Class of 2024 – Do you know your salary range?

A 2-step process and some what-ifs

By: Jamie Grant, C’98 GEd’99

Whether you’ve recently started your full-time job search, or you are looking at roles in an industry that hires later in the year…’ll want to know your expected salary at your very start. Some employers require you to include an expected salary in your first online application – or you may find yourself in an unplanned salary discussion during your interviews. Doing this research well in advance will ensure that your expectations are realistic – so that you don’t over-price yourself and lose out on an opportunity, or just as importantly, that you don’t under-value your skill set in the job market.

Technically, there are two ranges we’ll be looking at – first, the typical salary for the position and industry you’re considering. Second, what you as an individual are targeting to support yourself. Ideally, these ranges overlap. How do we figure out the first? Research.

Step 1: Learn about salaries typical for your industry of interest and for new graduates – a great place to start is with the Career Survey reports produced by Penn Career Services for each graduating class.  You can also check out reputable online resources (Glassdoor, Nerdwallet,, etc.), paying attention to regional and national averages and cost-of-living differences as well as salaries of your target organization’s closest competitors.   This will give you an idea of the median or higher end of the range of salaries typically offered for your position/field.

Step 2: For your knowledge only, do your best to estimate your minimum requirements – how much money you will need to support yourself.  Account for rent, food, commuting and day-to-day costs for the cities or areas you’re considering (again, NerdWallet is especially helpful here). Add in your student loan or other debt payments, if you will have them, and always try to factor in some amount for personal savings if you can.  Don’t forget incidental or miscellaneous expenses, such as car repairs, regular expenses like personal care, and any costs associated with your social and entertainment activities. Total everything up to identify your minimum number. But remember – your cost of living (i.e. the lifestyle you hope to support and any debt that you carry, like school loans) isn’t a negotiation point – employers typically won’t offer a higher salary because you “need” it.

Now, you’re ready! Armed with a knowledge of the standard salary range and awareness of your personal needs, you will be more than ready to respond to any requests for salary requirements, as well as negotiate successfully once you’ve received an offer – and, it is a best practice as the candidate to wait for the employer to introduce the subject.   In some instances, your negotiating power may be limited – for example, if you are being offered a job in a training program or as part of a cohort of new grads starting together, you will be quoted a salary that all the members of your “class” will be receiving.  If you have a competing offer at a higher salary, you may be able to negotiate a matching number with your preferred employer – as long as the positions, industries and geographic cost of living are comparable.  This can be a delicate process and very unique to your individual situation; your advisors in Career Services would be more than happy to help you at any step of this process.

Isn’t the number offered everything? Salary is not the whole story. Your “total compensation package” includes salary, of course, but also benefits that can have a significant impact on that base -sometimes adding 30-40% of actual value by including stock options/RSUs, large subsidies to your contributions to health, vision, dental, prescription, life or other insurance plans, contributions to your retirement accounts, tuition benefits for continued studies related to your work, and other such perks.  In addition, there may be non-monetary benefits that are of value to you – vacation or paid-time-off, on-site child care, flexible scheduling, telecommuting options, etc.

What if you have just been offered your dream job, but at a disappointingly low salary? Express your enthusiasm for the job, but ask the employer whether or not he or she has any flexibility in determining the salary. Listen carefully to the response, because it will give you an idea of whether or not it’s worthwhile to pursue the issue. If the salary itself cannot be increased, you might try to negotiate for an early salary review at, say, three or six months, when you could expect a raise. Remember, a high salary won’t make you happy if you’re in the wrong job. Don’t make your decision on financial grounds alone.

What if the position you’ve just been offered is not your first choice, just the first offered? Take time to make your decision in an informed way, and be empowered to ask for the time you think you need.  If you are still waiting to hear from other employers, ask for more time. Whether you ask for another few days, a week or another month, stress your continuing interest in the position, but state that you want to make a careful decision based on full information.  Your advisors in Career Services can help talk you through what you may wish to say in such a conversation.

Help! They want an answer NOW!? If you find yourself under a tight deadline with one offer while waiting to complete other interview processes, reach out to all the other organizations from whom you’re waiting to hear, and see whether they are close to making a decision. If they seem unconcerned and inflexible, they may not be very interested in you.  Some organizations have a very measured process and are not able to accelerate, even for the best possible candidate.  If you have any questions about the timing of a response, ask your career advisor.

And while it may go without saying, be courteous and professional in all your negotiations. You are dealing with your future boss or colleagues, and you want to make sure you’re creating a good impression.  Also remember to be objective and calm – salary and offer negotiations are “business” conversations, and ones that employers have often; if this is your first time negotiating, practice in advance!  Some candidates find it especially helpful to craft decision trees, or talk through the possibilities of how the conversation may go with a trusted friend, family member or advisor – and we in Career Services can help you add a broad perspective on new graduate salaries as well as be a sounding board for any and all of your offer-related questions.

If you have completed your negotiations and accepted an offer – congratulations!!  Be sure to quickly notify any and all other employers who have offered you positions or with whom you are in interview processes,  so that those opportunities can then be offered to other candidates.  Be sure to thank everyone who was helpful to you in your job search and share your good news!  Please also complete Penn’s Career Plans Survey, so that we can share our congratulations and aggregate data on your experience to help next year’s graduates as they negotiate!

By Jamie Grant
Jamie Grant Senior Associate Director, Engineering