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Fresh Graduates – Are you under paying?

When I graduated from college, I was one of the very few students from my class who was fortunate enough to get a job offer fresh out of school. Print journalism was already a dying industry and the economy was pretty shaky. Even though my starting salary was much lower than what I wanted, I decided to accept the offer at the small city newspaper 6 hours away from my hometown because I thought nothing better would come along. Beggars can’t be choosers.

I was happy until a few months later when work started to get a tad bit “difficult:” I worked most weekends, had early mornings and late nights, and started to question whether my low salary was truly worth all of the effort. After all, I was a college graduate and went to school to get a salary that I was truly satisfied with. I’d look up salary projection sites and they all said I should’ve been making much more than I was. I started to stress about it and become unhappy. Was I being taken advantage of? Were my co-workers getting paid more than me? It consumed me for a while, until my boss set me straight and explained how salaries are distributed and earned. So before you jump to conclusions and storm into your boss’ office demanding a raise (and risk getting fired), there is a thing or two you need to know about how salaries are determined first.

Newbies will Typically Always Get Paid the Lowest:

If you’re green and straight out of college, you will always initially be offered the lower spectrum of the projected salary. While you get negotiate a slightly higher salary (perhaps to accommodate relocation costs) you’re not going to earn your dream salary just yet. You’re a graduate which means anything that you get will most likely be entry-level. You need training and guidance and you know less about the position, so you will naturally be offered less than someone who’s been in the industry for a while. While you’re level of education can entitle you to a higher salary— for example, someone with a graduate degree might get a higher paying entry level position than a bachelor degree holder applying for the same position; or someone with a degree in psychology may get a higher starting salary as a college counselor than some with a degree in communications —don’t think that you’ll get paid sustainably more. Over time you will eventually get your target salary via experience.

Understanding Salary Projectors:

If you like to look up salary projections like those featured on The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, you need to understand that the median salary doesn’t mean that this is what you’re going to make. This means that the Bureau took figures of the lowest and highest possible salaries and took the middle figure. So if a teacher can make $30,000, $45,000 and $50,000, the median salary is $45,000. Your employer will most likely factor-in this as well as the competing market salaries and their own individual budget when coming up with your salary.

Cost of Living is Usually isn’t Factored In:

It makes sense that your employer would pay you enough to compensate for living expenses. For example, if you live in a city where groceries, gas, and rent is high you think you’d naturally be given more money. But this isn’t always the case. In fact, employers expect you to make do with what you’re given. If that means that you have to live in suburbia and commute to work an hour a way to comfortably live on your salary than that’s what you’ll have to do.


Typically you aren’t eligible for a raise until around your one year anniversary. At this time, you will go under review and you will need to give a strong case on how you are more than just an “adequate employee” to show why you should get paid more. What have you done for the company to help with its growth? Some companies automatically give one-year reviews; some require you to ask for one.

Company Culture and Compensation can Make a Low Salary Worthwhile: Lastly, it’s understandable that you may not be satisfied with your pay right now, but you really have to look at the whole picture: do you like your co-workers? Do you get great benefits? Does your boss treat your right and give you holiday bonuses? Treats the company to a few lunches from time to time? Is a tad bit more relaxed with the dress code? Sometimes the little things can make up for a lower paid and bring forth more happiness.


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