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Don’t Get Ahead, Start Ahead

This article was written by in Salaries. 12 comments.

This is an interesting article from the New York Times. Research shows that your first job dictates how much your income will be your entire working career.

The recent evidence shows quite clearly that in today’s economy starting at the bottom is a recipe for being underpaid for a long time to come. Graduates’ first jobs have an inordinate impact on their career path and their “future income stream,” as economists refer to a person’s earnings over a lifetime.

Let’s put this in perspective for me. Here are the jobs I had, after finishing my undergraduate degree in music education:

* 1999: Substitute music teacher in a low-paying district: $70/day
* 1999: Summer job: driving a van for a drum and bugle corps 12,000 miles over seven weeks: $500/wk
* 1999-2001: Associate Director, Scholastic Services of a non-profit organization: $28,000/yr with 3% increases
* 2002-2004: Temp to permanent administrative associate at my current company: started at $34,000 plus bonuses, overtime, etc., with average yearly increases
* 2004: Taught high school music for one semester, remaining part time at current company: $40,000
* 2004-2006: Returned full-time to current company: currently making $42,800 plus bonuses, overtime, etc.

When I returned to my current company in 2004, I took on a new position (accounting) with which I had basically no experience. I seem to have adapted well considering I was awarded by latest position.

According to this article, my salaries dictate how much I’ll make throughout my career. Finishing up my master’s degree will give me a boost if I change jobs again. Salary was never a motivation for me originally; otherwise I wouldn’t have chosen to study music education. Even if doing so is making it more difficult for me to get ahead, especially in this area of the country, I wouldn’t change anything given the chance.

Published or updated May 26, 2006.

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Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

I think that the idea is pretty sound. If you start out low and expect to gradually improve your career position, you will probably not get that far. Most people that fall into that circle are not that motivated, and they tend to expect too much for little effort… almost a sense of entitlement.

During 2001/2002 I got stuck in a few low-paying jobs, and it probably kept me from earning more from 2003-2005. I have corrected that, now, I believe by leap frogging a couple of pay grades (for a lack of a better term). Now, I am just hoping to leap frog a few again to get to where I want to be in a couple of years.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

Based on my own experiences, I’m not sure I totally agree.

This has been my salary in the past 4 years as a web designer…
2002 – $27,000/yr base salary at a small web development agency.
2004 – $47,000/yr base salary at Texas grocery chain.
2005 – $30/hr as a contractor at a respected financial institution (translates roughly to $57,000-$62,000/yr salary in consideration of overtime).
2006 – $65,000/yr base salary at same company as a full-time employee.

So, in about four years of starting out in this profession, I have more than doubled my salary. Of course, If I had staid in the same job that I started in, I’d probably still be stuck at something like #34,000. But I was motivated in improving my work situation (in more ways than money) and sometimes the best way to do that is by getting a new job.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

Hi Flexo,

This is a very nice article — since I also felt that I’m stuck in a low paying job in a laid back organization.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

Hmm… actually, I feel your income is determined more by competency and experience. Granted a starter job in a rare skillset / specialized position may give more of a lift off.

My first job out of college paid about $160k (in the early 90s). I did pretty well until I changed jobs (started a business) and saw my pay drop $100k. It took a very long time for my pay to come back to where it was. Sometimes I wonder if it was worth it. Then again, the experience of starting a company is pretty invaluable.

So my career look something more like a U than an upward slope.

Have a great day!

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avatar 5 Luke Landes

A $160k straight out of undergrad is not too common, I’d have to say. Investment banking? Consulting for McKinsey with Chelsea Clinton? There aren’t many corporate jobs that do that sort of thing. Statistically, anomalies like that disppear, but it’s interesting to look at examples like that.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

I think a significant point is being missed. Your biggest financial asset is your ability to make money. For sure, a balance between doing something you love and getting paid well for it is nice, but if you have to choose, go for the money.

When I started my career 25 years ago, I made $11,700 per year. I stayed in my profession but I moved to places that paid better, kept my work record clean and sought promotion. Now I make $80,000 per year.

As I got older, I realized that I had two choices if I wanted to be financially successful. Treat my time as if it were something someone should pay me well for in this profession or look to do something else.


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