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Know Your Worth: Determine Your Value to Employers as a Recent Graduate

​If you're looking for your first HR position after graduation, you probably don't expect to command a high salary. You might feel like you need to take the first HR job offer you receive. After all, you've studied for years but you probably don't have HR work experience. Even if you've had a successful internship, you may be concerned that a prospective employer won't value that experience as much as a regular, full-time HR job.

These notions need to be dispelled. All employees have value. Entry-level employees, in particular, can be valuable assets to a company because they have potential to bring a fresh perspective and can grow with the organization. And any employee who has value and potential deserves to be compensated fairly.

Knowing Your Worth

Young human resource professionals need to understand that negotiating a salary is a critical skill. The earlier they learn to negotiate their salary, the better chance they'll have at higher earnings throughout their careers. A 2009 study by researchers from George Mason University and Temple University found that professionals who chose to negotiate salaries increased their starting pay by about $5,000 over professionals who took the first offer they were given.

Moreover, the same study found that if a 25-year-old entered the job market after successfully negotiating a starting salary up from $50,000 to $55,000, that person would earn about $634,000 more over the course of a 40-year career than someone who took the starting salary of $50,000. "Why are we not teaching that to people? Why does nobody know how to figure out what they're worth and how to present that?" asked J.T. O'Donnell, founder and CEO of the online career coaching service WorkItDaily.

O'Donnell stressed that young professionals need to figure out what they're worth and learn how to present that to prospective employers. The trouble is often a confidence problem.

But how do you know your worth? Laura Mazzullo, founder and owner of East Side Staffing, a recruiting firm focused on the placement of HR professionals, noted that salary negotiations can be a guessing game for recent graduates. "You don't always know what a budget is for an entry-level HR role," she said. "And I'm sure there are a lot of people nervous to say a number first, as they could be either undervaluing or overpricing themselves."

Whether you've been in the profession for 20 years or are just joining the workforce, you have inherent value, Mazzullo said. The key is how you present that value in your interviews.

Learning How to Present Yourself

Throughout 2020 and into 2021, companies have been forced to cut costs, resulting in layoffs and hiring freezes. Yet employers with the ability to hire still struggle to find the right people, even with supply far outpacing demand in many cases. "The problem is that we've not taught job seekers how to properly present themselves to employers so that the employers can get excited about them," O'Donnell explained. "We aren't empowering these generations to take ownership."

Applicants need to market themselves as if they were a business. They need to understand what companies look for in the hiring process and then articulate why they are an asset, based on that criteria. If they can do that, employers will be willing to meet their salary demands.

Companies tend to hire based on three key factors:

  • Personality. How well will you get along with your peers and your supervisor?
  • Aptitude. Do you come across as someone who can do what the company needs you to do relatively quickly?
  • Experience. Have you worked in a similar role before, and how successful were you?

If hiring was based only on experience, the applicant with the most experience would get the job every time. But that's not how it works. In your case, an employer understands that you likely don't have prior HR experience outside of an internship. But if you've gotten an interview, that means the company isn't prioritizing experience and is instead focused on the other two factors.

"What you're trying to convey in that interview is 'I have the right personality for the job. I have a positive attitude. I'm professional, I'm excited and I'm passionate about the company. I can be flexible, I can learn, I can grow, and I will do what it takes to get up and running as quickly as possible,'" O'Donnell said.

What recruiters and hiring managers consider when interviewing a young professional is whether hiring this person will make everyone's job harder or easier. That young professional will need training and motivation. So the more you can convince a prospective employer that you can get up to speed on the job and acclimate to the environment quickly, the more likely the employer will be to make you an offer—and the more likely it will be to negotiate salary.

What's Next?

Now that you understand your value, the next step in the process is convincing a potential employer of that value. In our next guide, we'll look at how you can shape that narrative, and then go into specific negotiation tactics.

Ready for next steps? View: How to Negotiate Salary as a Recent Graduate


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