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Your Next Job Title Could Mean This Much More in Pay

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How much of a pay bump should you expect with your next promotion?

If you’re a young professional and hoping to shed the word “assistant” from your job title, that could be worth an extra $10,000 in annual salary. Becoming a “lead”? That’s an additional $23,000.

New research from Earnest’s student loan refinance service reveals the relationship between job titles and salary for workers between the ages of 18 and 35. Our data shows that while climbing the ladder does have concrete payoffs, not all job fields start at the same place.

Analysis of function-related job titles also shows that engineers have the highest overall median salaries while consultants have the widest range of salaries. Marketers and designers fall in the middle while technicians and client service positions have the lowest median salaries.

There is one key exception where the ladder resets to the ground floor: Founders often earn less than interns — at least in the short term.

Earnest’s analysis adds new data to an existing body of research about young professionals in the workplace. This generation is poised to be not only the largest segment of the workforce but also the most educated.

Leveling Up in Seniority

How much of a pay bump should you expect with your next promotion? Our data analysis found that:

  • Including all functions, those who have the word “Lead” in their job title earn a median of $23,000 over others in the same function — the biggest salary increase associated with a seniority-related word.
  • “Staff” is the most junior job title word and is associated with a salary that is a median of $15,000 lower.
  • The all-purpose job title “Manager” is associated with a modest median bump of $3,000.
Chart showing salary difference between job titles according to seniority

Earnings by Function

Some words in a job title give you a much better sense than others of what a person earns when considering functions and roles. We found that:

  • Engineers have the highest median annual salary of $73,000, with half earning between $60,000 and $93,000. One-quarter earns less than this, and one-quarter earns more.
  • As “Consultant” jobs can vary widely in responsibility, the salaries associated with this function also vary widely, with the middle half earning between $37,000 and $96,000.
  • Teachers have a narrower salary range, with the middle half earning between $28,000 and $52,000.
  • The middle half of salaries for technicians ranges from $22,000 to $45,000, with a median of $33,000, tied for the last place with those in client or customer service.
  • On a regional note: Some job title words are more common in Silicon Valley than elsewhere in the country. For example, Earnest data showed ‘Founder’ appears in Silicon Valley job titles three times as often, and ‘Designer,’ ‘Data,’ ‘Marketing/Marketer,’ and ‘Executive’ appear twice as often.
Chart showing the median annual salaries for a range of job functions.

Interns and Founders

The lowly intern. The hard-driving startup founder. These may sound like opposite ends of the pecking order for young professionals, but our research shows that—at least in terms of salary—job titles aren’t always what they seem.

To be sure, while founders and interns may have some overlap in level of compensation in the short term, according to our data, founding a venture typically includes equity and future returns. Rather than a high salary, it may be that the more typical benefit of being a founder is similar to that of being an intern: a chance to learn and the possibility of future opportunity.

According to our research:

  • The median salary for founders is $10,000, compared with $12,000 for interns.
  • Founders are more likely than interns to report a salary of $0, with 31% of founders reporting this amount as compared with 29% of interns.
  • Top founders do earn more than top interns. However, the top 25% of founders earn over $51,000, versus $35,000 for the top 25% of interns.
Chart showing the annualized salaries of interns compared to founders.


For this study, we looked at the anonymized salaries and job titles for more than 130,000 roles held by Earnest loan applicants between the ages of 18 and 35.

Graphic 1: “Leads, Directors See Pay Bumps”

  • To estimate the median salary difference associated with each of these seniority-related job title keywords, we first classified jobs according to the functional keywords used in Graphic 2. Within each of these functions, we then compared the median pay difference between those with each seniority-related keyword to the everyone in that functional (e.g. “senior engineer” versus all “engineers,” then “lead engineer” versus all engineers.) We then took the median of these differences across functions, to estimate how much each seniority-related keyword is worth overall. Many seniority-related keywords are commonly used in only certain fields; for these, the comparison was restricted to where we had sufficient numbers.

Graphic 2: “Engineers Draw Top Salaries”

  • Similarly, we looked at the most common functional or field-related job title keywords to determine their 25th, 50th (or median) and 75th percentile annual salaries. Words with the same root, such as “marketer” and “marketing,” were considered together; and “data analyst” reflects either the keyword “data” or “analyst,” or both. Similarly, “client service” reflects either “client” or “customer.” Certain professions, such as lawyer or physician, don’t appear here because the job titles for these positions tend to use more generic terms such as “associate.”

Graphic 3: “Interns, Founders Often Unpaid”

  • This graph shows the 25th, 50th and 75th percentile annual salaries of people who held jobs with the status-related keywords of “intern,” “founder,” “manager,” and “president,” as well as CEO, COO, and other C-Level positions. When a job title included more than one keyword, such as “Founder and CEO,” it was counted in both categories.

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Disclaimer: This blog post provides personal finance educational information, and it is not intended to provide legal, financial, or tax advice.