How to Negotiate Salary with Less Experience

When it’s time to negotiate with a prospective employer over pay, even people with decades of experience in their field can crumble from pressures of fear, perception, expectation, and self-doubt. So it’s no surprise that those with less—or no—experience often undercut their own value and fail to get the salary they deserve. It’s a mistake that can haunt you for the rest of your career.

It turns out that a lack of job history doesn’t have to be a black mark against one’s earning potential. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Recruiters are often tasked by employers to specifically find candidates who have less experience. There are a number of reasons why they might take this approach, and it’s usually not just because they want someone cheap (although they might be hiring for a position that is more junior and thus pays less). If a candidate knows what those reasons might be, they can bargain from a position of strength despite their relative lack of employment background.

And failing to get the best salary possible at the outset can have long-term ramifications. The rate of pay a worker finishes with at one job tends to dictate what they can ask for at the next. There are exceptions to that rule for sure, but it especially behooves younger, greener candidates to get the best pay they can, and give themselves the best chance at higher wages in the future.

Here are a few advantages less experienced workers have over their more veteran counterparts, and some strategies they might employ when negotiating salary with prospective employees:

  • The benefits of youth. It’s not always the case, but less experienced candidates tend to be younger candidates. And youth is something you can sell. Candidates can sell their naivety as an asset and express eagerness at jumping in with both feet. They can talk about how excited they are to join and learn from the team. Youthful energy and enthusiasm are infectious. Many employers are susceptible to it…and happy to pay for it.
  • Lean in on soft skills. Experience is just one item on a much longer checklist of attributes that employers look for in a new addition to the team. They’re also looking for qualities like passion for the type of work in question, or social skills that can be an asset to the team and the company in general.

Be bright, vibrant, and confident in your presentation and many businesses will want to hire you for your long-term potential. The tools of a trade can be taught, but it’s hard to teach someone how to communicate effectively (in both verbal and non-verbal ways) and project positivity. Doing so effectively can charm a hiring manager and give candidates leverage in asking for more salary than their resume alone would seem to merit.

  • You have more experience than you think. There is nothing magical about on-the-job experience that necessarily has more value than experiences one has in other realms. College, for instance, typically involves a great many events that translate perfectly well to the kinds of situations encountered in the workplace.

Consider a typical interview question along the lines of “tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult situation, and how you handled it.” A recent college graduate might cite an example of, say, the month they spent leading a research project with an unmotivated participant, or maybe a steep learning curve for an unexpectedly challenging class. And of course, if a candidate happens to have an MBA or some other degree that intersects in some way with the job in question, that can be leveraged even more effectively.

Didn’t go to college (or graduated some time ago)? There are still plenty of examples you might be able to mention which speak to your abilities with conflict resolution, collaboration, etc. Stay away from anything too personal, but otherwise, it’s smart to think beyond the resume and expand the range of experiences to include anything which would make you a better employee.

  • Do your research, and cite examples. Regardless of experience level, any perspective job candidate needs to do their research and have intelligent things to say about the business to which they are applying. For the less experienced candidate, this offers a way to outwork the competition. An interviewee who is more prepared and informed will always impress a hiring manager more than one who only leans on their experience and doesn’t seem to know anything about the company.

One easy way to make an impression? Have some actual ideas on how you will do your job. What would you do in the first month? Even just a brief sketch of where you would start and how you would proceed suggests forethought and preparedness, and makes it that much easier for the hiring manager to get attached to the idea of you in the role. And the more attached they are, the easier it is to ask for more money.

Research can help the negotiation process in other ways too. Did you discover the company might be going public soon? Maybe the way forward is to ask for more stock instead of more salary. If you’re young, it’s possible the company is hoping to keep you long-term, and would be amenable to giving you more stock in the hopes of retaining you.

  • Practice makes perfect. More than anything else, calm confidence is what you will need when asking for more money in a salary negotiation. So practice with a friend. Listen to yourself and have your friend give you feedback about your demeanor. Do you seem confident, or pushy? Does your voice crack when you say the salary number out loud? Keep working on it until you get the right balance.

Remember that employers hire—and pay—candidates not for what they’ve done, but what they’re going to do. Tell that story effectively, and a robust salary is within reach regardless of experience.

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