A Note to Gen Y on Job Offers and Salaries

Lately, there seems to be quite a bit written about salaries and salary negotiation (we did an interview on that subject recently for an article in the Wall Street Journal). Salaries may at first seem like a bit of a non-topic, considering the state of the economy.  However, we do know if there is any group that it is really going to push the envelope, it's Gen Y, so we wanted to give you some guidelines to think about.

If you are in the process of securing a position:

1.  Be realistic, and don't be too picky.

Anything paid is a plus in this economy. What matters is that your career is moving forward. Remember that many young people are going the unpaid route just to keep their foot in the door. If taking a lower salary means getting a roommate or even moving home for a short stint, don't panic. Everyone is adapting to the challenges of the economy, and it may be your turn.

If you are lucky enough to be entertaining an offer, keep the following questions in mind. Answering these questions may help a lower salary seem more palatable.

  • Will I learn new things from this role?
  • Will I be learning things from established employees with a lot of experience?
  • Does this role satisfy a skill or experience requirement that I will need in
    the future?
  • Are there chances for advancement at the organization later on?
  • Is this an organization known to help young people move forward with their careers?
  • Is the organization known to be fair in terms of salary and bonuses overall?

Remember not everything is salary. Keep a clear head even if you are greatly disappointed with the salary you are initially offered. Try to extract your ego from the process and remember that working is good...being unemployed, not so good. Always remain gracious and polite when receiving any offers. Don't write off offers that you think are too low, especially if you have student loans or other debt to consider. There may be other things that the organization has to offer in the overall scheme of your career.

2. Do your homework.

Review websites to get current info about salaries. You could try www.salary.com or www.payscale.com. Others sites like is the bureau of labor statistics - (www.bls.gov.) are a bit more detailed, but offer info about your job in specific settings, and that can make a big difference in salaries. Keep in mind that even in the same field, the setting in which you work and area of the country can change a salary dramatically. For example, will you be in a school vs. a hospital setting vs. a business setting?

Also, remember that cost of living is quite different from place to place. Visit sites that help you compare how far a salary can actually go from one place to another. Try sites like www.bankrate.com that offer detailed information concerning cost of living indicators such as housing, food, and utilities.

Finally, know the credentials that affect salaries in your chosen field. If a master's degree means more dollars in your field and you have a bachelor's degree, know that there will be a difference in salary without exception. Be familiar with the credentials and certifications that affect eventual salaries in your field.

3. Get a realistic salary preview from insiders.

Use social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn to make contact with people in your field and explore what managers are actually offering younger employees. Don't rely on rumors or urban myths or outdated information, because today is much different than two years ago. Remember you may be competing with other individuals with years of experience. You can ask for information about raises and bonuses as well. If you are still in school, contact the college recruiting center - they are a great resource about salary and hiring trends.

If you already have a job and want to negotiate a salary increase:

1. Think long and hard about the timing of your request and the state of your organization.

If you have witnessed recent layoff and concessions among other employees, you definitely do not want to talk salary at this time. Be happy you are still employed and wait a while and reevaluate your options. Nothing will make you look worse than demanding a higher salary in the midst of a severe downturn. Don't move forward - sit tight even if you think your salary is on the low side.

If it appears that things are stable or improving at your workplace, read on.

2. Know how your experience and performance stack up against others in your role.

You need to look around your workplace and assess how you really stack up. Is your salary really low when you are compared with your co-workers? Do you have the credentials to move up the pay scale at your workplace? If you haven't completed your graduate degree or that certification program that has been recommended, now is the time to think about how that will affect a request for an increase. If you can swing it, find a way to beef up your resume and round out your credentials before you ask for an increase. 

3. Make yourself a more valuable employee before asking for more money.

Consider the following:

  • Have I spent enough time in my current role to be a proven entity - in other words if you left, would you be missed?
  • Has your performance stood out in a way that sets you apart from your peers?
  • If you imagine your manager reviewing a list of employees and having to cut one loose, would it be you? Why not?

Remember that spending a year or two in a role doe not guarantee a promotion or a salary increase; those have to be earned and justified. In the meantime be sure that you are continuously increasing your value within the organization.

If after considering everything we have discussed, you still think it wise to negotiate, do so. But proceed with caution and be prepared to justify your request thoroughly. Let us know how things have worked out by posting a comment.

Marla Gottschalk is our workplace and career coach. She and Anna have conducted surveys about Gen Y in the workplace and will be publishing the results soon.