Negotiating a salary at your first job after graduation

Now guys, I’m not going to pretend that I have any firsthand experience in this. But I have been pretty concerned getting a job for a while now, so this is something I’ve definitely done my research on, with almost every online resource I could find. Not to mention, some of my advice comes from my all-knowing professors.

So you’re a college student, and being such, you’re not expecting to get very many perks at your first job. But that really doesn’t mean that you can’t negotiate a better salary or better benefits. You just have to do your research, and then be persuasive.

Step 1. Look into what people in your intended career position typically get paid, both nationally and regionally. For regional information, you can use a site like to tell you what you can expect to make in a certain city or town. For more general, national information, the National Association of Colleges and Employers has a salary survey that stays up to date.

Step 2. Research the specific company that you are applying at. Are they currently doing well financially, or are they struggling? Can you find out what they usually pay their employees? Do they typically hire from within the company? Sometimes, union policy can tie a company’s hands when it comes to salary negotiation, so you may just have to deal with it if that is the case.

Step 3. Know your strengths and skills. You may just be a college grad, but there are still skills and experiences that you have accrued that set you apart from the other potential hires. Have your snappy list of three or four things that make you a good fit for this company at the front of your mind when it comes to salary negotiation time.

Step 4. Don’t bring up your salary. You don’t want to talk about salary until you are fairly certain that they want to hire you. If they ask you questions about your expected salary early on in the interview process, deflect the question by saying something like “I’m sure we can come to an agreement on that, but right now I’m just focused on seeing if I’m a good fit for the company.”

Step 5. When it is finally salary negotiation time, get them to indicate a salary range. Using the word ‘range’ might make them feel more comfortable. That way, they don’t have to give you an exact number yet. If the number seems on the low side, do not act offended, and do not act cocky. You can indicate that you have other job interviews lined up if that is the case, but don’t be overt about it. Bring up your research about the typical pay for someone in your position. Bring up the skills you are bringing to the company. Be confident and positive, and odds are you will boost your salary by a few thousand dollars.

Making money using surveys

This post was brought to you by the mind of my boyfriend, who has good (and not cheap) fashion sense and is picky about his food brands but nonetheless manages to save decent amounts of money. He finally let me in on one of his money-making (or at least rewards-earning) secrets – he’s subscribed to a website that gives him gift cards for taking polls.

When he first told me about it, I honestly thought that it was kinda shady. But Kyle has picked up a number of iTunes, Amazon and Best Buy gift cards for his trouble. How it works is you sign up for their email list, and they’ll email you when there is a new poll up (typically every week or so). Most polls are about TV shows or what kinds of electronics you own, stuff like that. Only a limited number of people can take each poll, so you can’t just save them in your email forever. According to Kyle, most of the surveys take about 15 minutes. The longer the survey is, the more points earned when you complete it. After several surveys, you should have enough points for  a gift card. From what Kyle showed me, most of the gift cards were for $5, but you can also save up your points and get $25 gift cards.

**IMPORTANT NOTE: I can only vouch for the site that I linked to, because Kyle has already earned rewards from it, but there are scam sites out there. Some sites offer to pay you with cash, but I would be wary of those. If you go looking online for an online survey to subscribe to, check that website by Survey Police first, who make sure that websites are legitimate and also has helpful ratings by survey users.

Selling stuff on Craigslist

Just a heads up, guys – I need to sublease my apartment for the summer. Of course, I haven’t been thinking about it at all lately, because I’ve been super busy as usual. But I’m not too worried, because I use trusty ol’ Craigslist to find potential buyers, and I’ve had a pretty good success rate so far.

For those of you who are unfamiliar or not experienced with Craigslist, I’ll give you a brief synopsis – You post an ad for your city, put it in a category (they have hundreds – from electronics to services to ‘personal’ to auto) and write a description about what you are selling and how much you want for it. Craigslist creates an anonymous email for you, and anyone who wants your stuff can email you and find out where to pick it up – Craigslist doesn’t do deliveries (but it is not recommended that you ever tell anyone your address).

But as useful as Craigslist is for subleasing out my apartment, I haven’t had quite as good luck using it to make money in general. For one thing, I’m only a college student, and most of the possessions I have, I need. I tried to sell a few of my things on Craigslist – an old purse, a blow dryer – and did not make that much money. But I wasn’t being savvy enough. Here are a few tips for you to make money on Craigslist:

> Check out the ‘free’ section on Craigslist. Not everything in there is junk. Most of the ads say something like “Hey, I’m going to stick this old TV out in my yard and the first person to load it into their car gets it.” If it seems like the stuff is probably in good condition (sometimes there are pictures), go grab whatever it is, take it home and clean it up. If it’s old furniture, you may have to put on a fresh coat of paint or even do a little repair, so be ready to get handy. Once it looks good (and works), resell it on Craigslist for a profit.

> If you live in a neighborhood, check out garage sales. There are usually at least a few on weekends with warm weather. You can easily bargain down the price of stuff at garage sales and then take it home and fix it up and put an ad up on Craigslist.

> In general when selling stuff on Craigslist, have an eye-catching headline since that’s the first thing people see. If you’re selling an office chair, be aware that a lot of other people are selling office chairs, too, so put in the headline why yours is superior. (Make sure that you’re telling the truth. Be nice.)

> Always post pictures on your Craigslist ads. People are much more likely to check out and respond to ads with pictures – that way, they know what they’re getting.

> Do you have a hobby where you make stuff? Is the stuff that you make cool? If you are a talented jewelry-maker, sculptor, knitter, etc., you could probably sell the stuff you make for a profit on Craigslist.

And always remember – be aware of scams. Don’t accept money orders or checks for your stuff – cash only.


Taxes: Conquering the Beast

Everyone hates taxes. Even if the responsibility of filling out your tax return has not fallen to you yet, you already hate them. But someday, you’re going to have to do them. If you’ve never had to fight and conquer the federal tax beast before, here’s a brief summary of what monetary factors you will have to take into account:

> The first factor to be determined when paying taxes is your filing status. Are you single or married? If you are married, are you filing jointly (in conjunction with your partner) or filing separately?* Are you a single parent and so have to file as ‘head of household’? Are you a widow? *Note: If you are married, you may want to weigh the pros and cons of lumping your taxes together with your partner’s.

> You have to figure out your gross income, which includes your salary, interest gained on savings accounts, and prize winnings. Capital gains (such as gains made in the stock market) are taxed at a special rate.

> Subtract adjustments to your gross income, such as student loan interest, alimony or trade or business expenses. Once adjustments have been taken out you have your adjusted gross income, or AGI.

> Then, you get to decide which type of deductions to take: Itemized or standard? Itemized deductions include medical expenses (if they aren’t covered by insurance and they exceed 7.5 percent of your AGI), real estate losses, home mortgage interest, charitable donations, property taxes, and even auto expenses for business. Standard deductions just depend on your filing status. In 2011, a single person’s standard deduction was $5,800.

> Then, figure out your exemptions. Each person in the household counts as an exemption, so this is the part where you count all of your kids up (in case you forgot how many you have). In 2011, a personal exemption was $3,700 per person. There are phase-out limits on exemptions, but they do not apply for 2012.

> After calculating all of that, you know your taxable income. It is at this point that you figure out what tax bracket you are in to determine how much you will pay in taxes. Had enough math for today? Me too.