Are You Underpaid? How to Figure Out What Salary You Deserve


The ultimate job question: How much should you earn? It can be surprisingly hard to figure this out, because employers tend to hide the pay disparities between employees. There are, however, some good ways to ascertain what salary you deserve. (See also: The Psychology of Salaries: Do You Really Want to Know What Your Colleagues Make?)

Know the Industry

The first step is to research the job market you are entering. Are you in retail? Insurance? Blogging? It's important to know the specific industry in which you are applying.

Online resources such as,, and are a good way to find the average pay grade for your industry and even by the specific company.

However, online databases are only as good as who they culled the information from, and at what time. For example, salary data from 2006 would not be particularly helpful in 2014.

Another good resource is the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The government bureau releases its salary information by year. You can find breakdowns by state, county/region, industry, and career levels within that industry. With each report you will find the mean hourly salaries of American workers.

Know the Range

Here's a thought: You may not be in the average pay bracket for your industry. There are multiple ranges based on experience, education, special skills, and more. Beware of pricing yourself too high for the job.

If you have lower than average experience for their job description, you should not ask for the average. You can highlight other attributes that make up for having less experience, such as higher education than the requirement and special skills. Remember to plan a negotiation tactic before advocating for more money.

Those with high experience have a different problem: being sure to ask for more than the average, so there is a place from which to negotiate. Women tend to have trouble asking for more, and should be more assertive in asking for the salary they deserve.

Know When to Ask

A great way to gather salary information is on the ground. Start attending industry mixers, conferences, or job fairs. There is an event for almost every job that exists, so start googling your job and look for opportunities to network. You can inquire with HR representatives directly about salary histories and ranges without fear of being inappropriate.

Know when to ask others in your workplace. Ask employers confidentially for a range in your department. For example: "What is the lowest and highest salary an entry-level systems analyst can earn at this company?" If you have trouble getting a prospective employer to divulge, there may be a reason — try asking the same question of a former employer. You have nothing to lose, and your old boss may provide insight you did not consider.

If you're trying to get a raise, know when to start the conversation. It can also be tricky to know how much to expect. is a good way to calculate net income, bonuses, and raises. You can play with dual scenarios to find a good starting percentage to negotiate your raise.

Know the Worth of Your Time

There are actual ways to calculate your time's monetary value! Evaluate your worth to an employer. What are your total living expenses (including a budget to save for the future)? What is the least annual salary you could take and still accept the job offer? What is the annual salary you would expect to feel like a valued member of the team?

This is key for freelancers. Establishing a good hourly, daily, or per contract rate can be based on many factors:

  • Do you have to commute?
  • How much time is required for meetings, check-ins, and evaluations?
  • Are you paying for your own materials?
  • Divide how long will it take you to complete a job by your work schedule — does it match up with your desired rate?

Also, think about when it is acceptable to take a pay cut. Good reasons include: If you believe in the future of the company and your role within it; if you are transitioning to a new industry or department; or if you need more time away from the desk.

Your time is the most precious part of the equation. If you can reconcile the worth of your time with the employer's needs and still feel valued, then the likelihood of growing and earning more in that job in the long term are much higher. Good luck!

How much are you worth? Is that how much you earn?

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