Do your homework
Always walk into an interview with a minimum salary requirement in mind. You can determine a realistic - but satisfactory - salary by doing a little research. Luckily, the Web hosts a plethora of salary survey sites- the more reliable ones compiled by government agencies, employment agencies, universities and professional associations. Use them to find the average earnings for entry level to executive positions in your industry. For example, the Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook, located at http://stats.bls.gov/oco/oco1000.htm, features salary information, job descriptions and an employment forecast for each industry. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (http://www.bls.gov) also offers a thorough package of employment information and statistics by region. Don't forget to ask friends and alums of your school who work in the industry what a typical starting salary for a new graduate is in the job of your choice.
Make your choice
Once you have an idea of the kind of money you can expect, you should determine three figures: how much money you think you need; how much you want, and what you think you can live with. Put together a personal budget, keeping in mind that things like income tax, loan payments and health care will probably account for a huge chunk of each paycheck. It's also important to note that buying power depends largely on the city you live in. If you earn $30k in Cincinnati, you'd need to make more than twice that salary to maintain your lifestyle in New York City. If you have job offers in different cities, you can compare their values with a cost-of-living calculator. Both Homefair.com and Datamasters (http://www.datamasters.com offer them on their web sites.
Are you willing to compromise cash for benefits? Quality of life may mean more to you than money. One hiring manager at a Silicon Alley startup advises job seekers to "evaluate the non-financial aspects of your package." Especially when you're looking at cash-poor startups, or industries (like publishing or fashion) where entry-level salaries are traditionally low; it's important to consider things like "the size of the company, work environment, dress code, and the experience you stand to gain." Would you give up a little money if you could wear jeans to work and start your days at 10am? Airline stewards may only make around $20,000 per year, but they travel for free.
When you sit down at the bargaining table, find out what your employer has to offer. Some employers pay 'average' salaries, but enrich the overall package with things like bonuses, full health coverage, family leave and tuition reimbursement. If you're a night owl or there are family issues, ask about things like flextime and telecommuting options. Once you have an offer in hand, your bargaining power is heightened. Ask who the health care and insurance providers are and what each plan covers. If you'll have to move across the country to take a job, ask about relocation assistance.
Don't feel pressured to accept an offer right away. Once you've given that "OK", the deal is effectively closed - it will be much harder to make amendments later on. If it seems you're getting nowhere, and you feel you absolutely can't live on the salary an employer is offering, offer to temp for the company - once you prove yourself, you're likely to get a more acceptable offer. Or move on.