As we near the end of 2018 and prepare for the new year, companies everywhere are busy planning their holiday parties and looking ahead to 2019. While typically a slow season for hiring, the current labor market remains on an upswing, so it is actually a great time to search for a job. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 250,000 new jobs were created last month which means hiring numbers are up, wages are up and the total number of workers and job seekers are also up.

With college students preparing for finals and some for graduation in December, a new batch of job seekers will be looking to enter the workforce in the next couple of weeks. These soon-to-be professionals will be interviewing and negotiating their first salaries, which can be an overwhelming experience especially since they are likely rookies when it comes to these conversations.

According to NerdWallet, just 38 percent of recent graduates negotiate their salary upon receiving a job offer even though 75 percent of employers admitted to typically having some wiggle room with their first salary offer (5-10 percent). CNBC Careers Reporter Courtney Connley shares four tips from career coaches to help early career professionals negotiate their first salary.

Do Your Research

When it comes to your first job, it is easy to accept what ever salary the company offers because you just want to get started. After completing unpaid internships for “experience,” you are likely more than ready to make a steady income. With minimal industry experience, it can be hard to determine what your “worth” is compared to other job seekers. According to career coach Kat Cohen and financial journalist Jennifer Streaks, recent grads and entry-level job seekers should use their friends, mentors and colleagues as resources for determining pay.

If you are a recent graduate, or soon-to-be graduate, you can use the resources at your college career center to help give you a better idea of an ideal salary would be. Additionally, Glassdoor has a tool that can help you realize your market worth based on your background. These are good starting points to help you negotiate your first salary.

Look Beyond Salary

A common misconception about negotiating your first salary is that you’re only discussing your wages. However, an important factor to consider is the benefits offered by the company. The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that the benefits account for roughly 31 percent of your compensation package. Cohen says, “You should look at compensation holistically. This means reviewing the retirement savings, paid time off, commuter benefits and whatever benefits are offered.”

When negotiating your first salary, or any subsequent salary, take a look at your overall compensation package. If the company can’t budge on the salary number but has a competitive benefits package, it might be more beneficial than a company with a higher salary but minimal benefits.

Don’t Undervalue Your Past Experiences

It is common to see job descriptions searching for “qualified candidates with 1-3 years’ experience.” If you’re a recent grad, you might think you don’t qualify for these jobs. However, that should not deter you from applying. Your skills gained in school, internships and volunteer experiences are readily transferable to future opportunities. Although you might not have had a salaried job (yet), that doesn’t mean you don’t have previous experience.

According to Cohen, “If you had internships or volunteer experiences, then you need to explain them. Make sure that every component of your job application, from the resume to the interview, is highlighting those experiences and be as specific as possible when referencing your skills and abilities.”

Don’t Make It Personal

Negotiations are never easy but they can be made even more difficult if you take things personally. If a company counters your negotiation or denies it, that doesn’t mean they don’t want to hire you. It is important to be able to separate these feelings and not take a denial personally. Often times, companies that make an employment offer are eager to hire you, so the ball is in your court once the offer is made. As with anything, practicing your negotiation skills will make you better at it.

“Rehearse what you will say and how you will say it,” says Cohen. “And be sure to avoid discussing any personal financial concerns like student loan payments and rent. Instead, focus on the professional aspect that make you worth the salary you’re asking for.”

Wrap Up

Finding a job is a difficult but rewarding experience. As a recent or soon-to-be graduate, you are likely chomping at the bit to get your career started, so you want to accept a job as quickly as possible. While it might be tempting to accept the first offer you receive, negotiating your salary is an important skill to develop. If you don’t negotiate the starting number, you might hinder your future earning potential. While an awkward discussion for those with minimal professional experience, these four tips can help make those difficult conversations easier.

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