You should know what you are worth walking in the door. Get a good sense of the going rate for someone with your qualifications by doing some research on the Internet (see resource links below). Realize that what you think you should earn, and what the employer is willing to pay, may be quite far apart.
Factors that may drive this difference are:
- Geography (i.e., rural vs urban, northeast vs southwest)
- Employer’s industry
- How the interviewer perceives your learning curve
While salary is important, you also need to look at the entire compensation package which includes:
- Life insurance
- Retirement plan
- Benefit time, etc.
Generally, if the value of the benefits adds 15-17% value to your base salary, that’s a good deal. For example, if your base salary is $30,000 and the benefits added value is 16%, that means you are actually "earning" $34,800.
It's true that you need take home pay to meet your financial obligations, but what we don't have to pay for is "money in the bank." For example, a company may help you pay back student loans, or maybe they will pay for you to take classes to keep your skills up to speed. These are benefits to you but don't cost you anything.
To make an argument for a better salary, make a list of your pertinent accomplishments, both professionally and personally.
Finally, even during those moments when you're not feeling confident, project confidence. Before you go into an interview, tell yourself out loud why you deserve to get what you are seeking. If you believe it, so will the interviewer. Be enthusiastic about the job, confident about the abilities you bring to it, knowledgeable about your market value and firm in seeking a fair compensation package.
Doing these simple things will enable you to negotiate the best possible package.
More Helpful Resources
Glassdoor.com - Gives you an inside look at company interview questions, salaries, and reviews, for thousands of companies.
LinkedIn.com Salary Tool - See a detailed breakdown of salaries by job title and location.
Salary.com - Use the Salary Wizard® to conduct research on salaries of a variety of occupations.
Evaluating Your Benefits Package - CollegeGrad.com provides a list of pointers to consider