Money makes a lot of people uncomfortable. Asking for money, makes people really uncomfortable. I used to be one of those people. After gaining some experience, I’ve come to accept that negotiating your salary is just a normal part of the job search process. The more comfortable you are with it, the better you’ll be at it. Salary negotiation is essentially a game and you have to learn how to play it. Regardless of who you are or what industry you are in, the best way to play the salary game is to be informed. If you knew accurately what your job was worth, wouldn’t you feel a lot more comfortable when it came time to ask for your salary? Unfortunately, the system is not set up in favor of job seekers and reliable information is hard to find. Employers on the other hand, can pay to have access to comprehensive salary surveys that provide them industry averages for their positions.

There are four basic factors that go into determining a salary: the general value of a job, the location, your personal level of experience and education and the company’s ability to pay. You have no knowledge or control over the last factor, so let’s focus on the first three. Given the variety of factors in play, it’s understandable why many people don’t know how much money to confidently ask for.

There are several places you can go to get a general idea of what a certain job is worth, and I would recommend going to all of them to compare your numbers. First, there are websites such as Salary.com and Payscale.com that offer free salary comparisons. While these sites are fine to use, don’t assume that they are definitive sources. The information in these sites is provided by the general population and may not always be the most accurate. They are fine to use for getting a general estimate.  I would highly recommend cross-referencing anything you see at those sites with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), found at www.bls.gov.

The benefit of these sites is that you can customize the information based on geographic location and level of experience, to make your findings more accurate. These sites are excellent for giving you a general idea of a job’s worth.This is useful whether you are researching a new career, evaluating an offer or trying to assess your salary in your current position. Unfortunately though, as a job seeker, as "general idea" is all that you have. The longer you work in a particular industry though, the more you will know what to ask for. 

Want to read more on this topic? Check out the archives for a previous blog called "Can You Discuss Your Salary At Work? The Answer Might Surprise You."

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