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.


17 Comments / Post A Comment

RosemaryF (#345)

As a librarian, expect less than your degrees are worth in the beginning. Degrees are like opinions in the library world, and we all know what opinions are like, right? Everyone has one, so they aren’t all that impressive.

Experience counts for SO MUCH in salary negotiations.

As a personal example, I came out with my BS and MS in Library Sciences and the only job I could get (with four years of solid library experience) was basically a clerk position at more specialized library making enough to live if I let my mom buy my groceries and lived with two roommates.

Cut to four years later and I got a researcher position at a different company making the average for my specialized position in my geographic region which granted me the ability to live on my own, pay down my debt and buy a house.

Crabtree (#774)

Thank you for answering my question. I wasn’t expecting it, because it was so specific and probably not useful for a lot of people. I do know that experience will improve things, but I did want to know if there is something that I shouldn’t really accept. For example, I didn’t apply to a position that was $13 an hour, on Monday to Friday from 1-6 because I wouldn’t be working enough and it would be hard to have find a second job that would work with those hours. Maybe that was a silly decision since I would have had more experience.

Just to answer your question. I think that my friends came up with the number out of their own expectations and not from looking around. One of them has that number as the minimum he would accept, and honestly I don’t really expect that much for a little bit.

Anyway, thanks for answering.

Megano! (#124)

For writing editing jobs, is it possible to ask for more if you have design skills? I have mediocre ones, I’m just wondering if it would be beneficial to develop them a bit.

@Megano! It’s ALWAYS good for writers to develop their peripheral job skills. So yes, but not necessarily because it will help you with salary negotiations. A lot of writing/editing jobs now expect a bit of design (print and web), SEO knowledge, social media, ad skills, etc. etc. etc.

Megano! (#124)

@Leon Tchotchke I do know pretty much all of these things a little bit. I’m not the best designer, but I am definitely much better at magazine layouts, which is luckily what I want to do.

Before the recession I was hired at an entry-level public librarian position for $38k in 2006. I came into the position after working as a library assistant for just over a year.

tiktaalik (#778)

Hi! I registered just to make this comment.

I am a librarian. I, too, went straight through school and got two (2!) Masters degrees without any breaks. My first MS was in biology, the second was my MLS. I got a really-real library job about 4 months after my graduation, which was in December 2009, AKA when the recession was still at “OH SHIT” levels.

My beginning salary was $46,000. I do not think $45,000 is outrageous, not at all. I also love almost all of Mike Dang’s advice, but I have to disagree with him a bit here – freelance writing and journalism is not like being a librarian. As a librarian, you will probably switch jobs only a handful of times. While you might get annual raises, you are never going to astronomically increase your earning at the same job. If they hire you at $30k, you will be making $15k less per year you work at that place than if you’d gotten a job that offered $45k. This adds up, and you can’t really count on being able to make up for it later. While it’s always good advice to work hard and hope you’ll make more next year, it also pays (literally!) to not be shy and ask for what you’re worth. The worst they will do is offer you less.

Of course, there are other factors to consider; you don’t mention what kind of librarian you want to be, but since you mention public librarians specifically… you’re right, they’re generally paid much, much less. I work at a university, and $42k is the minimum I’ve heard of a university library hiring a brand new librarian. University libraries also generally look for librarians with double Masters degrees. You also mention you want to stay in Montreal, which will limit you, but probably not too badly since it is a city and big cities tend to have many types of libraries, universities, archives, museums, etc. that you could work at.

If it were me, and I was trying to stay in my current city and get a public library job, I would probably end up settling for somewhere around $25-30k. Basically, you can either be in the city you want working at the library you want and make less, or you can expand your job search to national/international (and maybe other types of librarianship, like academic) and actually get paid what your’e worth. It sucks, but that’s the way it is.

Also, having been on a few hiring committees – play up your experience. Seriously. The MLS degree means we won’t throw away the application without reading it; relevant experience will actually get you an interview. If you get to the salary negotiation stage, go ahead and ask for what you think you’re worth.

tiktaalik (#778)

@tiktaalik Coming back to add: Take whatever job you need in the meantime to pay the bills, obviously – even those shitty part-time $12/hour jobs. I’m not saying you should hold out for your perfect $45k job. But just remember to keep looking. Even if the library you are at tells you that they intend to hire your position full-time in a year, remember that budgets change all the time, and the reason those part-time jobs are so shitty is most likely because they used to be someone’s full-time job, but now the library can’t pay benefits. Not that I have any experience with this scenario.

cmcm (#267)

It seems difficult for this question to be answered objectively without taking the cost of living in different cities into account. Montreal has SUCH a low cost of living, especially when you compare to New York, etc. When I left Montreal a few years ago, I was making I think $13 an hour and living pretty comfortably.

Thanks Payscale for helping me realize I will be poor forever

gidge (#601)

Fellow MLIS grad here to chime in: depending on cost of living, I think $45k is really reasonable. I probably wouldn’t demand it or hold out for it, if I were limited geographically like you are, but I would definitely not feel weird asking for it.
If you get to that stage of a job interview, usually they really want you and everything else checks out – the worst is probably that they say “No we can’t go that high” and you have to decide if you want the job instead. It’s really unlikely they say “NEXT!” I’m pissed I didn’t negotiate for a higher starting salary; consider that a 5% raise on a salary of $30,000 is only $62 extra bucks a paycheck…in a career position annual raises won’t really get you to where you want to be.
I would second tiktaalik and say it would depend a bit on what type of librarian you want to be. I went into the corporate world, specifically advertising, and I love it (despite the aforementioned poor negotiating when I started). Corporate librarianship can have some nice perks, like really good benefits and entry into the magical world of bonus pools. But you might also be the only information professional working in your office (“MLIS? So what would you say you DO here?”).
So much to consider! To sum: $45,000 doesn’t seem crazy to me at all. Get it girl!

tiktaalik (#778)

@gidge Yes, this is what I was trying to say! Once you have settled on a starting salary, your raises don’t really make up for a whole lot. If you’re lucky they might keep up with inflation… maybe. You tell yourself you’ll get raises, but they aren’t enough to matter, lifestyle-wise.

In my experience, the salary negotiations happen last, after they’ve already spent considerable time and money deciding that they really want YOU. So go ahead and ask for what you’re worth! $45k is not such a large salary that they will think strangely of you, but they might just counter with, “well, here’s what we CAN pay you: $$$” and then you have to decide if the job/location are good enough for that pay. Barring some strange unique circumstances that I can’t even fathom, they aren’t going to suddenly withdraw their job offer because you asked for $45k.

Payscale is probably not the most reliable source for entry-level librarian salaries, which range widely based on location. Let me recommend the CLA National Salary Survey: I imagine you should be able to get your hands on the full report through interlibrary loan.

Not sure what the budget situation is like in Montreal’s public libraries but if it’s anywhere near as bad as in the States, you will probably be hanging on to your current part-time gig for a while. There’s a reason you’re seeing such low salaries; it’s because the library directors know there’s a huge glut of MLS grads who are desperate and who will work for pretty much whatever they offer.

phlox (#204)

I got my first library job post-MLIS in 2008, just before the recession, at $45,000. But I had to move from Montreal to small-town Alberta. I’m now in Toronto making… less than that, despite the fact that I now have 3+ years library and management experience. But I want to be here so it’s worth it for now. You can make a real salary if you’re willing to leave but in the major cities it is harder. (Especially because the big cities have the library schools, so there is a steady supply of people willing to work for not much just to get experience.)

Also a Canadian Librarian. I graduated with my MLIS in 2009. I got an academic-year contract at a university ($31/hr) which wasn’t full time. After over a year of looking for a permanent position I found a job in the sector, but not doing what I want to do (still here, still looking – it’s 2 years in September) – I make about $56,000 & live in Toronto.

Your second degree is valuable, but the fact that it’s in English isn’t going to be saleable to a lot of directors. They want a foreign language or hard sciences. Add to that the fact that each posting is getting 100+ qualified candidates in major cities up here…well, I’d take what I can get.

That said, I think $45k is a totally reasonable starting salary in Canada. Toronto Public starts around $55k as do many universities (including in the prairie region). Salaries seem to be stable across the country.

sventurata (#27)

1. You can probably ask for $40,000/annum.

2. You will probably more likely get hourly temp work/part-time/casual offers.

3. Unless you have rad web development/hard science/tech integration experience, in which case you’ll get hired immediately. If you don’t already have this stuff, I’d recommend pursuing it heavily.

4. Dirty little (Canadian) secret: unless you’re bilingual (which hopefully you are if you’re in MTL?) forget about ever landing a government position.

5. If you are bilingual, congratulations, you’re set for life. Don’t settle for anything below $60K.

sventurata (#27)

Also: 25, good God, how lucky you are. Build up that work experience and find side projects you love. You will have a lovely life filled with educational experiences.

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