SINGAPORE — After graduating from university, it's finally time to see what that paper qualification is worth in the job market. But do you know how much salary you should be expecting from your employers? How do you know if it is a fair amount?
Entry-level salaries vary widely across industries. Some jobs, such as those related to the information and digital technologies sector, tend to pay higher salaries than others. There are also various factors that influence the starting pay of a graduate.
We examine the latest statistics on full-time entry-level salaries in Singapore, as well as the factors that determine the starting pay of a graduate.
Entry-level salaries by industry in Singapore
Here are the latest statistics on median salaries for full-time permanent employment among graduates in 2022 based on the graduate employment survey jointly conducted by six local universities: National University of Singapore (NUS), Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore Management University (SMU), Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD), Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).
The survey was conducted between November 2022 and March 2023 among 18,565 full-time and 1,219 follow-up graduates (those who were surveyed after completing their respective one-year practical training) from NUS, NTU, SMU, SUTD, SIT and SUSS.
Gross monthly median salary
Arts, Design & Media
Humanities & Social Sciences
Information & Digital Technologies
*Data obtained after graduates have completed their one-year practical training.
Biomedical Sciences and Chinese Medicine
Based on the table above, graduates from the Law course cluster were the highest paid, with a gross median salary of S$6,375 in 2022. This is followed by the Information & Digital Technologies course cluster with a gross monthly median salary of S$5,500.
In contrast to the top two highest-paying course clusters, graduates from the Arts, Design & Media and the Biomedical Sciences & Chinese Medicine course clusters had the lowest gross monthly median salary of S$3,500 and S$3,175 respectively in 2022.
Gross monthly median salary, as defined in the survey, comprises basic salary, overtime payments, commissions, fixed allowances and other regular cash payments before deductions of the employee's Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution and personal income tax. It also excludes the employer's CPF contribution and any bonus paid.
Factors influencing entry-level salaries in Singapore
There are several factors that determine the starting pay of a fresh graduate. Chew Siew Mee, managing director of online employment platform JobStreet Singapore and Jaya Dass, managing director of permanent recruitment Asia Pacific at recruitment agency Randstad, spoke to Yahoo Finance Singapore and weighed in on these factors:
1. Industry variation
As seen in the gross median salaries table above, different industries offer varying starting salaries. According to JobStreet's Chew, the level of competition for talent among firms differs from one industry to another. Sectors like finance and technology are examples of industries that generally pay more due to firms competing for skilled talent.
2. Specialised skills
In general, roles that require basic skills can be commonly found and, thus, offer an average pay. On the other hand, roles that demand specialised skills generally pay higher.
"For instance, in the technology industry, salaries are typically higher due to the added skill sets such as data engineering, coding, and software development," said Chew.
3. Company size and financial stability
Established companies with a solid financial footing tend to offer higher salaries than smaller businesses or startups with limited capital. According to JobStreet's data, the salary difference can vary significantly, with larger companies offering up to 21 per cent more in compensation compared to their small-medium enterprise (SME) counterparts.
4. University's standing
According to Randstad's Dass, candidates who graduated from top-ranking and well-known universities are "priced higher" by employers because such graduates are deemed to have gone through a more rigorous education. This includes participating in internships or work-related projects – and not just having academic achievements.
"The quality of the education is priced higher, and therefore, the export (graduate) is also priced higher and the perception of what this person is. It's harder for them to get in (to top universities), and they are the creme de la creme. Automatically, the starting salary might be higher for these grads," said Dass.
5. Overseas experience
A graduate who has experienced living overseas or worked abroad during their university years may be in a better position to gain a higher starting pay. According to Dass, the thinking around such a person is that he or she would have a lot of other inter-personal skills that are admirable when compared to someone who had a local university experience. These include qualities such as independence, knowing how to think on their feet and having more maturity.
"You (a local graduate) are seen as a bit more 'fresh' in your experience and capability compared to someone who has an overseas education," said Dass.
6. Work experience
Students who gathered working experience while studying are usually favoured among the crop because they can easily assimilate into an organisation compared to someone who has to be "handheld" all the way, according to Dass.
Dass said that students who work while studying in order to pay for their education "are always valued for their work experience, mindset, maturity, tenacity and resilience". "Whereas with book smarts, you are betting on potential. Their paperwork indicates that they operate at that level. Whether it translates or not, I don't know," said Dass.
7. Salary grading system
Companies usually implement policies that cap how much starting salary they can pay. Known as a salary grading system – the Hay method is a popular one – such a system helps organisations adhere to headcount budgets, and ensure that a graduate's starting salary will not inadvertently exceed the pay of a more experienced worker within the company. A situation like that could create tension among employees.
"When a candidate is interviewing... how they come across makes all the difference in the impression they create and money they command. But even if I want to pay this person more, if I'm bound by benchmarking standards in my organisation and I have to play to my budget internally, I am only going to hire someone who is willing to join at that number. Even if they can fetch a higher pay somewhere else, I'm not going to adjust it, not at the entry-level," said Dass.
Is it necessary to know the entry-level salary for the job you applied for?
Aside from personal passions and education costs, entry-level salaries can sometimes be a determining factor for individuals when deciding which course to pursue at the higher education stage. But just how important is it to be informed about starting salaries?
JobStreet's Chew believes that it is crucial for graduates to be aware of entry-level salaries in their chosen occupation or industry.
"Having a clear understanding of the typical salary range allows them to set realistic expectations and make informed decisions about job offers. This knowledge empowers graduates to negotiate their compensation effectively, ensuring they are fairly compensated for their skills and qualifications," said Chew.
However, Chew also cautioned that it is equally important for graduates to consider factors beyond compensation when evaluating job opportunities.
"This includes aspects such as growth opportunities, workplace flexibility, work-life balance and a workplace culture that aligns with personal values," said Chew.
Randstad's Dass felt that starting pay should not be a graduate candidate's highest priority or focus when it comes to deciding on a suitable role. Instead, candidates should consider how well they can fit into a role and organisation, and how they can grow their career in the company.
"How they grow in the job and the organisation is far more critical than why they entered the organisation to start with," Dass explained.