Expert Advice: My First Pay Negotiation

Tips for successful initial pay negotiations for university graduates by Remigiusz Smolinski, Honorary Professor of Negotiation at HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management

Prof. Dr. Smolinski knows the three goals human resource representatives generally pursue when recruiting new employees. “Finding the best people, not going over budget and sparking the applicant’s excitement for the company and the job.” In this context, the first pay negotiations are of great importance for university graduates as well. No one should underestimate the significance of the salary for the long-term relationship with their employer. Therefore, the applicants should not sell themselves short right at the start.

Good preparation wins half the battle

First, the candidates should collect as much data as possible. This includes information on average salaries for graduates from the same university or where they are within the ranking of their own class. A specific desired salary as well as the minimum salary, which the candidates should consider their absolute lower limit, can be derived from these figures.

Studies show that the graduates’ ambition positively correlates with their negotiation results. In addition to all ambition, the candidates should remain sensible and flexible when negotiating their desired salary.

Smolinski says it is important to be aware of the possible outcomes of the talk and play them through one’s mind – both the positive and the negative ones – to avoid insecurity and stress in this process. The awareness of the possibility that the negotiations might not go according to the graduate’s plan can prevent them from stumbling. Good preparation therefore also includes having a specific alternative up one’s sleeve. If the outlook for the ongoing negotiations is not better than the alternative, the candidates should end them and move on to the alternative solution, according to the negotiation expert.

Winning through self-confidence

Smolinski knows the tricks of HR representatives. A fixed salary for graduates, for instance, is meant to show that nothing can be done about the predetermined initial salary. A seeming unwillingness to negotiate, however, is no reason to not try anyway and seek a dialog.

Moreover, recruiters tend to place their first offer at the lower end of the salary range. Therefore, applicants should not accept it straight away but renegotiate and check for additional potential. For outstanding candidates, companies are often prepared to make an exception and to enter (re-)negotiations. In addition to showing self-confidence, it can be very helpful to emphasize excitement and passion for the upcoming tasks to convince the other party and win them over to one’s own offer.

One specific measure which might change the situation fundamentally is another negotiation technique.  After mentioning all collected facts and figures, the applicant asks the HR representative to make a fair offer which will not be renegotiated but simply accepted or refused by the candidate. Studies show that the salary offered in these cases is often rather generous in comparison.


Prof. Dr. Remigiusz Smolinski is the Honorary Professor of Negotiation at HHL Leipzig Graduate School of Management. Prof. Dr. Smolinski has founded the annual world championship in negotiation, The Negotiation Challenge, as well as the International Negotiation Research and Teaching Association, an organization for researchers from the field of negotiation. He was a visiting scholar at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and Harvard University’s Program on Negotiation and has worked as a lecturer for the subject of Negotiation at high-ranking business schools all over the world. Prof. Dr. Smolinski built and managed Easter European marketplaces at (eBay Classifieds) and led a team that was responsible for driving e-commerce innovations at Otto Group. Currently, he works as Vice President for Business Development and Innovation Management at comdirect and has founded the comdirect Start-up Garage.


Event suggestion:

» The Negotiation Challenge 2017 will takes place on April 21-22 in Bogota, Colombia 

The Negotiation Challenge TNC, an international negotiation competition, is open for graduate students. TNC is a highly competitive event, where the students are allowed to compare and improve their negotiation skills and prepare for the negotiations they will face after graduation.

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