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How much should starting salaries matter to students when they’re making career choices?Getty Images/iStockphoto

How much should starting salaries matter to students when they're making career choices? From one perspective, starting salaries offer important signals of skills shortages and the size of the job market. They matter more than many young people think they do.

"It's something that students don't think about enough," says Lauren Friese of Toronto, founder of, a jobs site aimed at Canadian students and new graduates. Too many students, she says, "make choices based only on what they think is cool, then they graduate and say 'I can't afford to work an unpaid internship'."

Students need to be better at making choices based on actual employability, adds Ms. Friese. By all means, pursue your passion, she says, but be aware of the demand for your field.

From another perspective, however, students need to look more broadly at their hopes and dreams.

While starting salaries are an important indicator of job prospects, they need to be viewed in context, says Paul Smith, Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers (CACEE). CACEE, like, tracks starting salaries for a range of sectors. As Mr. Smith notes, job demands often shift. A job may be paying well and organizations may be hiring today, but that may not be true by the time today's students graduate.

While wages are important, Mr. Smith points to studies that show that young people value other factors – interesting work, job security, work-life balance – ahead of salary.

In some cases, of course, a dream job happens to pay well, too. "But ask yourself how important salary is in your ultimate decision making," Mr. Smith says. "You need to know what you value, what you're good at, and what interests you, and then look at career opportunities that speak to the three."

Top 20 Starting Salaries

Here are average starting salaries for some of the top-paying jobs in Canada, based on figures from the job sites and, the Canadian Association of Career Educators and Employers, and industry groups.  Overall, a Nov. 2011 study by researchers at the University of Guelph, Dalhousie University and Carleton University ( found that new members of the workforce (based on gender and their anticipated industry) could expect to earn $43,119 (men) and $35,926 (women) at the start of their career.

Be aware that there is no definitive top 20 list, and that data from one agency sometimes conflicts with data from another.

  1. Doctor: $100,000 (average starting salary for a GP)  Source: Workopolis 
  2. Dentist: $90,000  Source: Workopolis 
  3. Petroleum engineer: $86,220  Source: Workopolis (Note that estimates the starting salary for this job lower, $58,249, the average of starting salaries in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton.) 
  4. Data security analyst: $83,250  Source: Workopolis 
  5. Lawyer, first-year associate, large firm: $81,750-$89,000  Source: Canadian Lawyer survey
  6. Web site developer/user experience designer: $80,000  Source: Workopolis 
  7. Mobile applications developers: $72,500  Source: Workopolis 
  8. Chemical engineer: $72,407  Source: CACEE
  9. Financial controller: $70,000  Source: Workopolis 
  10. Lawyer, first-year associate, midsize firm: $64,000-$77,500  Source: Canadian Lawyer survey
  11. Lawyer, first-year associate, small/midsize firm: $63,250-$68,500  Source: Canadian Lawyer survey
  12. Industrial/mechanical engineer: $61,944  Source: CACEE
  13. Mining engineer: $59,612 (average of starting salaries in Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Edmonton)  Source:
  14. Accountant: $58,750  Sources: Workopolis and
  15. Nurse: $55,000  Source: Workopolis
  16. Banking/finance: $53,831  Source: CACEE
  17. Geologist/geophysicist (in the petroleum industry): $53,058  Source:
  18. Web designer: $49,980  Source:
  19. Database analyst: $48,056  Source:
  20. Lawyer, first-year associate, small firm: $48,000-$65,250  Source: Canadian Lawyer survey


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