What are the best paying jobs for graduates?

Last updated: 8 Nov 2023, 13:20

Find out the UK’s average graduate salary, the highest paying graduate jobs and how your degree discipline could affect your earning potential.

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The average graduate salary in the UK is £33,229, according to an annual salary survey conducted by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE) in 2022. One sector it surveyed offers pay head and shoulders above that: the average graduate salary at law firms comes in at £42,810.

However, the ISE’s student recruitment survey comprises findings from its member employers, which are typically the largest employers with structured graduate programmes, and so might not be representative of salaries across the entire early careers market; in fact, just 111 organisations provided salary information. In this article, therefore, we will report on the findings from the ISE to capture the picture at the largest graduate employers before investigating the salaries across employers of other sizes.

The rates of pay offered by employers for graduate programmes are usually fixed, with no or little room for negotiation. There may be more opportunity to negotiate a higher starting salary for an individual graduate job, especially at a smaller employer, if they indicate a range or suggest remuneration depends on experience. Find out more about how to negotiate your starting salary and how to answer the interview question ‘What are your salary expectations?’ to make sure you are prepared.

Go straight to graduate job salaries in different career sector and profession:

  1. at a glance: highest graduate salaries overall
  2. solicitors
  3. barristers
  4. accountancy
  5. investment banking
  6. financial services
  7. consulting
  8. IT
  9. engineering
  10. civil and structural engineering, construction and quantity surveying
  11. property surveying
  12. charity
  13. retail
  14. teaching
  15. public sector
  16. event management and hospitality

What are the highest paying graduate jobs and employers?

The highest paying graduate jobs are typically, as the ISE suggests, trainee solicitor posts with commercial law firms (a number of which pay £50,000) or pupil barrister positions with commercial and chancery chambers (which pay as much as £75,000). To give you a flavour of high payers in other sectors, the healthcare technology specialist TPP offers £50,000 for some roles, Aldi’s area manager programme pays £50,000, and the consultancy Newton Europe offers £45,000−£50,000.

The above selection is based on the salary information officially published by employers. It is hard to say definitively which employers and careers offer the highest pay because many employers say that they offer a ‘competitive’ salary and figures from anonymous salary survey sites (although useful as an indication) are only representative of what others have been paid in the past, not what may be on offer to you. Therefore, if you are motivated by having a high salary, don’t overlook employers that don’t state a salary or other high-paying employers in other sectors.

The ISE breaks down the average salary by business sector as follows:

  • Legal: £42,810
  • Digital & IT: £32,441
  • Finance & professional services: £32,316
  • Health & pharmaceuticals: £30,125
  • Energy, engineering & industry: £28,667
  • Charity & public sector £27,966
  • Built environment £26,708
  • Retail & FMCG: £26,333.

As noted above, these salaries from the ISE are not necessarily representative of graduate salaries across the board, so in the next sections we will look in more detail at pay in different sectors. When comparing careers and employers, however, it is wise to look at the whole compensation package , as there may be significant benefits that supplement a headline salary figure.

How much can you earn as a trainee solicitor?

Graduates who join large commercial firms tend to earn the highest solicitors’ starting salaries. Most City law firms offer between £40,000 and £50,000 to first-year trainees. Benefits offered by these large recruiters often include season ticket loans, private healthcare, life assurance and gym memberships. The salary package offered by regional and high street firms, and in the public sector, will be lower; the Government Legal Department, for example, pays £30,157 to its trainee solicitors and pupil barristers.

How much can you earn as a barrister?

The largest pupillage awards can be found with commercial and chancery sets, which typically offer between £40,000 and £75,000 for 12 months. Sets carrying out publicly funded work (for example, criminal or family law) are likely to offer significantly less, but all pupillages must offer an award of £18,884 for pupillages outside of London and £20,703 for those in London for 12 months. If you are successful in establishing your practice after obtaining tenancy, you are likely to see a substantial increase in your earnings, whatever area of law you have chosen to specialise in.

What are the typical salaries and benefits in accounting?

Accountancy starting salaries are likely to be in the region of £20,000–£28,000, depending on the employer and location. Larger employers, especially the Big 4 professional services firms, may pay more. Qualifying with a professional body usually takes three to four years and most accountancy employers will pay for your exam fees and give you time off to study. You may be offered a graduate loan as part of your overall package of pay and benefits. There are good prospects for future wage increases as you progress.

Pay and perks in investment banking

Investment banks usually state that their pay is competitive or highly competitive, so you have to turn to anonymous salary surveys and recruitment agency reports to get an understanding of what is on offer. By and large, they state that the average salary for an analyst in investment banking is around £41,000 in London, but could be as much as £70,000. In Glasgow and Edinburgh, it is likely to be slightly less. These amounts do not include any performance-related bonuses you may receive.

Salaries in financial services and insurance

targetjobs uses ‘financial services’ as an umbrella term for careers in insurance, retail banking, actuarial work, risk and regulation. Graduate starting salaries vary according to the role, location and employer, but are likely to be in the region of £21,000–£32,000 and possibly more in London.

What salary and benefits can you expect in consulting?

Newton Europe offers £45,000−£50,000, Alfa £40,000 and PwC £33,500, but most consulting employers are tight-lipped about their salaries until they offer you a job. Anonymous salary surveys suggests that the average salary for a graduate management consultant is £30,000−£35,000 but that many established graduate consulting employers pay £40,000 or more. Consulting firms typically offer a wide range of benefits, most notably MBA programme sponsorship, and some of the consulting firms offering slightly lower salaries may have more generous benefits than those offering more on paper. This is a profession in which it is worth considering the entire compensation package.

How much can you earn in IT?

Graduate salaries in IT typically range from £24,000 to £30,000+ but can vary depending on the employer and the sector. Employers that currently offer a starting salary of £40,000 or above include Alfa, Lloyds Banking Group (for its data science scheme), Softwire and TPP.

If you’re applying for an individual job vacancy (especially at a tech start-up) there may be more scope for negotiation than there typically is in other sectors.

What could you earn as a graduate engineer?

As a graduate engineer, your salary will depend on factors such as your industry, your employer, your location and your qualifications, but a typical starting salary in engineering is between £25,000 and £32,000 mark.. Smaller and medium-sized or regional employers may offer slightly lower pay, often between £20,000 and £25,000, while larger employers typically pay their graduate engineers £30,000 and above. The energy sector, particularly oil and gas, is known for paying the highest salaries. Centrica pays £36,000 and BP £37,000–£48,000

What is the graduate starting salary in construction and civil engineering?

Salaries for construction graduate jobs typically fall in the region of £24,000 to £32,000. Larger employers running graduate programmes often pay the same rate for all of their graduate roles (although some offer more for certain locations). However, employers offering individual jobs might pay different rate for different types of job, with engineers typically being offered more.

What salary can a graduate property surveyor expect?

The typical starting salary of a graduate property professional is between £20,000 and £30,000, with the exact salary on offer varying according to location and specialism. It’s likely that your pay will increase as you pass your APC with the Royal Institute or the Royal Town Planning Institute and become chartered. When you are researching employers, consider whether they can give you the range of experience you’ll need to gain chartership, as it is vital for your future earnings.

How much can graduates earn in the charity/not-for-profit sector?

Graduate starting salaries within the charity/not-for-profit sector vary depending on the organisation you work for, the industry and where the role is based. In an entry-level role you can typically expect to earn between £15,000 and £22,000 – some charities also pay an additional allowance if you’re based in London.

There are a few structured graduate schemes in the charity sector, which often pay more than entry-level roles and you can expect a salary up to around £27,000 on schemes with charities such as Charityworks, Cancer Research and IntoUniversity – with many guaranteeing a rise in the second year of the programme. The Wellcome Trust is a high payer in the sector, paying £35,000. The Worthwhile graduate programme, which offers placements in small charities, pays at least the living wage or the London living wage if your placement is based in London.

As your career progresses, your salary will become more or less comparable with salaries in the private sector, but perhaps slightly lower than you could earn at the largest employers in London. Fundraising managers can earn anywhere between £26,000 and £40,000, depending on the exact role requirements. heads of functions can earn far more.

What can graduates who work for retailers earn?

Aldi outstrips most of its competitors in terms of pay, offering £50,000 for its area manager programme. The rates of pay from other retailers depends partly on the graduate job role and location, ranging from around £21,000 to £37,000. For example:

  • Lidl: £37,000 for its sales graduate management programme
  • Tesco: £28,000−£37,000, depending on the graduate programme
  • Sainsbury’s: £32,000
  • John Lewis Partnership: said to be £27,000−£29,000
  • Next: £25,000 for its trainee merchandising vacancies
  • Majestic Wine: reported to be c. £23,000.

The perks offered by retailers usually include discounts on their products.

What is the starting salary for a teacher?

An early career teacher (ECT – formerly newly qualified teacher or NQT) earns in line with the agreed national pay scale, which is £28,000 to £38,810 in England outside of London and from £29,344 to £44,756 in London (depending on location). In Scotland the pay range is from £28,113 to £42,336; in Wales it is from £28,866 to £39,873.

What is public sector pay like for graduates?

Many public sector schemes offer pay that is comparable to that available in the private sector, with many also guaranteeing a pay rise after the first year. Here are the first-year salaries for a selection of public sector graduate programmes or roles:

  • MI5: from £33,000 and £37,296 for technology roles
  • The Government Legal Department: £30,157 for trainee solicitors and pupil barristers in London, Leeds, Bristol and Manchester – salary
  • National Graduate Development Programme (NGDP – the local authority graduate programme): £28,371 minimum
  • The Civil Service Fast Stream: £27,000–£28,000
  • NHS Graduate Management Training Schemes: £26,382
  • The National Audit Office: from £25,000 in Newcastle and from £30,000 in London
  • Police Now: £26,682 (plus a location allowance of up to £6,906).

The Frontline social work programme offers a tax-free bursary of £18,000 or £20,000 in London for the first year and then a salary in the second year of the programme of between £25,000 and £34,000.

What salary can a graduate expect in events management and hospitality?

Starting salaries for entry-level events assistant roles (requiring little or no experience) typically sit somewhere between £20,000 and £25,000. Some employers will reward their events staff with commission-based payments and bonuses on top of their base salary.

Salaries in hospitality vary, with many ranging from the high teens to the mid-twenties, depending on the employer, role and location. Mitchells & Butlers offers £26,000 and McDonald’s around £24,000–£28,000.

Next: search for graduate jobs on targetjobs

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This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

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