The Truth About Getting a High Salary After Graduation: Expectations vs Reality

By the SMU Social Media Team 

The annual Graduate Employment Salary survey has revealed that fresh graduates’ starting salaries are at an all-time high today, but will this trend continue?

The future looks very bright for recent grads, with rosy reports aplenty about starting pays. However, how realistic is it to expect a stratospheric salary at your first job?

According to the annual Graduate Employment Salary survey, graduates from the Class of 2017 had received an all-time high starting salary. In fact, The Straits Times released the figures from this joint survey of the different universities in February 2018 showing that on average, most graduates have reported a monthly starting salary of $3,400 while some are getting as much as $5,000 a month.

Based on the report, this figure is said to be the highest since 2012, when the annual survey of graduates’ income review began, with fields such as Business, Economics and Computing recording the highest increments in graduates’ starting salaries.

Within Singapore Management University (SMU), data collected showed that out of the 1,997 students from the Class of 2017, 93.9 per cent were able to find full-time employment within six months of graduating. And amongst these, 65.4 per cent were offered jobs before graduation.

So, what does this mean for fresh graduates? Is a high-paying salary a given in today’s economic climate? What are the other factors that graduates should consider when job hunting?

We speak to Prasanthi Guda, Senior Assistant Director from the Dato’ Kho Hui Meng Career Centre, to get an insider’s take on things.


What are the misconceptions when considering remuneration?

Prasanthi: A popular misconception is that the starting salary is the most important factor that graduates must consider for their first job. This would be a myopic view of the opportunity and may not be a real assessment of the job offer. Graduates should evaluate the entire value proposition of a career with any company when they consider accepting a job offer.

Companies often plan their graduate programmes with not just a starting salary in mind but a training program and perhaps good career progression with international stints included. A better way to evaluate job offers is to inquire what is being offered by the company over the first two to three years as a whole.

Another consideration would be the impact of this job on longer-term career prospects not just within the company, but also if other opportunities were to come along.


What other aspects of remuneration should one consider? 

Prasanthi: Training of new employees, exposure to different departments, overseas travel and learning opportunities, mentorship and guidance for your career could be some considerations when evaluating a job offer.


How should graduates make decisions in a holistic way? 

Prasanthi: Identifying their own personality traits values and preferences is a good place to start their career planning. Researching and identifying companies which reflect their values, attending their presentations and networking sessions to understand more about their products and business, speaking with their employees to find out what drew them to the firm and kept them there will help graduates better understand whether or not the company is right for them.

At every opportunity provided, candidates should ask questions to see the value they can create if they choose to join the company and what the company can offer them in return. This should be an honest evaluation of their abilities as well and compensation expected should be a fair ask.


What is realistic in terms of expectations? 

Prasanthi: Some companies, especially in banking and consulting, may have defined career paths for their graduate programmes. However, others may have defined their graduate roles based on their performance over the first couple of years. Not all companies may be able to offer a very quick growth plan depending on the nature of their business, the industry standards as well as the individual’s skills acquired over the years.

Graduates must concentrate on their learning curve and understand the business and the industry before expecting to grow in the industry. They should be aware of industry standards through research on their own as well as conversations with seniors and industry experts to manage their expectations.

If it is performance-based, they have to ensure that their skillset stays relevant and that they stay competent and valuable to the company over the first few years. It is also a chance to build relationships, reputation and earn the confidence of peers and bosses at work. The rewards will soon follow if candidates focus on creating value for the company.


What homework should one do before indicating their expected salary? 

Prasanthi: Graduates can use the Graduate Employment Salary (GES) data released by MOE each year as the basis for indicating expected salary amount. That is rooted in real statistical data obtained from graduates from each of the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHL) in Singapore and would form a good basis to suggest to companies what they are expecting. However, it would depend on the company and the industry as to what best they can offer.

It would be wise of the candidate to mention that he/she would be willing to consider the company’s offer anyway while quoting the GES amount as the expected salary and to emphasise interest and keenness on joining the firm.

Ultimately, fresh graduates need to understand that there are varying factors that contribute to salary offers from the demand for certain skill sets and knowledge to changes in Singapore’s economic climate and labour market.


One thought on “The Truth About Getting a High Salary After Graduation: Expectations vs Reality

  1. Jamie Gabriel Broden

    Wow! This really helped me set my expectation on what to expect when searching for a job after graduation. It is common for us to have a very high expectation when it comes to the salary being offered on our first job since we do not have any idea still about what the industry salary average is. Researching the industry salary average is really important because when asked about your expected salary then you gave a higher rate, it could be a deal breaker for companies.

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