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How to Supercharge Your Income In the 10 Years Post-College

Elyssa Kirkham

February 21, 2019

“We’re pleased to extend an offer of employment.” To a recent college graduate, few words are sweeter.

Finding a good job right out of college is even more important if you’re staring down student loan repayments. As a general rule, you’ll need to secure an annual salary about on par with your total student loan balance to keep payments affordable.

If you’re not quite there, don’t panic. The first decade of your career can bring a lot of opportunities to advance quickly — and increase your pay as you go.

Incomes Grow Fastest in the 5-10 Years After College

Each promotion and pay raise you earn means more funds available to pay down student debt. Even better, raising your income quickly now will give you a higher base salary that can increase your income by hundreds of thousand of dollars over a lifetime.

In this income equation your years right after graduating are crucial. College grads see some of the fastest income growth in the first five to 10 years of their careers:

  • Pay for male grads increases 30% from ages 22 to 30, from the median salary of $50,700 to $65,800, according to PayScale data per CNBC.
  • Pay for female grads increases by 34% in the same age range, from a lower median starting salary of $39,500 at age 22 to $53,000 at 30.

On its own, this can be reassuring. But you don’t have to settle for the typical pay increases cited here. Working hard and smart can put you ahead of your peers, making you a top performer — and earner.

5 Strategies to Supercharge Your Income Growth After College

It’s definitely possible to grow your income at a rate faster than 30-35% in the first decade out of college. I know — because I did it.

I graduated with a less-marketable degree: I majored in English with an emphasis in creative writing. I worked internships and part-time jobs before finally landing my first full-time position a full year after graduating. I spent the next few years hustling and negotiating my way to higher pay. By the seven-year anniversary of walking in my commencement ceremony, I increased my pay by more than 110%.

This set me up to pay my student loans off five years early, and earn even more in my 30s and looking forward.

Are you aiming for the same kind of income growth? Here are some smart and effective strategies to help you stand out and run up your pay as fast as possible.

1. Learn how to be a good employee

At your first job you’ll need to start simple: learning how to be a good employee. The transition from college student to full-time worker isn’t always smooth, so stay focused on minimizing mishaps and being a fast learner.

Try out different routines, tools, and habits to see which fit the way you work. Build strategies and systems that will help you focus, prioritize work appropriately, and power through tasks you dislike.

Practice good workplace etiquette, too. Be courteous to coworkers who share your space. Stay humble and hungry to take on new projects. Don’t underestimate how far you can get with soft skills like being diplomatic, flexible, and easy to work with.

2. Chart a path to your next pay raise

Once you’ve hit your stride with full-time employment, you can start working toward performing better and earning a promotion. This is a great time to request that your manager chart a path for your advancement. Hopefully, your supervisor can identify the next logical title or position you could work toward.

From there, you can work together to identify gaps in skills, knowdedge, or performance that you need to close to qualify for this promotion. You’ll know exactly what you need to do, and on what timeline, to earn a pay raise.

3. Know when to jump ship

Unfortunately, some employers won’t offer a clear path for your career growth, or will offer only a meager pay raise for months spent working toward a promotion. Pay attention to these stalls in your career and pay — they’re red flags that it’s time to look for a new job.

In fact, switching jobs could be a winning strategy to raise your pay faster. Workers who switched jobs within the past 12 months saw consistently higher wage growth compared to those who stayed, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

If you don’t see a promising promotion on the horizon at your current company, it might be time to update your resume and start searching for higher pay elsewhere.

4. Know and negotiate for what you’re worth

Sites such as PayScale, Glassdoor and Salary.com offer instantaneous insights into pay levels for certain industries, roles, and companies.

This makes it easier than ever to figure out exactly how much you’re worth — and make sure you’re not underpaid. The odds aren’t in your favor, as a Glassdoor study found that the average employee is underpaid around $7,500 per year. Do some research to figure out what the going rate is for job candidates with similar experience, education levels, and job descriptions to you.

If you think you’re worth more than your current salary, you’ll need to negotiate higher pay. If you’re offered a raise by a current employer or through a new job offer, it’s time to counter offer. Ask for a higher number based on your research, or inquire if there’s room for negotiation.

5. Make yourself more marketable

In addition to negotiating what you’re worth, keep growing as an employee and looking for opportunities to make yourself more valuable. Volunteer for additional responsibilities, projects and tasks that will give you the opportunity to develop and apply new skills.

Outside of work, look for job training, certificates, or classes that can add crucial skills to your set. Your employer might even pay for it — see if you get an educational benefit that will pay the costs of trainings or courses. Your company might also be willing sponsor your attendance or presentation at a professional conference.

As you advance your career and build out your network, it’s important to work both hard and smart. Being prepared with the right skills, pay information, and connections can make all the difference in getting ahead and growing your income as fast as possible.

This will literally pay off now, netting you more funds you can use to get out of student debt faster. And it will continue paying dividends, as you continue building on your higher base pay to even bigger paychecks in your 30s and beyond.

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