When and how to negotiate your graduate salary

Last updated: 22 Jun 2023, 13:24

negotiating a salary

While many graduate schemes have a set starting salary, in some jobs, you will need to exercise your negotiating skills. This is a unique opportunity to position yourself as a valuable asset to the organisation and request to be renumerated accordingly. To do this, you need to establish an appropriate salary. Think about this early on in case it comes up during the interview or even at the application stage.

When interviewing for a job, you are promoting your skills, essentially selling what you have to offer. You need to demonstrate your value to the company and show that what you offer is of high quality and superior to what a competitor can offer.

Potential employers want the best value for money so they will be pushing the deal in the opposite direction. They want to offer enough to keep you in the job but not more than they have to. However, if you have made a good impression at the interview, they won’t want to risk losing you and are more likely to settle at the top of the market range. Knowing what the employer can afford and typical salaries will give you an advantage.

Should you negotiate | When to ask about salary | What to research | Negotiation tips

Can you negotiate your salary for a graduate program?

Typically, salaries for entry-level positions are fixed and there is less room for negotiation than for a more senior role where candidates have varying areas of expertise and levels of experience. Usually, everyone starting the same graduate programme will be paid the same. The salary is either shown on the ad or labelled as ‘competitive’. This means it should be in line with what similar organisations are offering graduates.

However, some graduate schemes will have a negotiable salary or will ask you about your expectations in the application or interview or when they are offering you the job. Some job adverts will have salary ranges to give you an idea of the boundaries of negotiation.

What is salary DOE (depends on experience)?

You will sometimes find ‘salary DOE’ listed on a job ad. This is more typical for roles where the employer hasn’t decided on the level of experience they want to fill a vacancy and will wait to see who best fits the role from the candidates who apply. This is less common for entry-level roles and graduate jobs and more likely to be used by smaller employers. If you are a recent graduate with a DOE salary, it’s more likely that you’ll be at the bottom of the pay range. However, ‘experience’ doesn’t necessarily mean that gained from a full-time job. It can mean any knowledge and expertise that would be useful to the organisation. Employers are willing to pay more for the candidate who will make the best contribution to the business. This candidate might have qualities they hadn’t considered when writing the job description. Think about what distinguishes you such as a work placement or independently directed learning.

When is the best time to negotiate salary?

Discussions around pay are always sensitive, so it’s vital you address this at the right time. It is best to leave salary discussion until the point at which you are offered the job, unless you are asked about it sooner. It is common for recruiters to ask for salary expectations or details of current salary early on. In this case, you should spend some time researching salaries at the application stage or before the first interview. Alternatively, when asked about your current salary or your expectations on the application, you can put down TBD or NA. However, you should still be prepared to discuss your salary expectations later in the process. When asked for your expectations, don’t be afraid to start out by asking them for a ballpark figure so that you can pitch the discussions appropriately.

Research the market and the employer

Investing time in research will help you argue your case logically and professionally. Think about your personal salary expectations and how they balance out with your experience. Familiarise yourself with the employer and the range of salary and benefit options.

Tips for researching salaries:

  1. Look at the packages being offered for similar positions online

  1. Ask people in your personal and professional network for advice

  1. Ask a contact in the industry to advise you if you can

  1. Labour unions might be able to provide information on acceptable salary ranges for your profession

Remember, pitching a salary that is either too high or too low can put off a prospective employer. Therefore, it is important to get your level right.

Negotiating salary as a graduate

There are no set rules for conducting your negotiation. Bear in mind that every situation is different and employers set their own thresholds. This means that understanding the context in which your negotiation will take place and the culture of the organisation is essential.

Here are some steps you can take to position yourself sensibly:

  1. Be calm and assertive in your arguments

  1. Prepare to compromise but plan beforehand what you will do if they say no. Would you still want to work for the employer?

  1. Ask for the agreed upon terms and conditions to be confirmed in writing as soon as possible if you are successful in your negotiations.

  1. If the salary offered is less than you had hoped for, discuss the benefits package and negotiate for an early pay review. 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.

  1. If you have another job offer, you can be candid about how much they are offering (without giving away the other organisation’s name).

gradireland editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the gradireland content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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