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What Should I Expect My First Job to Pay?

Updated: May 10, 2019

woman drawing a dollar sign in notebook

Are you picturing yourself in that corner office with your feet up, money raining down? Okay,

maybe not right away. Let’s focus. (But don’t lose that dream)

A college degree will help you get a better salary for your first job, but just how much can you expect? Compensation varies quite a bit based on your field and where you live, so let’s look at

a few different resources to see how you might get closer to an approximate amount.

What’s the average salary for an entry-level position? reports that an average entry-level job in the US pays $28,000. However, this only represents about 500 salaries submitted anonymously to Glassdoor, so it’s not a huge sampling. Another way of finding an average is by looking at the salaries of posted jobs. According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual pay for the entry level jobs category in the US is $32,788 a year.

If these seem low, a new study by Korn Ferry analyzed salaries of 310,000 entry-level positions from nearly 1,000 organizations across the country. Based on their analysis, 2018 college grads will make on average $50,390 annually. A bit more promising.

As you can see, there’s a lot of variation depending on the source. Averages give you a rough starting point, but you really need to drill down into your field or industry to get a better estimate.

What are the starting average salaries for specific fields?

Let’s start with a super helpful resource - the Occupational Outlook Handbook. This website has information on 325 jobs broken into 25 categories. Each job has the average pay nationally and regionally. Plus, it has data on which jobs are growing fastest. Since it’s compiled by the federal government, the salaries reflect what people actually make.

To give you an idea, I’ve pulled out a few careers in different industries and listed the salary on the low end of the scale, assuming that’s what an entry-level candidate would make.

• Graphic Designer - $28,560

• Financial Analyst - $51,780

• Social Worker - $29,560

• Web Developer - $36,830

• Middle School Teacher - $38,540

• Nurse (RN) - $48,690

• Paralegal - $31,130

• Technical Writer - $42,410

But let’s get more specific. Your salary will depend on more factors than just the job title

and location.

How do I get a personalized salary estimate?

Fortunately, there are plenty of resources. Check out,, and LinkedIn.

They have free online salary calculators. They ask a few questions about your potential job title, education, location, and other details to assess what you might be worth. See what each one has

to say – and average them together for a solid estimate.

Doing all this research will get you closer to a realistic expectation about what you can make at your first job. But it’s also important to consider overall employment trends.

How might the economy affect my starting salary?

If the economy is sluggish and employers aren’t hiring, you’ll have more competition for jobs.

This can potentially make your salary negotiations a little harder. Not always, but it’s good to

keep in mind.

The PayScale Index is a helpful resource to follow. This tracks the change in wages of employed US workers, showing trends in compensation for jobs over time. It measures the quarterly change in salary nationally, but also has additional detail on the 32 largest metropolitan areas, 15 industries, 19 job categories and three company sizes.

So, what are the keys to estimating the salary at my first job?

• Start with broad averages for entry-level salaries across the US from sites like Glassdoor

and Payscale

• Zero in on your field or industry by using the Occupational Outlook Handbook

• Plug your information into an online salary calculator that considers more personalized factors

• Keep an eye on the employment rate and how that might affect your starting salary

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