Let’s face it — money can be a touchy issue. It’s no less a hot potato during the job interview process, when many candidates find themselves hesitant to broach the subject of salary ranges for fear of either over- or underselling their worth.
Even though the topic can be an uncomfortable one, it’s important not to put the money issue aside when meeting with potential employers. It is to your advantage to do your homework beforehand to get a sense of standard industry wages. Try to gather as much information as possible about the company to which you’re applying and the average salaries they offer for various positions.
This solid understanding of salary guidelines is important. If you ask for too much, you could take yourself out of the running; too little and you could doom yourself to a salary that’s lower than what the employer was prepared to offer. Arm yourself with information about what is reasonable and standard in your profession and your industry. Also keep in mind whether you bring any extraordinary skills to that position, skills your employer may value and compensate accordingly.
Most companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations have an established salary structure. This is typically a salary range for each job level, commensurate upon factors such as experience and education. However, private businesses rarely make this information public, so unless you have some insider information, you can only make informed guesses as to the salary range for the job that you want.
However, thanks to modern technology — as well as all of the human resources executives who are fond of conducting industry-wide salary and benefit surveys to keep tabs on their competitors — you can now access salary data through hundreds of surveys posted on the Internet. In fact, when it comes to researching salary guidelines for your industry, the Internet can be your best friend.
Both the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Economic Research Institute (ERI) offer insightful wage and salary surveys, along with information on cost of living. (Keep in mind that some of these surveys come with a price tag.) There is also now a craigslist site for most major cities, where you can check out recent job postings in various fields, along with a slew of other information. These job listings often include salary ranges, which provide a helpful starting point in figuring out competitive rates for the kind of jobs in which you’re interested.
You will find that the most useful salary information comes from the trade and professional associations that survey their members on a regular basis. They often prepare reports that break down information by geographic area or by company size. Professional organizations also keep tabs informally on going rates and trends in the marketplace and at specific companies. They do this via job boards, industry organizations, online databases, and company Web sites. Many trade publications feature articles on typical salaries and benefits for a limited range of job titles.
It also can’t hurt to call the company and ask if they can provide you with basic salary information. This is also the time to use your network — do any friends or colleagues have an acquaintance who works in the company, or have a friend of a friend? Don’t be afraid to cast your net widely and try to find any inroad that you can. Many people have been in the same boat and are often eager to share their insight with other job seekers.
In the end, an employer will respect a candidate who shows that he or she is knowledgeable, informed, and aware of his or her own value to the company. Do your homework before the interview, and when the conversation turns to money, you’ll feel calm, confident, and in a better position to win the salary you deserve.