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Salary expectation versus reality: What British workers across 15 professions are really paid

As an employer, you’ll usually throw the salary expectation question at recruits during application stage, but there’s a great misconception among Brits about what people truly earn.
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Many companies today will choose to sidestep publicising a wage when hiring, instead preferring to ask the job applicant about their salary expectation.

This approach means a business can save money if the recruit has a salary expectation below what it’s willing to pay, while it keeps competitors in the dark.

With that in mind, home education service Oxford Open Learning conducted salary expectation research with British workers to see what they think people in other professions earn.

In ten out of 15 cases, the salary expectation was overestimated. The largest overestimation was 27.7 per cent for the profession of journalism, with a salary expectation of £30,000 versus £23,500 actual.

Journalists were followed by plumbers and solicitors in second and third respectively, with salary expectation 21.2 per cent and 20 per cent higher than it actually is.

Dr Nick Smith, courses director and founder of Oxford Open Learning Trust, said: “A previous study we carried out found that money is the biggest motivator behind changing careers, followed by better working hours and personal interest.

“However, the results of this survey show Brits are overestimating the salaries earned by many professions.”

Elsewhere, on the other end of the spectrum, the position of head teacher was underestimated most, with a salary expectation of £50,000 compared to actual earnings of £76,192 – a 34.4 per cent difference. 

Meanwhile, posts such as nurse, administrator and chief executive had the closest salary expectation results.

Profession

Actual Salary

Perceived Salary

% Salary overestimated/underestimated

Journalist

£23,500

£30,000

27.66%

Plumber

£24,746

£30,000

21.23%

Solicitor

£50,000

£60,000

20.00%

Hairdresser

£15,473

£18,000

16.33%

Retail Assistant

£13,122

£15,000

14.31%

Florist

£15,926

£18,000

13.02%

Teacher

£27,813

£30,000

7.86%

Chief Executive

£94,884

£100,000

5.39%

Administration

£17,351

£18,000

3.74%

NHS Nurse

£24,936

£25,000

0.26%

NHS GP

£69,514

£65,000

-6.49%

MP

£74,962

£70,000

-6.62%

HR Manager

£38,127

£35,000

-8.20%

Train driver (not including London underground)

£47,000

£32,000

-31.91%

Headmaster of secondary state school

£76,192

£50,000

-34.38%

“Among British workers, over half (52 per cent) said that salary was an important factor when they chose their current job role. When it came to choosing a new career or job role, this figure increased to 68 per cent – suggesting that monetary incentives are key for choosing a new career,” continued Smith.

“Changing careers seems to pay off; over a third of British workers polled (34 per cent) that had moved to a new job role said they had an increase in salary after the first year of their new career.”

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About Author

Zen Terrelonge

Zen Terrelonge is the deputy editor of Real Business, specialising in media, innovation, technology and the digital sector. A media professional with eight years worth of experience he has worked for both startup and established publications.

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