Fresh graduates seeking employment are coming into a challenging job market. Last year’s cohort struggled to find jobs – with only 47% of private university graduates and 78% of public university graduates finding full-time work 6 months after graduation.
You can list many reasons for this, such as a slowing global economy, MNCs relocating their operations abroad, a mismatch of skills and job opportunities, and unrealistic salary and job expectations on the part of jobseekers.
While most of these factors are beyond the control of fresh graduates, the latter is not. It is ironic that graduate employment surveys and salary guides could be one of the most harmful “well-intentioned” datasets ever released.
Here’s why fresh graduates would do well not to pay too much heed to these salary guides in their quest to land their first job.
Salary Guide Methodology Is Inherently Flawed
Even if you just wanted to have a glimpse of the job market for your own reference, employment surveys are a very poor way of getting that information.
Time Lag: Because schools (rightfully) want to give a reasonable lead time before quizzing their graduates, there is a 6-month wait before the survey is conducted. By the time the data is compiled and released, some of the salary information could have been based on renumeration packages negotiated months ago, and are not reflective of current market conditions.
Pigeonhole Problem: Salary data is sorted by industry and vocation, but that is grossly insufficient to make any useful decisions. For example, companies with the same role of “Accounts Manager” or “Software Engineering Lead” might have vastly different job responsibilities and skill requirements, and consequently salary range, which is impossible to distinguish and represent in a survey.
Survey Sampling: Employment surveys and salary guides are put together by schools and human resources firms, respectively. Out of the large pool of people who get sent the survey, a comparatively small portion actually reply. Obviously, those who are not employed cannot contribute salary data, while those who secured jobs within 6-months of their final examinations will include a proportion who are headhunted or are already on scholarships.
Both headhunted roles and scholarships command a premium over regular pay packages, which further skews salary data. This could be the reason why on one hand, graduate unemployment is on the rise, starting salaries for fresh graduates have also been reported to be at an all-time high.
Nobody Likes To Think They Are ‘Below Average’
People usually think of themselves as ‘slightly above average’ in all matters. But the definition of ‘median’ means that 50% of people necessarily earn more than the median while another 50% earn less than the median.
Expecting yourself to earn exactly or slight more than the median salary is unrealistic and improbable at least half the time.
The same principle can be seen in sports like football. Top-tier footballers like Cristiano Ronaldo command the fees they do because of their skills and fanbase, and it would be ridiculous for lesser-known and lesser-skilled footballers to demand to be paid the median or average professional salary, because they know every player is paid according to the value they bring to the team. If they want that figure to go up, they need to bring more to the table – so why should job seekers be any different?
Great (Unrealistic) Expectations
With the problems outlined above, employment surveys and salary guides have the problem of skewing expectations of fresh graduates, who might otherwise have no clue about the job market and now suddenly have an unrealistic salary range in mind.
The nature of the job market is such that employers would need to offer you a salary that is competitive and representative to the value you can provide, otherwise they will lose you to another company. If you’re applying for a job based on the median or average salary, without any self-awareness about where you stand in the spectrum of jobseekers, then employers will probably see it as a detrimental trait.
No matter how much the highest-paying jobs for fresh graduates pay, it would surely not be as much as the next tier of jobs that you can progress to after your entry-level job. Rather than be fixated over which company pays the most for entry-level positions, it would be in your interests to instead look at which company and job gives you the opportunity to gain the required experience and skills to advance your career to the next stage (and increase your earning potential).
If there is an offer on the table that allows you to do just that, rather than feel shortchanged by the lower than median salary, focus on building your skillset and capabilities as a high-value employee. Once you have a proven track record of excellence, a pay raise is a matter of time, otherwise, you’ll have your pick of other jobs out there.
Fresh graduates should look at the job market with an eye towards their long-term career development, and seize on job opportunities with appreciation, and not entitlement. All the best, and here’s to a long, fruitful and fulfilling career ahead!
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