Graduates have unrealistic salary expectations, study reveals

Survey reveals the majority of graduates around the UK are earning less than £16K in their first role and are dubious about their degree’s return on investment.


Nearly half of graduates (47%) expect an average of £9,000 more than they get in their first role after university, a new report reveals.

Post-university, graduates expect their first job to pay between £21,000 and £30,000, yet only one in six achieve this sum.

The study of 492 graduates, by sales recruitment specialist Pareto Law, discovers a marked difference between expectation and reality when it comes to graduates’ views on employment.


Exploring the world of work, the survey shows almost two thirds (65%) of graduates are employed in industries unrelated to their degrees and the majority are earning less than £16,000.

The survey also looks at the cost of a degree and value for money. With more than one in 10 (12%) spending in excess of £35,000 on their university education, it’s little surprise almost two thirds of graduates (62%) think their degree hasn’t provided sufficient return on investment.

Graduates are sceptical about universities properly preparing them for the workplace, with the majority (87%) saying such higher education providers need to focus on equipping students with the commercial skills valued by businesses.

In addition to this, 40% of graduates feel their university didn’t teach them the skills needed for the working world.

The study highlights the pressure on today’s young shoulders, with the majority (82%) feeling employers have higher expectations than they had with previous generations. But despite all this, 62% of graduates appear to be optimistic about the future of their careers.

Three clear gaps between the perceptions and reality of graduates were uncovered in the study; career prospects, the role of a university degree and developing graduate skills. Sentiments are further explored in Pareto Law’s Mind the Grad Gap whitepaper, which delves into these themes in more detail and looks at the connection between education and employment.

Jonathan Fitchew, CEO and founder of Pareto Law, says: “With the UK home to some of the highest tuition fees in the world, we wanted to see what role a degree plays when graduates enter the workplace. It’s interesting to see the majority of graduates around the UK feel university failed to prepare them for work and how their expectations fared when it comes to salaries and commercial skills.

“Basic salary was one of the most important things for graduates when applying for jobs, but it seems very few sectors are actually meeting these expectations,” he adds.

“We know a career in sales isn’t necessarily explored by educational institutions as a viable career option, but based on the thousands of graduates we’ve successfully placed into sales roles it’s clear a career in this industry is highly rewarding from both a financial and job satisfaction perspective,” he continues.

“At Pareto Law, we ensure graduate expectations and employer packages are aligned to make great matches between the two. A career in sales is a fantastic option for graduates looking to build a financially rewarding profession in an environment that offers outstanding career progression opportunities,” he concludes.