Finding the right balance: The value of experience over pay

Feb 12, 2024

4 mins

Finding the right balance: The value of experience over pay
Selin Bucak

Freelance Journalist

It’s a common dilemma for recent graduates. Should you take that job that will look great on your resume and help you fulfill your career ambitions in the long run, even if it doesn’t pay that well? Or, should you hold out for a higher-paying opportunity that might not come?

Finding the right balance can be even more difficult if expectations don’t match reality. A study conducted by Real Estate Witch earlier this year found that college students in the US are overestimating their starting salaries by $30,000. The same survey found that about 97% of students would consider lowering their salary expectations if the job comes with other perks.

Career consultants say the experience you gain in your first job can help set the tone for the rest of your work life, so you shouldn’t dismiss an opportunity just because it doesn’t pay what you expect in terms of a salary. But you should also remember that compensation is always negotiable.

Consider all aspects of a job not just salary

“If a job offers significant career advancement, networking opportunities, or unique experiences but doesn’t pay well, it can still be worthwhile,” says Sarah Berry, professional career advisor at Career Consultants. “Consider the long-term impact on your CV and future opportunities. However, ensure that you can manage financially and that the trade-off is justified in terms of future career benefits.”

In her opinion, it is important to prioritize long-term career growth and personal fulfillment over short-term gains.

Of course, that is not to say that you should disregard the importance of compensation. But if a job is in line with what you want to do, your values, and you can see growth potential, you shouldn’t just dismiss it, according to career strategy coach Tiffany Uman. “I would still move forward [with an interview], unless it is significantly off from what you’d expect. That’s for a few reasons. It is possible that might not be their final number,” she explains.

“You should also inquire about the different types of growth opportunities. There are things like benefits, the bonus structure, and what the salary trajectory looks like. You should also ask what kind of support is provided in driving that movement forward.” Maybe you can accept a certain base salary but negotiate for an extra week of vacation, she advises.

Berry agrees: “To evaluate job offers, consider factors like salary, benefits, company culture, growth opportunities, work-life balance, and how the role aligns with your career goals. Weigh the pros and cons of each offer in terms of your long-term career objectives and personal needs.”

What to do when you think the pay is too low

You should never take the first offer, advises Pamela Weinberg, corporate career coach, speaker, and personal branding strategist. She says the company will expect you to negotiate. “Don’t be afraid even if you’re so excited about the job. The only time you really have leverage in this process is when you know they want you but they don’t yet know you want them. Use that as your opportunity to make a counteroffer and do it wisely,” she adds.

And to strike the right balance between experience and fair compensation, you should assess the market rate for your skills and experience, Berry says. Graduates should aim for positions that offer learning opportunities, and promise growth.

The benefit of salary transparency

Thanks to rising pay transparency gone are the days of wondering if you’re being low-balled without any way of finding it out.

An increasing number of employers are sharing starting salaries in job listings and for those that don’t, there are resources that candidates can use to get an idea of a number that would make sense for the specific role in a specific industry.

Many employers are also including a range of benefits and perks that might make their company attractive to young graduates. “Within the US, it’s becoming more and more prominent for states to have to articulate and share salary info very explicitly. We are seeing a shift in more salary transparency, and having that fairness in the interview process—which is great,” Uman adds.

How to negotiate salary

Research, research, and research. When negotiating pay for your first job, the most important tool you have in your arsenal is research. With increasing salary transparency, it is easier these days to get an accurate idea of what the compensation for a specific role should be.

Look up industry standards and “know your worth and be prepared to articulate how your skills and potential add value to the company,” Berry says.

Of course, you should be open to compromise but be confident in yourself and what you can bring, Uman suggests. For her, focusing on three core negotiation points is crucial because as a candidate you don’t want to present a laundry list of demands to your potential employer that might work against you. Your core negotiation points could be any of the following:

  • Base salary
  • Additional benefits like a paid gym membership
  • Extra paid time off
  • Bonus
  • Salary growth trajectory

Uman also recommends looking at a variety of benchmarking sites such as Glassdoor, Linkedin, and Payscale. If you can’t find industry benchmarks for your specific role, she suggests reaching out to people online who are a few steps ahead of you in a similar type of role in the organization. “If you get a sense that there is some wiggle room in the final number, you owe it to yourself to go for that and see where they land. Remember that’s going to be the baseline for any future salary increases as well,” she says.

But most importantly, you should come from a place of curiosity and openness, instead of entitlement.

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