What am I worth?

Stating your demands for your salary in your first job may be quite a daunting task.

Your salary is determined by demand. It is easier getting a decent start wage, if you are an IT engineer as they are in high demand at the moment. A potential employer will gladly pay to get their hands on you. However, food engineers may find it hard to push the start wage with Arla in Aarhus because there are many applicants and because Arla is a global corporation located in a large city.

“We would never underpay anyone, but we sometimes find that young people are confused when they see the salary statistics, and then we need to explain to them how it really is.”
Lars Uhd Nørgaard, HR-director of LINAK.

Most new candidates who are invited to interviews must compete with other fresh graduates, which makes wages a competitive parameter. It can be challenging taking the lead and discussing your salary when you have been called to an interview. It does not mean that you should undercut the other applicants (you have no chance of knowing what they will be asking), but you can try making the company disclose some digits. This may result in you getting an offer: “We have a set salary package, which means that all our new candidates are paid the same.” If this is what they tell you, ask what exactly that means to avoid returning home with absolutely no idea of how much that is. Most employers will let on that your salary is within a certain margin, letting you return home to conduct further research. In some firms, salaries are never discussed during the first interview, while others have a contract ready immediately. This is especially true of the public sector (municipalities, regions and government agencies) where the entire salary package has been assessed by the union representative and other authorities beforehand, making it clear what your salary will be.

Regardless of which model you will meet at the interview, you need to be well-prepared in this area too. You will have checked IDA or another relevant professional organization for their recommendations, which leaves you able to state a qualified proposal. If you are going to work for a company that employs many types of professionals, find out what other academics make in that particular company to find an indicator of the wage level. You do not want to come across as insecure when stating your proposal.

Do not underestimate yourself

Consider wage negotiations a mind game that you are never to take personally. Voice your professional skills: what is it you can do innovation wise? Which technological news do you bring with you? What did you learn at university that is beneficial to this particular company?

  • Salary calculation. If you are a member of IDA, they have an interactive salary calculator which may help you figure out the wage level for the type of job you are looking for. You can contact the company’s union representative, or someone else who has recently been employed, to learn about salary. The legal staff at IDA will help you by reading contracts before you sign them.
  • Consider the recipient. Are you discussing salaries with an HR officer or a professional? Do you need to translate your skills into ordinary Danish or are you able to use professional terminology when promoting yourself? Depending on the people you are discussing your salary with, you need to be careful never to over- or under sell your skills. An older engineer may benefit from having your qualifications “translated” because there are many more study programmes now than previously.
  • Differences. Wages differ geographically, and are usually higher in cities. Wages are also typically higher in private businesses than they are in the public sector. As a rule, a higher education yields a higher salary than the one allotted to someone with a BSc.
  • Recommendations are instructive. Several HR departments have criticized IDA’s minimum wage recommendations for being too optimistic. Consider them an indicator of an average where most new candidates will find themselves in the lower half. It might be relevant to find out when salaries are adjusted again so as not to remain chronically low paid in comparison with co-workers.
  • In 2016, the recommendations of IDA for civil engineers (cand. scient) and others with a long-cycle higher education (MSc og higher) is set at a minimum wage of 37,900 DKK per month. Bachelors and others with a medium-cycle higher education: 36,900 DKK per month. This is a gross pay and includes an 8% pension deposit.
  • Wages are not just wages. Remember that a salary is more than the amount of money you are getting paid. How many weeks off are you entitled to? Employment benefits such as phones, cars, gym memberships, cheap lunch arrangements, parking, company healthcare schemes and lieu days all need to be taken into account. Ask what else is included instead of immediately accepting a salary that sounds a little low.

Sources: IDA, Djøf, Jobfinder.

Sign a contract
Not all companies are pleased with IDA’s wage levels because the suggested wages include an 8% pension contribution. Also, there is a geographical difference between wages that IDA’s calculations do not consider. “We sometimes see that people misunderstand the wages, and for that reason alone, IDA ought to clearly show what components make up the figures,” said the HR director of LINAK, Lars Uhd Nørgaard, to the net-based media Jobfinder. He also criticizes that the recommendations are based upon voluntary reports from IDA members. “We would never underpay anyone, but we sometimes find that young people are confused when they see the salary statistics, and then we need to explain to them how it really is.”

You may decide to quit asking questions about salary if the answers are cringe worthy: “If we are right for each other, we will figure out the salary, too.” Remember to never start in your new job without a contract signed by both parties.