Starting salary

“Can you give us some idea of your salary expectation?” is the question that strikes fear into the heart of every interviewee. Just how do you answer? Pitch it too high and you look unrealistic and overly confident, pitch it too low and you undervalue both yourself and your ability to do the job.


For most of us, salary is one of the most important factors in taking a job – and yet it is often the subject that is hardest to discuss.

“I never know how to tackle the subject of salary,” admits Ian, who works as design editor on a glossy magazine.

“I always research how much other companies pay and go into an interview armed with the relevant knowledge, but somehow I always come out with a bad deal. I got my last job through an agency and there was £5,000 difference between the top and bottom end of the salary offered. I promised myself I’d ask for a figure at the top end of the range, but when it came to it I found myself asking for only £1,000 more than their lowest figure. Which of course they agreed to, readily.”

Research is essential when it comes to proposing a reasonable salary. Look around at job advertisements, websites, newspapers – there is a vast amount of information out there about jobs and relevant salaries.

And research the company which is interviewing you – a big company will probably offer a far different salary package to a smaller one.

The most important thing to remember when discussing your salary is that it is a negotiation. The first figure you mention probably won’t be the figure you agree on; but it is a figure from which you will only negotiate down.

The key is to negotiate from a position of strength. In other words you have to believe that you are bringing something to the table. Even if you’re a recent graduate, you still have individual, unique skills to offer and its important to bear that in mind.

“My problem is that I never really see it as an equal discussion,” says Ian.

“I feel like they’ve got a figure in mind and unless I say the same amount or below then they won’t give me the job. It never occurs to me that they might not have a set figure, that they might be flexible according to who they want to give the job to.”

In fact, this is often the case. All employers know that finding the right person for the job isn’t easy; if they offer you the position and they really want you for the job, then they will adjust the package accordingly.

Asking for a slightly higher salary will not affect the interviewer’s decision to give you the job. If an employer indicates a salary range, they will pay the top figure if they find the right person for the job. If you’re not comfortable asking for the top amount, then go for just above mid-range; it’s important to give the impression that you are worth a decent salary.

It’s equally important to be flexible about the figure that is finally offered to you; if the company cannot pay the salary you want, there may be other parts of the package that can bring it up to a more acceptable level.

“When I left university I was offered a dream job as a production assistant in a TV company,” says Joely, “but the money was appalling. I asked for more and they simply said they were offering me the going rate. At first I was going to turn it down, but they offered to send me on all sorts of courses and would ensure I was an assistant producer in a year’s time.

“And they stuck to their word; a year later I was earning £10,000 more and on a fast-track to being a producer. It was a fantastic opportunity – and although I was utterly skint for a year, the money I am earning now and will earn in the future more than makes up for it.”

Every job is a mixture of earning, learning and opportunity – salary is only one part of it. If the salary is less than you want – and non-negotiable – then suggest other benefits the company might give you: training courses, help with further study, extra holiday or a guarantee of promoting you, and increasing your salary, after a certain period, if your work is of a sufficiently high standard. Some people focus exclusively on salary when there may be other opportunities on offer that are far more valuable than an extra couple of grand.

Remember, a salary negotiation is a two-way conversation. You want to fill the position; they want the position filled. Focus on your strengths and your skills and suggest a salary that really reflects your worth.



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