LAST_UPDATEWed, 20 Jun 2018 12pm

Negotiating Your First Salary? Here's What You Should Know

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SO you got your first job offer. You breathe a sigh of relief and jubilantly celebrate the rite of passage. But wait, you are forgetting one important point that is easy to miss when you are embarking on your working career – your starting salary.

Salary is the most important consideration when it comes to embarking upon a new career, according to a recent Nielsen survey based on job hunters in Malaysia.

Understandably, this comes as no surprise as job applicants, fresh graduates in particular, do not choose a job that would not pay well after putting so much investment and effort into their hard-earned degrees.

However, there will always be trade-offs to be made between the employer and employee in any salary negotiation. Employers may not be willing to consider negotiating with someone who is just starting out in the workforce. On the other hand, fresh graduates do not want to oversell themselves but they also must avoid selling themselves short, as it is difficult to change your position once you’re in a pay structure.

So, while you should nearly always consider negotiating your salary, but take stock of your circumstances. There are cases where negotiations would be inappropriate or very unlikely to succeed.  Understanding the context in which your negotiation is going to take place and being sensitive to the culture of the organization is undoubtedly an important task. carried out a study last year to find out the top 10 highest paying jobs at entry-level in Malaysia to help fresh graduates gauge whether their salaries are competitive to the market.

Source: MalaysiaSource: Malaysia

It is clear that there are many jobs where entry-level applicants have limited options when it comes to the ability to negotiate salary. For fresh graduates, we hear the oft-repeated advice that rather than focusing on money, focus on learning, skill and career development.

So, for those new to the job market, do you prioritize starting with the right company and the right job rather than the salary and how do you ensure that the salary you are getting is in the ballpark of what a similar company would offer?

“It Is More Of An Employer’s Market, Job Seekers Need To Be Realistic” – MEF

Executive Director of the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) Datuk Shamsuddin BardanExecutive Director of the Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) Datuk Shamsuddin BardanIn an interview with Malaysian Digest, Executive Director of the Malaysian Employers Federation Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan (pic) said the current labour market condition is more of an employer’s market, saying that the labour market is expected to experience a crunch as the economic outlook is fraught with major challenges this year.

Referring to the statistics from the Companies Commission of Malaysia which revealed that 2,581 companies closed in 2013, Shamsuddin said when it comes to salary negotiation, it depends very much on the labour market situation as many big corporations are undergoing massive retrenchment programme.

"Oftentimes, fresh graduates have unrealistic salary demands and tend to be choosy about the company they want to work for as well as the position offered.

“Besides, the lack of required skills and poor command of English language are also among the main reasons that cause fresh graduates to face unemployment,” he said, adding that the longer they are not employed after graduation, the more difficult for them to secure a job.

“Fresh graduates should not immediately reject a job offer simply because of the low salary but they must instead equip themselves with working experience and relevant knowledge first as this will put them ahead of the job-seeking pack later. After all, it takes efforts to stand out and secure themselves a place in a workplace of their choices,” he stressed further.

It is important for the fresh graduate to also be able to see the situation from the employer’s perspective. Be aware that there are some companies that have very structured new grad programs where there isn’t flexibility in the salary. For example, government, military, public education and the civil service have very little flexibility in salary negotiation.

Hence, fresh graduates need to establish an appropriate asking price and it is crucial to think about this in advance before attending a job interview or embarking upon a new career.

Negotiating salary is always a delicate matter, but with a little research, supporting your value through valid arguments, and a few important considerations, you can get the most out of a job offer.

Know The Current Salary Benchmark And Market Trends

Speaking of salary negotiation, candidates should first take the time to understand the company’s compensation package before applying for a position there, said country manager Ms Chook Yuh Yng when contacted by Malaysian Digest recently. country manager Ms Chook Yuh country manager Ms Chook Yuh Yng

“If a fresh graduate demands 30 percent or 50 percent more than the current market rate without any relevant working experience, then it would be fair to say that it is unrealistic. They must be willing to do their research to better understand what they are worth through salary benchmarking.

“It is important for a fresh graduate to know the current salary benchmark. They must also remember that they are competing against other candidates for the same position and some candidates may have a few more years of relevant working experience that is more attuned to market demands and trends,” she noted.

According to a survey conducted by in September 2013, the top reason cited for the unemployment of fresh graduates is “Asking for unrealistic salary/benefit” (67 percent), followed "Poor character, attitude or personality" (60 percent), "Poor command of English language" (55 percent) and "Lack of required skills" (42 percent).

Asked if the quality of the fresh graduates is up to the mark, she said, “There is a gap between the employers’ expectations of graduates and the quality graduates produced. Therefore, it is crucial for the employers, universities and society to work closely and narrow the gap of these expectations.

Citing a survey conducted by in September 2013, she said, “Nearly 70 percent of employers think the level of quality among fresh graduates is only average. It is not due to lack of academic qualification, but because of their bad attitudes or poor communication skills shown during interviews or at work.”

Echoing the thoughts of country manager of, a recruitment consultant of Agensi Pekerjaan & Perundingcara Bright Prospect Sdn. Bhd, Yen Ming told Malaysian Digest that fresh graduates who have unrealistic salary demand is among the top reasons for employers to turn down a job applicant especially the fresh graduates or entry-level job applicants.

Recruitment consultant of Agensi Pekerjaan & Perundingcara Bright Prospect Sdn. Bhd, Yen Ming Recruitment consultant of Agensi Pekerjaan & Perundingcara Bright Prospect Sdn. Bhd, Yen Ming “Fresh degree holders can expect to get an average salary of RM2,400 to RM2,800 with the average being RM2,600 across all industries, although some of them may get more than the mentioned salary range. However, it is important for them to possess the required necessary skills, good command of the English language and other relevant knowledge as this will help them to be promoted faster,” she said.

When asked on whether there is discriminatory employment on fresh graduates from a certain type of university or college, she said, “Employers usually will not base their decision solely on the candidate’s university. Nevertheless, it is fair for me to say that employers likely favour graduates from foreign universities as most of them, if not all, tend to carry themselves better.

"Therefore, unless the prevailing perception that local graduates are incompetent can be changed, the issue of quality of local graduates will forever be contentious.

“It is imperative for entry-level job seekers to know what they are good at in order to know themselves better. Fresh graduates should be realistic when it comes to seeking work for first employment. They should not have high hopes in getting a high salary at their first attempt but they should instead aim to gain worthwhile experience before they can demand more,” she pointed out.

“Employers know that any job seekers will want a fair deal, but it is important for them to demonstrate their capability and what they can contribute to the organization first before they should talk about the nitty-gritty of the deal – salary,” she added.

Experience Before Job Or Vice Versa: The Chicken And Egg Dilemma

Chook, however, told Malaysian Digest that when it comes to salary negotiation, it is best for fresh graduates to gain relevant experience first before they could demand for a higher salary or benefits.

“We usually advise the job seekers to not immediately reject an offer if the salary offered is below their expectation. This is because a good remuneration package will follow when they have built a good profile and excelled in their fields. The advice we can offer candidates is to be serious about their job application, be prepared for the job interview by researching and understanding more about the company and to make sure they attend the interview upon receiving an invitation,” she said.

Chook added, "Candidates are encouraged to sell themselves in a job interview by stressing on why they are the best fit for the company. It is imperative for them to enumerate their achievements, skills, experiences and other useful information that might help them seal the deal.  If they want a huge jump in salary, they must be able to justify the amount they are asking for."

“Unless prompted, they should avoid asking about the salary package during the first interview, as it is important for candidates show that they are genuinely interested in the job itself,” she concluded.

While the numerical figure of what you are getting paid for the work you do is important, but as highlighted by the employment professionals we spoke to, a person must be able to justify their salary negotiation and the only way to do so convincingly is to fulfil your job expectations the best that you can.

In the words of Steve Jobs, the late CEO of Apple and famously difficult and demanding as a boss, had observed the following in his speech to the graduating class of 2005 at Stanford University:

“You’ve got to find what you love… Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it.” – Steve Jobs.

-- mD