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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

How to Negotiate Your Starting Salary

By Mo Chanmugham, Esq.

During the job search, the salary question can come up in many forms, it can be part of an online application process, or the employer can ask that you include it in your cover letter or resume, or it can be asked during the interview process. In any case, it is good for you to know what your number is before going into any salary negotiation.

Know Your Market

So how do you determine what your starting salary should be? You need to know your market and take into account the following input factors:

- Your level of experience (0-3 years)

- Your industry (Public or Private Sector)

- Work setting (Small firm, Medium firm, In-house, Government Agency, Public Interest, etc.)

- Geographic area (rural area, big city)

- Competition (i.e. How saturated is the market?)

These factors all contribute to what your salary should be in a given market, for example an entry level attorney in a small private practice law firm in a town in western Massachusetts will not be paid the same amount as an entry level attorney in a small private practice law firm in downtown Boston. A small town lawyer can expect to get paid less than an attorney in a major city.

Online Salary Research

Now that you know what factors go into determining a salary you can go online to research estimated salaries in your area. Here is a list of some of the best websites for salary research:





A search for “entry level attorney” in “Boston, MA” on or reveals that the median salary is in the range of $68K-$89K. However, this does not take into account the industry or office setting, meaning we don’t know if they are talking about private sector law firms or public sector government agencies. According to NALP’s starting salary research for the class of 2011, small firm salaries ranged from $50K-$70K nationwide. Robert Half Legal’s 2015 Salary guide shows that First Year Associates in a small firm in Boston made between $71K-$100K. As you can see the range goes from as low as $50K to as high as $100K. While these searches provide a general range it is necessary to do further research based on your industry or specific office setting in order to get a more accurate number. For example, in Boston, the starting salary for a public defender is $40K and for an Assistant District Attorneys it is $37,500.

Know Your Floor

Once you get an idea of the range of salaries that you can expect for the position that you are applying to, you should determine your floor, which is the least amount you could be paid and still be happy with. This requires you to do a budget and calculate your expenses so that you have an idea of what would be acceptable for you. When an employer asks for your salary range, you will make sure not to go below your floor when giving a range. When answering the salary question give a range of about $10K; for example, $50K-$60K or $70K-$80K.

Answer Without A Number

Ideally it is best to observe the golden rule of salary negotiations and get the employer to give you their number first. Common ways to respond to the "What is your salary requirement?" question without giving a number are:

- In a cover letter, "My salary requirements are compatible with the market rate for someone with my level of education and experience."

- In an interview, "I'm sure what you have budgeted is consistent with the market rate and I would be happy with any reasonable offer that you provide. What did you have in mind?"

The goal here is to get them to give you their number first so that you can evaluate where it falls in the range of your predetermined floor and ceiling. For example, you may be prepared to go as low as $50K and their bottom is $60K. You don't want to leave money on the table if you can help it!

Consider All The Benefits

Salary is only one part of the employer's whole compensation package. Other parts to consider are benefits such as health insurance, vacation days, 401K matching programs, flexible hours, working from home, and a transportation stipend. If your employer can't give you a higher salary you can negotiate for some of these other benefits to be added to your compensation package.

Employers Expect You To Negotiate

While you may feel vulnerable about the fact that you are looking for a job, the reality is if the employer wants to hire you they expect that you will want to negotiate your salary. In a survey by employers said that they expect a salary negotiation and build that into their initial offer. 

BONUS: How To Calculate Your Hourly Rate

Certain employers, like small law firms, may not be able to offer full-time employment but can hire an associate on an hourly basis. If you are asked to suggest an hourly rate, you can calculate your rate by using this simple formula: Salary / Hours in a year = Hourly Rate

The average employee works 40 hours a week in a 52 week year, resulting in 2,080 hours/year. Take your expected annual salary and divide it by 2,080. For example, if the expected annual salary for this position would be $55,000, your hourly rate would be $55,000/2,080, or $26.44/hr.