Which graduate career offers the best pay?
Pay in popular graduate careers: investment banking | accountancy | solicitors | barristers | management consulting | IT | engineering | civil and structural engineering, construction and quantity surveying | property surveying | teaching | consumer goods | public sector
The highest starting salaries for graduate jobs are typically with investment banks and law firms. The annual survey carried out by the Institute of Student Employers (ISE), formerly known as the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), and published in September 2017 put law firms ahead of all the other career sectors covered, with a median salary of £39,000 in 2016/17. The next highest starting salary was with investment banks, at £37,000.
With any employer, it is always worth looking into the whole salary package rather than pay alone, as there may also be significant benefits to take into consideration.
Graduate starting pay by business sector
Here are the median starting salaries for 2016/17 across a range of business sectors, as reported in the ISE survey in September 2017. It's important to remember that ISE members include many large multinational employers that tend to offer relatively high starting salaries, so these figures are not representative of graduate pay across the board.
- Law firm £39,000
- Investment bank or fund managers £37,000
- Banking or financial services £35,000
- Public sector £27,000
- Fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) company £26,750
- IT/telecommunications £30,000
- Engineering or industrial company £27,250
- Accountancy or professional services firm £26,433
- Energy, water or utility company £28,000
- Construction or built environment company £27,000
- Consulting or business services £28,000
- Transport or logistics company £26,750
- Retail £25,250
Benefits offered by investment banks typically include a discretionary bonus, life assurance, gym membership, a pension scheme with company contributions and private healthcare. Other benefits available from some investment banking employers include share options and a golden hello.
Accountancy starting salaries with big recruiters are likely to be in the region of £26,000 a year and upwards. 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; larger firms, such as the Big 4, may offer up to £7,000 interest-free.
There are good prospects for future wage increases. CIMA, the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, is a professional body that offers accountancy qualifications. It reports that its part-qualified students in the UK are earning on average £31,677 in basic salary, plus average bonus potential of up to 7%. ICAEW (the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales), another professional body offering accountancy qualifications, says that the average earning potential of ICAEW chartered accountants in business six to nine years after qualifying is £85,900 (£71,600 salary plus £14,300 bonus).
Graduates who join large and medium-sized commercial firms tend to earn the highest solicitors’ starting salaries. Most City law firms offer between £38,000 and £45,000 to first year trainees. Benefits offered by large recruiters often include season ticket loans, private healthcare, life assurance and gym membership. Check whether the firms you are interested in will sponsor you through your GDL or LPC. Some also offer a maintenance grant to support you while you are studying.
The most generous pupillage awards are available from commercial and chancery sets, where they are usually between £40,000 and £70,000 for 12 months. Sets carrying out publicly funded work are likely to offer significantly less, but all pupillages must offer an award of at least £12,000 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.
Most consulting employers are tight-lipped about their salaries until they offer you a job; they tend to use terms such as 'competitive' or 'highly competitive' to describe the graduate starting pay on offer. However, to give a few examples, Alfa offers at least £40,000 and IBM offers £30,000 - £35,000.
Other benefits that could be on offer range from MBA programme sponsorship to performance bonuses and a laptop and smartphone on joining. There may also be other benefits such as the option to work part time, to take additional blocks of leave or sabbaticals, or to take a break from case work and go on secondment working within a client organisation.
Graduates who take up IT jobs with leading employers can expect starting salaries of £21,000 to £30,000 – more in some instances. Here are some examples of the pay on offer for 2017 entry for specific IT graduate schemes:
- Alfa: £40,000
- BAE Systems: £28,000 minimum
- BT: £28,250 - £31,500 (technology roles)
- DSTL: £20,000 - £25,000
- Metaswitch Networks: £35,000
- Microsoft: £34,700 plus sign-on bonus
Some IT employers offer higher starting pay to applicants who have a masters degree or PhD.
The highest starting salaries for graduate engineers are typically with global oil companies, which may offer more than £40,000. A small regional employer is more likely to offer around £18,000, and starting pay with the larger graduate recruiters tends to vary between around £23,000 and £30,000. Further down the line, incorporated engineers typically earn around £43,300 while chartered engineers earn around £55,000, though there is huge variation in pay at this level.
The 2017 graduate starting salaries with top employers on targetjobs.co.uk were mostly between £20,000 and £30,000. Here are some examples of graduate starting pay from popular employers in this area:
- Arup: reported to be around £23,000–£26,000
- Atkins: £23,000–£26,000
- Mott MacDonald: £25,000–£28,000 depending on location and qualification
- Find out more about typical starting salaries in civil and structural engineering, construction and quantity surveying
Starting salaries with smaller employers are likely to be lower, particularly outside London and the south east.
The typical starting salary is £20,000–£25,000. It’s likely that your pay will increase as you pass your APC with RICS or the Royal Town Planning Institute. When you are researching employers, consider whether they can give you the range of experience you’ll need to gain chartership. Gaining your professional qualifications is crucial to your future pay prospects.
A newly qualified teacher (NQT) in England and Wales usually starts work on the minimum rate of the main pay range, currently £22,467 a year (rising to £28,098 in inner London). Academies and independent schools may offer different conditions.
The starting salary with large fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies is typically between around £25,000 and £31,000. The most popular employers in this area include L’Oréal, Procter & Gamble, Unilever, GlaxoSmithKline and Nestlé. Large consumer goods companies usually offer a range of graduate schemes specialising in different areas, so, for example, the options available within Unilever’s future leaders programme include financial management, supply chain management, business and technology management and marketing.
Many public sector schemes offer pay that is comparable to that on offer from big graduate recruiters in the private sector. The highest paid public sector graduate schemes include the Metropolitan Police Service police officer graduate entry scheme, which offers pay of around £29,000 (including London weighting and allowances), and the Mandarin intelligence analyst position with MI5, which offers pay of up to £30,000.