The phrase “entry-level” has, in many ways, become synonymous with low pay. But the truth is, “It is not the term ‘entry-level’ that determines salary,” says Linda J. Hollenback, MSEd, a college and career strategist, founder of Hollenback Consulting, and a Certified Professional Résumé Writer. There are plenty of entry-level jobs out there that pay well—it’s just about figuring out which roles and industries are going to give you the most bang for your entry-level buck.
“It’s all about supply and demand,” says Colleen DelVecchio, an independent career coach and senior coach at ArcVida who previously spent a decade as a career counselor at Smith College. “When there are less candidates with a specific skills set, industries tend to pay higher,” she says. “Additionally, when industries can charge their end users more, the pay tends to be higher.”
So the question is: If you want to start your career off on a high-paying note, what are the roles that are going to offer a high salary from the get-go?
Defining “High-Paying” and “Entry-Level”
First things first, let’s take a minute to define what we mean when we say “high-paying” and “entry-level.”
In this case, we’re defining “high-paying” as any role that pays more than the median salary for all occupations in the U.S.—which, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, was $39,810 per year as of May 2019 (the most recent data available).
And an entry-level role is “one that does not require previous experience in the field,” DelVecchio says. “They are positions where the employer is willing to train you and help you to build the skills necessary.”
One thing to note: You may run into situations where an entry-level role will “be posted at two to five years experience,” DelVecchio says. These “entry-level-but-not-really” positions have been on the rise since the Great Recession and can feel like a frustrating paradox to job seekers who are trying to break into the field—but don’t be discouraged! There are plenty of roles out there that are truly entry-level (and will pay well to boot!).
Here are 10 high-paying entry-level roles, along with salary information from the compensation resource Payscale (note that Payscale’s database is updated nightly; the figures below reflect the latest information as of February 2021):
1. Data Scientist
Average entry-level compensation: $85,421
Average salary: $96,289
Salary range: $67,000–$134,000
In today’s tech-centric world, data is becoming more important and abundant than ever—and companies need data and analytics teams to help organize, analyze, and leverage that data to hit their goals. Data scientists are responsible for creating the frameworks that companies use to analyze large sets of data. This includes designing and implementing algorithms and statistical models, running tests and experiments on existing data, developing internal and external data products, and continually evolving and optimizing their frameworks to ensure the most accurate results—which, in turn, leads to the most useful insights and accurate conclusions to help the business succeed and grow.
In order to get hired as an entry level-data scientist, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science, math, engineering, statistics, or a related field—though you should be aware that some companies may require an advanced degree—and proof that you have some core data science skills.
2. Management Consultant
Average entry-level compensation: $70,346
Average salary: $87,805
Salary range: $60,000–$144,000
Management consultants work with companies to help them improve their businesses by identifying problems, developing solutions, and overseeing the implementation of those solutions. For example, a team of consultants might help a company revamp their hiring practices to attract top talent, overhaul their internal processes to improve efficiency, or reimagine their budgets to cut costs. Management consultants are employed by consulting firms, not by the client companies they work with, which means that consultants have the opportunity to work on a variety of projects over time.
Management consulting is a competitive industry. To get your foot in the door at a consulting firm, you’ll typically need a bachelor’s degree in a related field (such as business administration or economics) and a high GPA during your undergraduate studies. Keep in mind that some management consulting firms prefer their candidates to hold advanced degrees—even for entry-level roles.
3. Software Developer
Average entry-level compensation: $62,581
Average salary: $71,901
Salary range: $50,000–$105,000
Software developers (also known as software engineers) are, as the name implies, responsible for developing different types of software. Ultimately, software developers are responsible for solving problems; they work with product managers to identify the end user’s key needs and design software, features, and fixes that meet those needs—and then they write, test, and deploy the relevant code.
While some companies require their software developers to hold a degree in computer science, many companies will hire software developers without a degree. As long as you know how to code—and can prove it in a technical interview—you’re good to go.
4. Business Analyst, IT
Average entry-level compensation: $59,212
Average salary: $69,209
Salary range: $50,000–$98,000
IT business analysts are responsible for analyzing a company’s current IT operations—and then making recommendations to improve efficiency, bring down costs, and implement IT systems and protocols that empower employees to be more productive. Depending on the company and its IT infrastructure, they might analyze hardware, software, and/or IT systems, processes, and services to recommend the most impactful improvements. IT business analysts may also be looped into new projects to determine what kind of IT solutions the company will need to support the project.
Entry-level IT business analysts will need a bachelor’s degree in business administration, information technology, or a related field—as well as a deep understanding of IT systems that, depending on the person, could be gained through undergraduate coursework, internships, or personal study.
5. Investment Associate
Average entry-level compensation: $51,458
Average salary: $63,046
Salary range: $44,000–$104,000
Investment associates may work at banks, financial services firms, or other financial institutions and assist portfolio managers in researching and developing investment strategies for clients—both private and corporate. Their responsibilities typically include analyzing financial data, conducting research, creating presentations and other client materials, managing client transactions, and performing related administrative tasks. Most investment associates have analytical, research-based tasks as well as client-facing tasks—so in order to succeed, candidates should be comfortable doing both.
Generally, a bachelor’s degree in finance, economics, or a related field is required for investment associate positions.
6. Desktop Support Engineer
Average entry-level compensation: $49,724
Average salary: $58,415
Salary range: $42,000–$82,000
Desktop support engineers are responsible for troubleshooting anything that goes wrong with an organization’s software or hardware (such as computers, laptops, and servers), whether that’s on-site or from a remote location. Generally, a user will send over an IT request—and when the desktop support engineer receives that ticket, it’s their job to identify the problem, fix it, and ensure that everything is back up and running properly. They may also be responsible for documenting solutions, keeping track of backups and maintenance, and/or supporting IT technicians on their team.
While many companies prefer their desktop support engineers to have a degree, it’s not a requirement for many job listings; if you know how to troubleshoot IT issues—and can solve problems quickly and effectively—you can land a role.
7. HR Associate
Average entry-level compensation: $45,000
Average salary: $50,025
Salary range: $38,000–$69,000
An HR Associate supports leadership in the human resources or “people” department on a variety of projects. They might work with recruiters and HR managers to schedule interviews or contact references, process payroll and benefits paperwork, conduct orientation and onboarding sessions, help plan and execute trainings, and/or take on general administrative work. Because they’re often exposed to sensitive employee information during their work, HR associates must also be able to maintain the highest level of confidentiality and build and maintain trust with their team.
While many companies prefer to hire HR associates with a bachelor’s degree, you can also get your foot in the door without a college degree—as many companies are looking to hire HR talent with the right attitude and personality vs. any specific background.
8. Executive Assistant
Average entry-level compensation: $43,533
Average salary: $56,355
Salary range: $39,000–$80,000
An executive assistant is an executive’s right-hand person, responsible for supporting the CEO or another executive (and sometimes multiple execs) in their day-to-day role. The job can include tasks like booking travel, managing calendars, scheduling appointments, planning events, managing projects, and performing other administrative duties (such as answering phones). EAs basically keep their executive’s life organized—so they must be extremely organized themselves and able to juggle multiple projects, deadlines, and priorities at once (without letting anything fall through the cracks).
While some executives require their EAs to have experience and/or a four-year degree, many companies are more open to folks just starting their careers—and are willing to train promising candidates on the job.
9. Marketing Associate
Average entry-level compensation: $43,107
Average salary: $47,533
Salary range: $35,000–$68,000
Just as an HR associate supports a company’s HR team, a marketing associate supports a marketing team. There are opportunities for marketing associates within a huge range of industries—from consumer packaged goods to tech to nonprofits. Depending on the company’s marketing goals and structure, there may also be opportunities to work on tasks and projects related to a wide variety of marketing specialties. For example, a marketing associate might assist in writing blog, social media, or email copy; working on product launch campaigns; planning and running events; conducting market research; and/or building up e-commerce efforts.
Most companies want their marketing associates to have a bachelor’s degree in marketing, communications, or a related field—as well as excellent verbal and written communication skills.
10. Sales Development Representative
Average entry-level compensation: $43,041
Average salary: $44,624
Salary range: $35,000–$60,000
Sales development representatives (SDRs) are responsible for generating qualified leads (a.k.a., potential customers), reaching out to those leads, and briefly educating the lead on the product or service that’s for sale—with the end goal being to schedule a call or meeting with a sales executive who can continue the conversation and ultimately close the deal. SDRs need solid research skills, a willingness to make a high volume of cold calls, and the ability to connect with potential customers.
Most companies don’t require SDRs to have any specific background or degree; instead, they look for candidates with the personality, drive, and tenacity needed for a successful career in sales. (And keep in mind that while the average entry-level compensation for this role is around $43,000, it’s a sales role—and if you end up being a great salesperson, bigger bonuses and commissions based on excellent performance could drive your earnings higher even without a raise or promotion.)
Tips for Landing a High-Paying Entry-Level Job
Want to land a high-paying entry-level job for yourself? Here are a few tips to help you along on your job search:
Pick Your Path Strategically
Some jobs, roles, and industries just pay more than others. So the first step to finding (and landing!) a high-paying entry-level job is knowing where to look.
“Right now, jobs in the STEM fields, IT, data analytics, finance, and consulting are all offering higher-paying entry-level positions,” DelVecchio says. And starting off with a high salary doesn’t just benefit you today; it sets you up for a lucrative career in the long run.
Bottom line? If a high level of compensation is important to you—both today and down the line—make sure you’re exploring opportunities in fields and industries that are going to deliver that kind of compensation.
Don’t Get Caught Up in Your Degree
A lot of recent college grads believe that their degree dictates the kinds of jobs they can go after; if you studied finance, you need to look for a job in the finance industry. If you studied business, you need to get your foot in the door at a big corporation.
But if your major isn’t associated with the same kind of no-brainer path to high-paying opportunities, don’t let your degree get in between you and the lucrative role you’re looking for. “Think about the skills you have, not the specific degree,” says DelVecchio.
For example, let’s say you got your bachelor’s degree in psychology. During your undergraduate studies, chances are, you learned a lot about what motivates people and makes them tick—which could help propel you to a successful career in sales. Or maybe you earned an undergraduate degree in marketing. You could absolutely easily go into the marketing field, but you could also pivot to HR and recruiting—and use your marketing skills to get potential candidates excited about your company and the opportunity they’re interviewing for.
The point is, when you’re applying for an entry-level role, what you majored in is hardly the only thing that matters—so look for jobs that match your skill set and salary requirements, not just your bachelor’s degree.
Build Your Network
Part of landing a high-paying entry-level job is, of course, what you know. But there’s no denying that who you know can also help you get your foot in the door—so one of the best things you can do as you’re starting out your career is to build your network.
“[Some] studies have found that nearly 85% of jobs are landed through personal connections, so the best advice I can offer is to be intentional about building and fostering authentic relationships—with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, classmates, professors, advisors, internship supervisors, [and others],” Hollenbeck says. This could mean finding a mentor, building a personal board of directors, reaching out for informational interviews, or staying in touch with folks you’ve already crossed paths with.
When you’re ready to get serious about your job search, you need to tap into that network and ask for their help. “Whether you are working to identify the industry, company, or roles you are targeting—and, most certainly, after you’ve made that determination—let your network know so they can expand the reach of your search and help make introductions,” Hollenbeck says. You can also turn to your network for insights and advice to help you navigate the hiring process for a particular type of role, at a specific company, or in a certain field or industry.
Kicking off your career with a solid compensation package can be an uphill battle. But now you know some of the highest-paying entry-level roles out there—and how to find and land those opportunities. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and find the job—and salary—you’re looking for!