You’ve just gotten a new job offer. Or you’ve aced your year-end review and your boss has just given you a raise. You celebrate – for a moment – but then a little voice in the back of your head starts nagging, “is this how much I should be paid? Is this right?”
Instead of coming up with a real answer you put that thought aside and promise that you’ll look into it later. When you have some downtime. But the next year or the next job offer comes around and you’re left asking that same question.
Figuring out your market value can seem like a big task, but it’s not as difficult or time-consuming as we make it seem. It just takes a little research and a willingness to figure it out.
Here are 4 ways you can research your real market rate.
1 – Online surveys
This is likely the first place you think of when you want to do your salary research. Online salary tools like (Know Your Worth from Glassdoor and Payscale.com) are easy and quick to use. Input some information and you’ll get a salary estimate and range in a matter of seconds.
While these tools are a good first place to start, if your research is ending here, you’re really selling yourself short. Online tools often serve up an average, and it can be hard to know where you fall in the range. Different things can affect where you end up in the average, such as additional qualifications, skills, education, and years of experience.
2 – Recruiters and head-hunters
I was speaking with a woman on her ongoing negotiation at work and she was frustrated that she couldn’t get a real measure on what a good salary target would be. She was working in a new city, didn’t feel the online pay calculators represented what she was doing, and she didn’t have a huge network. She kept saying “I feel like I’m being underpaid but I really have no idea.” Obviously, this isn’t a strong place to start your negotiation from.
As we continued talking she mentioned that her boss knew she was valuable because he saw how many phone calls she got from recruiters and headhunters, trying to interest her in new jobs. When I asked her how she usually responded to them, she said that she either didn’t return their call or would tell them that she wasn’t interested.
She never asked about salary.
This is a huge missed opportunity. Recruiters will often share salary ranges up front, to make sure it’s a job you’re interested in. They see hundreds of jobs per year and usually have very deep knowledge in regard to hiring in a specific industry. They have a wealth of information that most people, including this woman, fail to take advantage of.
3 – Your network
Here’s where networking really pays off – having peers or mentors that you can turn to for your market research.
We all know that it’s pretty taboo to come out and ask your co-workers what they’re being paid. Many companies actually have policies prohibiting you from doing this. But there’s a difference between asking your colleagues what they’re making and tapping into your network of peers and mentors to understand what different salary ranges are appropriate.
In business school, I learned quickly that it was natural to ask these types of questions. While my classmates and I didn’t ask people what they were making, we did use conversations as a way to understand what companies, industries, and cities were paid the most and the least. I would usually phrase this as, “I’m looking at a [job title] position in [this city]. Do you know what an appropriate salary range for that is?”
So much good information was shared and the conversations didn’t feel weird, forced, or personal. Tapping into your network of peers and mentors can provide you with some of the most accurate information you’ll find.
4 – Your company
This one is almost always overlooked, but a lot of work places are actually open to sharing salary range information. If you work for a large company, they may have defined compensation levels based on job titles. They may even publish this information so it’s accessible to employees. A healthy workplace will be clear and communicative about how they approach compensation.
If you decide to talk with your supervisor or HR about the salary range for your job title and find out that you’re paid at the lower end, this is a perfect opportunity to understand why. And if you do find out that you’re at the top of the pay range, don’t assume that compensation negotiation isn’t in your future: there may be exceptions in which they can raise the ceiling or you can negotiate for other benefits.
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Erica Gellerman, CPA
Erica Gellerman is a CPA, MBA, personal finance writer, and founder of The Worth Project: a weekly money newsletter you actually want to read. Her work has been featured on Forbes, Money, Business Insider, The Everygirl, The Everymom, and Lifehacker. When she's not writing about personal finance you can find Erica exploring Europe from her temporary home base in London.