But at some point in the job search process, a conversation about salary has to happen. While this conversation is tough for most professionals - and it doesn't get easier with time - it's particularly challenging for recent graduates who don't have a compensation history to use as a reference.
Talking about your salary during job interviews may always be nerve wracking. However, that doesn't mean you can't be prepared and ready to advocate for what you want.
Here are four things you can do before you talk to a hiring manager about your salary:
Since it began in 2007, Glassdoor has developed into the go-to resource for employee-generated reviews about companies, the interview process and salaries. You should always take anonymous, user-generated content with a grain of salt. Every industry and company is different.
But Glassdoor's salary search function can give you an idea of what national and local salary averages are for your desired position. It can also provide a useful baseline as you begin your salary research.
Talk to people in your industry
This tactic could be uncomfortable, but if you connect with the right person it can also be illuminating. You don't have to reach out to strangers on LinkedIn asking about their salaries. Instead, use your network to find people who are already in the industry you're interested in and invite them to coffee.
You don't have to ask what they make, but you can have a frank conversation about salary expectations in the industry overall. They may be able to speak to other professionals' salary ranges. If they are more experienced, they can also advise you on how to approach negotiating compensation.
It's not enough to know the market for your industry and your role. When you're discussing your pay with a potential employer, you have to know why you deserve the salary you're asking for. Before the interview, go beyond researching the company and position, and research yourself.
Come prepared with examples of past accomplishments and have the metrics to prove it. Practice your elevator pitch out loud. Test out success stories on your friends and family. Because you've already done your salary research, you also know what skills and experience the position requires. You should practice speaking to these skills.
Know your priorities
Many people only focus on salary when they're job searching, but there are more aspects of the job to consider that could affect your happiness. For example, it's important to evaluate the benefits package, paid time off, career training and growth opportunities. The role may offer a lower salary than you want, but the company is known for promoting quickly and based on merit. Or the company may offer a high salary, but you have very little time off.
Know what matters to you, and ask detailed questions during the interview process. This helps to determine if the company offers what you want beyond the paycheck. Some of these factors are negotiable, and you can compromise on pay in exchange for more time off or more frequent performance reviews.