How Much Should Your First Job Pay You?

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If you are a new grad fresh out of college or high school, your job search is probably in full swing. You might already have some idea of what type of work you want to do, but figuring out how much your first job should pay you can be tricky. After all, many jobs postings don’t even include a salary range, much less the market rate for this type of job.

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There are a number of potential reasons for this, and it isn’t just to make your head spin. Every applicant has a different level of experience, credentials and skills that influence their compensation. Even where you live plays a part in how much you ultimately get paid.

Still, it’s a good idea to ensure you are meeting a certain baseline level of compensation. If you are offered a job and it doesn’t reach that baseline, you may want to negotiate — or consider looking elsewhere.

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What Is a Typical Starting Salary?

Of course, starting salary varies a lot depending on your job title — a customer support specialist is not going to make the same amount as a neurosurgeon. But where you live also affects your salary. For instance, ZipRecruiter reports that the average entry-level salary is the highest in Washington at $35,793. On the other end of the spectrum is Illinois, with a $25,712 average.

According to Indeed, the average entry-level salary is $40,153. But Indeed notes that the number can be as low as $26,000 or as high as $56,000 depending upon the job and where you live. The Bureau of Labor Statistics also has extensive salary data for specific jobs (for all workers though, not new grads).

Check Out: The Starting Salary Out of the 30 Best Colleges

Here are a few examples of median pay the BLS using 2020 data:

  • Middle school teachers: $60,810
  • Carpenters: $49,520
  • Epidemiologists: $74,560
  • Lawyers: $126,930

See the BLS data for a complete list.

Learn: The Biggest Salary Negotiation Mistakes You’re Making

Starting Salary vs. Experienced Salary

Another thing to consider is that your new job may warrant a much higher salary after you gain even a small amount of experience. “For instance, you may take a slightly lower starting salary, but at a company that offers genuine progression that adds value to your professional skill set,” said Zoë Morris, president of Frank Recruitment Group. “That could mean that your pay packet and career both look very different 12-18 months down the line, compared to just going to the highest bidder now.”

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Eighteen months can sound like a lot of time, but it will fly by as you are learning your new role. If you can find data on both starting salary for your job and also for those with one to two years’ experience, that is something to add to your calculation.

See: 10 Job Skills Worth Six-Figure Salaries

How To Determine Your Worth

It’s one thing to see median numbers or averages; it’s another to try to determine your real worth. This is undoubtedly more involved than looking up a couple of averages for your industry. Still, with the right approach, you can get a good sense of how much you are worth before you accept the job offer.

That means doing more extensive research. “If you’re unsure on what you should be paid, then you need to do your research. Away from simply looking at job ads for similar roles, most industries have companies within them that publish salary surveys,” Morris said. “Beyond that, use LinkedIn and other social networks to try and connect with professionals within the industry and ask them directly.”

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You might think asking people in your industry seems intrusive or that they wouldn’t be willing to provide that information. Oftentimes, though, people are very much willing to help as long as you aren’t trying to sell them something. You can also set up interviews with hiring managers and even employees to pick their brains.

As far as salary survey data, the BLS is one of your best resources for this.

Check Out: 5 Things To Negotiate at Your Job Other Than Salary

How To Negotiate Your Salary

Now that you have a better idea of how much you should be paid, it’s time to negotiate. While there is no guarantee your negotiations will be successful, it is always a good idea to try. While more people are negotiating in recent years, just 45% of women negotiated in 2018. And yet, 70% of hiring managers expect people to negotiate when making an offer.

If your job offer has a lower salary number attached to it than you’d like, you have options, Morris said. “Once you know what to expect, if a company is offering below that then you need to have a reason for trying to negotiate a better deal. Whether that’s explaining any relevant experience or specialisms you may have, to exceptional grades if you’re just graduating, you need to put a case forward for why you should be paid more than the company is offering to pay.”

In addition to explaining your own qualifications, you’ll need to be armed with your research here, too. Sharing concrete numbers about industry averages as well as how much real people are being paid will go a long way in strengthening your case. If the money is available and you make a strong case for yourself, you’re likely to get a higher salary.

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Last updated: Sept. 14, 2021

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About the Author

Bob Haegele is a personal finance writer who specializes in topics such as investing, banking and credit cards. He left his day job in 2019 to pursue his passion for helping people get out of debt and build wealth. You can find his work at outlets such as Business Insider, Forbes Advisor and SoFi.
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