LAST_UPDATESat, 23 Jun 2018 9pm

60% Fresh Graduates Expect RM3,500 Starting Salary – Is It Unrealistic?

HOW much did you earn as a fresh graduate? And if you are a fresh graduate currently seeking for employment, how much are you expecting to earn?

According to online recruitment platform JobStreet, in its latest survey, 60 per cent of fresh graduates expected a salary of RM3,500 (US$818) for their first job, while 30 per cent want to be paid as high as RM6,500 (US$1,520). However, the average salary offered to fresh graduates in Malaysia is between RM2,100 to RM2,500 (US$491 to US$585).

Are fresh graduates now demanding more than what they have to offer? Seems like it, as JobStreet’s findings also suggest that 70 per cent of employers dub our local fresh graduates ‘just average’ in terms of their standards, and had poor attitudes, despite their academic qualifications.

JobStreet country manager Chook Yuh Yng said based on the survey, “The top cited reason by 68 per cent of respondents was that fresh graduates asked for unrealistic salaries and benefits.”

Times may have changed, and the cost of living may be higher now, so how unrealistic are fresh graduates for expecting a salary of RM3,500?

Also, is it really important for fresh graduates to get paid the expected amount of salary at an entry-level, or does starting in the right company, and being in the right job matter more? Malaysian Digest finds out.

Not All Fresh Graduates Aim For A High Salary

While RM3,500 seems like an attractive amount for an entry-level job, fresh graduates gave us mixed reviews, weighing in money against working experience.   

In an interview with Malaysian Digest, Norhayati Din, 25, an administration clerk in TH Group Berhad, who graduated last year and has been working for less than a year asserted that it is understandable for fresh graduates to ask for RM3,500 as a starting pay, considering the cost of living that has risen significantly in recent years.

“When it comes to negotiating the starting pay for the first job, I fully understand why fresh graduates are determined to demand for the amount due to certain factors such as their academic qualifications and capabilities for the job.

“There is nothing unrealistic about asking for RM3,500 at an entry-level since the cost of living has been rising over the past three or five years. Besides, it is worth noting that the starting pay has not been adjusted much over the past few years,” she opines.

To further justify her views, Norhayati adds: “The cost of living in Malaysia has risen to the point that most average workers, especially the younger generation has to live on a shoestring budget following the government’s subsidy rationalisation programme and the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) last April.

“To rub salt into the wound, the recent hike in toll rates and the raised fares in public transport have worsen the situation even further. With that being said, I am not trying to sound unrealistic, but I must say fresh graduates should be paid accordingly, or perhaps higher than the current salary rate considering the current situation. By doing this, they will be able to service their education loans and other financial commitments.”

Noting that most Malaysians tend to spend beyond their means amidst the rising cost of living as they struggle to make ends meet, she concludes, “As such, I am of the opinion that the starting pay should be adjusted accordingly and it must keep pace with inflation.”

Chow Sok Fun, 24, a refund executive who is employed with AirAsia Global Shared Services Sdn Bhd (AGSS), however, begs to differ with Norhayati’s views. 

“As a fresh graduate myself, I am of the opinion it is unrealistic for fresh graduates to expect the entry salary of RM3,500 as we don’t have ample work experience.

“Speaking of which, fresh graduates should be realistic and they need to reflect on themselves. They should know their capabilities, experience, and their employers’ readiness before quoting a high starting pay for their first job,” says Chow, who just graduated last November with a degree in Business.

She however feels that qualifications and job roles play a significant part in determining the salary offered, “Although I personally think it is unrealistic for fresh graduates to expect a starting pay of RM3,500, I must say that it should also be based on their academic qualifications. In its simplest term, it is acceptable for a medical graduate to have a higher pay than a linguistics graduate.”

Echoing the stance of Chow, Nesyamalar Thayalan, 24, also a fresh graduate, who is currently employed with Citibank as a corporate action representative, said it is unreasonable for fresh graduates to expect a high entry salary with their lack of work experience, skills and knowledge acquired for the job.

“When I applied for my first job, I quoted a starting pay of somewhere between RM2,500 and RM3,000, as I believe that is the current starting pay rate [for fresh graduates].

“While I don’t deny the fact some fresh graduates are all-rounders and versatile, I am of the opinion that they have to start from the bottom as there is no shortcut,” she quipped.

Leaving with an advice for those seeking to start their first job, she said, “Instead of demanding for a higher starting pay, fresh graduates should be more open and eager to learn on the job, and know what their workplace demands from them.”

Intan Zulaika Arfudi, 23, a fresh graduate from The Ohio State University, whose been working as an online news portal journalist for over two months now, feels it is unrealistic for fresh graduates to expect a high entry salary especially during their first year of employment. 

“Even though I know it might be unrealistic to expect a starting pay of RM3,500 as a fresh graduate, I would always push my luck to demand a higher salary considering the significant rise in cost of living in recent years.

“But in saying so, realistically, a fresh graduate will always be a fresh graduate – no matter how excellent you are academically.

“I guess in the end, you just need to be realistic and work your way up if you want a higher pay,” she asserted.

Employers Are Not Ready To Meet The Demands Of Fresh Graduates

We then asked the executive director of Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF), Datuk Shamsuddin Bardan (pic) if the expected starting salary of fresh graduates these days were unrealistic.

Shamsuddin: "Given the current poor job market in Malaysia, I must say it is unrealistic for fresh graduates to demand for RM3,500 as their starting pay for their first job, even in bigger cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Penang."Shamsuddin: "Given the current poor job market in Malaysia, I must say it is unrealistic for fresh graduates to demand for RM3,500 as their starting pay for their first job, even in bigger cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Penang."“Given the current poor job market in Malaysia, I must say it is unrealistic for fresh graduates to demand for RM3,500 as their starting pay for their first job, even in bigger cities such as Kuala Lumpur, Selangor and Penang,” he shared.

“In Malaysia, the labour market condition now is more of an employer’s market and it is expected to experience a crunch as the economic outlook is fraught with major challenges in these past years.

“The average salary offered to fresh graduates is somewhere between RM2,300 to RM2,500, depending on their academic qualifications. I don’t think Malaysian employers, especially those who run small and medium enterprises (SMEs) or micro-businesses are ready to pay a higher amount as they have low profit margins,” he said.  

Further commenting on the huge entry-level salary gap between local fresh graduates compared with other foreign countries, Shamsuddin enlightens, “People do tend to compare the starting salary of local fresh graduates with our neighbouring country, Singapore. However, I feel that it is unfair to do so as the job market between the two countries are different, and so is the cost of living cost, productivity and work efficiency there, among others.”

He then stressed, “Fresh graduates should not have high expectations for their starting salary. Also, they should not immediately reject a job offer simply because of the low salary offered, instead equip themselves with enough working experience and relevant knowledge to excel in their careers.

“These are plus points that will put them ahead of the job-seeking pack later. After all, it does take a lot of effort to stand out and secure a placement in a company of their choice.”

Know The Current Salary Benchmark And Market Trends

If you are a fresh graduate, it is important to first put yourself in the employer’s shoes and be aware that some companies may have very structured new grad programmes with no flexibility in terms of salary negotiation – like jobs with the government, military, public education, or civil service, to name a few.

When it comes to salary negotiation, candidates must consider the currently salary benchmark, and take time to understand the company’s remuneration package before applying for a position there, said JobStreet country manager Chook Yuh Yng (pic) when contacted by Malaysian Digest. Chook: "“If a fresh graduate demands 30 per cent or 50 per cent more than the current market rate without any relevant working experience, then it would be fair to say that it is unrealistic."Chook: "“If a fresh graduate demands 30 per cent or 50 per cent more than the current market rate without any relevant working experience, then it would be fair to say that it is unrealistic."

“If a fresh graduate demands 30 per cent or 50 per cent 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 detailed.

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

“We usually advise 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 make sure they attend the interview upon receiving an invitation.

"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 provide other useful information that might help them seal the deal,” she said.

She then advised, “If they want a huge jump in salary, they must be able to justify the amount they are asking for,” but then warned, “Unless prompted, they should avoid asking about the salary package during the first interview, as it is important for candidates to show that they are genuinely interested in the job itself.”

Surely, salary isn’t everything for everyone when considering a position and job offer, but it is definitely important. And although it may be the deciding factor to secure a job, fresh graduates may want to consider their priorities before starting their job search.

Fresh graduates must also remember that the best jobs are not all about salary, and if they can look beyond that, they should know that it's best to seize a great opportunity at doing something they really enjoy, to save them from regretting any decision in the future.

Salary aside  it's true, no one can decide if you are moving in the right direction of your career path, except you.