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I have offered to do a talk at my old university’s 'employabilty fair' ten years after graduation, where am I now. With some advice on traps to avoid, how to make the transition from university to work life etc., with some anecdotes along the way type thing. Within the realms of software engineering.

The person who asked me to do the talk thinks I should put my current salary on the first slide to grab their attention in a 'this is what you could aim for' type way. But I feel it's a bit crass. I don't mind sharing my salary with the students if they ask, but I think it's a bit odd to stick it on the first slide.

Does anyone have any thoughts on this that could help me make this decision?


Update

the talk went down very well, no one asked about my salary and I didn't see anyone suddenly become more engaged after I pointed to the salaries in the Glass door table.

There were a few very engaged students who I think will do just fine, they definitely seemed more interested in my day to day and whether I actually enjoyed it :p it was good to see.

There were a couple that might have listened more intently if I had framed it as "I earn X and this is how you can do to" but I'm glad I didn't. In the end of the day that might have got a couple more students to care a little bit more but the focus of the rest of my talk was for the students that love software engineering. Career traps to avoid (manipulative managers, stagnation etc), the differences between uni and job mentality (individual vs team etc) and the fact that I enjoy my job (and that its not just coding all day :) )

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    I took the liberty to remove your second question as it is very survey-like and would be two questions per question. You could ask a second question about what general content you can feature in such a talk though. – Wrzlprmft Mar 5 at 11:17
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    which country is this ? Different cultures handle salary discussions very differently. – everyone Mar 5 at 14:15
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    I was fortunate enough to rope in some recent graduates at my company to listen to my talk over lunch. They liked it and they felt they would have not appreciated the "this is my salary" approach, They did however comment that my honesty about the profession was what they found refreshing which is perhaps the point of doing something like being transparent about salary p.s. its the UK :) – chrispepper1989 Mar 5 at 16:05
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    Despite the fact that the topic is how you fared gaining employment, you probably mean an "employment fair." – Azor Ahai Mar 5 at 17:54
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    Keep in mind that in the UK sharing your salary or talking about it is generally looked down upon, and makes for awkward conversation. At the same time the University wants to boast that an alumni got this particular salary, and you can too! Sign up now for 3-5 years of student fees and it could be yours! – Tom J Nowell Mar 6 at 2:46
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I agree with you. I feel the request to put your salary on a slide (on the first slide, no less!) is rather unexpected, and quite frankly does not speak highly about the professionalism of your contact. I would decline this, for multiple reasons:

  • Your salary is nobody's business. Not sure what more there is to say about this.
  • Students are, for the largest part, intelligent adults. Many would take this exactly for what it's meant to be - rather crude marketing and hype generation. This would detract from the message you actually want to transport, and would undermine your following talk.
  • Focusing so much on how much you make is arguably not the best way to motivate young people for a specific career path anyway. If you talk about why you love your job (if you do) will encourage more people than a six-digits salary number. More importantly, it will probably encourage the people who will actually be happy doing your job, not the ones who would end up wealthy and miserable.

You can of course provide a salary range as proposed by other answers, but I would not emphasize this point much (and base it on third-party data, such as Glassdoor, not just your own experience).

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    Funnily enough I completely forgot I already had a side with a glass door table on it that has salary averages, the reason I'd forgotten it was because I included it for the job satisfaction column! – chrispepper1989 Mar 5 at 12:13
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    About the third bullet point, I beg to differ. Salary is objective. It's a number that everyone can measure + easily judge how valuable that number is to themselves. On the other hand personal enjoyment is harder to measure + varies from person to person. Maybe I love being a postman, but that doesn't mean you will, and you won't know until you try my job. Aiming for a particular career path because someone else thoroughly enjoys it is a dangerous place to be. – Allure Mar 5 at 12:34
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    @Allure Which is why it makes more sense to talk about why you enjoy the job, in stead of plainly stating that you enjoy it. In this way students can better judge whether they might enjoy it themselves. This is also what the third bullet point suggests. – Servaes Mar 5 at 14:16
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    Not discussing salary is a trained response that benefits only one side, the business you work for. We should be changing that. It is like believing that money does not buy happiness. Money does buy happiness by giving people piece of mind and the ability to be able to pivot to things they enjoy. – NDEthos Mar 5 at 15:25
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    "Your salary is nobody's business" This is not the same as "you should not share it with people unasked" – Azor Ahai Mar 5 at 17:53
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I would think you can share the salary "Range", but I, like you, would not put it on the first slide.

ie after 3 years experience you could expect xxx to yyy as a zzzzzz.

This answers a second question that the OP had in the original post, now edited:

Sometimes students like to hear about a "real" problem and "how" it was solved - that process is usually interesting and can give them a "focus" of why they have to study xxxx.

  • I like your suggestion, I don't really have anything like that yet and I was feeling the presentation was lacking heart! So thanks – chrispepper1989 Mar 5 at 12:15
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    The Glass Door chart probably has medians. Median is anyway the right measure for salary as mean can be skewed easily by a couple of outliers. – Bob Brown Mar 5 at 13:20
  • @BobBrown what glassdoor - you've lost me? I tend to find HR always give a salary range for x years of experience, y qualifications etc – Solar Mike Mar 5 at 13:26
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    @SolarMike Glassdoor.com is a job search web site mentioned in a comment to another answer. Among many other things, they publish median salary information for many occupations. The real point of my comment is that median is the right measure when talking about salaries. – Bob Brown Mar 5 at 13:32
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    @SolarMike I'm workin' on it! HR people in large organizations often administer salaries on a "Grade and Step" system. So, an associate professor of computer science might be "Grade 15." A newly-appoint associate prof would start at "Step 1" of grade 15 and advance until "topped out" at the highest step in the grade. However, for comparing salaries across institutions, I want to know the median salary across the whole group and at each institution. – Bob Brown Mar 5 at 13:55
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As a statistician, I consider that an unrepresentative sample of one is unlikely to convey any useful information at all. You would mislead your audience if you presented them with such stuff.

Those of us with experience of the world know that amazingly high salaries are sometimes available to amazingly under-qualified people. So there is no point in presenting that stuff either.

What I wish someone had told me when I was aged about 20 is what kind of life goes with particular professions. So, in your case: what is it like to be a software engineer? Can you spend your whole career doing that? or, do you need to be on the lookout for something better/ less stressful / more stressful but better paid etc? Where do you hope to be in 10 years time? What is the career path? Is there a career path? If I do moderately well as a software engineer, what sort of place will I be living in?

Your actual salary is irrelevant.

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Some universities (such as the one where I work) publish their pay scales. There's a level of abstraction between scale points and job titles but with a quick check of the salary bands in job adverts you could use the staff they're familiar with as a point of reference: "After a couple of years in industry I'm earning about as much as a lecturer". The audience can consider that useful information in itself, or they can go to the pay scales to see what range that works out to. In practice numbers on a salary don't necessarily mean all that much to undergrads anyway with taxes etc. to take into account, so a point of reference may be better anyway.

I use this approach myself as a postdoc with an industry job in the past.

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    The college I work for is a state school, and so falls under "Sunshine laws" - our name, job title, and current annual salary are available on request. – ivanivan Mar 5 at 15:25
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    The pay scales are standardized across the UK higher education sector, aren't they? (With a separate scale for London, because everybody knows that's the only place in the UK where the cost of living is higher than average.) – David Richerby Mar 6 at 12:03
  • @DavidRicherby to some extent they are. The UK tag is new since I answered so I didn't assume a location. I hear your subtext; I'm only a bit luckier than you in that regard. – Chris H Mar 6 at 12:07
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As far as I can see, none of the other answers mentions the UK aspect.

In the UK, you just don't go around asking people what their salary is. In this social context, if they're literally asking you to tell this class what you earn, that request is unreasonable. However, it would seem useful to include a typical salary for a position similar to yours. (Even if you don't think it's useful, the students don't have your experience and have a bunch of debt to pay off, so will most likely care a lot about this.)

That's a win-win: it avoids you having to reveal information that is considered very private in the UK, and it's actually more representative for the students. There are all kinds of reasons that your individual salary could be unusually high or low.

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At most I would publish a range from glassdoor or some other online career place. I personally wouldn't put it on the first slide either.

Depending on where you live, you might end up selling the salary short or giving them a nearly impossible target. In most regions of the US (not sure if this applies in the UK), salaries are adjusted for cost of living. I make only half as much as one of the kids I went to school with: I live in a moderate cost of living area (rural New Hampshire), and he lives in New York City. When I moved to my current locale, I got a 20% "raise" that ended up being only a minor raise in my take home because my bills and whatnot are higher.

If you are trying to sell the profession, I might compare it with another field, something like "software engineers make xx% more than mechanical engineers" with a reference.

  • Agree that sourced regional averages are much more useful than a single datapoint. – Sean Houlihane Mar 6 at 17:17
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I see that the talk already occurred, so this answer may be of less value. Still I feel it is worthwhile to share;

As a former student I think sharing some kind of salary information would've been extremely appreciated. In University many people spoke of the "astronomical" amounts you could make and likewise the "terrible underpaying" that occurred in the industry.

The thing that almost never happened was hearing from a real working person about their real salary and explaining how they got there.

I think this could ground some students' expectations and raise others. And the ability to do this and offer a high quality analysis of how it happened, what career trajectory was needed, how you got that trajectory, how you aligned with your passions, what life principles you had that led to the outcome, etc. would make for a very interesting and more importantly useful talk that the general student population is starving for.

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I would not recommend you share your salary.

Instead, why do not try the approach of sharing the milestones you have achieved since graduation? Do not hide the struggles so you can empathize with your audience but also highlight why you do not regret studying at your University.

I am pretty sure you did not learn everything at the school, but some elements were key for you to be the person you are today.

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    Welcome to Academia.SE. I am not sure that this answers the question -- your first paragraph answers the question, but gives no justification. You then take a left turn into "general advice", which was unsolicited and is difficult to do when OP is a successful professional who knows all the details of this particular talk and we do not. – cag51 Mar 6 at 0:51
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Your salary is nobody's business and I don't see any reason to discuss it. I don't know what your field is, but in any case you should be able to generate interest to the profession using technical accomplishments and advancements. If not, don't go there to talk; apparently you have nothing to say ...

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