Even when you know you should negotiate your salary, you may find yourself paralyzed by uncertainty. How much do I ask for? What if I come off as unreasonable? It may feel easier just to accept the salary offered to you, and then deal with the nagging guilt that you "should have" negotiated.
There's a simple first step for getting over this uncertainty: Research average salaries of people who have this position in the same geographical region, and with your same level of education and experience.
There are a number of websites designed for this. My favorite is PayScale.com, but there's also Salary.com and Glassdoor.com. You don't need to gather statistics from every possible site — you're just trying to get in the right ballpark. Then I like to compare what I found to the Bureau of Labor Statistics site, which doesn't let you drill down as far but which is based on a much larger dataset of salaries, not just self-reported.
Salary negotiations are not about how much money you want, but about what a fair compensation is for the work you will be doing. When you have a range in mind, you can easily see whether an offer is fair and reasonable. You can figure out what the minimum you'll accept is and what your top goal is.
Keep in mind any factors that could influence where your salary should fall within the "fair" range that you researched. If you are bringing specialized experience or education, you can mention that as a reason why your salary should more reasonably be toward the top part of the range. If you found salaries for [position title], but this job is more like [position title] + [other responsibilities], you can plan to make the case for how added responsibilities would merit a higher compensation.
Next week we'll talk about the nuts and bolts of what to say when you negotiate your salary.