How to negotiate a starting salary

handshake-1205055_960_720 (1)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?”

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The root of all evil? What you need to know about graduate salaries

Bag a degree and grab a big starting salary.  Right? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Having a realistic expectation of what you will probably be earning after your degree is important.

There are undeniably rich rewards for the lucky few who nab places on top graduate schemes – those who go into investment banking can earn around 40K mark for example. But at the other end, some graduate roles start at around 15K while Mr or Ms Average Grad can reckon on 20 – 22K or thereabouts.

Economies of scale

Now, while the major companies pay top whack, they also often expect blood in return. While a huge law firm could offer its raw recruits 30K, you would be expected to work long hours into the evening and on weekends. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for large law and finance companies to supply free food to their workers – but with the idea that you will be staying in the office for all of your meals! A high salary is not for 9 to 5-ers.  Routinely working 10 or 12 hour days whittles away not just at your free time but at your hourly rate of pay. Who’s better off?  Someone on a standard 35 hour week for 18K or their pal earning 30K for double those hours?  You do the Maths.

Negotiate to accumulate

There is sometimes some wiggle room on salary.  If they claim it is indeed fixed, then suggest a review after three, maybe six, months.  Relevant experience and/or a high class of degree may also put you up a notch on the scale.  If you’re asked to name your price – start high (but not over the top).  You can always come down, whereas a low opening bid will be gleefully accepted. If you’re not sure how to handle salary negotiations, you can always come and have a chat with a Careers Consultant about it.

money

Upwardly mobile

It goes without saying, that the figures quoted are just for starters.  You can (and will) move off the financial bottom rung as long as Time’s winged chariot keeps chugging. It’s worth keeping in mind career progression when making job applications. For example, an SME might not offer as large a starting salary as a big graduate scheme, but promotion could happen quicker.

Know your own worth and your value to your employers and be prepared to say it loud at appraisals.  Modesty is not always the best policy when it comes to upping your pay packet. Statistically women are also less likely to ask for a wage increase then men, so speak up girls! Just remember that you wanting more money is not the same as you deserving more – you will need to show your employer tangible evidence of what you have been doing that justifies you being paid more. So perhaps a certain project you worked very hard on, or an extra responsibility you’ve taken on that goes beyond your job description.

Consider this

Startling though it may seem, there is life beyond the Great Metropolis.  Given that the world and his wife (a.k.a. graduates from the entire UK and beyond) flock here, the London job market can be crowded.  So you may prefer to set your sights on new horizons – Leeds, let’s say, or Liverpool, Letchworth, Llanelli, Lancaster and Leith.  Pay may be marginally lower, but rents and mortgages are appreciably easier to acquire and manage.

More to life

Salary may often be the top of graduates’ lists when they are job searching, but there really is more to career satisfaction than a big pay cheque. I’ve mentioned having to work long hours – is a large salary worth having to miss family occasions and friends’ birthdays? And what about other aspects of job satisfaction like autonomy over your work, feeling like you are making a difference, using your skills and feeling appreciated. In job satisfaction surveys roles to do with horticulture and animals often top the lists (florists for example) despite the uninspiring salaries – usually because of the above factors.

Money?  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, it often costs too much.

Gill Sharp

Careers Consultant, QMUL Careers & Enterprise Centre