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Best Advice for MBA Salary Negotiations

Best Advice for MBA Salary Negotiations main image

Understanding and building on negotiation techniques should be a skill at the forefront of graduate business school students’ minds – it’s an imperative part of business after all. Still, negotiating one’s own salary can be tricky. Obviously, you don’t want to offend anyone, nor do you want to undersell yourself. There’s a fine line to walk, and figuring out how to stay balanced is a challenge. Help has arrived.  

Recently, QS asked experts at top business schools for their best advice for negotiating MBA salaries. Here are the takeaways:

Be unafraid to negotiate

Experts will continue to tell you that the biggest mistake you can make is failing to negotiate in the first place. Some people fear losing the offer if they ask for too much, while others find the process awkward or think the offer is cut and dry and there’s no room for improvement.

Jeff McNish, assistant dean of University of Virginia Darden School of Business’ Career Development Center said: “Not negotiating [is] the single, biggest mistake made. Negotiation is a skill that most MBAs need for their post-MBA careers, and I encourage every MBA to demonstrate their negotiating skills before they start.”

Consider more than just salary

Another common mistake when negotiating salary is ignoring the entire hiring package. Money, after all, is not the only item you can negotiate when accepting a job role.  

Matthew Soroka, associate director of MBA Career Services at Pennsylvania State University: Smeal College of Business said: “We speak of the total rewards understanding. this is about more than just one number on a piece of paper.”

In other words, when negotiating, MBAs should consider other items of value that employers provide, such as health and dental insurance, vacation time, and policies regarding work/life balance. Even if you cannot quite get the salary you wanted, you may be able to get other perks that will make the trade-off worthwhile to you.

Do your homework

As an MBA student, regular (and time-consuming) homework comes with the territory, so putting in the effort to prepare for a negotiation shouldn’t be a scary task.

Many new MBA grads fail to learn the salary ranges for the positions they are applying for. Fred Burke, director of the Graduate Career Management Center at the Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College in New York City noted some people may be unaware that it is illegal for employers to anchor your new salary to your old one.

Burke said: “Find out the correct range – don’t sell yourself short and don’t ask too much over the range. We find at The Zicklin School of Business, the MBA students with the most direct work experience are able to negotiate higher salaries based on their work experience.” 

Make a case for your position

Negotiation is not just about getting what you want, you also have to provide value to the other party and provide solid justification for giving you more than the original offer.

Soroka said: “Many business students participate in case competitions, this is similar. It’s the case of you.”

Soroka suggests bringing as much data as possible. This includes information regarding your successes and relevant experiences and what you can bring to the organization. Keep the potential employer engaged, he adds. Having open lines of communication throughout the process is essential when negotiating.

Build Relationships

Before you are hired, you should spend time building relationships at the organizations that most interest you. Yes, there should be more than one potential employer, says Jeff Loewenstein, who is associate dean of Graduate Education and professor of Business Administration and Center for Professional Responsibility Faculty Fellow at Gies College of Business - University of Illinois. Besides providing you with vital information for the negotiation, you will also better determine your fit at the organization while strengthening your network.

Lowenstein said: “It’s perfectly possible to build positive relationships and ask for what you want.”

Francesca Di Meglio

Francesca Di Meglio has written about higher education for two decades. She covered business schools and all aspects of management education for what became Bloomberg Businessweek from May 2004 to December 2013. Di Meglio was the consultant editor for the book Admitted: An Interactive Workbook for Getting into a Top MBA Program (85 Broads Publishing, 2011), which was written by admissions consultant Betsy Massar. In addition, she is a family travel and parenting blogger at the Italian Mamma website

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