Graduates looking to pin down a full-time role soon learn the relative value of their skills and qualifications. The positions available and salaries on offer are a function of supply and demand, so job seekers who have just left university should make sure they start out with realistic expectations and understand the market forces in play.
To gauge those expectations, recruitment firm Adecco asked more than 300 respondents at on-campus career talks in March and April. Unsurprisingly, given the strong economy at the time, the results revealed a general mood of optimism on job prospects and pay.
The feedback, reinforced by actual employer offers, showed that average expected starting salaries are a notch higher than last year. In round numbers, 45 per cent of respondents expected to start at a salary of HK$8,000 to HK$10,000 and a further 42 per cent were confident of getting HK$11,000 to HK$13,000 a month.
Salary, though, was almost a secondary consideration, with most job seekers more concerned about landing a spot on a well regarded trainee scheme or management programme.
"Many students I met put more emphasis on employer branding, the size of the company and the career development [prospects]," says Annie Yuen, marketing and communication manager for Adecco Personnel, who oversaw the survey and analysed the data collected. "They are looking for good training programmes to put them on the right career path."
To achieve that, students recognise that relevant internships are becoming ever more important. Employers increasingly stipulate that candidates for trainee roles should, ideally, have up to a year's experience. In practice, this can be accumulated during various college vacations and is seen as a neat way to separate the "serious" applicants from the also-rans.
This means that students should not leave career planning to their final or penultimate year, she notes.
"I found that many students are not quite sure how to make a good professional impression with interviewers," Yuen says. "Work experience will enhance their communication skills and self- confidence, and give real content to their CV when they want to enter the [full-time] labour market."
Dora Dai, head of the career planning and development centre at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's office of student affairs, says today's graduates are very clued up about what to expect in different sectors and what employers will offer.
The university organises seminars, workshops, recruitment talks and individual counselling sessions to inform and instil a sense of realism, she says, adding that some students have relatively clear career plans from day one. Others use their time at university to explore diverse interests and find a direction in life. Either way, they are expected to acquire the skills that impress employers.
"Students are encouraged to have a better understanding of their own interests and competencies," Dai says. "It is very important to connect with an industry's values and the [target] company's vision. This lays the foundation for a long-term career. Graduates are given general advice on current trends in pay, terms and conditions. But they know the room for negotiation is relatively small, so they put more weight on the opportunities for training and continuous career development."