05/01/2014 07:55 pm ET Updated Jul 01, 2014

Graduates: Time to Negotiate

Pay Equity Day was acknowledged last month across the country with a flurry of activities, including personal interactions with legislators, many national electronic and print commentaries, and a White House executive order.

Now the challenge is to keep the spotlight on this issue. Achieving pay equity is not only a responsibility of employers. There is much that employees can do to enhance their worth by assuming greater responsibility, acquiring additional education, and negotiating for more money at the appropriate time.

With college graduations approaching and many seniors looking for their first job, it's important to remind newcomers to the workforce to focus on salary negotiation. That's not easy to do when the date to begin repaying student loans is generally six months after graduation. It's no wonder any job at any salary can look appealing.

Women especially are inclined to accept the first salary offered rather than believe the extensive research that finds most employers expect to negotiate. Even if employers do not low-ball a new recruit, their first offer is seldom their best offer. Failure to negotiate salary can be regarded as an employee performance negative -- even before you're officially an employee.

It's important to remember that a starting salary often sets the bar for every future position. Starting too low can translate in hundreds of thousands of dollars being left on the table over the course of a career. Within a company, the starting salary is the basis for a pay raise, and this figure becomes the basis for the next pay raise, and so on. Do the math. Switching jobs may translate into a pay bump but that is not always guaranteed or practical.

Advocating for economic security for women is a goal of Vision 2020, which convenes its Fourth National Congress for Delegates and Allied organizations, May 4-6, in Philadelphia. The theme "Generations of Actions" reflects the importance of women at all ages achieving economic and social equality.

A recent Vision 2020 Tweet Chat on pay equity and salary negotiation provided suggestions for young women entering the workforce, including:

Come to a salary discussion buoyed by facts. Research the salary range for the job you seek, based on your qualifications and experience, using objective standards such as market data as well as informal online tools and personal conversations.

Prepare for this phase of the employment discussion as assiduously you did for the job interview. Practice describing your value in objective terms. Anticipate objections and have responses ready.

Remember once you've received an offer, the ball is in your court. If salary negotiations are unsuccessful, employers ether have to turn to their #2 choice, whom they've already labled as second best, or they have to start all over again. Neither option is attractive to them, so employers want to close the deal.

But don't be unrealistic. Know when it's time either to accept the offer - or perhaps negotiate for non-monetary forms of compensation. For current employees negotiating for a raise, these forms can include a flexible schedule or an extra week of vacation. This is not a wise strategy for new hires. Instead, request swifter access to additional training or responsibility. Or ask to be included on internal committees where you can make a contribution to the company culture. Starting a first job is an exciting moment. Make it the best start possible for your career.