; you get what you negotiate."
Rob was right. And that's why it's imperative that you do your homework up front. There are three important things I want you to do.
1. Know Your Worth
This is sort of twofold. You must research and know the average going rate for your specific discipline of engineering. And then you must also know the going rate for an engineer of your discipline in the specific geography where the job is located. You should expect an engineer required to be in downtown Manhattan to earn a higher salary than one living in Alabama, due to the disparate cost of living -- super high in NY, low in AL.
2. Know the Economy
While this is very related to #1, I feel it's important to highlight this separately because we are in a bit of a rough economy. As of the time I'm writing this (mid 2021), the market is not stupendous for entry-level engineers (Civil/Environmental) and engineers with <5 years experience, but it's super hot for engineering PMs at the 10-15 year mark... This context matters because, depending on your level, it can be a barometer for how much room you might have to negotiate a salary or sign-on bonus.
I recommend tapping your network - friends and classmates - and ask about what their offers are looking like and what they're able to negotiate. This might give you some insight into what you should expect.
As an entry level engineer, you might not be able to negotiate the salary, but they might be willing to offer a sign-on bonus with an agreement that you stay for a contractual amount of time (1-3 years).
Aside - Early in your career, it's not typical that you would be able to negotiate additional PTO (paid time off), especially at large corporations. So, be sure you get a clear explanation of your time off benefits and whether you will get paid for overtime hours versus offered comp time.
There is zero excuse for not practicing salary negotiation. You can have a mock conversation with a classmate, a family member, or even a mentor in the profession you've met through an engineering org you're involved with (ASCE, ASME, etc.).
Make it a goal to practice with two or three different people so that when the time comes and that HR person or recruiter is having the offer conversation with you, you are prepared and calm to handle the inevitable questions like, "What sort of salary range are you expecting?"
Practice deliberately, and you'll be more calm when it comes time for that salary discussion.
Now take a deep breath and remember - You can do this!