In job search, salary information often requires digging a little deeper

By Vickie Elmer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 8, 2010

The job looks enticing and the commute would be half your current one. But the pay? Who knows? The ad doesn't mention it and the company offers nothing on its Web site to clue you in.

If you're looking for a new position, you also may want to start your due diligence -- your search for the salary skinny -- right away. Salary information from a previous search, even as recent as a year ago, may no longer be relevant.

"Salary data is volatile and it changes constantly," said Deborah Keary, human resources director for the for the Society of Human Resource Management, an Alexandria-based professional association. In other words, your dream job may not pay as much as you dreamed.

In the past two years, millions of people's salaries were reduced or frozen, or their positions were turned into contract jobs without benefits. Vacation days and pay raises dropped from sight last year in many sectors, though salaries are climbing back now.

Top-performing staffers around the Washington metro area can expect raises of 3.9 percent, on average, this year, which is higher than the national average reported in a recent salary survey by WorldatWork, a human resources association based in Scottsdale, Ariz. The highest-rated staffers -- one fourth of all workers -- will collect more, but the bottom quarter may get meager raises or none at all this year, WorldatWork officials said.

The average pay increase nationwide this year is 2.5 percent -- below the gains of 3.5 percent or more that had been logged in recent years.

"You can't expect a lot of money unless you're a really good performer," Keary said.

If you win a promotion, that could bump up your pay 7 to 15 percent, according to Paul Rowson, managing director at WorldatWork's D.C. office. "Top performers tend to be considered for promotions faster than average performers," he said. Either way, you're likely to earn more if you know the market's pay rates and your own worth in today's job market.

Here's are four strategies for learning more about pay and benefits:

-- If you already work for the organization, simply go to the human resources department and ask. This may work for some outside candidates, too, especially if they are finalists for the job. "Transparency is an up-and-coming thought," Keary said.

-- Check recent job postings specific to the city and industry where you want to work and to your level of experience. Exclude contract jobs (unless that is what you're seeking), because their base pay is much higher. Recruiters also can be great sources, Rowson said.

-- Use Web sites to learn a ballpark estimate of market salaries, Keary suggests.

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