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Negotiating an entry level salary

post #1 of 35
Thread Starter 
I graduated this past May with a degree in Mechanical Engineering. I've had several interviews over the last several months, and got a job offer last week. The offer was for much less than the average starting salary for mechanical engineers. During the initial phone interview the person from HR asked what salary I was expecting. I said that average for Mech Es was around $54,000 (I've seen average starting figures from 52-58 k) and is what I was expecting. She said that it would be in the mid 40s.

When she called a few days after the interview to say that they wanted to hire, me she said it would be 46 k. No overtime since it's a yearly salary. The benefits package looks decent. Not exceptionally good, but not bad at all.

Of the at least 5 dozen places I've applied to, I've only had a handful of interviews, and this is the only offer I've received.

It sounds like an interesting position, and is a solid company that promotes from within.

Given the current job market, I can't imagine declining the offer. However, the offer is so far below the average starting salary for my degree and what I've been expecting. It's just outside of a major city, so the cost of living isn't equally lower than average.

Should I try to get a higher salary? How do I even go about asking?

Should I start by inquiring about how they do raises? My friends that got government jobs are starting and something like 43k, but have guaranteed raises that put them at 60k or so in 5-6 years. If this company does substantial raises in the first few years I'd be happy.

Should I ask for extra vacation time, or increased 401 k contributions?

I'm new to the salary negotiations thing (my internships were hourly, and I was told up front that they were non-negotiable) so any help would be appreciated.
post #2 of 35
Your first salary isn't that important. As long as you will be gaining valuable experience in skills that are in-demand that will make you more marketable, it's worth taking even if the salary is not that high (and mid 40s is pretty decent for a fresh grad especially in this economy). Definitely take the offer, then after a year or two start slowly looking for something better (it'll be much easier to find a job when you have a couple years of experience). I would avoid asking about raises too much because you don't want your company to get the impression that you are too money oriented, otherwise they will see you as a risk who is likely to leave as soon as something better comes along and won't hire you. As for raises, it's rare for private employers to give massive raises, to increase your salary you have to switch jobs. I'm a software developer so I'm speaking from my experience in the software field, but I doubt it's much different in engineering.
post #3 of 35
I started out as an Engineer before coming over to the dark side, but this was 11 years ago and the job market today is substantially different. The biggest factor for you to consider is whether you want to be out gathering important work experience for 40-something grand or be an unemployed Engineer theoretically worth substantially more. You have to figure out what your other prospects look like and make that call on your own.

I was in a specialized field with considerably different salary expectations, but depending on where you land and your performance you may or may not experience pretty rapid salary growth within the company. When we brought in new Engineers the best talent was quickly brought up the pay scale to retain them. Then again, in this economy, who knows what the heck they are least you can get 2 years of seemingly sub-par salary while you build your resume.

Negotiating starting salary with a general Engineering degree like this is tough. No offense, but when I was hiring young Engineers it was like buying any other commodity - gas, paper, steel. Unless you have unique skills you likely have no negotiating room. Maybe feel her out for $48K at which point you would feel very positive about abandoning the job search and joining the company and see what she says. When she turns you down go read the first paragraph again.

Good luck!
post #4 of 35
Don't take that salary. Quote peer salaries, data for your profession and major in that area and request a salary of $56k. Another argument would be to say that you want to begin at a salary you are comfortable staying at or near for the next five years (whether or not this is true).

Also do not negotiate with HR but rather speak to your boss and have him plead your case. He is more likely to agree to and argue for a higher number if he truly wants you.

Do all this over the phone and not via email. Most likely they will negotiate downward but you'll probably get at least 2k out of this.

Lastly take all my advice with a pound of salt.
post #5 of 35
If i was on the other end of the negotiating table I would just give the job to one of the other hundred people who probably also applied.

All things considered I would consider yourself lucky and take the job.
post #6 of 35
I've hired and fired for 100K jobs (and more and less).

Do NOT ask for more vacation. Their reaction will be WTF? And they will start to doubt that they've made the right decision to hire you. Also asking for 401K stuff is also unusual. Don't do it. It is VERY easy to pull an offer from someone. People are never sure if they are making the right hire. If you give them reason to question it, they will.

Negotiating for more money though is acceptable. They'd bump it up $2k if you simply say "I'd love to work there and I'm excited about the job, but the salary is a bit lower than I was expecting (as you have already mentioned to them). Is there anyway you could make it (x+2K)? If you could do that I'd accept the offer and I could start on (earliest date you can and want to start). ". $2K is nothing to them, it's not worth hiring trying other candidates. They'd rather pay $2k and be done with the hassle of hiring someone (and hiring someone is a hassle, trust me). Same might be true for $3K. But after that, you risk having the offer pulled from you.

If you say $56K, they'd probably say no chance, have a nice life. And then they would not be willing to do their original offer.

Obviously $48K is $4k/month... so if you find a better paying job a month from now you are in the hole $4K to start. AND it is very, very likely you will not keep you first job very long - especially if some other company will pay you $10K more a year from now. AND if you have a good track record somewhere else for a year then your value goes up and a year from now you are worth more - and another company is much more likely to pay more to get you than the 1st company will bump up your salary. So you'll be moving on soon.

The 1st company gets your services for little cheap for a year... with the added cost of losing you a year or so from now. (They never factor that into their calculations until it is too late). AND they pay you with teaching and experience, which are valuable to you.
post #7 of 35
Is the average salary you are quoting base salary or the total package?

I started out as a mining engineer 10 years ago and now have specialised as a mining geotechnical engineer. I found there was no negotiation for salary in my first few jobs, it was a take it or leave it scenario. I thought it sucked at first, but when I think about it now, I pretty much had no leverage for negotiation, and quite rightly so. You can't really negotiate salaries with zero postgrad experience.

My advice is to get around 5 years experience under your belt, move into a specialised field of mechanical (as you will be competing with hoards of other mech eng grads) and then you will find you can usually get the salary you ask for (within reason of course!).

I also worked in government as an engineer after working in the private sector for a while. If you like cruisy work days and accept the fact that your pay goes up in increments each year (you can basically predict what you will be on in x years time) then go for it. I realised that to get to my supervisor's salary level, it would have taken me close to 10 years. I jumped back into the private sector and exceeded his salary on day one.
post #8 of 35
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by SkinnyGoomba View Post
If i was on the other end of the negotiating table I would just give the job to one of the other hundred people who probably also applied. All things considered I would consider yourself lucky and take the job.
This is the main reason I'm asking. Here. The way the economy is, I don't really see myself in a position to negotiate, and don't see myself declining the current offer. It's below the average starting salary, and there are certainly plenty of people willing to start at that salary. Hell, I'm willing to start at that salary, but I would like to at least be closer to average. They wouldn't automatically retract the offer just because I try to get it a little higher..would they? To the guys suggesting I try to negotiate up, how do I go about it? Call and say, "Hi, like I've said this sounds like an exciting opportunity, however, I would like to start at a salary closer to average."?
post #9 of 35
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by fredfred View Post
I've hired and fired for 100K jobs (and more and less). Do NOT ask for more vacation. Their reaction will be WTF? And they will start to doubt that they've made the right decision to hire you. Also asking for 401K stuff is also unusual. Don't do it. It is VERY easy to pull an offer from someone. People are never sure if they are making the right hire. If you give them reason to question it, they will.
My aunt suggested the extra vacation time, and 401 k thing. I thought they were a little odd. Is that something that would be used in a more experienced position? As for the not keeping your first job very long - the people I interviewed with have been there for 7+ years. This sounds like a company that actually likes to keep people around. Like lots of engineering positions, a lot of the value in the employees comes from the experience, and is not something that can easily be replaced by any other engineer...x years of experiences with a different company doesn't translate to x years experience at their company. Masterofreality - that is the base salary. edit - Thank you to everybody for responding. Obviously I'm inexperienced, and I have no idea what I'm doing.
post #10 of 35
We hire Mechanical Engineers and we have hired them right out of school and at a salary a bit higher than what you've been offered, but the guy we hired most recently was a known quantity as he had interned with us before. Not including geography in this analysis is incomplete, however. $46K in, say, Ohio or Michigan right now for a Mech E is a lot. It's not a lot in California. It sounds maybe a touch low but not bad for where I live in MD. IMO, $54K for Mech E sounds a bit high, no matter what the geography, unless you're very well qualified and it's a gov't contractor or something. I second the advice not to bother asking for a better 401K or vacation time. Bad idea. Asking for another $2-3K is probably fine, and won't likely hurt your chances. Remember this market is shite... you should consider yourself fairly lucky to have an offer right now. Once in though, bust your ass and make a mark. You'll move up soon enough.
post #11 of 35
I tried to do this very thing earlier today. For background - I'm in advertising, which is home to arguably some of the coolest jobs and the most paltry salaries. I had a really solid GPA, several internships and great recommendations.

I graduated last December, a semester early to get a head start on the job market. I applied to around 100 jobs which some will say is too few and others will say is too many. I was also on a national morning show explaining my situation. None of that turned up anything fruitful.

I have had several interviews and the only offer I received came last Friday. I have been freelancing at a great agency in town for a month and have loved it. My rate was completely what I would expect and was really eager to start. Since it is entry-level, I knew benefits weren't going to be fantastic, nor would I expect them to be, as gainful employment hasn't been anything I've seen since entering the job market.

I was figuring I could reasonably live on 5-15% off of my daily freelance rate (to account for benefits) for the city of Boston. I heard a number on Friday and it felt like I heard someone ran over my childhood pet. The figure was and still is ~33% off of what I made as a freelancer. I get 2 weeks vacation and 401k match. The ladder won't happen as I will live hand to mouth. I am also eligible for overtime, but results of others in my position only add ~2/3k/yr. It's tough to see friends make twice as much as you who possess half the intelligence. BUT the job is easily 4x cooler than theirs.

I spoke with my friend who is a recruiter and told him that I really won't be able to realistically live here without thinking about every cent I earn. After taxes and rent, my take home will be roughly what I was making at my previous PT job.

This morning, I went in and spoke with my boss and explained that it would be incredibly difficult for me to get by on the salary. It was a humanistic request, not out of greed, and I also mentioned with absolute truth that when calculated to hourly rate I made more at my PT gig before and even made more at an internship I had when I was in college. He wouldn't offer more, and said that it's what the market supports.

Since this is the only offer I've received and there is room to grow over time, I'm going to put in the reasonable request of asking for a 6 month review when I sign my offer tomorrow.

Hang in there, be happy you've got a steady job and I wish you the best on your career path.

post #12 of 35
OP, they have you by the balls. Go ahead and ask for more money but be willing to bite the bullet and accept/reject their offer. Just don't forget, it's a buyers market now and they know it. @Tcameron, don't know what to tell you. Your situation sucks. But like the OP, the company knows they are in the much stronger position. IF the job is as cool as you say, you may have to sacrifice living paycheck to paycheck for the experience. The minute you start, don't be afraid to start building your network of industry contacts and alumni to stay on top of other opportunities that are available, and take the next good one that comes along.
post #13 of 35
The thing is your first job is about building enough work experience, starting your professional networking world (if you have not already) and if they allow for it to opportunity to train or gain access to mentorship. Think about the increase you're asking for in terms of net take home pay each pay cheque. It'll probably be negligible.

Benefits - only if you have a special situation like you have 5 kids, or a dependent who is really ill. Vacation time - who the hell cares, you're supposed to be in the office to build your career - what kind of message do you think that will send to the person giving you an offer?

As for the "guaranteed" stuff - that's all a dangle to get you in the door from the hiring manager. Yes, get started and we'll put you at the top of our list for the next management position or raise or whatever. There's no guarantee. One year later your manager could be gone. Or the entire department could be shafted. It's all good to receive one but don't count on it -- unless you're on some kind of written contract job with specified terms.

From a personal standpoint, I really hate it when people come in looking for a job and telling me they're dying to work for this firm and to take on this opportunity because they saw it as a calling in their life and then nickeling and diming me for less than 10K of gross salary which results to an extra night out each pay cheque at the Hard Rock Cafe. It doesn't reflect well on character. Early in a career, you want to establish that.
post #14 of 35
You are getting paid in the mid 40s and the low average is 52k? Thats 7k off. Sounds like a lot but I mean in comparison to actually having a job in an economy where many don't have anything at all I wouldn't complain. BTW many companies that promote from within start out with low end salaries because they want to know what drives you. I would measure the clout of the company name. If that name is recognizable in your field then go for it. Its a resume slot. Nothing more. Think of your first job as college all over again. That's what I'm trying to do.
post #15 of 35
Originally Posted by Jodum5 View Post
The minute you start, don't be afraid to start building your network of industry contacts and alumni to stay on top of other opportunities that are available, and take the next good one that comes along.

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