Tips from the Pros

October 9, 2012
Know Your Worth

How do I determine my worth?


Finding out what you are worth requires research, self-reflection and networking.

Robin Meyer, associate director of the Office of Career Counseling at Williams College, says salary survey sites on the Web can be helpful, and she also recommends the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) as a good source. Job postings and ads on the Internet, in newspapers and in trade journals are also helpful.

Look into your professional history and ask yourself, "What do I bring to the table?" Get advice from vocation and job counselors if you don't know where you're headed, says Cary Silberman, a human resource consultant with The Negotiation Institute.

Meyer suggests documenting your professional progress. "Keep a kudos file to keep track of items like positive work evaluations, examples of your best work, thank you notes from clients, awards or recognitions so that you have them at your fingertips when you need them," she says.

Last, but most importantly: Network, network, network. Experts agree that the best source of salary information is other people in the same field.

"You are worth different amounts in different markets…What's more, you may be worth more to one company than you would be to another," says Kate Wendleton, president of the Five O'Clock Club, a career counseling and outplacement organization.

Ultimately, "you're worth whatever they will pay you," says Meyer.

What factors impact my worth?


Many people believe that skills, experience and education are the only things that impact their worth in terms of salary. However, there are several other factors: geographic location, industry, company size -- and sometimes even who you report to -- can determine your worth, says Joe Kilmartin, managing director of compensation consulting at Salary.com.

He notes that worth sometimes depends on the state of the job market and the personality of the applicant.

"Personality is a very important factor, because you may have the best background but if your personality does not mesh into an organization, you may not get what you are worth," he said.

How do I find out the typical salary for my position?


Check the job announcement for a salary range. If it's not listed, you may have to do some research.

"For a unique job, look at job sites specific to your occupation, like nurses should go to a job site catering specifically to healthcare workers," Kilmartin advises.

If you can't find what you are looking for, it may be because you are not searching correctly, says Kilmartin. "One of the biggest complaints users have with [Salary.com] is when an employee mismatches their job."

For example, he says, you may be looking at the salary information of a senior accountant and have the same title but you've been at your company for less than two years and may not be eligible for the "traditional" salary of a senior accountant.

If you aren't lucky enough to have access to the results of a compensation survey targeting your profession, experts recommend talking to people in your field.

"You need to find out what you as a real person are worth to real companies," says Wendleton. At networking meetings you should ask, "What kind of salary could someone like me expect at your company?" she says.

Be Prepared to Negotiate

When's the best time to bring up the subject of salary?


Most job seekers are anxious about salary discussions and want to get it over with as soon as possible. But according to Wendleton, "The person who brings up a number first loses the game."

She says it is important to talk about the job before you talk salary.

"Create a job (offer) that suits both you and the hiring manager. Make sure it is at an appropriate level for you. If the job is too low-level, don't ask about the money, upgrade the job!" Wendleton says.

Once you have negotiated the job and have an offer in hand, that's when you should start salary negotiations.

However, if you are in your final round of interviews and the employer still hasn't mentioned salary, Silberman recommends throwing the ball in the employer's court by asking politely how much they are offering -- or ask about a salary range for the position.

Meyer adds that you should not be afraid to turn down a job offer. Instead, have your own "walk-away number in mind," which represents the minimum salary that you will accept before you say, "thanks but no thanks." It is always better to ask and be turned down than not to ask at all!

Do I have to disclose my salary history?


Experts agree that honesty is the best policy when it comes to negotiating salary, whether you are weighing offers or disclosing salary history.

It is common for employers to ask about a salary range; they do so to gauge your expectations and see if they can afford you. For the same reason it is critical to understand that, "If your salary is more than they want to pay, they will discard your application. If your salary is very low, they will discard your application and assume that you are not qualified. So you have only a one-third chance of getting it right and moving along in the hiring process," says Wendleton.

Be careful about disclosing your salary history too soon; postpone the topic until you have a better idea of what they will offer by politely mentioning that salary won't be a problem and that you and the employer should be able to come to a mutual agreement.

If you decide not to postpone the conversation, Silberman suggests disclosing your salary history. "But don't just use a blank statement by saying I earned $40,000 period -- steer the conversation by saying that you made $40,000 in your past job but learned many skills and are worth an increase in pay to $50,000."

Silberman calls this the win-win negotiation theory. Developed by Dr. Gerard Nierenberg, it ensures that all parties benefit from the negotiation process, producing more beneficial outcomes than the competitive winner-takes-all approach.

I have a job offer from Company A and a higher offer from Company B. I really want to work for Company A. What should I do?


It would seem like an ideal situation to pit one offer against the other and weigh your options, but don't disclose that to companies you are applying to.

According to washingtonpost.com's How to Deal columnist Lily Garcia, "It is in poor taste to try to leverage an offer to obtain a higher salary from another employer." However, she says the higher offer does give you a sense of what you might be worth and this can help to guide your negotiations with the first company -- without disclosing the other offer.

If it truly is your dream company, most job seekers are willing to accept a lower salary, Garcia says, but if there are some other constraints that are preventing you from accepting that lower offer, you can make them aware that you need to make a certain amount of money in order meet your mortgage payments, for example.

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