“So what were you thinking of for your salary?” was the question I was asked during a recent discussion about a potential job. Stunned that I could have any say, I offered a range based on some quick research I’d done and happily settled in the middle.
For graduating or recently graduated students, having the money talk is hard. It’s awkward, full of “umms” and sweaty palms. But really, your income is just as important as maintaining a budget, and you and your skills are worth the investment.
Before I go any further, it’s critical that I make something clear: this conversation is not always appropriate and, when it is, it requires tact. You cannot demand any salary you want, and there’s no need to further fuel the “entitled millennials” stereotype.
But based on numbers alone, this conversation is crucial and relevant. The 2015 Impact of Student Debt report found that students requiring a loan leave school with an average debt of $28,000. The youth “un- and underemployment” rate in 2014 was 27.7 per cent. A 2013 study conducted by BMO suggested that students grossly overestimate how much they will be earning once they graduate, expecting a starting pay of more than $50,000 annually. In reality, it takes two years after graduating to hit even $45,000.
No wonder grads don’t negotiate their salaries — or think that they can’t.
“(Students) are unsure of the skills and experience that they bring and the value attached to them,” explained Nikki Waheed, career consultant at Ryerson’s career centre.
It’s no joke. I’m happy with the way my conversation turned out, but in a matter of about 60 seconds I had to make a decision that would undoubtedly affect my finances for the rest of my life.
But it was worth it. Taking initiative in deciding your salary demonstrates that you actively think about your career and how it affects your outside life.
Especially if you have niche skills or background experiences — you might as well leverage that.
Adrian Ma, an assistant professor at Ryerson who specializes in branding, admits that not all companies may be interested in personal brands, but if they are, it’s worth a shot.
“Study their brand’s personality, mandate, energy and goals, and see how well they align with your own,” he explained. “Tailor your portfolio.”
Furthermore, Waheed emphasizes labour market research on industry rates. This is something that employers can relate to. If an employer decides they can’t accept your offer, Waheed suggests considering if you can afford to take the job in question or if you could find opportunities elsewhere.
When in doubt, Ryerson students can access the career centre as a “one-stop shop” for all career questions. There is a career consultant for each faculty and they can help in areas ranging from the job search itself to networking in your field.
So approach with cautious confidence. As Waheed said, “there is something to be said about knowing how much you’re worth and not underselling your skills.”
This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on March 9, 2016.