The Salary Research Guide to Getting Paid What You’re Worth

Whether you’re gearing up to negotiate for salary at a new job, or you’re about to ask for a raise, you need to bring a well-researched salary goal to the table. To do that, you need to know how much you’re worth and you need to be able to explain why. That’s where your salary research comes in.

You can use salary research to understand salary trends in your industry, learn more about your earning capacity, and prepare yourself for a salary negotiation. But to use this technique properly, you need to follow two rules. First, customize. Your salary research should tie as closely as possible to your current situation. Second, use real data. When you negotiate, you should be able to cite a source for your salary number that’s backed by facts, and real salaries from real people.

Let’s dive into these two rules in detail, and you’ll be ready to conduct great salary research.

Customize your salary research: industry, experience, location

To have leverage to increase your salary, your research needs to be tailored to your current role or the role you’re seeking. Don’t come in with a too-high salary because you didn’t narrow your research down to your city or your level of experience. You’ve got to get granular to get a realistic sense of what you should ask for.

So assess where you are in your career, and get the salary data that reflects it. You must consider the following factors that help determine a reasonable salary for your work:

  • Industry: Salary ranges vary widely, but there are general industry norms you need to know.
  • Role & Responsibilities: Your responsibilities and title play into your salary.
  • Experience: The years of experience you have are crucial to your target salary. Know exactly how much time you’ve worked in your role, so you can filter data to fit.
  • Expertise & Education: If you’re in a high-demand field or have a highly specialized degree, you can probably ask for more money.
  • Location: Where the job is located may have the biggest effect on your realistic salary range. Cost of living is huge, and the exact same role will have very different salaries in Seattle and St. Louis.
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Use established salary research tools and real data

Next, use online tools that base their salary data on real people. Use tools backed by solid, respected data. It’s great to start with general searches to get a basic understanding of your range, but if you’re prepping for salary negotiation, get final salary ranges from the government and other respected institutions that base their data on real salaries.

Here’s a list of reliable sources to get started on your salary research:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics – While it can be a difficult site to navigate, the Bureau of Labor Statistics has the most robust collection of wage and benefit data available publicly.
  • PayScale – PayScale uses crowdsourced data and machine learning to provide salary ranges for many industries and roles. While some of their services cost money, you can search through much of their data for free.
  • – collects worldwide, HR-reported compensation data and makes it easy to add filters to customize your salary search. They also provide the methodology for producing their salary numbers in a clean report.
  • Other tools to check include Glassdoor, where people anonymously report their salaries, and Comparably, which shares salary ranges and culture reviews for job seekers, though it’s tailored to the tech industry.
  • Sperling’s Best Places – this site can help you determine cost of living.

How to prepare for a salary negotiation

Remember, your salary number is important, but it’s not the only thing. Benefits, bonuses, and holiday pay are all part of your total compensation package. If you’re already employed, review your current benefits and consider negotiating around a benefit you care about, like asking for more paid time off. If you’re looking for work, find out what the benefits are for the position you’re after. Here’s a resource to find out more about salary and benefits during a job interview.

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You also need to have some hard data that reflects your value at the company. Business is a constant cost/benefit analysis, so make sure your value within the company (and the industry) is proven. If you’re looking for more ways to prove your worth, try to find out what your manager needs and take care of it.Take a look at a significant obstacle in your company’s path and solve it.

Finally practice your ask. If you’ve done your research right, you’ll have a clear number, or a tight range, that reflects the salary you deserve. Let your boss know you’ve done your research, and reference your sources. When you’ve got data on your side, you’ll have a strong position to negotiate your salary.