You’ve been invited to interview, sat the aptitude tests, returned back for more interviews, started to relax a little as you become more acquainted with the company and staff – after all, it’s your fifth visit and even the receptionist now smiles every time you turn up – surely the job is yours? You start to relax in your final interview and then Boom! The dreaded question crops up – “What salary are you looking for?”
No matter how prepared you think you are, this question has the ability to throw you off course – suggest a (salary) figure that’s too high and it’s game over; too low and frankly even your student days will seem like a luxurious time, as you struggle to meet your monthly bills whilst working full time!
So, how do you respond to this question? What is the correct answer? Truth is, there is no one size fits all, correct answer. After all, a desired salary response that may impress in investment banking will be greeted with disbelief and derision in an NGO.
With this in mind, what we would advise graduates is: When it comes to salary negotiations, the (graduate) candidate should not be the first to name a number – the opening move is too risky for a poorly informed or inexperienced negotiator. After all, before advertising a vacancy, a maximum salary or salary range will have been authorised and agreed upon by the most senior HR member so they already have a number. Furthermore, larger organisations will have agreed and okayed salary scales way in advance (sometimes a up to a year in advance), so frankly, even if you’re the next Bill Gates, given your low level of experience, it would be difficult for HR managers to offer you anything above their graduate salary scale(s) or authorised salary level(s).
So, since most HR managers are reasonable, we would suggest that instead of coming out with a number first, simply summarise and point out all your key strengths and attributes i.e. leadership skills, positions of responsibility, achievements, voluntary work, sporting achievements – basically anything that makes you stand head and shoulders above other graduates in your position and point out that while you may not have much hands on job experience, as a well rounded person, you believe you will bring value to the firm. In other words, you are looking for a salary that is equitable and is commensurate to the skills and experience that you bring. We would also advise that where an application form asks for a desired salary, write: Negotiable.
Having said that, it is absolutely crucial that you have a minimum starting figure in mind – this figure should be derived from your own personal monthly expenses/outgoings. The same way that you have to have a business plan before starting a company, you must also have a personal budget before you negotiate a salary. This is like your road map and your starting point for salary negotiations. Factor in costs such as: food, rent, travel expenses, student or other loans, gas, electricity, toiletries, reasonable phone expenses, clothes and other regular expenses. This then is your reservation price i.e. the minimum salary amount you are able to accept.
Even if you are the shy, retiring type, I’m afraid negotiation is something you will have to get used to – unless of course, you’re a Hollywood actor, Premiership footballer or NBA basketball player in which case, for approximately 10% of your earnings, your agent will negotiate on your behalf!
What ATB would also advise candidates is, do plenty of homework, and research the salary range for the position in advance. Speak with friends or relatives in the industry who will be able to give you a rough indication as to what starting salary levels are in your desired career choice. If you are an ATB candidate then we will, of course, have the salary details from the company and will negotiate on your behalf, thus leaving you to focus on interviews and aptitude tests.
Also, bear in mind, one thing: it is not all about money. You must also give serious consideration to salary goals and limits, and what sorts of perks, like vacation, benefits and flexitime, the company is willing to trade for money. As a graduate, you will be green so if the company is offering training opportunities then think long term. A structured training program will give you the best foundation and stand you in good stead for the future.
So, be realistic, don’t be too greedy, do your preparation and think long term! Negotiation is not about one party beating the other. Negotiation is about creating a win, win situation for both parties.