How to negotiate salary as a fresh graduate in Hong Kong

By Robert Half on 30 March 2023
Estimated Read Time: 4 minutes

After years of study, it can be incredibly exciting to enter the workforce as a graduate in your chosen profession. But a make-or-break first hurdle can be getting your salary expectations right.

Graduates in Hong Kong have good reasons to be optimistic. Hong Kong’s job market has improved rapidly following the normalisation of economic activities, and this has pushed the unemployment rate down to a 3-year low.

However, as a new graduate in Hong Kong, it can be challenging to set salary expectations and negotiate offers. While graduates often have a general idea of the salary range they’re looking for in their desired role, a variety of factors can shape remuneration including experience, education – and the employer/industry they select.

Knowing your preferred salary – and setting a realistic remuneration target – is important because job postings in Hong Kong often close with a statement indicating that salary is negotiable. And if you’re asked “What are your salary expectations?” in a job interview, you need to be able to offer a clear figure and convincingly state your case.

Here are five tips on how to set and negotiate salary as a fresh graduate in Hong Kong.

1. Research the market

Setting and negotiating your salary expectations too high can put you out of the running for a role. If you go too low, you could be faced with a less-than-appealing job offer.

This is why it is crucial to research the job market in Hong Kong as the primary building block to setting salary expectations.

Online job portals and the wealth of resources provided by recruitment firms such as Robert Half’s Hong Kong Salary Guide, are useful sources of up-to-date salary information for your desired role and industry.

You can also network with professionals in your field to get a sense of market rates for graduates, or speak to your on-campus career advisers.

2. Consider your education and experience

Your education and experience can play a significant role in determining salary expectations. If you have a higher level of education, such as a master's degree, you may be able to demand a higher salary than someone with a bachelor's degree.

Similarly, if you have relevant industry work experience, you may be able to negotiate a higher salary. Be sure to highlight any such experience in your CV.

3. Evaluate the company's size and industry

The size of a company, and the industry it is part of, can impact your ability to set and negotiate salary expectations. This is especially relevant for IT graduates.

Research indicates that 73% of business leaders in Hong Kong say their company has a digital transformation strategy but 35% struggle to find staff with the necessary skills. This can give graduates with relevant IT skills a leading edge when it comes to setting salary expectations.

4. Assess the overall benefits package

Salary is not the only factor to consider when weighing up graduate job opportunities. Don’t overlook the overall benefits offered by a company. These can incorporate health insurance, flexible work opportunities, staff training programs and additional annual leave – all of which can add significant value to a compensation package.

As a guide, research cited in the Robert Half Salary Guide found 66% of Hong Kong employees want remote work options to remain in place. Fortunately, a similar proportion – 61% of Hong Kong employers, think flexible work arrangements will broaden their talent pool and drive recruitment success.

5. Look for value-add opportunities

When setting salary expectations, bear in mind that some employers can face limitations on salary, often driven by the company's payroll budget.

Moreover, as a new graduate in Hong Kong, you may have brilliant academic results but limited practical experience in your field. This being the case, it can be worth considering how your first role can benefit you in ways that extend beyond remuneration.

A modest starting salary can be compensated for by a well-planned program of ongoing training, the availability of mentoring that hones your skills, or extensive workplace experience that may span multiple divisions. All these options have the potential to fast-track your skills development and career progression.

"As a fresh graduate, it's important to do your research, consider your skills and qualifications, and be flexible in your salary expectations. While it's essential to be realistic, don't undervalue yourself and make sure to consider all aspects of your compensation package. By approaching salary negotiations with a well-informed and open mindset, you can set reasonable expectations and secure a fair salary as you embark on your career journey."

- Cherry Chan, Recruiting Associate Director and specialised financial services recruiter in Hong Kong

Should I put my expected salary in my resume?

Graduates in Hong Kong often find salary is a difficult and delicate subject to discuss. This can lead to some candidates spelling out salary expectations in their resume.

While this can ensure your preferred salary is clear from the start, outlining your expected salary in a resume is not standard procedure – and as a rule, it’s something that should be avoided.

The purpose of your CV is to present your professional skills and experience to a hiring manager. By including your expected salary in your resume, you may come across as too focused on money, rather than the career opportunity.

If your salary expectations don’t match what the business is prepared to pay, you may be excluded from the hiring process before you’ve even been given a chance to demonstrate your skills and strengths in an interview.

A potentially better approach is to use a job interview to build a positive connection with the hiring manager, highlight your skills and experience, and emphasise the value you will bring to the business. This can leave a powerful impression – one that may even encourage the business to go beyond their initial salary budget in order to secure you.

Negotiating salary as a fresh graduate in Hong Kong can be daunting, but backed with the correct market knowledge and strong attitude to learn, you can secure a fair remuneration package to kickstart your career journey.

Looking for a new role, Robert Half can help you get a foot in the door.

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