It’s best to leave salary discussions until the point at which you are offered the job – unless the employer asks you about it sooner.
Many graduate training schemes have set starting salaries but there are some jobs where you’ll need to exercise your negotiating skills. This will be a unique opportunity to position yourself as a valuable asset in the organisation and to set your level of remuneration accordingly. To achieve this, you need to establish an appropriate asking price – and it is wise to think about this early in case it should come up during your interview or even in the application.
Some graduate employers will state that the salary is ‘negotiable’ or will ask about your salary expectations, either in the application, at interview or when offering you the job. Job adverts sometimes carry salary ranges to give applicants an idea of the boundaries of the negotiation. The rest of this article explains how to prepare for and handle the negotiation.
More usually, however, salaries for entry-level and graduate jobs are fixed and there is less room for negotiation than for a more senior role where candidates may have varying levels of experience and expertise to offer the employer. It is normal for everyone starting the same graduate scheme to be paid the same. The salary will either be clearly shown on the job advert or labelled ‘competitive’, meaning it should be in line with what similar organisations offer graduates in the same location and you will be told what it is at job offer stage. Read our salaries article, which includes an interactive tool from The Pay Index, to get a sense of what you can expect in different sectors and with your degree subject. If you are not given the opportunity to negotiate salary, it is generally best to accept what is offered; you probably don’t have enough experience to offer at this stage in your career to persuade the employer to change their mind, and you don’t want to start your role with the company on the wrong foot.
You might decide to try negotiating for a higher salary despite it not being initiated by the employer if you have some exceptional experience that you believe would make you a more valuable hire, but this is unlikely as a fresh graduate. If you choose to do this, be sure to leave this until you have a job offer and, if they say no, leave it there. You should also plan beforehand what you will do if they say no: do you still want to work for the company?
It’s best to leave salary discussions until the point at which you are offered the job – unless the employer asks you about it sooner. Many recruiters ask for salary expectations and details of current salary early in the process. If this is the case, you may need to spend some time researching the question of salary (see the section below) at the application stage or before the first interview. Alternatively, when asked on the application form about your current salary or salary expectations you could put either TBD (to be discussed) or NA (non-applicable), but you should still be prepared to discuss salary expectations later in the process.
- If the question of pay comes up during an interview, our article on how to answer ‘What are your salary expectations?’ gives advice on how you can approach this in a way that’s likely to lead to the best outcome for you.
Whether you are giving your salary expectations early in the recruitment process (eg on an application form), or you’re negotiating during an interview or when you have a job offer, time invested in research is always well spent. In this way, you can argue your case logically and professionally. This will require you to think carefully about your aspirations in terms of salary, balance this with your experience or training needs for your future career and consider what the company could realistically offer. Familiarise yourself with the company itself, as well as the range of salary and benefit options.
When you are going for a job, you are effectively a salesperson promoting a product and it is up to you to demonstrate that the ‘product’ is valuable, high quality and superior to anything a competitor could offer. Potential employers or ‘buyers’ are looking for the best value for their money, so will be driving the deal in the opposite direction. However, if you have positioned yourself well and made a good impression at interview, they won't want to risk losing you and will be prepared to settle at the top of the market rather than at the bottom. If you know what the employer can afford and typical salaries for the sector, you will automatically gain an advantage.
Four tips for researching salaries:
- Look at the range of packages offered for similar positions in the adverts online or in the jobs pages.
- Ask for advice from people in your professional and personal network.
- Ask a contact in the industry to advise you – or use their network to access the information.
- If you are a member of a union, it will have information on acceptable salary ranges for your profession.
You can put off a prospective employer by pitching too high or too low, so it is important to get your level right. Get a feel for the market rate by drawing information from the above sources. You will also find listings on the internet that can help you.
There are no hard and fast rules about how and when to conduct your negotiation. Every situation is different and each employer will have their own set of thresholds. Understanding the context in which your negotiation is going to take place and being sensitive to the culture of the organisation is therefore essential. Having said that, there are some practical steps you can take to position yourself sensibly.
- Be calm and assertive in your arguments.
- Be prepared to compromise.
- Ask for the agreed terms and conditions to be confirmed in writing as soon as possible if you are successful in your negotiations.
- Discuss the benefits package and negotiate for an early pay review instead, if the salary offered is less than you had hoped for. For instance, if you demonstrate your worth against certain criteria in the first six months of your employment, they will agree to a particular salary increase. Ensure that the criteria are clearly set, though, and that they are included in your contract of employment.
- Appear too eager or too laid back. Either approach can can portray overconfidence or a lack of professionalism and damage your case.
- Avoid doing your research. It is a common, misguided belief that requesting a high salary will convey a greater sense of your worth. The prospective employer will naturally ask you why you think you are worth so much. If you don’t have a rational argument, you will look ill-prepared and unprofessional.
- Bluff in your negotiation and try to play off fictitious job offers against the real one you’re hoping to get. Employers generally don’t respond well to this kind of pressure, and instead of receiving a speedy offer, you’re likely to be left with nothing. However, if you do genuinely have another offer, be candid about what you are being offered (without giving away the other organisation's name).
- Seem more interested in the package than in the role you are being recruited for. Every employer knows that you will want a fair deal, but you need to demonstrate that your financial concerns are balanced by a genuine desire for the job.