The root of all evil? What you need to know about graduate salaries

Bag a degree and grab a big starting salary.  Right? Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Having a realistic expectation of what you will probably be earning after your degree is important.

There are undeniably rich rewards for the lucky few who nab places on top graduate schemes – those who go into investment banking can earn around 40K mark for example. But at the other end, some graduate roles start at around 15K while Mr or Ms Average Grad can reckon on 20 – 22K or thereabouts.

Economies of scale

Now, while the major companies pay top whack, they also often expect blood in return. While a huge law firm could offer its raw recruits 30K, you would be expected to work long hours into the evening and on weekends. It’s not uncommon, for instance, for large law and finance companies to supply free food to their workers – but with the idea that you will be staying in the office for all of your meals! A high salary is not for 9 to 5-ers.  Routinely working 10 or 12 hour days whittles away not just at your free time but at your hourly rate of pay. Who’s better off?  Someone on a standard 35 hour week for 18K or their pal earning 30K for double those hours?  You do the Maths.

Negotiate to accumulate

There is sometimes some wiggle room on salary.  If they claim it is indeed fixed, then suggest a review after three, maybe six, months.  Relevant experience and/or a high class of degree may also put you up a notch on the scale.  If you’re asked to name your price – start high (but not over the top).  You can always come down, whereas a low opening bid will be gleefully accepted. If you’re not sure how to handle salary negotiations, you can always come and have a chat with a Careers Consultant about it.


Upwardly mobile

It goes without saying, that the figures quoted are just for starters.  You can (and will) move off the financial bottom rung as long as Time’s winged chariot keeps chugging. It’s worth keeping in mind career progression when making job applications. For example, an SME might not offer as large a starting salary as a big graduate scheme, but promotion could happen quicker.

Know your own worth and your value to your employers and be prepared to say it loud at appraisals.  Modesty is not always the best policy when it comes to upping your pay packet. Statistically women are also less likely to ask for a wage increase then men, so speak up girls! Just remember that you wanting more money is not the same as you deserving more – you will need to show your employer tangible evidence of what you have been doing that justifies you being paid more. So perhaps a certain project you worked very hard on, or an extra responsibility you’ve taken on that goes beyond your job description.

Consider this

Startling though it may seem, there is life beyond the Great Metropolis.  Given that the world and his wife (a.k.a. graduates from the entire UK and beyond) flock here, the London job market can be crowded.  So you may prefer to set your sights on new horizons – Leeds, let’s say, or Liverpool, Letchworth, Llanelli, Lancaster and Leith.  Pay may be marginally lower, but rents and mortgages are appreciably easier to acquire and manage.

More to life

Salary may often be the top of graduates’ lists when they are job searching, but there really is more to career satisfaction than a big pay cheque. I’ve mentioned having to work long hours – is a large salary worth having to miss family occasions and friends’ birthdays? And what about other aspects of job satisfaction like autonomy over your work, feeling like you are making a difference, using your skills and feeling appreciated. In job satisfaction surveys roles to do with horticulture and animals often top the lists (florists for example) despite the uninspiring salaries – usually because of the above factors.

Money?  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, it often costs too much.

Gill Sharp

Careers Consultant, QMUL Careers & Enterprise Centre


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