We’ve all had the advice that we should not be too fussy when it comes to money; the salary of our first job. After all, we’re simply trying to gain experience and get onto the career ladder. And whilst this may still be true for individuals who lack specialist skill or qualification and where getting any job is the main goal, this is no longer the case for more skilled individuals, even those who’re at the beginning of their careers.

Setting the tone

For someone starting in a junior generalist admin role there is definitely something to be said about accepting a salary that might be on the low side, especially if it means that you gain access to the workplace and the opportunities to grow your skills and experience, including being available to take up new job opportunities within (and outside) the organisation. There is really no cap on salary growth for an individual like this because their opportunity to increase future earnings will be directly linked to how they progress during their careers and the type of work they take on.

However, for someone entering a profession, for example an accountant, engineer or developer, this is not the case. Their qualification and the skill set they possess mean that they will usually enter into an organisation midway up the organogram, and so their ability to skyrocket in salary is curtailed.

In specialist skilled roles your first salary really does matter. It sets the tone from which all of your future job offers, and the salaries attached, will be benchmarked. Experienced candidates often comment that they feel as if they’re playing ‘catch up’ with their salaries, often because they didn’t start high enough at the outset.

Know your worth

Market values differ from profession to profession and even between skill-sets within the same job families. The age-old equation of Supply vs. Demand will also impact the value that a particular individual has to organisations. In South Africa, where transformation is still a major focus area for business, the demographics of the individual will also likely impact their market value.

Before entering the job market it would be wise for individuals to do some research to better understand the type of role they would most likely be employed in, taking into account their level of experience (or lack thereof). Assessing the salaries currently on offer in these roles will give a good indication of the starting point for your salary demand.

Looking at remuneration surveys can be useful but it is often more helpful to work with a specialist recruiter, one who works in your area of expertise, because they will be able to fairly judge your market value in relation to their clients’ needs, the availability of skill currently, and the trends of job offers made in the past while.

Impact of Equal Pay for Work of Equal Value

The recently amended Employment Equity Act, in section 6, introduces legislation that seeks to ensure the elimination of discriminatory pay practices. The concept of equal pay for work of equal value, does not mean that every individual doing the same job earns exactly the same, but it does entrench the rationale for differentiation that would be permissible and acceptable in terms of fair discrimination. Experience and qualification are two such factors and companies will inevitably offer a newly qualified, less experienced individual, even one with highly specialist skill, less than a counterpart who has worked for some time. Of course, output and quality of work are also factors for consideration and individuals therefore have the ability, once employed, to prove that their value is the same (or greater) by comparison of the work outputs between both newly qualified and more experienced employees.

Top Tips

As you enter the job market, fresh from University, remember to balance your need for employment and experience with your expectations. Follow these top tips to boost your chances of securing a good first job at a fair salary:

  1. Do your homework and know what is reasonable for newly qualified professionals like yourself.

  2. Do an analysis of what you realistically need to survive. Factor in costs associated with travel to/from work, especially if the job you’re considering is not close to home.

  3. Ensure that your CV clearly indicates your knowledge and skills and the value you can bring to an organisation.

  4. Consider doing volunteer work in the interim, any additional experience you can include in your CV will improve your prospects of employment

  5. Grow your skills. Learn what skills are seen as valuable or essential, advanced MS Excel for example, and boost your abilities here. There are many online courses, often for free, that you can tap into.

  6. Brush up on your interviewing skills – a great first impression can definitely boost your chances of securing more money.

  7. Consider taking a lower offer if you can get the employer to include a salary review (within 6 months) and it’s written into your contract of employment

  8. Don’t be arrogant. No matter how in-demand your skills are, approach your interviews and especially salary discussions with humility. Over-confidence can be a deal breaker!

  9. Never pay anyone to find you a job – it’s against the law.

  10. Save! It may be tempting to spend all your hard earned cash but start a good habit from your first pay cheque and put something away every month.