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How to Add an Extra $10,000 to Your Starting Salary

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By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 28, 2013 9:53 AM

You finish law school. You pass the bar. Suddenly, you need a job.

Your problem: The offer that comes in is $10,000 less than what you need to pay student loans, rent, and eat. Fear not: That's just a jumping off point to start salary (or any other) negotiations.

How One Recent Grad Did It

Straight out of law school, Maria Musolino was in the same situation: She knew how much money she needed to survive, and the in-house counsel offer she received just wasn't enough.

But she also realized that jobs were scarce. "I was inclined to take the job, but I had every reason to believe that I was worth more," she recalls.

Maria agreed to take the job at the offered salary on the condition that the company agree to reviews with guaranteed raises after three months and six months. If her employers were satisfied with her work, they would give her the money. If they weren't satisfied with her work, they could show her the door.

The strategy paid off. For six months, her company received budget-friendly legal services; after that time, they paid Maria the salary that they both knew she deserved. Both sides won.

3 Tips for Lawyer Salary Negotiations

When you head into salary negotiations, Maria suggests keeping three things in mind.

  1. Think like a boss. Your student loans are not your prospective employer's problem. Instead of pleading that you need more money to avoid debtor's prison, your salary negotiations should focus on the value that you will bring to your employer. Maria recommends validating the number you're after without exposing your financial situation.
  2. Get it in writing. If your compensation is contingent upon any future action, the terms of that agreement should be in writing. If you build in reviews, like Maria did, you may have to remind your employer when your review dates come up.
  3. Look beyond salary. Your overall compensation package potentially includes salary, paid vacation days, signing bonuses, etc. If you don't need the extra cash each month, consider asking for extra vacation time or a signing bonus. In some cases -- especially in-house jobs -- an employer might hesitate to add to your starting salary for fear that you won't have as much room to grow. A signing bonus would give you the short-term money you're after without affecting your base salary. Keep in mind, however, that perks like signing bonuses and additional time off won't transfer to your next gig.

The salary and benefits song-and-dance starts anew with each job, so be prepared to employ similar negotiating tactics for future jobs. From Maria's perspective, there's no such thing as a lateral move; if you're a strong negotiator, there never has to be.

Editor's Note, March 29, 2015: This post was originally published in March 2013. It has since been updated.

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