MONEY Workplace

The Costly Career Mistake Millennials Are Making

tug of war over money, one person letting go of rope
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—iStock (4)

More than 60% of millennials don’t negotiate salary when receiving their first job offers. It's costing them big time over the course of their careers.

When millennials land job offers, it seems the only question they’re debating is whether to accept. But they should also be thinking about the terms of that acceptance, since there’s a good chance they’re being offered less than they deserve.

Maybe it is because we are just grateful to get any job offer, or maybe we feel we don’t have enough leverage to make a strong case, but only 38% of millennials negotiate their first salary, according to a new survey from NerdWallet and Looksharp, a company that helps connect graduates with jobs.

That unwillingness to haggle and ask for more is costing us thousands of dollars a year. Three-quarters of employers said they could raise starting salary offers by 5% to 10% during negotiations, according to the survey, which collected responses from 700 employers and almost 8,000 recent grads who entered the job market between 2012 and 2015.

There appears to be little risk in asking for a modest pay bump. Of the grads who did ask for a salary increase, 80% were at least partially successful. The vast majority of hiring managers—90%— said they had never retracted an offer because an entry-level candidate attempted to negotiate. Rather, 76% said candidates who negotiated appeared more confident for doing so.

Successfully negotiating that initial pay raise can also lead to a major increase in your lifetime earnings. A report from the New York Federal Reserve released earlier this year found that lifetime earnings are determined in your 20s, since the bulk of earnings growth happens during your first decade of work. The report, which studied the career paths of 5 million workers over 40 years, found that the average worker’s salary growth stagnates after the first 10 years, and only the wealthiest workers continue to see meaningful increases throughout their careers. That’s why your initial salary might be the most important of your career.

Of course, it isn’t just salary that young workers can negotiate when an offer is on the table. The survey found that of grads who asked for changes to other benefits, many successfully altered the terms of their work schedule (75%), paid time off (62%), bonuses (58%), and stock options (38%).

For help boosting your own chances of a successful negotiation—and to avoid missing out on more than $100,000 in lifetime earnings, according to Nerdwallet—see our Ultimate Millennial’s Guide to Negotiating Salary.

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