Article #16 From the "What If ..." Library on Salary Negotiation
What If ...
I Need to Know the Going Rate
While there are far too many variables contributing to the range of salary offers for any given job to have a figure in your pocket having pinpoint accuracy, there is still no reason, given the number of available sources of valuable and reliable information, not to have a firm foundation for knowing whether the offer in front of you is credible or an insult. So if you are headed for the negotiation table, you should have, at the very minimum, the range of the “going rate” for the position you’re looking to fill.
You can start with the Internet where sites abound with job specific salary data. In the beginning, stick with sites that specialize in detailed ranges for hundreds of different positions (salary.com; salaryexpert.com) then branch out to state or even local professional associations to fine tune the numbers that are collected closer to home. These numbers are more likely to include more accurate data relative to things like cost of living data for your area. The completeness and accuracy of the information often depends on what you’re willing to spend (in both time and money). For example, while a quick general search will be free, you can obtain a detailed report for about $50 and five minutes of your time at salary.com. Five minutes is what it will take to submit the information necessary for a fully customized salary report along with a more finely tuned estimate of what your particular position should command.
Remember though that these figures, even the more accurate expensive ones cannot take into account many of the factors mentioned earlier, huge factors like the economy and events that can have a tremendous effect on certain industries, like the dot com boom and bust cycle had on IT personnel. Real wages are one thing and all the ways that employers can get creative in an effort to attract and snag the desired candidates are quite another.
When corporate budgets are stretched to the limit, let’s say, be prepared to let the conversation move to non-cash compensation offers where employers will have more room to negotiate. Remember, armed with the necessary baseline information, even bringing certain reports to refer to can help prevent a big waste of your time. This level of preparation will allow you to determine quickly if a given employer is serious about matching a compensation package with the title and job description they floated out there.