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Patria-Kaye Aarons | Know your worth

Published:Tuesday | March 5, 2019 | 12:00 AM

So I stirred up an ants’ nest last week Friday.

I tweeted:

“So what’s a reasonable salary for someone fresh out of university? Cause some of the asks I’m hearing are downright madness. You worked hard and paid plenty for the degree, yes. But you also aren’t bringing anything else to the table other than what ‘Sir said’.”

It’s as if I opened the floodgates of hell.

I clearly touched a nerve for every recent graduate who felt underpaid and underappreciated, and they let their voices be heard. Business owners weighed in as well, lamenting that they were encountering far too many job applicants whose résumés didn’t match up to their asking salaries.

It’s clearly a matter that needs open and frank discussion.

My point is, some students have unreasonable expectations about what life (and pocket) will be like post-degree. There are too many who feel like their university graduation signals the end of all pain and long-suffering and they’re immediately entitled to milk, honey and a Ramharrack salary. And it nuh go so!

Sure, you have student loans and the same high everyday expenses the rest of us do. You deserve a liveable wage. And you have aspirations to self-actualise with the acquisition of house and car. But it’s not realistic to expect that those things will materialise fresh out of college, especially with one income stream and no prior work experience.

I’ve sat in some interviews where grads were asked to name their price. One response was higher than all my salaries combined. You can only ask for so much when your most senior position in an organisation to date is ‘Key Club Secretary’.

Going into an interview, I know our candidates are at a handicap. Government salary scales are available on the ministry of finance’s website, but Jamaican private-sector salaries are a big secret (I’m not quite sure why).

In the absence of local information, university grads go to websites like and to find a starting point from which to negotiate. The problem is, these reference salaries are from First-World, big corporations. So expectations are grossly inflated.

Truth is, for many of us, in our first few years in corporate, on paper, we were employed, but in practice, we really were enrolled in a paid internship. You took the position not for what you earned, but for what you could learn.

For the first couple of months, we were big potential liabilities to our employers. Our industry knowledge was minimal, and we had to be taught to do our jobs well. Employers took a chance on us because we came with bright ideas and youthful energy and potential. But we were nowhere near ready-made. And we quickly realised that the safe haven, linear space that is the classroom is very different from the real world.

No hands on internship

Most degree programmes don’t have an internship component where students get hands-on work experience. And too often, even those who do intern spend the weeks running errands and filing papers and doing inconsequential projects.

You’re OK with paying the university to teach you … but many new employees are learning at their new employer’s expense.

I’ve been working since I was 16. I can think of so many mistakes I made early in my career purely because of inexperience.

I’m thankful for bosses like Harry Smith, who never micomanaged. Who taught me the tough lessons of cleaning up the mess I created.

I believe in promotions and performance bonuses. People grown in their jobs. Or at least, they should.

Here’s something else to consider. Understand that for every employee a company decides to put on staff, the expenses are far more than most realise. The company must find the take-home salary to transfer cash to the employee’s bank account. But they must also find the statutory deductions for the employee to pay over to the Government, plus, for every ‘deduction’ made from your salary – the figure you complain about monthly and say, “Ggeezzuummm. Look how much dem tek out!” – your employer must find an equal or greater portion to pay the Government by law as an ‘employer contribution’.

Your take-home salary, your statutory deductions, the employer’s contribution, plus all your many benefits, the company must find all of it. Whether or not you perform.

Sure, new employees bring value to any organisation. And many, over time, become absolutely brilliant shining stars; some show signs of that brilliance from the very start. But development takes time and tests.

Be reasonable about how much your value is really worth. And also how much your current job is worth to your learning and growth. Don’t price yourself out of a priceless learning experience.

Patria-Kaye Aarons is a confectioner and broadcaster. Email feedback to and