The Salary Dance
It's probably the most sensitive topic on the recruiting table - if it ever makes it to the table. Salary discussions aren't comfortable. Yet without knowing your individual salary "worth" for your market, you face a major disadvantage and run the risk of coming in too high or too low.
It's an age-old struggle: the hiring company wants the best employee at the lowest rate; while you, the job candidate, want the highest rate of pay with the most desirable working conditions and benefits. Both are reasonable goals; yet without salary knowledge, you probably won't achieve yours. Armed with market pay information for your industry, you can discuss this touchy subject with confidence and avoid missed opportunities.
Research, Research, Research
So, where do you begin? In addition to browsing the Occupational Outlook Handbook and the many helpful websites that offer salary calculators, be sure to also check with a few local humans. Here's a quick rundown of who you can talk to:
As part of your job search, whether passive or active, employment agencies not only can help you find a job, they can clue you in on the local market. Be sure to register and keep up with some nearby agencies. While you're there, ask the recruiter what companies in your area typically pay for your skill sets . Recruiters live and breathe local hiring and salaries on a daily basis. Take advantage of this great knowledge base.
College Advisor or Professor
This is mostly for college students and recent graduates. Chances are that a college advisor, or another professor of choice, knows someone who is currently working in your field at an entry-level position. Perhaps they graduated last year and kept in touch. Make an appointment and ask if they can introduce you to such a person. If so, you'll be able to get the low-down on starting pay in your field. At the very least, you can learn what local internships are paying.
This may cost you a bit, but if you've recently been laid off and/or are looking at a major career shift, a career counselor can bridge the gap for you. Some companies even pay for downsized employees to attend career counseling as part of an outplacement service. With a career counselor, you can discuss your goals, take some career tests to help pinpoint your strengths and interests, improve your resume and get some encouragement and suggestions on how to rev up your job search. With their extensive access to salary data, you could find out how much money you might expect to make in a specific field, and what range you should be in right now.
Do you belong to a networking group or an association affiliated with your industry? If you don't, it's high time to join one. Even though online groups aren't always local, people tend to be more forthcoming about personal information, such as salary, on the web - perhaps because it seems more anonymous. You could query the group by asking what the starting salary should be for "x". Be sure to give details on your experience, education and special skill sets.
In-person networking events could also lead to salary conversations. You might find out that the highest paying company in town also requires a 50-60 hour work week. Now that's valuable local information that you won't get from a salary calculator.
Knowledge Is Power
Talking with local professionals is a great place to start your "human" research on salaries. Once you have done the research, tuck the knowledge under your hat, so to speak. Remember, salary negotiations should come at the end of a job offer - after you and the hiring company both agree to take things a step further. With some real-world salary research, you'll have the information you'll need to make the right move.