Whether you are a C-level executive in a corner office or an entry level gopher in a cubicle, the chances are your answer to that question begins with a capital N and ends with a gigantic exclamation point! (OR TWO!!)
I am in a profession that requires me to know a lot about people’s salaries. In fact, when I contact potential candidates about a position, their current compensation level is one of the pieces of the puzzle I must assemble in order to determine whether the position for which I am recruiting is a good fit for them. The more people I talk to, the more I learn about what kind of salary is required to attract the best talent. As a result of this, I often become aware of what level of pay is competitive within a given discipline.
As a recruiter, I have found that a majority of people I speak with during the recruiting process share the belief that they should be making more than they are. (Of course, my statistics may be skewed by the fact that people who are 100% satisfied with their compensation may not take my call.) Certainly, my personal friends and colleagues are always interested in my professional observations regarding salary levels among their peers.
If you are someone who feels that you might deserve higher compensation, I suggest doing something to quench your curiosity. Following are some sources of information you might consider.
First, there are several online resources that will provide a reasonable compensation guideline for your position. I just went to Robert Half’s annual salary survey and found it useful and easy to use. Some of the other salary information sites are obvious collection vehicles for your information. At these sites, you may receive some information, but you can assume you will be contacted via e-mail or called by a recruiter (not all bad).
If you are high enough in the food chain, you may be able to find comparable salaries for your position in documents such as a proxy published by a public company. A proxy outlines the salaries for top management of the company and many of the perquisites.
Another suggestion is to call a friendly recruiter; yes, there are a few. Recruiters will be able to very quickly evaluate your marketability, including your current compensation. Be prepared for a blunt response. If you are not marketable in the opinion of the headhunter, the call will not be a long one. If you have called a person familiar with your market, he/she should be able to give you a reasonable guideline as to compensation in your field.
And finally, the tried and true method of gossiping with friends and colleagues works very well. Your people skills are in high demand when you go this route. You can’t just blurt out to a co-worker, “Hey, what are you making?” over coffee. Better to couch your question in third person terms. “Do you have any idea what they offered the new hire?” or “Do you know what they’re paying sales reps at XYZ Co.”
To ask a person’s general opinion of the current compensation plan within the company or industry is a fair question and may lead to more targeted information. But if you expect others to shell out information, be prepared to reciprocate with whatever you know.
Finally, your research could include putting out some feelers into the job market. I advise that you do this carefully and with high regard to confidentiality, lest your employer discover your pursuit of information and/or opportunity. Send out resumes to companies in your industry. If your resume becomes the hottest ticket in town, you will probably hear from a lot of employers. Learn the salary range of the positions for which you are deemed qualified. On the other hand, if you find no/few takers in the job marketplace, it might indicate that your experience is not as marketable as you thought. In this case, you might be making exactly the amount of money that the current market will bear. (Job markets are dynamic, by the way. The current market salary for your position may change within months.)
If you find little opportunity for salary advancement outside your company, it may be worth a talk to your superiors about growth and promotion opportunities within the company. This is also a perfect time to inventory your skill set and look for opportunities for improvement. Make it known that you are looking for ways to advance to the next level. Salary should not be the driver in a discussion with management. Seek ways to contribute at a higher level and money may follow. If not, see what is currently attractive in the marketplace and move in that direction.
If you have explored the job market and all possibilities for advancement in your company to no avail, it’s time to get happy with what you are making, at least for the moment. But I recommend that people venture into the job market periodically, just to make sure they are getting paid what they are worth. That higher paying position may not come knocking at your cubicle wall.
At the end of the day (whenever that is) when you get on the elevator to go home, the only person at the company who truly cares about your career is you. It is your responsibility to reach out and find your own gold.