Salary Discussions

When evaluating a salary offer, be sure to do so with realistic expectations. It is common to have questions — even well into your career. Luckily, there are many resources available to help you research salaries.

Salary Considerations

Salary offers are driven by many factors, including:

  • The state of the economy
  • Supply and demand of your particular skill set
  • The industry
  • The type of employer
  • Geographic location and cost of living
  • Your education
  • Your experience level 

Think beyond dollars.

Do not evaluate salary solely on dollars. Your benefits package can add 30–40% to your base salary. Health care premiums, retirement contributions, personal time off, bonuses and educational assistance should all be taken into consideration. Also consider your future earnings potential. 

Salary Negotiations

Contrary to what many say, not everything is negotiable. Sometimes employers have more flexibility than they are willing to admit, but this can vary with the economic times, the salary structure and other factors. It is also important to note that salaries for new, entry-level hires may not be flexible at all, depending on the industry.

  • Ask questions. Once you receive an offer, it is often fair to ask, “How much flexibility do you have to discuss ______?” You may be satisfied with the salary, but have questions about other factors that are negotiable. That being said, be sure to research the conventions in your field before you ask.
  • Think carefully. If an employer offers a salary slightly lower than your expectations, evaluate the entire offer before making a final decision about whether the salary is in fact too low.
  • Employ evidence. If you negotiate the salary, you must use supporting evidence to make an argument for why you are worth more.

Salary Research Tools

Below are some resources that can help you to evaluate salary information.

  • Senior Career Plans Survey: Each year, we survey the graduating class to gather information about their post-graduation plans. Included are salary averages and ranges for full-time employment.
  • NACE Salary Survey: NACE produces a national salary survey quarterly, which is frequently acknowledged as one of the best sources of entry-level salary information. A complete report is only available in print. You can also use the NACE salary calculator online.
  • Wall Street Journal’s Student Journal: This website includes a variety of career and college-planning tools.
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics: The BLS provides extensive national, regional and state salary information. 
  • Salaryexpert.com: Offers basic salary reports for free or more detailed reports for a fee. 
  • Salary.com: Offers a salary wizard, a benefits wizard and cost-of-living analyses. 

Other resources to consider:

  • Magazines: Several magazines, such as Businessweek, produce annual issues examining employment and salary trends.
  • Trade Associations: Professional associations often prepare salary surveys, examine employment trends and compile lists of employers within their field. Use the Directory of National Trade and Professional Associations in the U.S. to identify associations.