Salary negotiations can be a confusing and ambiguous process for any working professional. Thankfully, many graduates will be able to avoid this process completely as it is common for trainee schemes, in particular, to have set and non-negotiable employment terms. However, there are times when a company may ask you to set your own salary expectations. Most typically this will occur either with vacancies within smaller organisations or if you are using recruitment consultants to aid you with your job search. In these circumstances it is best to be prepared for this question should it arise.
Clarify what you can upfront
While detailed discussions around salary are often best left to a point later down the recruitment process, there is no point spending time on a potential opportunity where your salary expectations are clearly out of line with what they are prepared to give. Most companies will be very upfront about the salary, or salary range, on offer and it will be stated on the job advertisement. But if it isn’t, it is wholly acceptable for you to try and pin them down on this. If you are working through a recruitment agency, this is a fairly straightforward discussion for you to have with them. It gets a little more tricky if you have approached the organisation directly, but speaking to (or emailing) HR should bring you some clarity. If they won’t give you a direct figure you can always trying approaching them by saying “my salary expectations are around the x mark – can you let me know if this is in line with what is on offer?”
Know your market value
It is crucial that not only should you have a good idea of your worth but that you should be able to justify it, if need be. Make sure you have done your research within the industry, either by looking at similar roles on the internet to see what they are offering or by talking to people within the industry. Be realistic here. Some industries, and companies within them, will naturally pay more than others and you need to fit fairly within their pay scales. But make sure any opportunity you are going for is complying with National Minimum Wage legislation (this can be more difficult if the job is commission based but there will still be a minimum pay level you should legally receive). Where possible and if asked outright at interview, you should try to avoid giving your own salary expectations as part of a broad ball-park range. Stating your expectations, for example as “between £20-25k” will immediately allow them to offer at the lowest end. Instead, saying “ideally, I would be looking for £24k” would let them know you are willing to negotiate down if need be but believe your true value to be at a higher level.
Keep your focus on the longer-term
You are at the very start of your career here so, unless you hold a unique and rare skill set, ultimately the employer will be the one in the position of power. By all means have a minimum salary level you are prepared to accept and don’t be afraid to try and negotiate this up slightly if need be. (This generally works best when you are already holding a higher salary offer from another company). But perhaps a more strategic approach would be to look at your salary as part of a wider benefits package. A lower starting salary may still be acceptable if the benefits package around it – pension, bonus scheme healthcare, generous annual leave – is a good one. And rather than trying to raise your salary before you’ve had the chance to prove your worth, you could instead try to negotiate a 6 month salary review by which time your employer will see you for the asset that you are. Ultimately, you should remember that a starting salary is just that – a starting salary. Focusing on the longer term benefits that the employer could bring you in terms of career development should not be overlooked.
Hannah, Careers Consultant