Getting your first salary after university is an exciting prospect. However, it also can be a bit of minefield. Some roles will come with a salary attached to them but, you will see that the salaries offered vary hugely between different companies and locations, even for very similar roles. Other jobs will just ask you what you would expect to be paid for the role which is a difficult question to answer without pricing yourself out of the job or expecting too little.
The first thing to consider is the sector you are applying for. Different sectors will have different average starting salaries although these will vary across companies and locations. To research what an average starting salary would be in the sector you are applying for, have a look at different jobs on graduate job boards or see the job profiles on Prospects where a general average is given. Bear in mind that this might not be offered by all roles (some may offer more, some may be considerably less), but at least this gives you an idea of the ballpark figure you would be looking at for a graduate role in that sector.
Although you might now have a general figure in mind for the sector you are applying for, it’s really important to consider the location of the role and the realities of living in the area. Although roles London and the south of the UK will often offer a higher salary than those in the Midlands and the north, it’s important to how much you actually need to live on.
Rent will take up a large portion of your salary so do some research to see how much that will cost in the location of the role. Initially, you may be looking to house-share so look at websites such as SpareRoom to see how much rooms are being advertised for and be careful to check if they include bills. If you are wanting your own place, have a look at websites such as RightMove to find what rent properties in that area are expecting. Usually, whole properties don’t include bills so make sure that you are factoring this in (including council tax which you wouldn’t have been paying as a student).
Once you have worked out how much rent you would probably have to pay in the area you work, it’s time to think about the rest of your lifestyle. Food is obviously very important but do consider whether you’ll be wanting to cook every night or whether going out for meals/getting takeaways is something which you want to be able to do. If so, factor this into your budget. Will you need to pay to travel to your job or will you want to walk/cycle? If you want to drive, think about how much money a car would need in fuel/upkeep. If you are going to rely on public transport, look on the local transport sites to see how much a season ticket on a bus or train is. Think about what else you want to do and factor in the money needed. Do you enjoy the theatre or like to do sports? How much would you need to/like to spend on your hobbies in a month?
When you’re doing your working out, don’t forget the lovely tax people who will be taking a fair chunk of your salary for income tax and National Insurance. To try and work out how much you would actually take home, have a look at websites such as the Government Tax Calculator. And you will probably be losing 8%+ (before tax) of your salary to your pension provider too so factor this in when working out what salary you need.
All the numbers here might seem a bit scary and you might worry that you won’t find a role to suit your needs. However, there are always compromises to be made. If the role you are going for isn’t quite the salary you need, consider if you could live on it for now and whether there are likely to be promotion opportunities within the first year or so which would then take you to a salary which was more appropriate to your lifestyle. Does the role include commission on top of a base rate so you might be able to earn more each month? Also look at the benefits offered by the company. Would you be able to accept a slightly lower salary if the role came with a company car so you didn’t have the outlay on that? If the company offered a free staff gym, private healthcare or a discounted canteen, would that allow you to accept a slightly lower salary? Every person will have different needs and expectations so make sure that you are clear what yours are before you start applying for roles.