Know Your Career Worth and Secure Fair Compensation

career advancement compensation and benefits finding a job Oct 15, 2023
Blue background with stairsteps spelling Salary, X-axis says Compensation Research, Y-axis unlabeled pointing up.

It doesn’t matter where you are in your career path, securing fair compensation is always paramount when interviewing for a new position.

But how do we obtain the best salary possible? And more than that, how do we know what that salary truly is?

The topics of compensation and vast ranges are coming up more and more as new states and municipalities are requiring companies to post their budget ranges on all job postings.
But when salaries have huge gaps, it’s tricky to know where you fit.

In my view, your compensation goal is to be paid appropriately, not just for what the company has budgeted, but also for what you’re worth. I call this the “high side of fair.” So today, I’m sharing steps you can take to determine just that – the intersection between your skills and industry standards.

In this post, you’ll find market research tips, steps to identifying your value as a professional, and how to translate this knowledge into securing a higher salary.

Secure a Higher Salary through Compensation Research

Knowledge is power. By having a deep understanding of industry standards, your qualifications, and compensation expectations, you can effectively negotiate a higher salary.

But before you get to the negotiation table, you need to put in the leg work.

Begin with these two steps for compensation research:

Step 1: Know your market

Before you ever apply for a job, you need a good knowledge of compensation ranges for the role, title, and general industry.

A great place to start is the salary range on job postings you are interested in and qualify for. Be careful, though - these ranges can be REALLY wide and have several variants including employee benefits and retirement benefits.

Use these tips to gain in-depth knowledge of your market beyond initial listings.

Understand industry standards

Past a job posting, research further industry standards for your role, industry, and location. Cities have varying costs of living and salaries should reflect this.

Popular websites include GlassDoor and Payscale, though I usually recommend Salary.com and Levels.fyi as I find they are even more accurate.

If salary ranges aren’t posted on the job listing, don’t be afraid to speak directly to recruiters about what salaries they are seeing for your target role and industry. Third-party recruiters in particular are a gold mine of information, especially if they have deep experience in your geographic region.

Some great questions to ask recruiters are:

  • What kind of base compensation ranges are you seeing for <role> and <industry> right now?
  • What range of bonus compensation are you seeing? Is it reasonable I could get to <target total comp>?
  • What sorts of experience, results, and qualifications are you seeing from candidates getting offers on the upper end of those ranges?

Diverse research should give you a solid understanding of fair compensation for the role.

Stay up-to-date

A mistake many people make is relying too heavily on self-reported salary sites like GlassDoor for salary information, particularly when researching a single company.

GlassDoor is known for skewed compensation rates because it reports data from several years ago as if it were still current and relevant data. I can go directly to the pages for a couple of former employers and find my reported salary from YEARS ago being reported as if it’s accurate today. (Seriously people. My project manager salary from 2015 should NOT still be showing.)

The world moves fast and relying on salary ranges from five years ago is a good way to set yourself up for a lowball offer.

Consider company needs

Beyond initial ranges, consider both employer needs and market demand which could move compensation rates either way.

If your particular skill set is in high demand, you hold leverage for receiving a higher salary, regardless of seniority. Same goes for having a strong track record of achieving exceptional results.

Think beyond title

When doing any compensation research, it's important not to rely too heavily on titles. Some companies use super-specific job titles that don’t translate across industries.

For these positions, you’ll likely struggle to find anything to compare them to.

Beyond that, several job titles like Project Manager and Program Manager remain fixed for many years and continue to grow in seniority, complexity, and pay scale. These are factors that don’t show up in the title alone.

Try looking at sites like Salary.com and Levels.fyi compensation ranges that go beyond the job title. These sites do a good job of breaking down skills, experiences, levels of complexity, and the sizes of projects expected for different levels within a role.

Consider all forms of compensation

When researching compensation, it’s important to include all forms including employee benefits stock compensation, annual bonuses, signing bonuses, and more.

We know that compensation means way more than a simple base salary and your research efforts should reflect this.

Step 2: Know yourself

A certain level of introspection is a vital piece of the compensation puzzle. By identifying your professional value, and your personal needs, you can gain a better understanding of what fair compensation means to you.

My take is that you're not just trying to get the top of a pay range. Instead, you’re trying to get on the high side of what is fair for you based on skills, experience, and results.

Identify what you bring to the table

Your first step is to dig into yourself. Ask yourself, “What are my skills, experience, and results worth?”

Challenge yourself to go beyond seniority and instead focus on what you’ve accomplished in your professional life. Track your achievements, keeping a record of projects, successes, increased revenues, and any other important contributions. You’ll need this for your resume, interviews, and networking conversations anyway so you might as well gather up this data ASAP.

Concrete evidence of your skills and, even more importantly, your impact is a great tool for negotiating fair compensation - and hopefully a pay raise.

Find your fit in the market

After identifying your skills, use your previous compensation research to get a realistic view of where you fit into a salary range. Aim for the high end of fair for YOU.

Often when applying for new positions, professionals will aim to make what they made at their last job or maybe a little bit more. But the truth is, if you’ve been at a company for a long time, you’ve likely fallen a lot behind the current market.

How do we know that?

Well, Forbes studied this several years ago and learned that people who stay at jobs longer than 2 years get paid 50% less over their career.

You also can’t make assumptions about what a change in role or management responsibility will do to your pay.

Case in point: Many moons ago, I was a Software QA Manager for a company. I was burned out on management at the time and interested in senior individual contributor roles in business analysis or product management. Most people in that situation assume they would need to take a pay cut to change jobs, but that was 100% not true for me. My salary was a lateral change and I also negotiated a signing bonus.

Once you find your fit, you’ll want to articulate your value on your resume, during your interview, and in any conversations with recruiters. Ideally, relay these values in terms of time saved, money saved, and money generated. This helps companies see the ROI.

Mind the gap

Giant salary ranges are becoming an even bigger problem than they were just a year or two ago. New salary transparency laws are requiring full ranges of salaries to be listed. And the now-glaringly-visible gaps are simply massive.

Personally, I’ve seen project management roles ranging from 120k to 250k for the exact same position. And as a person who has helped hire for these types of positions, this range can be very legitimate based on seniority within the role. If you want to learn more about this, check out this video

When faced with a large salary gap, be really clear on what you should be making based on your skills, qualifications, and experience within your role and industry.

If you’re mid-level within that range, own that and get comfortable with it. The same goes for senior roles. If your value says you belong in the 250k range, that’s what you should ask for.

Develop your value proposition

You know your worth, you know market standards, and you know your right fit. It’s time to use this compensation research by developing a value proposition.

Prepare your proposed compensation, using concrete skills and attributes that you bring to the position. Tailor these points based on job and employer needs so they can see the direct translation between professional value and return on investment.

Your value proposition should be concise while capturing your enthusiasm for the role.

State your worth

Finally, don’t mess around.

When you’ve calculated your compensation expectations, tell the recruiter or hiring manager sooner rather than later.

When you know what you want and what you deserve, you can’t settle for any less. And if the employer isn’t able or willing to provide it, you’re only prolonging the agony.

Final Thoughts from a No BS Career Coach on Compensation Research

When we see listed salary ranges, I think many of our instincts tell us to look right at the top. Or, if imposter syndrome is particularly looming, you may focus on that bottom dollar amount.

In truth, there’s no way to understand fair compensation, or where you fit within the range, without thorough market research.

By gaining a deep understanding of industry standards along with your experience, skills, and results, you can secure a higher salary that is fair to your unique professional value.

Do you need help building a compensation research strategy that works for your unique situation? A single strategy coaching call could be a big win for you. Click to book and pay for a session today