Salary Negotiation for Graduate Students

Many times, in interviews you will get asked the question, “So, what are your salary expectations?”. You do not want to be caught unprepared for that question. The question is designed really just to give the employer an idea of how close they are to what you need. To be clear, this is not the point in the process to be negotiating your salary. Negotiation should start once you have received an offer. This is just to make sure that you and the employer are in the same ballpark.


Before the interview you need to prepare for this question. Here are some suggestions:


Determine Your Need


By that I mean, what salary would you need to maintain your current lifestyle. Go through all of your expenses (car payments, rent/mortgage, student loans, groceries, gas, etc.) and determine what level of salary would cover your expenses, and on top of all that, factor in the occasional concert tickets, going out to dinner, ski passes or lift tickets, etc. so that you’re able to at least maintain your current lifestyle.

If you are moving locations, think about the cost of living in that location. Consider benefits beyond salary that this job offers such as, professional development funding, transportation compensation, insurance, and remote work opportunities.

Next, Determine Your Want

There are many ways to conduct research on salaries. You can use sites like or Glassdoor, but I recommend going straight to O*Net Online. This information on this site is developed under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment & Training Administration, to ensure greater accuracy. Simply type the title of the position into the quick search bar (not every job title will be the same or even listed, so you have to find the most related occupations) and scroll down to the Wage Information section. Here you will be able to compare local and national wage averages for that particular job title!

Give The Employer A Range

Now that you have the number you NEED and the number you WANT, whether they’re close or not, your target salary should be somewhere between the two. Rather than presenting just one number to a potential employer, try giving them a range to show that you’re flexible, as suggested here by Allison Doyle of The Balance. You might even phrase it like this:

Based on my research I believe that somewhere between $47,000 a year (NEED) and 55,000 a year (WANT) seems realistic. I am very interested in this job and am certainly open to further discussion. Am I close to the range that you have?

Now that the employer has an idea of what you are aiming for, it will be much easier for the hiring team to consider what an offer would need to look like. Remember, this is not a one-size-fits-all strategy for determining salary requirements. Follow your gut. If the number you determine based on your expenses seems low for the type of work you will be doing, maybe you will want to start higher. Always try to keep in mind your value and worth- don’t sell yourself short!


After the interview you will hopefully receive an offer. This offer will have a salary listed. Take some time to do the following:

Consider the offer

It’s okay (and normal!) to ask for time to consider the offer and try to get the final offer in writing.

Evaluate the offer

It is much more than just a number or dollar amount.  Look at it as a compensation package and consider the following factors:

  • Promotional opportunities
  • Salary progression expectations
  • Monetary (commissions, bonuses)
  • Near-monetary (401k, pensions and stock options, tuition reimbursement/waiver)
  • Non-monetary (vacation, child care, healthcare)
  • Relocation assistance

Accept, negotiate, or reject the offer with appreciation and enthusiasm

Make sure to Finalize the negotiation with a positive interaction; the behavior and exchanges during the offer stage set the tone for the working relationship in the future. Don’t be too anxious to accept the offer on the spot – you have the strongest negotiating leverage once you have received an official offer.

Not sure how to respond to an offer?

In the end, if you have a job offer (or two) on the table, but you’re still not sure what is right for you, contact us to schedule a meeting with a career advisor. Don’t hesitate to seek help in preparing your response. You can make an appointment in Pioneer Careers Online with your Career Advisor to get tailored assistance.

[Author’s note: Parts of this blog were originally published in ” $alary and Compen$ation: Evaluating Job Offers”- February, 2016, and ” Answering the Dreaded Salary Question”- September, 2017 and has been updated for accuracy and clarity]


By Emma Spalding
Emma Spalding