When you’ve been job searching for several months and the idea of getting any money in your bank account seems like a dream, it’s natural to answer the question ‘And what salary are you hoping for?’ with ‘Anything’.

But you don’t wanna do that, trust us. Negotiating your first salary is a tricky one – how much do you ask for?! What if you ask for too much, will it affect your chances of getting the job? And what are other people in the same job as you getting paid? Talking about it isn’t the most common of conversation topics, so knowing a realistic wage to ask for in front of your potential employer can be pretty daunting.

To shade light on some salary queries, we turned to Catherine Elmore, Resourcing Business Partner at Telefonica to ask her view on how we should approach the ‘salary’ issue when we’re applying for our first job: “If it were me I would work out what I needed to live – a reasonable budget and then convert that to an annual salary. Plus add on a bit for entertainment, actually enjoying my life.”

“I’d also do some research on Glassdoor as to what entry-level salaries are in the industry I was moving into. It collects information from employees of organisation on what that company is like to work for along with salary information for the various roles. This way you know what you need to earn to love and combining that with what the average industry salary is for the type of role you are looking at you can come up with a reasonable figure for job applications.”

As a final point, Catherine says it is important to remember that, being new to the role, it’s likely you’re going to be at the lower-end of the scale until you gain further experience. Here’s our guide.

How to work out your first salary

It’s probably helpful to do this straight away, rather than when you’re sat there with an application form staring at Q 17: “What salary are you expecting?”.

Step one: Use an online salary calculator

Now it’s important to not take these calculators as solid gold. Oh so you should be paid £35,000 as a starting salary? Nice, but just a tad unrealistic. They give you a good idea compared to other industries, but of course they aren’t 100% accurate. Find a ‘Salary Calculator’ on our Tools page, write in your potential job role (you might have to choose similar ones from a drop-down menu), and the city you’ll be working and calculate. Take the ‘low’ option as a measure, and perhaps knock off a couple of grand depending on the business size. As a back-up and comparison, use Prospects by finding a role that most suits yours, and click on ‘salary and conditions’. They give a range of what your starting salary could be.

Step two: Work out what you need to survive

Ultimately, your salary is what you live off, so saying you’ll work for £12,000 a year before taking into account that you’ll barely be able to afford your rent is not the wisest decision. So this bit is probably the most important of all. Add up all your outgoings, and be as harsh as possible: rent, bills, phone bill, gym membership, food shop, travel costs plus £200-300 to live off for the month (going out, meals out, clothes, etc. depending how much of a big spender you are). How much does that add up to? And what’s the minimum salary you could get from that? You want to feel comfortable with your wage and not be turning down social events because you literally have NO money.

Step three: Contact recruitment agencies

Going a bit deeper into your search, find out what the experts say. Find local recruitment companies to the city you’re applying for a job in, and ask for a quick meeting or telephone call to rack their brains a bit. NOTE: It’s probably best to do this as soon as possible, rather than a day before an interview! Explain your job role and your experience, and ask how much these roles usually offer. They could give you a better understanding of what entry-level roles usually pay, compared to someone with a few years’ experience.

Step four: Ask your peers  

This is slightly harder, because it’s a topic people don’t usually discuss. But you can wing it, because you don’t necessarily have to directly say ‘OH HI HOW MUCH DO YOU GET PAID?!’. Start with your mum, dad, or close family who will most likely be honest and realistic about your wage. If you have friends from university who are working in a similar industry as you, pose the question: “Do you think asking for £20,000 a year is acceptable for this role?”. They might say yes (translated: I got that too), or say no (translated: I was on less than that when I started).

Step five: Utilise those contacts

You know that thing we’re always telling you to do? That N word (not that one)? Yep, utilise those contacts you’ve made while networking on work experience or during internships who work in a similar field to your industry, and ask them. Again, not the ‘What do you get paid?’ approach, but the ‘How much do you think I should expect in an entry-level role?’ one. They’re more than likely to be happy to chat with you, and it shows initiative that you’re doing your own research to make sure your asked-for salary is acceptable.

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