Researching Salaries in Your Field
In the United States, government and private surveys constantly gather wage information from both employees and employers. Utilizing this information are a variety of salary calculators you can use to figure out what people in your area earn for doing roughly the same work as you.
Here is a summary of features on the more popular salary-calculator sites:
- Salary.com -- detailed, has free info, fee for premium data
- Payscale.com -- detailed, has free info, fee for premium data
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics -- detailed, all free, raw data, hard to use
- Job Search Intelligence -- detailed, free info, small fee for premium data, cannot choose employer type
Basic features of online salary calculators are free, with premium options -- which factor in education, experience and even performance reviews -- available for a fee. Using zip codes, hundreds of different job categories are linked (In 2010 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics kept track of 821 specific occupations [source: U.S. BLS].) The most basic of these sites (like the Bureau of Labor Statistics) will give you a simple number, while more sophisticated sites will, again for a fee, give you personalized profiles, salary-negotiating tips and detailed salary analysis reports.
There are quite a few salary calculators out there. Many use Salary.com's database, but the fees charged for premium services on sites using their data vary. Salary.com, Payscale.com and Job Search Intelligence all ask fairly detailed questions about your background and provide you with a basic (and free) salary range for your area. Detailed reports are great, but the free sites should give you a good idea of what you can expect to earn based on detailed local comparisons.
To be the most relevant, a salary calculator needs to take into account your experience, education (including the relevance of that education for your job), performance reviews and the type of organization you're in. Educational and government institutions often have very different pay ranges than private companies or nonprofit organizations. Make sure you're comparing apples to apples.
Another method is to look at similar job openings at nearby institutions or competing companies to see what type of salary they're offering. Don't overlook other types of compensation, like additional vacation days, better benefits and potential for bonuses. These are all potential items to bring up in your negotiation.
Think hard about what you're really after in this process. Simply asking for money will get you nowhere fast. You need to present your case well, which is what we'll explore on the next page.