Good starting pay 'still best way' to attract applicants

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 10, 2014

It may be only February, but for the bulk of final-year university students graduating in May, it is time to start looking at job prospects.

One thing that attracts applications is the starting salary, and expectations remain largely realistic today, as companies and potential employees factor in demand and supply.

"With healthy economic growth and particularly in industries or sectors that are booming, coupled with a low unemployment rate where skilled labour is highly sought after, the one thing that will keep going up has to be the salary," said Mr Ronald Lee, managing director of PrimeStaff Management Services.

This applies to starting salaries too, he added.

Fresh graduates in industries such as law, accountancy, engineering, information technology and medicine can expect a starting salary of $3,000 or above, he said.

However, those who do not have honours from other faculties may not get the same.

Mr Ong Jia Yang, 24, who is in his final year at Nanyang Technological University studying Chinese, agreed.

He intends to pursue a career in the media industry, as a producer for Mandarin programmes.

"I expect more than $2,500, but not more than $3,000. Having an honours in arts won't get you more than $3,000 according to market rates. I think I am being realistic," he said.

How one Big Four accounting firm, Deloitte Singapore, addresses the starting salary is by considering the salary expectations of graduates who apply to the Big Four firm each year.

"Rather than look at the general market or the accounting industry as a whole, we focus more closely on our peer group," said Ms Seah Gek Choo, talent partner at Deloitte Singapore.

This gives the firm an idea of what graduates expect, and it adjusts salaries to "remain competitive for the top talent".

Those starting work in industries where skilled talent is in demand also see greater salary increases, compared with other industries.

Data from career portal STJobs showed that the Government, civil service and statutory boards saw the highest percentage increase in average salary, when comparing last year with 2012.

This was followed by accounting and audit, then non-electronics manufacturing, which are industries with constant demand for professionals.

"In the last two years, our average salaries have generally increased by normal annual incremental levels, factoring inflation," said Deloitte's Ms Seah.

She added that salary increases this year will largely depend on the business economy and job market conditions in the Big Four firms.

Mr Lee said: "In any business, it is ultimately about supply and demand. More and more locals are shying away from such jobs with low salary and long or odd working hours. Foreigners are not any easier to hire, given the employment regulatory climate."

Cash is king and still the best way to attract employees, said Mr Lee, so companies should begin with higher starting and basic salaries.

He noted that this will create a "snowball effect" on the price of products and services, or profit margins.

As a graduate, you might consider looking at smaller companies as well.

Mr Lee said: "We would encourage smaller companies to pay a starting salary that is higher than market rate to not only draw people, but also retain them longer."

He said that firms with an established or international brand name could still attract workers at the current rate, but noted that this may be challenging.

This could mean a chance to push for a better starting salary.

As a survey by international recruiter Robert Walters showed, employees who moved to a new job last year picked up an average raise of 15 per cent to 20 per cent, a level that is likely to be met this year as well.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on Feb 10, 2014

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