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Slippery Salary Slopes

Salary Research Pays Off

Job Seeker's Story

Victoria had decided to move from the Midwest to Maryland to be geographically closer to her mother and sisters. She anticipated her job search would go well as there seemed to be lots of demand for Customer Service Representatives in the tech support industry. Victoria had moved up the career ladder in her previous job; she was getting lots of overtime pay, and had a very competitive health benefits package worth 30 percent of her base salary.

At her first interview in Maryland, Victoria was asked early on about how much per hour she had made at her last job. Without blinking an eye, she told the interviewer her hourly base salary and asked to be considered for a similar salary. The interviewer seemed pleased and, within 40 minutes, made a job offer that matched Victoria's previous salary, which she accepted.

Unfortunately, Victoria quickly learned when her first paycheck arrived that she would have to make severe adjustments in her lifestyle to accommodate her now-reduced income level. Though she was happy to have made her job change, she wondered what she could have done to improve her financial compensation with her new employer.

Job Seeker's Stumble

What Victoria did not factor into her salary expectations were a couple of critical items: Her new position did not allow for overtime opportunities (which had accounted for 25 percent over her base pay in her previous job) and the health-benefits package was not as robust (higher deductibles and limited coverage). In addition, Victoria had moved to a geographic region with significant cost-of-living differences from the Midwest.

Job Seeker's New Strategy

If Victoria had considered the value of the total compensation package she was leaving behind, and had done some research about salary and compensation levels for her profession in Maryland, she might have fared far better. Here are some steps Victoria could have taken:

  • • Establish a current total compensation benchmark, including base salary, overtime pay, and benefits package value.
  • • Follow with a cost-of-living and salary comparison for the two geographic regions you are comparing, such as the Midwest and East Coast. Some general online salary comparison and industry salary sites include salary.com, payscale.com, and salaryexpert.com. For profession-specific salary survey guides you can access the Jobstar Salary Guide or the Vault Salary and Compensation Survey. For customized salary notifications (via RSS feeds) based on specific search parameters, go to Salaryscout. In addition, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) keeps employment information by industry, occupation, and region.
  • • Conduct a Google search based on a search string containing the name of your profession or job title and the search term salaries. (For example, Victoria could have used the search string “customer service” + “salaries.”)
  • • Network with others in your field to research and verify more local salary and benefits information. For example, you can ask discretely at chapter and annual meetings of professional associations, professional-development seminars, and social groups, and online at professional business networking sites such as LinkedIn.com. Bear in mind that most people do not want to divulge what they personally make, but would be willing to discuss a “typical salary range and benefits” for the position and industry.
  • • Keep track of this researched information, noting the sources. The more closely the sourced information matches your own position, industry, years of experience, and geographic locale, the more likely it can be considered comparable. This will arm you with verifiable and documented research on which to estimate the market-based range that you can use in effective salary negotiations.
  • • Remember that benefits are typically more negotiable that salary. Once you have done what you can to improve the salary offered, you still have the option of gaining more in the total compensation package through additional benefits negotiations.

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Additional topics

Job Descriptions and Careers, Career and Job Opportunities, Career Search, and Career Choices and ProfilesJob Search, Job Interview Questions, & Job Interview TipsSlippery Salary Slopes - Keep Your Salary Expectations Current, Ask And You Shall Receive More Salary, Avoid Locking Yourself In To A Low Salary