Reader Mail: How Much Should I Be Earning After Graduation?

I have a stupid question. I’m just finishing my second master’s. This one was at least a professional degree in library and information science, which means that people will think I have skills. I went straight through all my degrees in a row because I wasn’t sure what I wanted, and I knew that a Masters in English Literature really interested me (it was still hell on earth). I don’t have any debt since I worked all the way through school (and I live in Canada), and I still have a small cushion of three grand to keep me while I work as much as I can, and apply for jobs. I work at a library, but part-time and a few levels under where my new degree will be able to get me, but I won’t be able to move up at this location.

I just don’t know if there is an unacceptable amount of money to work for. I mean, I’m going to try for more than minimum wage, and I’m going to try for more than my hourly wage right now. But I also know that I’ll be lucky to get a job, and that lots of people have more pressing concerns like all consuming debt. My boyfriend and my roommates tell me that I shouldn’t accept less than $45,000 because I have a ridiculous amount of degrees for my age. My mom is less sure about that, but isn’t really able to give me a real number, and keeps on asking me what I won’t accept. I just don’t know. Whatever job I get will be my first “grown-up” job at age 25. I live in Montreal, where the public librarians get paid less than in most of the country, so my first job could be $30,000 or less, but none of the job ads in the city make it clear what the salaries are like. I would like to stay in this city because of my boyfriend and his job, but I’d move for a job I’d love, and I would definitely make more money.

I guess this really isn’t a question that works for a lot of people, but I’m just wondering since I haven’t really been in the job market, should I have a standard that I won’t go below? How low is too low? — C.O.

I earn my living as a writer, and have been doing so for nearly a decade. When I graduated from college, I earned $20,000 on the bottom rung writing for public radio, which, as we all know, is ridiculously underfunded, and has very little to dole out to employees. I knew going into my career that I would be paid very little, and that I would have to work my butt off to make a decent living. Obviously $20,000 was not going to be sustainable for very long — I quit that job after four months, and traded it for a writing gig that paid $30,000. I wouldn’t have been able to get that $30,000 job if I hadn’t worked at that $20,000 job, and I wouldn’t have known that I could be earning $30,000 instead of $20,000 if I hadn’t done my research to figure out what the earning potential was for jobs in my field. If I had walked into that radio station and asked for $30,000, they would have laughed at me — who did I think I was, Ira Glass? I knew that the $20,000 offer wasn’t exactly insane, but I also knew that once I had more experience under my belt, I would be earning much more.

So what’s the typical salary at the bottom rung of your career field, and what can you expect to earn with more experience under your belt? Here are three great sites for you to look at to figure that out: PayScale, Glassdoor, and By the way, how did your friends come up with that $45,000 figure?

According to PayScale, librarians can earn as little as $29,900, and as much as $92,324 as a library director. Those job ads may not be telling you how much the positions they have will pay, but you’ll be able to go into an interview with the knowledge of what your earning potential is — if you do get an offer, you’ll know whether or not they’re low-balling you. I’m not sure exactly what position you’re looking to land in the field of library science, but you should definitely not sell yourself short. How low is too low? You’ll know that based on the typical salary of the position you want.

You do have some things on your side: You’re already working part-time at a library, and you do have an advanced degree in your field, so you should be able to ask for more than what’s being offered on the bottom rung. Of course, there may not be very many librarian openings where you live, and economic factors do play a role, so don’t be disheartened if it seems like you aren’t getting job offers with the salary you want.

When I got my master’s degree from Columbia, I thought I could ask for more than what I was asking for before I got my degree. I graduated in 2007 — right when the recession hit — and got a job that paid $30,000, or basically what I was earning before I went to school. I was disheartened, but I had a job during a time when everyone else was losing their own. But I worked hard, proved my worth, and earned $70,000 last year. Things will fall into place. You might not earn what you want at first, but that doesn’t mean you won’t earn it eventually.

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