How to Research Your Salary Before You Apply for a Job

| Genevieve Carlton


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Researching salaries is an important part of the job hunt — and it can pay off in major ways.

In a 2009 study on salary negotiation, Michelle Marks of George Mason University and Crystal Harold of Temple University found that new employees who negotiated their salaries earned, on average, $5,000 more per year.

A higher starting salary means higher raises throughout your career. As Harvard's Program on Negotiating points out, that extra $5,000 in salary adds up to over $630,000 in additional wages over the course of a 40-year career.

How A Salary Negotiation Pays Off Over Time

Starting Salary at $50,000 x 40 years with an annual raise of 5%
= Career total of $6,391,988.

Starting Salary at $55,000 x 40 years with an annual raise of 5%
= Career total of $7,031,186.

In a 2019 AAUW survey, more than half of new hires successfully negotiated for a higher salary. Women report feeling less confidence when negotiating, which contributes to the gender pay gap.

Before you can negotiate, you have to know your worth — which means researching the average salaries in your field and area. That includes salary ranges for specific companies and job titles as well as starting salaries for recent graduates in your field.

But how do you research salaries? And where can you find accurate, useful salary data?

Where to Research Salaries

Knowing where to look makes researching salaries much easier. Fortunately, job candidates have a wealth of options when conducting salary research.

Salary Research Websites

There are several websites that provide salary data. For example, Glassdoor provides salary information by company, including salaries for specific roles within the company. The site also includes reviews from current and former employees.

Similarly, LinkedIn shows salary breakdowns by location and job title. The site's job listings also include a salary range and information about the number of applicants. PayScale lists average salaries by job title, with additional breakdowns based on years of experience or degree.

These sites are a helpful starting point for understanding salary. However, they primarily rely on user-reported salary information, which means the data may not be super reliable or accurately reflect available salary ranges in your field.

Government Agencies

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is the best resource for researching salaries. Visitors can search occupations by salary, entry-level education, and job title.

In addition to median salaries, the BLS lists employment and wage data by state and metropolitan area. The BLS also provides decade-long job outlooks for each listed career, including projected employment gains or losses.

It's even easier to research salaries for public sector jobs because government agencies post their salaries. The federal government follows a standard pay system, known as the General Schedule, for federal employees. The Office of Personnel Management is the best place to find information about federal pay tables, including local salaries in your area.

For state or local government jobs, local agencies and newspapers often post public salaries.

Local Network

National salary averages might not reflect common pay rates in your particular location, especially if you live in a place with an unusually high or low cost of living. That's why it's best to reach out to your local network to research starting salaries specific to where you live.

For example, job recruiters can provide useful information on common starting salaries for recent college graduates in your industry. Your college career center might also keep salary data for graduates.

Additionally, you can sometimes find salary information from local organizations. For instance, if you're working as a freelance writer or editor, check to see if there's a local editor's guild that lists out recommended rates.

You can also reach out to friends in similar industries to ask about their salaries. However, remember that some people prefer not to share salary information, so it's best to approach these conversations cautiously.

It's also wise to use caution when discussing salaries with coworkers. While it's legal to discuss salaries at work, it can sometimes cause problems in the office.

How To Research Salaries
Salary Research Websites Government Agencies Local Network
  • LinkedIn
  • Glassdoor
  • PayScale
  • U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)
  • Office of Personnel Management
  • Job recruiters
  • College career counselors
  • Friends and family
  • Local professional organizations

Salary Considerations to Keep in Mind

Researching salary ranges will find averages for your industry, area, and experience level, but it's worth remembering that salary is only one part of the total compensation package. You also need to consider things like benefits, time off, and retirement plans.

For example, while public sector and nonprofit jobs often offer lower starting salaries, they frequently provide stronger benefits packages and more paid time off. When negotiating, make sure to ask about the total compensation package and negotiate about benefits and PTO in addition to salary.

"Salary is only one part of the total compensation package. A company may offer lower starting wages, but provide stronger benefits packages, stock options, or extra days of PTO."

It's also a good idea to look into local rules about salary history. During the hiring process, employers may ask for your salary at previous jobs and adjust what they offer you accordingly. This practice worsens salary inequities for historically underpaid groups. As a result, several cities and states ban salary history requests during the hiring process.

Once you've researched salary data from multiple sources, you'll be able to use that information to boost your confidence and make stronger arguments during your salary negotiation.

Genevieve Carlton holds a Ph.D. in history from Northwestern University and earned tenure as a history professor at the University of Louisville. An award-winning historian and writer, Genevieve has published multiple scholarly articles and a book with the University of Chicago Press. She currently works as a freelance writer and consultant.

Header Image Credit: Roose Koole, PM Images | Getty Images

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