3 Ways to Figure Out What Kind of Salary to Expect for Your First Job
Don't undersell yourself.
When you don’t have a previous job to compare it to, figuring out what you deserve to be paid for your first job can be tough. You’re worried about asking too much, but you’re even more worried about asking for too little. This becomes an even bigger problem when you factor in that in the United States, women working full-time are paid just 80 percent of what men make full-time, according to research published in 2016. While this may be your first job, getting the pay you deserve can be essential to negotiating for higher pay as you progress through your career. And in the short-term, it’s important to know what kind of starting salary you can expect in order to be able to budget for things like your housing situation, student loan pay-off, and other living expenses.
Figuring out the ballpark range for that number, though, is sometimes easier said than done. Whether you’re just starting the job search or getting ready to send in your application, try these tactics to get an idea of your pay before the offer letter is in front of you.
Talk to people who graduated before you.
Sorority sisters, fraternity brothers, former coworkers, friends – all of them can be resources to figure out what kind of pay you can expect with your first offer. Reach out to some close contacts that are a year or two into their careers and see if they will give you some insight on what to expect. Make sure you’re talking with someone who has a similar career path to you – it won’t do a lot of good for a communications major to talk with a software engineer about entry-level pay.
Additionally, be prepared that some of your contacts might not feel comfortable talking about their pay. It can be awkward to bring up what is often viewed as a sensitive subject, so make sure you approach the subject with care and tact. Here’s an example of what you could say in order to broach the topic:
“Hey, so and so, I’m starting to look for roles in industry X, and I don’t have a great idea of what kind of pay to expect. I don’t want to lowball myself with my first offer, so I was wondering if you could give me an idea of what your starting pay was in this industry.”
Be sure that this is someone you feel comfortable reaching out to, but don’t get discouraged if they don’t feel comfortable speaking about their salary. Also keep in mind that this is an anecdotal example of salary, and the actual starting salary will likely vary from company to company. Still, talking with a friend or two already in the industry can be a great start to pinpointing your entry-level salary.
Do some research online.
Sites like Glassdoor, Indeed, LinkedIn and PayScale are all helpful tools to research your potential salary range. Glassdoor gathers information from anonymous employee reports that match the job description and location you’re researching, and displays the low, average and high results along with a dollar value. It also provides information on what you can expect to be paid by specific companies in that industry, as well as related job titles and their pay. Indeed and LinkedIn both have a similar tool, allowing you to search a job title and then select a location to view reported salary rates.
PayScale gets slightly more detailed in their salary estimates, providing a salary survey you can take to figure out what you could be making. Glassdoor has a similar feature with “Know Your Worth,” but you’ll have to make an account to get the info. For those in the early research phases, Glassdoor’s simple anonymous reporting and salary averages might be the easier choice for getting an idea of the range of what you could be making. But if you’re deciding on a job offer and want to make sure the offer is fair, or if you feel comfortable filling out the specific info requested like potential job title, education and responsibilities, PayScale’s salary estimate tool could be a good option.
Set up an informational meeting with a few companies of interest.
Depending on where you are in your job search, setting up an informational meeting to learn more about a company or a specific role you’re interested in could be a good way to establish a connection with a company. See if you can set up a meeting with a university recruiter or a hiring manager, and be sure to have questions prepared about the company and the role you’re interested in before bringing up anything salary-related. If they haven’t offered up any salary information during the meeting and you feel comfortable asking, try to frame it as research you have done in preparation for the meeting. You could say something like, “This role sounds great. I was wondering if you have information on the starting salary? The research I did on the role showed that it starts around X, but I wasn’t sure how accurate that was.” It can be nerve-wracking to bring up, but if knowing the salary of a role before applying to it is essential to your job search, it’s better to find out as soon as possible before investing the time in applying.
The lack of transparency surrounding salary can make estimating your entry-level pay a challenge. While the taboo around salary talk is starting to fade, not everyone is willing to offer up the details, making online resources and informational meetings the best alternative options. Hopefully though, more and more information on salaries will continue to come out. And in a few years, after you have been promoted past an entry-level role, consider being open about your salary and pay it forward to the college student about to make their first big career move.