A Complete Guide to Entry-Level Salaries

Updated June 24, 2022

Even if you have the necessary training, education or certifications to work in a specific role or industry, you will likely be earning significantly less at the beginning of your career than after you have had the opportunity to gain a few years of experience. Entry-level salaries indicate the base pay for individuals just starting their careers with their first job in a specific field, industry or profession. In this article, we discuss why entry-level salaries are important, the national average for entry-level salaries in the United States, variables that affect this number and how you can negotiate your entry-level salary.

Related: 15 Entry-Level Jobs That Pay Well

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Why are entry-level salaries important?

Entry-level salaries are important because they determine the base earning potential for individuals entering a specific field or industry for the first time. Entry-level positions generally refer to roles that are open to individuals who are just starting their career and that lack a fair amount of professional experience aside from internships. By finding out how much you will make when you first enter a profession, you can then determine your earning potential for the role, allowing you to decide whether that specific career will be financially sustainable for you and your needs.

Aside from allowing you to evaluate and match a career with your monetary needs, examining entry-level salaries also gives you valuable information as you search for employment. You'll gain insight into the industry standards so you can make informed decisions when faced with a job opportunity. For example, knowing the average base pay will give you an idea of how much you are worth as an entry-level employee, which helps you evaluate whether the wages offered by an employer are fair.

Related: Work Experience and Your Career: Definition, Importance and Tips

The average entry-level salary

The average salary for entry-level positions in the United States is $40,153 per year. Though this is the average base salary, the numbers range from as low as $26,000 to as high as $56,000 for some geographical locations and entry-level positions.

Entry-level jobs typically still require at least some skills or training, unlike most minimum wage positions. However, the payment for entry-level positions varies depending on the region of the employer and is heavily influenced by that state's mandated minimum wage.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employers are required to follow the Fair Labor Standards Act, which has instituted a federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. If working full-time in a salary position, this would translate to $15,080 per year. However, each state is free to develop a minimum wage that best suits their local economy and cost of living as long as it meets or exceeds the federal minimum wage.

Related: How to Write an Entry-Level Resume

The average entry-level salary by state and profession

Entry-level salaries vary depending on several factors, such as the state you are looking for work in, the industry or role that you are entering and the employer that is offering you a position. Entry-level positions that require more technical skills, advanced education and/or training typically pay more than positions that have significantly less stringent prerequisites for employment.

As previously mentioned, entry-level wages are heavily influenced by the cost of living as well as the industry demand in your particular region or state. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the following states generally have higher than average salaries for entry-level positions:

  • Alaska

  • Arizona

  • Arkansas

  • California

  • Colorado

  • Connecticut

  • Delaware

  • Florida

  • Hawaii

  • Illinois

  • Massachusetts

  • Maine

  • Maryland

  • Michigan

  • Minnesota

  • Missouri

  • Montana

  • Nebraska

  • New Jersey

  • New Mexico

  • Nevada

  • New York

  • Ohio

  • Oregon

  • Rhode Island

  • South Dakota

  • Vermont

  • Washington

  • West Virginia

What can you do to increase your entry-level earning potential?

Once you have determined what an entry-level salary generally looks like in your field and region, you should do the following:

1. Research

Start researching the company or organization that you would like to work for to determine what skills and experience you possess that would be considered the most valuable to this employer.

2. Develop your resume

Next, spend time developing your resume to accentuate the skills and experience that will set you apart and align you with the company's mission, values and vision. Detail achievements and experiences that will be especially impressive, such as academic honors or an internship that you excelled at. By highlighting your relevant strengths, it increases the likelihood of being offered the highest salary possible.

3. Gain experience

Gain experience or skills that would improve your chances of being hired and making more money before applying. You can do this by taking courses, completing online tutorials, conducting research or offering to work on a project for a local business free of charge.

For example, if you are a graphic designer you could offer to revamp a local restaurant's logo for them and then add the work that you have completed to your portfolio. Even if your professional experience only extends to you doing free work to build your portfolio, it will showcase your determination, ambition and eagerness to learn.

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Can you negotiate an entry-level salary?

In many positions and industries, especially in structured programs such as medicine, consulting and finance, it will be difficult or impossible to negotiate an entry-level offer. Therefore, it's important to consider the other aspects of the job offer when deciding whether to accept a position, such as the company's benefits, vacation time, culture and other perks.

It's also beneficial to analyze the long-term benefits that this particular employer or position could provide. For example, working at a lower salary for a company that is a leader in its field could provide greater benefits to your resume and career in the future.

To make a truly informed decision regarding salary versus benefits, you will need to conduct some research about the company and spend some time contemplating the experience that the opportunity would provide for you.

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