It is the dream to step out of college and start earning your six-figure salary right out of the door (hey, engineers- you made a good decision). Unfortunately (barring some really cool circumstance that I would like to know) that is unrealistic.

Salary is a huge driving force in your job selection, career moves, and ultimate work satisfaction. Everyone likes to feel that they are valued- and a specific dollar amount signifying your value to the workforce can be pretty black and white. So, when you’re looking for new positions prepare yourself on what you think your actual value is and why. This will be invaluable when assessing new opportunities and negotiating a starting salary.


Step One: Research your degree. What are your peers with the same degree as you doing after school? Do you have similar positions? What do those positions typically earn? This might take some digging through alumni organizations, but it is certainly worthwhile to test the waters to find a general consensus on your degree within specific markets.

Step Two: Determine how much relevant experience you have. You may have been in the workforce for 10 years but you may only have 2 years of relevant experience. This can be tricky but you can generally organize this portion by related titles or related industry. If you were an administrative assistant for two years and then an office manager for four years- you have six years of operations experience. If you have nine years of experience in retail sales and six months of experience in manufacturing your salary range won’t reflect nearly ten years of professional experience because you don’t have nuanced industry knowledge.

Step Three: Do your research. Find out the salary range for your position in your geographic location by using PayScale, Indeed, Glassdoor, or any combination of online resources to give you the most accurate sense of information possible. Once you get a solid range- determine your best selling points. What makes you worth the highest point on this spectrum? Are you an expert with specific software? Make sure you have this outlined so that when you talk about your salary expectations you are prepared to explain why they should invest this amount into you- and what worth that can translate to for your potential employer.

Step Four: Consider all elements of compensation. Your base salary is a huge component of your take-home pay- but consider the big picture when assessing different offers. What is the possibility for growth- both in title and base salary? Are there bonuses? What medical and miscellaneous benefits are offered? What will it cost you to get to this job? A position can pay you $5,000 more per year- but if they don’t offer medical coverage and it costs you $3,000 per year in transportation just to get to work it may not be the better choice.