“Begin by asking for a realistic, yet optimistic, starting salary”

Marianne Bom & Rie Jerichow, Publicér

What is a realistic starting salary as a recently graduated engineer? What to know before starting your first salary negotiation.

Nothing is ever easy the first time around. The same goes for the first salary negotiation as a recently graduated engineer. But if you come prepared, it actually does not have to be so hard. So says Brian Laursen, who is a lawyer and gives advice to engineers about salary and terms of employment in Ingeniørforeningen, IDA.

“It is very important to be prepared for salary negotiations. When the employer asks what you expect, it is best to start off with asking for a realistic, yet optimistic, starting salary, rather than letting the first bid come from the employer,” he says. The advantage of the applicant making the first bid is that the applicant is setting the starting point for the negotiation. The starting point for the employer will often be somewhat low, since it is in the best interest of the employer to get the employee as cheaply as possible. “If you let the employer go first, because you have not prepared well enough, they can start off too low compared to market pricing and your own expectations. They get to define where the negotiations start, and it can be hard to raise the salary to where you could have gotten it by making the first bid,” says Brian Laursen.

Three important tips on salary

    • Prepare for salary negotiation before the first interview
    • Check out IDA’s salary statistics and salary calculator, and know what is a realistic but optimistic starting point for you in particular, for the job you are applying for
    • Follow your heart. Do not choose a job by salary alone

Source: Brian Laursen, consultant and lawyer, IDA.

Salary negotiation all year

When you get the job, salary negotiations continue all year. You should not lean back and wait for the formal negotiation. Whereas the first salary negotiation is concerned with your qualifications, the following negotiation is about what results you have achieved. You have to make the boss aware of your successes throughout the year so they do not go unnoticed. It is also a good idea to work on a list of good arguments for why you should be paid more: problems you have solved, clients you have brought in, results you have achieved. Then you can pick and choose, build up, and polish your strongest arguments so you know what to say at the next formal salary negotiation.

Source: Brian Laursen, consultant and lawyer, IDA.

Benefits are also worth money
Despite this, members of IDA often let the employer go first. It is not uncommon for the engineer to do their salary research too late, either. Thus they might set their starting point too low, or accept a salary which is low compared to the business, the market, and their colleagues. If the salary negotiation is not complete, you can of course follow up by suggesting a higher salary or some terms which are worth money. This can be salary during lunch, more yearly vacation days, paid newspapers, or other personnel benefits. But it is best to be prepared, take the initiative, and suggest a realistic but optimistic starting salary when the conversation turns towards pay. Optimistic, because then there is some give during negotiations without the salary ending too low. “It is not necessarily a bad thing if the employer doesn’t agree to your starting point. Because this means that you have not placed yourself too low,” says Brian Laursen.

Salary statistics and salary calculators
The research should start early, because the question of salary could appear as early as the first phone interview. IDA’s website is a good place to start. Members can log on and find comprehensive salary statistics for employees in the public and private sectors. You will also find the salary calculator, which members can use to find a suitable salary level for their individual profile: for instance, seniority, job type, geography, and size of company.

Good research also includes talking to other engineers about salaries, according to Brian Laursen. It is in the employees’ best interest to be open about the salary. “Studies show that openness about salaries results in a more equal pay. In an open salary culture, you will have the best cards on your hand, because you know the colleagues’ level of salary, and background for the pay raises they have received,” he says.
If the job is in a company with a collective union agreement, you can call the trust representative, and ask about the salary and terms of employment. If the salary is negotiated by individual contract – which it is for more than 85 percent of IDA’s members – you can perhaps talk to people you know in the company or the business. You can also call IDA and get tips for the salary negotiation.

If you are caught off guard
According to IDA’s salary statistics, a recently graduated master of science in engineering in the private sector will get an average of 39,200 DKK, and a bachelor of engineering in the private sector will get an average of 37,300 DKK a month, including pension and taxable benefits. Employees in the public sector get an average of 34-35,000 DKK (2018 figure). A tip for a recently graduated engineer, who is caught off guard by the question of salary, is to say that you expect to get something in the low 40s, says Brian Laursen.
“When you mention a round number, you show them that your level is around there. By not stating a concrete figure, you set an ambitious starting point, which is not ultimate, and open up for negotiations. But be sure to know whether you are talking about salary including or excluding pension. It is best to negotiate salary including pension, because then you know what you are talking about. It sucks to accept a salary and then find out that you will not get 10 percent extra as you thought,” says Brian Laursen. When you have received a contract, IDA offers to read it through to see if something should be adjusted. It could be the salary, but it could also be the terms. For instance, the employer may want to prolong the notice of resignation, or demand clauses which limit a fast job change to customers or com­petitors.

Follow your heart
A last tip is to remember to follow your heart during the process. You may be flattered by a job offer with a high salary. But is it the job you really want?
“It is important that you do what you want to do. If it points in the direction you want to go, it might be right for you to take a job with a lower salary – for instance in a startup company. During your first job, you will test your qualifications, which you can use to get other jobs and a higher salary later. At the same time, you will get to work with something you are passionate about.