Getting the Most Out of Salary Comparison Sites

by Carlos Portocarrero on 16 September 2010 0 comments

I'm a big believer in increasing your value as an employee to gain some job security and to potentially get a raise/bonus. That's why I wrote a whole series of posts on being a better employee. The idea is to bring more value to your employer, make yourself more valuable, and eventually get paid more for it. Your job gets more out of you and you push yourself to become better.

Everybody wins.

But simply doing more and showing up early isn't going to cut it when it comes time to getting paid more. Unless you have a dream boss that will push to get you more money without you saying anything, odds are you'll have to raise your hand, clear your throat, and ask for it.

One crucial way to help make your case for a raise is comparing your salary to others in your field. That's where salary-comparison sites come into play. These sites can give you a rough idea of how much people are making in jobs similar to your own. By using three or four of these sites, it can make your raise/bonus case that much stronger.

The Sites

The two big sites I like are Salary.com and Payscale, but you should also check out Vault.com and Glassdoor.

I like Salary.com because getting information from it is really easy. Type in the title of the position you want salary information on, your zip code, and you can select a free salary range that gives you a nice range of salaries for the position. You can click around and get more detailed about it (bonuses, benefits, etc.) if you want, but for a quick and dirty idea of what a position is going for, this is the place to go.

They get their data from "compensation consultants" that crunch a bunch of data to come up with their ranges. For more details on how they compile their information, you can check out their methodology page.

Payscale is another site I like to use, but it's just not as easy and fast to get what you want from it. This extra information might give it an edge over Salary.com, but it can be annoying. Since they ask you for so much extra information (which is mostly optional), it takes longer to get through but also means you're getting more data points every time people like you and I share their actual salary details.

Payscale uses data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the U.S. Census Department, and the data entered by regular users like yourself — which is great to include because it keeps the data fresh, but it might get annoying to have to go through so many screens to get the data you want. On the flip side, they do offer a variety of widgets you can place on your site that allow your visitors to skip all that non-required information and get to the good stuff right away:

PayScale Salary Calculator

I've never used Vault.com but I have used Glassdoor, and the cool thing about it is that all their data comes from actual people. Current employees, former employees, and even interview candidates. Make sure to check these out too — the more data you have, the better.

How to Use Them

So now that you know about these sites, what next? The obvious answer is to check positions comparable to yours to see what others are making. Brace yourself: You may not like what you find. If you expected to see salaries way above yours to then take to your boss, you may be disappointed. Maybe the data says you're getting paid pretty well after all, in which case it's time to really step it up at work and start doing more of the tasks of a higher-paying position.

If that's the case, try to find jobs that are a notch or two above your position and find out what those people's responsibilities are. Then go to work the next day and start doing them. Down the line you'll be able to use the data you've discovered to say, "Hey look, I've been doing all this stuff, and this is what the position pays in the market."

If you find that you are being underpaid, then that's good news! That means you have a case to make with your current job. Don't just storm into your boss' office just yet — this isn't supposed to be a confrontation. It's supposed to be about sharing the data you've discovered and finding out why you aren't being paid what the data says you should be.

Here's what I would say:

I did some research and found three different sources for what my position's salary should be. On average, it's 15% higher than what I'm being paid. I was just curious why I'm not closer to this average considering I've gotten positive feedback in each of my reviews.

See that last part? Yeah, that's kind of important. If you haven't been performing at work, it doesn't matter what you find online. Your boss will probably be annoyed that you're asking for more money when they already feel "eh" about you. If you've been showing how valuable you are, then this request will make a lot more sense and will go down easier.

Why wouldn't they want to pay you what the market says you're worth?

There are other ways to use this salary information, and this is just one of them. But I'm curious to hear, have you used these sites in the past? How effective were they?

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