Now that the end of the Pandemic may finally be in sight, you could be ready to re-enter the job market or seek a better job. One of the first things to do is estimate what you can expect to earn.
Your market value impacts more than salary negotiation at the end of the job search process. It is important to estimate the salary you should expect to earn even if the prospective employer will not negotiate—and one survey has suggested only 53% of employers will negotiate–so you know whether to accept a role or consider walking away if compensation is a deciding factor for you.
The salary or wage you want to command affects several aspects of your job search. A few elements of job search that will be influenced by your target salary include:
- Your resume design,
- Where you look for work,
- The time it could take you to find a job, and
- Complexity of the employer’s selection process.
First, we’ll discuss the benefits of approximating your market worth, and then offer some pointers to help start your research. We have identified 11 sources of salary information online that you can use to get going. Finally, we’ll note some factors to consider when you work with salary data.
Your resume design should reflect your career level and target salary.
A New York Magazine article I saw about 20 years ago called talking about salary “the last taboo.” The writer said people were more willing to speak about their love life than their earnings. As a result, some prospective clients ask “why is my target salary relevant?” it is relevant because the style and format should reflect professional maturity at higher salary levels.
Even simple things such as the font size you use for resumes and correspondence can make a difference. Think about the difference in text size between children’s books and your college textbooks. The font in children’s books is much larger. Similarly, an expert pointed out to me, the font size for your resume and cover letter may be larger when you apply for entry-level jobs than it would be when you are ready to apply for C-suite jobs.
Resumes and job search correspondence should usually be in font sizes ranging from 10 points to 12 points. Some experts say 9 point font sizes are acceptable using certain typefaces, although I normally do not use anything smaller than 10 point type.
Your target salary could determine where you look for work.
Consider your industry and geographic location when you estimate your potential salary. There are many sources online where you can identify cities where wages are highest and the unemployment rate is lowest, but many of us will not relocate.
Salaries for the same job also differ by employment sector. Public agencies and non-profit organizations pay lower wages for many jobs than profit-making companies, for example. Companies also pay different wage levels in different industries.
It is not always easy to change industries because, as we will discuss later, the jobs may be different even if the job titles are the same.
It may take longer to find a job at a higher wage.
When I graduated from college, job search books suggested adding one-month of job search time for each $10,000 in annual salary. I still see this quote today, although the precise numbers are probably out-of-date. A coach, writing in Forbes, even called it “crazy.” Nonetheless, everyday experience indicates it will take longer to secure a job paying $250k/year than it would to land a $50,000/year entry-level job. We spend more time deciding whether to purchase a $1,000 appliance than we spend deciding whether to buy a $5 sandwich, so it is logical that employers will spend more time making hiring decisions when the salary is higher. So, be prepared for a longer job search if your target salary is higher.
The selection process may be more complex at higher salary levels.
You can expect a longer and more comprehensive selection process at higher salary levels. When I worked at employment programs placing hourly workers at or near minimum wage, employers sometimes made “on the spot” hiring decisions. New hires started work the following day. Clients applying for six-figure jobs, on the other hand, often tell me they go through layers of interviews, assessments.
Some employers have labyrinthine selection-and-onboarding processes for job candidates at every level. You may have to decide whether it is worth the effort to complete the process. Often, job seekers choose to pursue the process even if the initial salary is below expectations because there is potential for advancement and longevity, or because they really want to do the job. The important thing is to make your decisions based on research, not guesswork.
There are many sources of online information.
It is easier than ever before to locate salary information. Salary ranges, and in some cases, specific salaries are a matter of public record at government agencies, and sometimes for government contractors. Private sector salaries are largely “confidential,” but you can still find an amazing amount of information on government and privately-operated web sites. A few sites will charge you for detailed information but others are free, or will give you access to their data if you provide your compensation information. Here’s the list I compiled:
Bureau of Labor Statistics (wage data by area and occupation)
Occupational Outlook Handbook (click on a specific job and look at the “Pay” section)
Salary.com (offers free data and personalized salary reports for a fee)
PayScale.com (requires you to contribute data in order to receive information)
Glassdoor.com (requires you to contribute data in order to receive information)
SalaryExpert.com (input your information and it creates a salary report)
JobSmart Salary Surveys (site can be hard to navigate, but offers links to industry-specific salary surveys)
National Association of College and Employers
(Annual summary of employment outlook and starting salaries for new graduates)
Robert Half International Salary Guides (accounting, finance, financial services, technology, legal, creative positions, administrative jobs)
Indeed.com also offers salary information in general and for specific businesses and organizations on their Company Pages:
You can also do a Google search for “average salary for (job title).” This can sometimes lead you to more specific salary data for a profession.
Numbers can be deceptive.
View the information you find with caution. Among other things, try to compare “apples to apples.” The same job title could mean different things in different companies and occupations. Also, an “average” salary can be a deceptive number.
About 10 years ago my job title was “Trainer.” I was disheartened when a search revealed my annual pay was about 50% of the salary for this occupation. The reason wasn’t that I was grossly underpaid. It was because the corporate trainer job category included IT trainers that earned a lot more than I did as a work readiness trainer. It may have also included consultants paid at an hourly rate without benefits for short-term assignments.
Try to identify jobs with similar responsibilities rather than similar titles. My work was more comparable with that of social service workers than corporate and IT trainers, and the salary comparison was much closer.
Average salary numbers can also be confusing. Remember that an average is easily influenced by a few very high or very low numbers. That’s why some researchers either throw out the highest and lowest numbers in their results, or report a median, or middle, number.
Knowledge is power. You will not always be able to negotiate your salary, or go to work in the highest-paying company or the highest-paying location in your field. You can, however, develop job search communications documents—your resume, LinkedIn profile, and cover letters—that are appropriate for your target salary.
Set up a call with us to learn how we can help you prepare materials that reflect your target role and compensation.