First job? How much should you be paid in terms of salary?

  Arielle Sandor wrote this on
February 15, 2016 | No Comments

“Is a salary of 30,000 Kenya shillings good enough for a fresh graduate?”

How much should a new graduate earn

This is a question I encountered while going through posts from the Institute of human Resource Management Kenya LinkedIn Posts – a fresh graduate asking about the salary his peers should expect

This question was asked by one person, but I’m sure this is something on the mind of the hundreds of thousands of graduates when they enter the job market every year after graduating from higher education in Kenya.

We wrote a post recently on how to answer the salary question during an interview last week. But I thought this question could use an article on its own. What determines how much a person should be paid?

To understand how to even start thinking about this, let’s first look at some of the variables that most employers use while coming up with a salary offer.


A person could be a manager in one company but earns the same as a messenger in another. (Don’t frown guys, it happens).

What determines this is the salary structure of a company. Usually, in the salary structure, the percentage of the lowest paid worker should form a certain percentage of the salary paid to the highest worker.

It is based on the same principal that the Salaries and Remuneration Commission was formed when the Kenyan government was restructuring employee benefits.


People might think that an Accountant does the same job everywhere. However, as much as their job descriptions might be similar, an accountant working in the manufacturing industries has a totally different job than an accountant in the service industry. While the former has to deal with costs of raw materials, cost of goods carried forward etc., the latter will deal with none of these things, and will have a different number of total transactions on the ledger.

Salespeople in the two sectors will also be performing different roles. While a Salesperson dealing with consumer-facing goods will have to engage in a lot of fieldwork and social media marketing, his counterpart selling a service targeting businesses will have to work on public relations to sell the value of a service, rather than its external packaging.

The different activities required for these two roles rank differently on the salary scale of a company, and will effect the offer you receive.


Experience has always been the Achilles’ heel of many graduates, but it doesn’t have to be!

There are so many students who have taken advantage of opportunities within the University to gain highly valued experience. For example, universities like KU and Daystar have radio stations with students as the presenters. AIESEC offers students an opportunity to start doing doing business development with companies.

The same applies to opportunities as being a college club’s event organisers. A fresh graduate with experience as an Events organiser will spare the company training costs and much valuable time in terms of learning. This translates to a higher salary for the former as the company’s expenditure on his/ her training will not be as high.

Based on this exposure, recent grads not only have a better chance of landing a job, but also being able to negotiate a better salary.


Your work location is an important determinant of your monthly spending and will probably impact your desired income and the company’s budget for your salary.

Working in a hardship area like Kenya’s Northern regions usually corresponds to higher pay as there are security measures to be factored in, plus distance covered to reach social amenities, entertainment spots and utility stores. Most of these jobs come with a risk allowance. So now you probably know why those NGO employees working from the corners of this country get a pretty tidy sum. Another example – Nairobi is a more expensive city to live in than Nakuru, so an expected salary in Nakuru will most likely start at a lower rate.


There are some courses that have very few graduates and some that have very many (Accounting, IT, HR/Admin). In such a scenario, we expect the graduates in lower supply sectors to earn better salaries than graduates who have graduated in a crowded field with much less demand.

As a side note, unfortunately, this situation leads to Underemployment – Where graduates of highly skilled fields working in lower-skilled sector due to lack of jobs.

How, as a country, do we end up in such situations? Job hype. Kenya as a country has been known to ride on job waves that last approximately a decade. Taking you back in the 1970s, being a teacher was the hype. This was followed by being an accountant in the 80s and being an IT specialist in the 2000s.

The result is always unavoidable, a flooded profession leading to underemployment, with graduates willing to take any pay so as to keep bread on their table.

How to get a higher salary and become more employable? Find and niche and do something different.


The economy of a country is highly hinged on labour factors and vice-versa. There are times when an economy is going through turbulent times and people have to take a pay cut. One such example is when British Airways pilots took a cut during the 2008 global financial crisis.

Here in Kenya, the government has been having a hard time trying to convince Parastatals to reduce their wage bills. Through a Presidential Task Force on Parastatals Reforms appointed by President Kenyatta in July 2013 to advise on restructuring plan, radical changes have been proposed that will eventually affect the salary rates in most Parastatals. You can read more on that here.

In Summary

There are a lot of different factors that go into how employers determine their budget for your salary.

If you are a recent graduate, I would be more concerned about gaining exposure than the salary you start off with. However, think about your industry, the popularity of your industry amongst recent grads, where the job is, and what company it is – what are other employees saying about their work conditions.

Also, I would advise fresh graduates not to look at what their peers have been offered in terms of salary while taking up a job. Each job has a unique set of challenges and opportunities which in the end will be the ultimate determinant of the salary range.

Instead, you should focus on analysing the above-mentioned factors so as to come up with a clear guide on their salary expectations.

About the author: Wilson Wafula is a Marketing Executive at Duma Works. Wilson is super passionate about helping young, ambitious people understand what it takes to make it in the professional world in Kenya.

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