Shedding Light on Salary Data

by Vault Careers | March 31, 2009

When Carol Gardner was negotiating a raise for a job as systems engineerat a Boston telecommunications company, she did some research onSalary.com, a popular salary site on the Web.

"I had been taking on more and more responsibilities, and I knew what Iwas earning was not what market pay typically was," says Ms. Gardner, 34years old. "But I also knew I couldn't just go to my boss and say, 'I'mworth more.'"

So, Ms. Gardner prepared a two-page proposal for her boss using figuresfrom Salary.com, which she said helped her find different levels of paybased on responsibilities and experience. Then, to make sure she was ontrack, she also cross-referenced what she found with real job postings thatoffered salary ranges.

The result of her research: a $10,000 raise.

"It was a very important tool for me to develop my own proposal," Ms.Gardner says.

The key word there is tool. A slew of salary Web sites have sprouted inrecent years, designed to help workers at a variety of levels figure outwhat they could and should be earning. But users must bear in mind thatthese sites are best used to establish a range of numbers to work from.More homework is necessary to be sure the number you settle on isrealistic.

It's also important to know the potential flaws in the data. First,consider the source of the information. The most reliable data come fromhuman-resources departments within companies, or from establishedcompensation consulting firms, as opposed to salaries reported directly byemployees, which experts say tend to be inflated.

Also make sure that the information is no more than a year or so old,and that the sample size of salaried positions is large enough to give anaccurate picture. Sites also should break out salaries based on locationsand company sizes, and provide detailed job descriptions instead of merejob titles.

Starting Points

Here's a rundown of some of the most popular sites:

" SALARY.COM.One of the easiest resources to use, Salary.com(www.salary.com) ranks among the 10 most-visited career sites and is linked toother career-help heavyweights such as Monster.com(www.monster.com) and Brassring.com(www.brassring.com). Its free Salary Wizard tool can quickly generate a basic salaryreport containing pay data for nearly 2,000 job descriptions with variouslevels of experience in specified locations. If you're willing to pay$49.95 for a customized Personal Salary Report, the Wellesley, Mass., Website will give you access to compensation data most everyday workers neversee -- salary figures compiled from surveys of human-resource departmentsaround the country.

" SALARYEXPERT.COM.This site (www.salaryexpert.com) is similar to Salary.com but can be quirky, perhaps because someofferings are new. The new $39 Premium Salary Report, for example, can be achore to read and the results too general. A requested survey on printreporters, for example, included results about broadcast reporters -- a jobwith distinctly different skills and salaries. Another report generated thesame salary range for a public-relations representative with four years'experience and one with only a year's experience. SalaryExpert ChiefExecutive Michael S. Gillie says the company is working on the problems,which he says are the kinds of glitches that often appear in new products.SalaryExpert is a unit of Baker, Thomsen Associates Insurance ServicesInc., based in Newport Beach, Calif.

" FEDERALGOVERNMENT. The Wages, Earnings and Benefits section of theDepartment of Labor's Web site,www.bls.gov, is chock full of free statistics. But it won't win any awards forgood looks, organization or ease of use. Nor is it always timely. Agovernment site that's a little easier to navigate and also draws ongovernment data is America's Career InfoNet,www.acinet.org, part of the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop portal. But again,be sure to note how old the data are. A recent search for reporters'salaries in New York City yielded figures from 2000.

" SALARYPOWER.COM.This site (www.salarypower.com), expected to go live sometime this summer, is one to watch for.SalaryPower.com intends to pay compensation consulting firms for theirdata. Salary reports will go for about $25 to $35, and higher-pricedreports will be available to human-resources professionals.

The Next Step

You may think you're finished after using one of the preceding sites.But to really make a strong case for a raise, you'll need to support thedata you've found so far with additional information and verify it againstother sources, such as industry sites, actual job postings that quotesalaries, professional associations and trade organizations.

Here are a few more Web sites that can help you do that:

" JOBSTAR.ORG.JobStar.org (www.jobstar.org) has links to more than 300 salary surveys, many of which areindustry-specific. Be sure to check the dates on those surveys, asalways.

Mary-Ellen Mort, a longtime librarian in Oakland, Calif., who createdthe free site, also recommends checking out the Encyclopedia ofAssociations, a set of reference books that lists thousands oforganizations, professional societies and trade associations and isavailable at many local libraries. Also try the Associations on the Netpage at the University of Michigan's Internet Public Library, atwww.ipl.org/div/aon.

" CAREERJOURNAL.COM.This is a free career-advice site(www.careerjournal.com) from DowJones & Co., featuring salary and hiring information,job-hunting tips and features and news from The Wall Street Journal abouttrends in various industries and professions and work-related issues. Thesite has links to SalaryExpert.com(www.salaryexpert.com) and to a salary calculator on HomeFair.com(www.homefair.com) that compares the cost of living in various U.S. cities. NewYork-based Dow Jones is the publisher of The Wall Street Journal and theOnline Journal as well as CollegeJournal.com.

" COMPUTERJOBS.COM.Some Web sites are tailored for specific industries, but be careful. Theyoften rely on employees to report their own salaries, and numbers sometimesaren't broken down geographically. ComputerJobs.com(www.computerjobs.com), for example, is an information-technology employment site. ItsSalary Ticker lists annual compensation data collected nationwide forvarious computer-industry job categories and related subcategories withspecific skills. But keep in mind, the figures come from the workersthemselves, and the site says it attempts to eliminate extreme highs andlows. So what you're left with is something like average self-reportedfigures. The business is a privately held Atlanta-based corporation withinvestments from Internet Capital Group, of Wayne, Pa., and MellonVentures.

" SEC.GOV.It's no secret how much top executives at publicly held companies earn.Their pay is made public through the Securities and Exchange Commission ina filing known as a DEF-14A. Check out the SEC Web site:www.sec.gov/edgar/searchedgar/companysearch.html.

Finding the data on the SEC site is a cumbersome process. Enter theexact name of a company, then scroll down through all the SEC filings bythe company, and then scroll some more, until you find the most recentDEF-14A. Clicking on that will bring you to the actual proxy, and then youmust look for the "Summary Compensation Table," which typically lists thefive highest-paid executives' annual compensation. Be sure to keep reading:Option exercises and details about other compensation awards are listedelsewhere in the proxy.

" ECOMPONLINE.COM.It's much faster and easier to find executive salary information atecomponline.com, from Chicago-based AonCorp.'s Aon Consulting Worldwide. This site compiles the same SEC salarydata in clean, easy-to-read -- and easy-to-obtain -- charts. But if youwant to see the entire compensation package, beyond salary and bonus,you'll have to register with the Web site. (Registration isfree.)

" SALARYEXPERT.COMsays it will soon release another helpful tool for researching executivesalaries: a $79 report that will compare salaries of executives at ahalf-dozen companies of comparable size, revenue, industry and location.SalaryExpert (www.salaryexpert.com) finds those companies for you. Such a tool can be useful not onlyfor job hunters but also for boards' CEO search committees and paypanels.

-- Ms. Siegel Bernard is a reporter for DowJones Newswires in New York.

Filed Under: Salary & Benefits


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