Here’s something you may not know: in some organizations two people doing the exact same job may not be paid the exact same wage. One worker may have better qualifications than another, or may have been hired during a tighter labor market so the company offered more money to attract them to the team. (Fair or not, when this happens you don’t expect the employer to go announcing it to everyone to avoid having to increase everyone’s salary.)
Unless you have a coworker who is open to sharing exact salary details or you have a way to access the human resources files, you may never know what your co-workers make. You may also have no idea whether or not the lot of you are compensated fairly compared to the rest of your local employment market.
And don’t even think about knowing what people are making in another city or state. With cost of living differences piled on top of different employer benefits and employment conditions, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to truly know what someone else earns.
Pinning down what your skills are worth in your job, a potential job in your city, or a potential job elsewhere in the country isn’t always easy. Yet this information can make or break your interest in a new employment opportunity. (Or convince you to leave your underpaid job.)
The problem is you have a limited amount of data to pull from — hearsay from co-workers or awkward phone calls with friends at other organizations. How exactly can you compare your salary to others in your industry to know whether or not you are being paid fairly?
3 Ways to Uncover What Your Job is Worth
Here are three different paths to finding out what your job or skill set is really worth. Don’t rely on one as being perfectly correct; use them together to get a better picture.
Salary Comparison Websites
The easiest option — and likely the most inaccurate — is to use a salary comparison website. There are several popular ones including Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, and Payscale.com. The biggest problem with trusting a random website is how the data is collected. Some are from surveys, some are from people volunteering their information. Nonetheless there is no way the information can be perfectly accurate, given that the data is comprised from a sample of volunteered information and especially considering most people who are not happy with their salary will report a low number.
But it is a starting point to get you a ballpark figure, only takes a few minutes, and will get you an instant result. You might as well do it.
Want to find out what actual companies are paying for actual jobs? Talk to a legitimate recruiting or staffing agency. These people work day in and day out to find people jobs with certain types of skills. Find an agency that only works in an area you work in so you know you’ll be talking to a specialized team.
Some believe that agencies have an incentive to screw the people they are placing with low paying wages, but a smart agent knows that if they take care of you the first time you’ll not only refer other professionals to them, but you might just call them back when you decide to look for a new opportunity a few years down the road.
These agencies are on the front lines every day trying to find qualified individuals for their clients, and they often have to convince people to leave their current jobs to take a new one. They’ll give you a straight answer based on your current skill level and what they are seeing in the marketplace.
Third — not lastly — you should tap your professional network. Talk to other professionals in your field, even if they don’t do exactly what you’re doing. They may know someone who knows someone who can give you an answer. The input you receive back will obviously be based on whoever is answering and where they work, but you’ll get an idea over time of what to expect.
The key with any networking and seeking out information is to be more of a giver than a taker. You can’t just network with people to find out what they’re making or what their friends are making. You have to give to your network a lot before you can begin to take, but as a flourishing professional you probably knew that.
Additionally, try to ask awkward salary questions in person. It is a lot easier to have a face-to-face conversation with someone about their job and what type of salary ranges people at their company make when you’re talking in person.
Figuring out the worth of your skills with your current or a future employer is vastly important to your financial life. Dig in and do some research — even if you are happy at your current job — to see what you should be making. If you are drastically underpaid, you might need to take some action.