An introduction to career and salary progression
Career and salary progression are important factors to consider when deciding what industry to work in.
Most of us aspire to move through the ranks of seniority throughout our working lives – not only to access higher rates of pay, but to enjoy new challenges, greater levels of responsibility, and the opportunity to develop our skills and expertise.
Indeed, research confirms how important professional development is:
Employees who feel they’re progressing in their careers are 20% more likely to still be working at their companies in one year’s time
More than 70% of high-retention-risk employees say they'll be forced to leave their organisation to advance their careers if there’s a lack of advancement or skill-building
In this guide, we cover the basics of career and salary progression so you can set realistic expectations when job hunting. Plus, we highlight the highest – and lowest-paying – sectors and the industries where you can expect the fastest rates of career progression.
Salary expectations in 2023 and beyond
When looking for a new job or working towards a promotion, it’s important to have a clear idea in mind about the pay you’re looking for. You’re likely to be asked about your salary expectations at an interview, and you might have to negotiate if you’re offered the role at a wage that’s lower than you expected.
You should also consider salary progression as you develop experience in the role, attain new skills, and demonstrate loyalty to the company. You might want to have an idea of the salary you want now, as well as what you’ll expect to earn in one year, five years, and ten years. That way, you can make sure you’re asking for a pay rise when you feel you deserve it, rather than waiting to be given one by your employer.
To define your current and future salary expectations you must consider a range of factors, including your current rate of pay, your outgoings and lifestyle, your skillset and the value it brings, average salary ranges within your sector and industry, and advertised salaries of similar job roles at competing businesses. You might deserve to be paid more for several reasons:
A change of role or promotion
An increase in responsibilities
You’ve gained further experience or qualifications
Outstanding performance that exceeds expectations
You should also consider the overall job market and the state of the economy, as these two factors can have a huge impact on employer hiring activity and salary budgets.
To help you get started, let’s take a look at average salaries in the UK and explore what the future looks like when it comes to salary growth in the coming years.
What does the average UK salary look like?
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) reported that the median weekly pay of full-time employees was £640 in April 2022. For the tax year ending on 5 April 2022, the median annual pay for full-time employees was £33,000 – up 5.7% on the previous year. In fact, Scotland has seen the largest percentage increase to weekly full-time between April 2022 and 2023, at nearly 10%. This was partly due to the NHS Scotland pay rises and one-off payments implemented in April 2023.
For reference, full-time work is considered to be anything above 30 paid hours per week. Median pay for part-time employees in April 2022 was £228 per week, which equates to an estimated median annual salary of £11,856. Anyone working 30 hours or less each week is considered a part-time worker.
The ONS acknowledges that the impact of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough) made interpretation of last year’s data difficult, so they encourage readers to focus on long-term trends rather than year-on-year changes. The trend of earnings has been steadily increasing for some years now.
Gross median weekly earnings by employment type, UK, April 2012 to April 2022
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Median pay for part-time employees in April 2022 was £228 per week
Salary expectations by age
Most people see a rise in their pay throughout their working lives as they develop experience and take on greater levels of responsibility. It’s important to consider this in your salary expectations when looking for a job. The median salary of full-time employees at different ages is as follows:
This demonstrates that we can expect the fastest rates of salary progression in our 20s and 30s. During these two decades we tend to gain skills, undergo training, attain qualifications, change employers, and seek promotions on a relatively rapid basis. In our 40s, our rate of career progression often slows down as we settle into long-term, senior positions. Many people value stability and consistency at this stage in their life, particularly if they have a family, which explains the relatively small increase in median salary between 30-somethings and 40-somethings.
Average salaries fall for those in their 50s and 60s. This is likely due to changes in working hours or job roles as workers gradually wind down towards retirement. Many people in these age brackets have paid off their mortgages and seen their children grow up and move out, which means they have fewer expenses. Since they can afford to take a fall in earnings, they may have the freedom to achieve a better work-life balance by working fewer hours or moving into roles with less responsibility and stress.
Projected salary growth in the UK
Salaries have risen steeply over the last couple of years, with average pay between September and November 2022 6.4% higher than during the same period in 2021. Despite this steep increase, average pay failed to keep up with the cost of living and when adjusted for inflation, real-term pay actually fell by 2.6% during this period compared to the previous year.
It’s been a similar story in 2023 with pay rises not quite translating into a rise in real-term pay, despite rates of inflation falling slightly. Average pay between May and July in 2023 was 8.5% higher than during the same period in 2022, although this was in part due to one-off payments to NHS workers and civil servants.
According to the results of a survey conducted by Paydata, incremental pay increases are expected to rise between 3.8 and 5% in 2024. Rises in living costs, National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage are continuing to put employers under pressure to increase their rates of pay.
In addition to across-the-board pay rises, a third of employers also expect to give higher pay rises to selected employees for promotion or exceptional performance.
Employee retention is currently an important factor for employers, as the job market is very competitive due to a skills shortage. A 2020 report by Prospects Luminate found that out of 106,000 job vacancies considered hard to fill, a skills shortage was to blame for 79,000 of them. In 2022, 78% of small businesses reported difficulties recruiting due to a lack of suitable skills in the candidate pool.
If you want to optimise opportunities for career and salary progression in the coming years, focus on upskilling to maximise your value to employers. Digital skills are in particularly high demand, especially in the construction, manufacturing, and engineering industries where a third of vacancies are considered hard to fill.
Sectors with the highest and lowest salaries
Average earnings vary dramatically by industry sector, so if you’re looking for a lucrative career with the potential to progress to a generous salary, it might be worth considering median annual earnings by sector.
The five highest-paying sectors and their median salaries in 2022 were:
These are all sectors that require highly skilled workers who have undergone extensive education and training. Employees in these roles often undertake high levels of responsibility and are required to manage major risks, for which they’re generously compensated. Employers must compete with one another to attract the best talent, which means it’s often possible for workers to negotiate excellent pay and benefits.
The five lowest-paying sectors and their median salaries in 2022 were:
These sectors tend to have a high proportion of jobs that don’t require advanced skills or extensive training or education. As a result, there’s a wider pool of suitable candidates available to fill roles and employers don’t have to hike up wages to attract employees. Plus, it tends to be less expensive for employers to onboard and train new hires, which means they’re not very motivated to retain staff via pay rises. The best way to progress your salary in these industries is to work towards managerial positions.
Industries with the fastest and longest career progression
If you’re looking for a career that offers excellent opportunities for progression, consider working in one of the following fast-growing and profitable industries.
Demand for healthcare services is on the rise in the UK due to an ageing population with complex medical needs, but the size of the workforce hasn’t kept up with demand over the last decade. Plus, technological innovation in medicine means that digital skills are more important than ever before in the healthcare industry. Healthcare workers who are committed to ongoing professional development and upskilling are positioned for consistent salary progression.
There are also plenty of opportunities to specialise in a specific area in the healthcare industry, and with niche expertise comes higher rates of pay. As an example, newly qualified nurses start on a salary of £28,407, while consultant nurses earn up to £114,949 per year. It takes many years of dedication to reach consultant status, but there are lots of job milestones along the way, such as senior nurse, health visitor, ward manager, and chief nurse, each of which come with a leap in required skills, responsibilities, and pay.
Demand for healthcare services is on the rise in the UK due to an ageing population
Technology is evolving at a rapid pace and the UK workforce is struggling to keep up. 93% of businesses in the UK claim there is an IT skills gap. As organisations come to rely more on technology to operate, we can expect to see more lucrative opportunities for highly skilled IT workers.
IT professionals can progress their careers quickly when they’re willing to consistently learn the ins and outs of new technologies. They’re in a good position to negotiate when it comes to salary and benefits due to the scarcity of skilled candidates. A lack of training opportunities means that businesses often rely on senior staff to pass their skills and knowledge down to junior employees, a process that also brings opportunities for promotion and pay rises. As an example, software engineers with less than a year of experience earn an average of £31,088, but those with more than 10 years of experience earn an average of £52,492. The average salary of a principal software engineer is £68,375.
Accountancy, banking, and finance
The financial services sector is estimated to account for 20-25% of the world economy, which means workers in this industry are likely to be in high demand in the coming years. A move towards digital banking services means that IT skills are valuable, and workers in the financial sector can expect good career progression if they stay afloat with the latest financial technologies.
Starting salaries in accountancy, banking, and finance are already generous, and career progression can be very fast for those willing to learn quickly and work long hours in high-pressure environments. To give an example, an entry-level corporate investment banker could start on £30,000 to £40,000 and progress to £70,000 after just three years. The most experienced corporate investment bankers earn a base salary of £150,000 to £165,000. There are also many opportunities for finance professionals to achieve performance-based bonuses to further maximise their earnings.
The financial services sector is estimated to account for 20-25% of the world economy
20 tips to navigate financial and professional growth
Now that we’ve explored how salaries in the UK have changed, as well as the most lucrative industries, let’s look at how you can support your own progression in whichever field you’ve chosen.
1. Have evidence to back yourself up
When you’re looking to progress, it's not enough to simply have a CV filled with impressive experiences and qualifications. To truly navigate career and salary progression successfully, you need to have evidence to back yourself up. This means showcasing concrete examples of your achievements, quantifiable results, and specific skills – when you’re looking for a job, but also a portfolio of your success within your current role if you’re looking for a promotion.
Employers want to see proof that you deliver results and add value to their organisation – and evidence helps to demonstrate this. Without it, you run the risk of being overlooked for promotions or earning less than your peers who can provide tangible evidence of their worth. Take the time to gather proof of your successes and use it to your advantage in your career. Do this throughout the year; don’t just wait until you’ve got a date set for a performance review or similar.
2. Have a specific figure in mind
Setting a goal is essential to any accomplishment. If it’s salary progression you’re after, having a specific figure in mind can provide clear direction and motivation to strive for that target. Having a goal enables you to negotiate with more confidence during salary discussions, supported with research and a clear understanding of what you bring to the table. Without a goal, it is easy to lose sight of what you really want, and instead, settle for what comes your way.
3. Make sure to choose the right time
Choosing the wrong time for a review could lead to missed opportunities or even setbacks in your career goals. A well-timed review, on the other hand, can provide the leverage necessary to negotiate a salary increase or promotion. It can even be the difference between staying in a stagnant position and advancing in your career. So, it's important to carefully consider when to schedule your review in order to achieve the best possible outcomes and ensure that your career stays on track to success.
4. Try to time your request with your financial year-end
But how do you identify the right time? Well, a good place to start is the end of the financial year. Company budgets are usually recalibrated at the end of each financial year, which means your managers might have a clearer picture of the company's financial standing and be more receptive to discussions about compensation. Additionally, tying your request to business results achieved during that financial year can also strengthen your case.
5. Be ready to negotiate
Simply wanting a higher salary is not enough. You need to be equipped with the necessary skills to negotiate with your employer in order to achieve your desired salary. Negotiation is a skill that requires practice and preparation, as you need to understand the market value of your position, your contributions, and other factors that can influence your salary.
Being confident and assertive during the negotiation process can help you secure a higher salary and a better position in your company. Being able to negotiate is not only about getting more money but also about recognising your own worth and value as a vital part of your workplace.
6. Be confident in what you want
Confidence is key, especially when it comes to discussing salary or career progression during a performance appraisal at work. It can be easy to feel anxious or uncertain about what you want to ask for, but it's important to remember that you bring value to the company. By being confident in your worth and what you deserve, you not only show your employer that you take your career seriously but also demonstrate that you believe in your abilities and contributions.
Remember, a performance appraisal is a two-way street, and your employer wants to see you succeed just as much as you do. To increase your confidence further, you could practise positive self-talk and visualisation to mentally prepare for the meeting, and don't be afraid to ask for feedback and advice on how to improve. Remember, a performance appraisal is not just about evaluating your past performance, but also a chance to set goals and plan for future growth. Make an effort to step out of your comfort zone and take on new challenges. Overcoming obstacles and successfully completing new tasks can be a major confidence booster in the long term.
7. Practice with a friend or family member first
Practice makes perfect, especially when it comes to job interviews and performance reviews. Practising with a friend or family member beforehand can make all the difference in securing that raise or promotion. Not only will you be able to receive valuable feedback and constructive criticism, but you'll also be able to work out any nerves or stumbling blocks before the big day.
Going it alone may seem like the easier option, but taking the time to practise with someone you trust can mean the difference between success and a missed opportunity. Having a friend or family member to support you and give you constructive criticism can make the whole experience much less intimidating.
8. Do market research
Market research is a crucial step that needs to be taken before you consider putting yourself up for a performance review. Knowing the ins and outs of the market, understanding what your peers are earning, and determining your own worth within your position are all crucial factors that will influence whether or not you receive the salary progression or promotion that you desire.
Without reviewing the market first, you could be undercutting yourself and missing out on the opportunity to truly excel in your career. But by understanding the market and your position within it, you can make informed decisions that will positively impact your career trajectory. Don't sell yourself short, take the time to research the market first and set yourself up for success.
9. Speak to recruiters to understand their take
As part of your market research, one valuable source of information can be the recruiters who work in your field. Recruiters are often the ones who are familiar with the hiring processes, expectations, and compensation packages offered.
By speaking with recruiters, you can gain insight into what skills and achievements you should highlight during your performance review to increase your chances of getting a promotion or raise. They can also provide guidance on what steps you can take to strengthen your position within the company – or guide you on a career move to another company.
10. Research the average pay rise for your county
Knowing this information will give you a realistic idea of what to expect and help you negotiate fairly. Plus, it shows your employer that you're proactive and taking your career seriously. With the cost of living rising year on year, understanding the average pay increase can also help you plan your future financial goals.
11. Ask questions to your employer
As an employee, an appraisal is the perfect time to ask your employer the questions you need to know to advance in your career – you know, those ones that aren’t suitable for team meetings or the ones that get pushed back during regular catch ups in favour of more pressing matters.
For example, you should ask about the room for long-term growth or development within the company. After all, it’s a two-way conversation. Knowing this information can help you create a plan for your career advancement and set goals that align with your employer's needs. You’re setting yourself up for success beyond just the one meeting.
Remember that your line manager, supervisor or whoever you have your performance reviews with is there to support you in your professional growth. By asking questions, you demonstrate that you’re invested in your career and want to take an active role in shaping your future at the company. Your employer will appreciate your proactive approach. Not only does this show dedication and initiative, but it also gives you valuable insights and information that can help you make informed decisions about your career trajectory. You may even discover new opportunities and possibilities that you hadn't considered before.
12. Try to keep personal matters out of your request
A mistake many employees make is bringing personal matters into the conversation when they're making a request for a higher salary or a step up the corporate ladder. While it's tempting to argue that you need a larger paycheck to cover your child's education or some other personal expense, it's important to remember that your employer is likely more interested in the value you bring to the company.
Focusing on your personal life can make it seem like you're uncertain about your own worth or that you're requesting the raise out of need – not because you've earned it. By sticking to the professional reasons why you deserve more money, you'll make a stronger case for yourself and put the odds in your favour. That doesn’t mean you can’t be friendly or make conversation with your manager, you just need to save it for the right conversation.
13. Be upfront about what you want to talk about
Although you should keep your personal life largely out of any performance or appraisal conversations, that doesn’t mean you can’t be upfront about what you’d like out of your career or professional life.
If you're looking to advance in your career and improve your salary, it's essential to communicate your desires with your employers, being open and honest about your goals and aspirations. By having a clear understanding of what you're working towards, you can create a plan to achieve your objectives, and your employer can provide support and guidance along the way.
Remember, it's up to you to advocate for your own success, and being open about your professional aspirations can be a great first step.
14. Stay positive and not pushy
Career and salary progression at work can be a challenging journey. It's natural to want to push hard to make progress, but it's important to stay balanced and avoid being pushy. There’s a fine line to tread as being overly assertive can be interpreted in the wrong way, potentially creating tension and conflict, and putting your relationships and career prospects at risk.
But in the workplace, you do need to be confident in your own abilities and what you offer. A positive attitude and outlook can help you to build rapport with your colleagues and superiors, positioning you as a team player and making it easier to approach difficult conversations. Don’t underestimate the part you play in creating a supportive and collaborative atmosphere, promoting growth and success for everyone involved.
15. Don’t make threats
As mentioned, it's important to approach the situation with professionalism and tact. Making threats to quit or go to a different company might seem like a way to negotiate for more money or a better position, but it can actually harm your reputation and relationships within the workplace. It often just comes across as a bit petty.
Instead, it's better to have open and honest conversations with your employer about what you feel you deserve – and why, backed up by evidence. By presenting yourself as a valuable asset to the company and focusing on your contributions, you're more likely to be taken seriously and given the opportunity to grow within your current position. Remember, threats may offer short-term gains, but they can have long-term consequences. Even if it works once, it’s unlikely to get the same results next time.
16. Consider benefits other than a financial raise
When it comes to earning more money, it's common to focus solely on a financial raise as the end goal. However, it's important to consider all of the other benefits that come with a position. Things like flexible scheduling, opportunities for professional development, and better work-life balance can have a significant impact on your overall happiness and satisfaction in your job. It can also impact your spending power – for example, if you can work from home a few days a week and save on commuting costs.
Not only that, but these benefits can also help you build a stronger skill set and position yourself for even greater opportunities in the future. So, while a pay increase is certainly appealing, don't forget to weigh all of the other factors that can enhance your career growth and overall well-being.
17. Don’t give up if you get rejected at first
If you've ever received feedback that wasn't entirely positive at a performance appraisal, or you didn’t get the rise you were hoping for, you're not alone. It can be discouraging to hear that you're not meeting your employer's expectations or that you're not quite hitting the mark when it comes to your own salary or career progression ambitions.
However, it's important to remember that one setback doesn't define your worth or your future prospects. Instead, use it as an opportunity to reflect on your strengths and weaknesses, and to work on improving yourself in areas that may need a little extra attention. Career progression is often a journey filled with twists and turns, and setbacks are just a natural part of that journey. If you get rejected at first, use it as motivation to push yourself even harder toward your goals.
It’s also a useful reminder that nothing is a given in the workplace. You won’t necessarily get a raise every year, or get a promotion simply because someone else leaves. There will be factors outside your – and even your immediate line manager’s – control, such as budget constraints or wider economic concerns.
18. Listen closely to what they tell you
Feedback from your employers or manager is hugely beneficial, so it's important to take any feedback given during these appraisals seriously – regardless of whether it's positive or negative. Feedback is a valuable tool for personal and professional growth, and it provides insight into areas where improvement may be needed.
More than anything, though, employers take note of how employees respond to feedback and make necessary changes. In the long run, this can lead to better job opportunities, promotions, and increased compensation. While it can be difficult to hear constructive criticism at first, if you can take this longer-term view, it will pay off. The key is to approach feedback with an open mind and a willingness to learn and grow so that you can use it as a springboard for your professional development.
19. Don’t accept immediate offers without thinking about them first
It's understandable to feel excited about immediate offers for a higher salary or career advancement. But you should take a step back and think about the long-term implications of accepting these offers without fully considering them. Rushing into a decision based solely on short-term gains could ultimately lead to dissatisfaction or being stuck in a job that doesn't align with your goals and values. Instead, take the time to evaluate the offer and discuss any concerns with your supervisor. Making a well-informed decision is key to your professional development and overall job satisfaction.
20. Don’t be afraid to look for a new job
As we navigate our careers, it’s natural to be apprehensive about seeking a new job. Fear of the unknown, the prospect of change, and leaving the familiar can be overwhelming. But when it comes to career and salary progression, sometimes taking a leap of faith and venturing into new territory can be the best decision.
Taking charge of your career is vital for long-term success. Staying stagnant in a position that doesn't offer advancement or the opportunity to increase your earnings can lead to a plateau in your career growth and job satisfaction.
By exploring new opportunities and broadening your skill set, you not only improve your chances of securing a better salary but also open the door to new challenges and experiences. Job searching can provide insight into market rates and help you negotiate a better salary and benefits package in a future position. Don't let fear hold you back from taking the next step in your career. Embrace the unknown, be brave, and go after what you deserve.
We’ve discussed a lot in this guide, but there’s more that can be done to boost your career prospects. Browse these handy secondary sources to find out more about what can be done to put yourself in the best possible position to find work as a new graduate.