People analytics
Ettie Holland By Ettie Holland on 19.02.2021
Talent Acquisition | 3 Min Read

How to make your graduate package UNTURNDOWNABLE - even when you can’t compete on salary

There’ll always be Googles, PwCs, Deloittes and Goldman Sachses. Leading graduate employers who tempt hundreds or thousands of top graduates every year, with hyper-competitive salaries and huge salary growth potential.

But not everyone can compete on those financial terms. Which can be difficult, because although salary isn’t everything, it does play a big part in most graduates’ decision-making.

Here’s how to craft a graduate package that wins over top grads, even if they’re considering offers that blow yours out of the water on salary.

‘Competitive’ is more unaffordable every year

Glassdoor recently revealed the highest median graduate starting salary across the UK – a staggering £50,752. And that’s not the exception. Many of the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers pay over £40,000 as a graduate starting salary – across a huge spread of industries.

Law, of course, is typically well-represented. All law firms in the Times 100 Graduate Employers pay similarly, around the £45,000 mark. Then there’s consulting – your Accentures, McKinseys and Newtons all pay graduates handsomely. Newton stretches to £45,000 to £50,000, even. Also investment banking, of course.

But consumer goods, energy, pharma, engineering, transport and retail are none too shabby either. Aldi ranks 3rd on the Times 100 and pays graduates £44,000.

It’s fantastic if you can offer graduates that sort of money. But many employers simply can’t. That’s a problem because it means you’ll almost certainly meet graduates with offers you can’t match. Maybe offers you can’t even come close to.

So what then? Do you have to settle for the graduates leftover once the leading employers have taken the rich pickings?


Here are three ways to position your offer so you stand out, even against companies offering much fatter salaries.

1 - Own your offer. Then offset the differences

Some graduates won’t prioritise salary, which is great if you can’t compete financially. But others will. (For example, men are 33% more likely than women to prioritise remuneration and advancement when choosing a graduate role).

To appeal to those graduates, it’s crucial to talk numbers.

First, know where you stand. Familiarise yourself with salary benchmarks, both for your direct and indirect competitors.

You can bury your head in the sand, but graduates won’t have. They’ll know what they could earn somewhere else – don’t make salary the elephant in the room. Own your offer, then show the difference in real terms by quantifying intangible benefits.

Because yes, £5000 more annually might sound like a lot. Especially to a broke, debt-ridden graduate. But that’s only £400-odd extra each month – with tax, possibly much less. And £400/month can be easily offset.

Like, do you offer a season ticket scheme? A bike-to-work scheme? Free loans to pay back debt? And how would you quantify work-from-home Fridays? And looking forward to work every Monday? Work-life balance?

Help graduates quantify your offer into value-terms, so they’re not comparing one flat figure to another.

2 - Bring your people and culture to life

People and culture aren’t just important factors for most graduates: they’re the most important factors.

In Bright Network’s 2018 ‘What do Graduates Want?’ report, 95% more graduates prioritise ‘people and culture’ over ‘remuneration and advancement’. That’s 39% of graduates who feel people and culture are the most important factors influencing their graduate job choice.

That’s a slight increase from 2017, where 36% made the same choice – showing people and culture are only becoming more important to graduates.

Those stats are great news if you’re battling a lower salary budget than you’d like.

You’ve hopefully done loads of work to emphasise these elements during the recruitment process – but don’t stop when you make an offer.

Re-emphasise the parts of your culture that make you unique, like any perks or your social scene. Encourage recruiters to note down anything that seems particularly attractive to each candidate during recruitment, so you can focus on the areas your new hires are most attracted by.

Also, consider how you deliver your offer.

Could you create a cool, branded document that looks and feel you, for example? Could someone from the senior leadership team to deliver the good news personally? Or could you get your people involved? Like, could you record a short video from new grads’ perspective team – a ‘we’d love you to join us’ type thing?

3 - Recognise graduates’ unique needs

Bright Network found male, female, BAME and state students all weighted their priorities differently. So did graduates from 2018, 2019 and 2020. There’s no shortage of articles generalising about what students want, but the fact is, different people have different priorities.

Some graduates might prioritise fast-growing, innovative companies (the most important element of an employers’ reputation and image for 24% of graduates) while others prefer a company with robust CSR policies (13%), for example.

Or some grads look for a friendly and respectable work environment (32% see this as the most important aspect of people and culture) while others care more about flexible working (11%) or diversity (8%).

In other words, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to building an unturndownable package.

Match your offer (within the remit of your authentic brand) to each unique graduates’ needs – which comes down to your recruitment team doing a fantastic job uncovering those needs in the first place.

If Jenny’s desperate to rise through the ranks fast and will sacrifice work-life benefit to get there, deliver your offer focussing on progression – not on workplace wellbeing.

And think about places you could accommodate unique needs, even if your current set-up isn’t perfect yet.

For instance, maybe CSR hasn’t been prominent on your radar yet, but you could support graduates to bring their great ideas to life. Or perhaps your training programme isn’t as robust as you’d like, but you’ll support external training for ambitious graduates who want it.

Showing you’re open to new ideas can help graduates see how they’ll make your opportunity work for them. That’s often more attractive than slotting into a pre-made box, even if the box has all the bells and whistles.

After all the hard work of recruitment, it’s heart-breaking when a graduate you love accepts an offer elsewhere. You’ll rarely achieve a 100% offer-to-acceptance ratio – especially if you’re hiring at volume – but positioning your offer in the best light allows you to maximise your selling power. So more graduates give you the ‘yes’ you’re hoping for.

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