Starting salaries can vary greatly based on location or line of work, so there’s no one answer to the question, “What is a good entry level salary?” The size of the paycheck will differ based on where someone lives, the industry they work in, the hiring institution or company, and other hard-to-tabulate variables.
So, how might a job seeker figure out a good entry level salary before sitting down with the new boss or an HR representative to discuss pay? Here are some helpful resources to get a handle on entry level rates across the U.S., including tips for negotiating compensation.
Understanding Entry Level Salaries
Entry level salary information changes on a regular basis, but many job-focused websites offer insights into the going rates. For instance, ZipRecruiter, a well-known American employment marketplace, lists the average U.S. entry level salary by state. In summer 2023, wages in North Carolina are $13.44 per hour or $27,956 per year, whereas New York pays $16.79 per hour or $34,933 per year, on average.
Still, even state-by-state averages don’t show the whole picture. Although more than half of U.S. states have minimum wage requirements higher than the federal minimum wage, which remains set at $7.25 per hour, the amount an early-career new hire might expect can also vary by county and city within the same state.
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Along with location, the industry one works in can play a big role in what kind of starting salary a new hire might expect. For instance, a data scientist at a tech company might be able to earn as much as $95,000 right out of the gate, while a newly minted journalist might expect something closer to $40,000.
One way to grasp what sort of salary that might be expected is targeted research on the specific industry, location, and even position and company. And if you’re in the early stages of college, you might want to align your eventual courses of studies with a high-paying entry level job.
Researching a Good Entry Level Salary
Recent grads wanting to understand if they’re being offered current market rates for a particular job (or location) can turn to the internet to research details. Some sites that might offer resources for those job seekers include:
• Payscale, for example, allows employees to create custom “pay reports” based on their job title, years of experience, and city.
• Salary.com offers a similar feature, allowing job seekers to search for positions by keyword and compare them accordingly.
• Glassdoor is another well-known web resource that publishes employee-generated information on salary by specific company and position. It also hosts reviews by current and former employees, which may help a job applicant learn more about what it’s actually like to work there.
After researching average pay by role, location, and company, job seekers might also want to mull over how to negotiate an acceptable offer.
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Negotiating a Higher Offer
So, what can a job seeker do if their dream job doesn’t (initially) come with a dreamy paycheck? Luckily, there are ways to negotiate a higher offer both initially and once you’ve proven yourself down the line.
Negotiating a salary can be scary, especially for a recent grad who’s not used to the salary tango. Nevertheless, negotiating an offer up front can have a significant effect on one’s paycheck (and, by extension, one’s long-term earnings).
When thinking of how to negotiate your starting salary, don’t forget about the benefits package, as well. In addition to higher pay, you may want to negotiate other benefits such as tuition reimbursement, a flexible schedule, or childcare expenses into your total compensation package.
Preparing to Negotiate
How might a new hire negotiate a higher-paid entry level salary? Well, having a well-researched entry level salary forecast in mind is one place to start.
Of course, it’s not likely that an early-career new hire can simply negotiate up to an experienced data scientist’s $95,000 salary if that’s not the norm for the role or location they’ve applied for. But, it’s still possible to make the case to hiring managers for why a higher rate is merited. When preparing to negotiate, remember to:
Highlight Your Skills
When asking for a higher starting salary, it could be helpful to give concrete examples of how your current skills might benefit the company. In these conversations, it may be possible to push an offer up a few percentage points (especially when the skills required are in high demand).
Practice Your Pitch
Rehearsing what you’ll say ahead of time can help you hone a confident delivery style. What’s more, it can help you be prepared for questions that come your way regarding why you deserve a higher pay.
Negotiate Other Benefits
On top of baseline salary, it’s also possible in some roles and industries to negotiate for other valuable forms of compensation — such as fitness stipends, work-from-home time, funding for continued education, and more.
Of course, negotiating a good entry level salary is not necessarily an easy undertaking. Interviewers may put candidates on the spot, asking if they’re considering other offers or if the position is their top choice.
In an already uncomfortable situation, some candidates may stumble or misspeak if they don’t know how to justify what they’re asking for.
One simple place to start is asking whether it’s possible to negotiate the offer in the first place. Candidates may also inquire about future career growth and promotion potential, which could lead to a bigger salary later down the road.
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Navigating Post-College Life, Financially and Beyond
Navigating life after college can be exciting and challenging. Trying to make ends meet on an entry level salary might be particularly tough, especially when on the hook to pay back student loans. More than 43 million borrowers have federal student loan debt, with the average balance being $37,388 per person.
A flexible and adaptable approach to finances and where one lives could make the transition to post-college life more manageable.
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For instance, recent graduates who are in a position to choose a new place to live might opt to move to a city with a lower cost of living.
Learning how to make a budget can also go a long way toward covering common expenses — even when one’s starting salary leaves a few zeroes to be desired. That said, there’s only so much instant ramen to eat or cups of coffee to skip out on.
Refinance Student Loan Debt
For those feeling weighed down by student loans while earning an entry level salary, additional options exist. Those with outstanding federal student loans, for example, may qualify for income-driven repayment plans, loan forgiveness for public service, or student loan deferment.
Refinancing educational debt with a private lender is another option that could save money each month — or help the borrower pay off student loans faster.
Student loan refinancing may allow recent grads to make lower monthly payments toward their existing debt, freeing up some extra cash. (Note: You may pay more interest over the life of the loan if you refinance with an extended term.) Or, it could help a borrower to save money on interest paid on the loan as a whole, allowing them to pay off the debt total faster.
It’s important to note that refinancing with a private lender causes borrowers to forfeit certain guaranteed federal benefits, like income-driven repayment (IDR) and loan forgiveness.
SoFi refinances both federal and private student loans, offering no application fees and no prepayment penalties. Those who refinance their student loans through SoFi get access to a wide range of exclusive member benefits, including career coaching, financial advice, and more — at no additional cost.
Checking your student loan refinance rate won’t have an affect on your credit score and could be the first step toward saving thousands of dollars — or making more affordable monthly student loan payments.
SoFi Student Loan Refinance
If you are a federal student loan borrower, you should consider all of your repayment opportunities including the opportunity to refinance your student loan debt at a lower APR or to extend your term to achieve a lower monthly payment. Please note that once you refinance federal student loans you will no longer be eligible for current or future flexible payment options available to federal loan borrowers, including but not limited to income-based repayment plans or extended repayment plans.
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