Will that first salary define your career?
Japanese white-collar worker or salaryman. Salaryman refers to a man whose income is salary based, particularly those working for corporations for long hours. Source: Shutterstock.

After slogging away for years to get that degree, the next big wish of most graduates is to snag a high-paying job and kick start a successful career.

And in an increasingly cutthroat and competitive employment market, it’s only natural to want to follow the money. But while starting salaries are important, especially if you have a hefty student loan to settle, should it be a deal-breaker when deciding on your first job?

The harsh reality is this: many entry-level jobs offer wages far below median pay rates within a profession.

The typical graduate salary varies significantly according to role, sector, industry and even location.
Findings by market research firm High Fliers on the UK graduate market this year show the median starting salary for UK graduates was £30,000 in 2016.

Graduate-jobs.com, however, argues the average pay for graduates is more likely to be somewhere between £19,000 and £22,000. Why? The issue with most research on graduate starting salaries is the focus on prestigious, multi-national corporations who can afford to pay big salaries. The online job board says High Fliers’ research concentrates on the top 100 graduate employers and thus does not represent a true reflection of average salaries for new graduates.

Money isn’t everything. Source: Shutterstock.

Research has also shown many up and coming graduates suffer from anxiety surrounding future employment and salaries. A survey by National Union of Students reported for 26 percent of students, worry over graduate employment was a major trigger of mental distress.

So how important is a high-flying first salary? Will a lower-paying job determine the trajectory your career will take? While of course every grad would want to get off to a flying start, money alone should not be the only factor you consider.

Look at the bigger picture. A graduate job with a lower starting salary could lead to a successful career and higher earning potential in the future.

Here are some factors you should consider when you first enter the job market:

Practice makes perfect

When deciding on your first job, a vital factor is the kind of training your employer will provide.

Receiving excellent training and having access to an experienced mentor will be extremely valuable for your career. It is a chance to develop your skills and expertise. Starting your career with the right training will allow you to flourish and work your way up the career ladder. Even if the position is not with an organisation in which you’d like to advance, the position may allow you to develop useful professional skills that could qualify you for positions in a more desirable organisation.

Company benefits

It is important to ask yourself what the company offers you beyond a basic salary.

Often, companies provide many benefits for working for them, such as health insurance, pension schemes, travel perks, flexible work arrangements and annual bonuses that could boost your earnings and contribute to job satisfaction. Another great opportunity to look for is the chance to gain professional qualifications. Employers that offer this show they are committed to investing in their employees’ professional development. Furthermore, it is an excellent opportunity to gain recognised qualifications companies look fondly upon. Such benefits can often be just as important as the salary, adding a significant boost to your economic position.

Hard work pays off

As previously mentioned, the salary you earn will vary significantly depending on industry.

In any company, however, it is not uncommon to have to start at very bottom of the ladder. How quickly you climb will depend greatly on your aptitude for the job, and ability to shoulder bigger responsibilities as you grow.

Even Batman started somewhere. Source: Shutterstock

Many graduates start off as interns, assistants, or in administrative roles: all roles known for lower pay grades. The important aspect of these kinds of positions is simply getting your foot in the door and gaining necessary experience.

You’d also do well to remember your salary will be commensurate with experience, ability and a can-do attitude so if you’re eyeing that chunky director’s pay package, you’d have to be patient and put in the time.

That being said, it is also important to be aware of what the average salary for your role is so you know you’re being treated fairly. Online tools such as Monster’s free salary calculator can advise you on figures.

So, if you’re asking, “Will my first salary define my career?” Certainly not. Searching for and securing a job is rarely easy. Don’t miss out on great career opportunities because you had unrealistic salary expectations.

While a lower starting salary may seem disheartening, it is important to remember that this will not define your career. By allowing yourself to fully assess graduate jobs as a whole package (taking into account the factors above), it will enable you to make an informed decision and one that will lead to career success. Good luck!

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