How to Get Helpful Company Information

Roughly half of American employees believe they're underpaid, according to a survey conducted last year by Salary.com. The same survey found that only 22 percent of employees are actually underpaid. So, if you're walking around thinking the boss has gotten you for a steal, salary sites are an ideal way to do a reality check.

PayScale.com and Salary.com are two reputable sites that provide easy-to-access figures, based on position, industry, type of employer, location, level of experience and other factors that enable you to see if your salary is where it should be. You may be pleasantly surprised that you're right where you should be, and that knowledge may just buoy your spirits.

For others, it may be a real wake-up call that you're not paid the going rate. This may be an opportunity for a candid discussion with your boss on how your pay stacks up competitively in the marketplace, or it may be time to start looking for a new job. (One word of caution: You can't confront your boss about salary every time you look at these sites. Too many complaints ultimately may cost you your job.)

Sites such as PayScale.com and Salary.com get their data from a variety of sources -- government data, anonymous submissions, employer surveys, etc. -- so, if you compare both of them, among others, you're able to come up with a smart, realistic range for what you're worth in today's marketplace, based on your work history and education.

One of the most common questions I'm asked among professionals seeking a new job is, "How do I answer that dreaded question about my salary expectations, especially when I don't know what an employer is willing to pay? If my number is too high, they'll knock me out of the running. If my number is too low, I'll underbid my chances of the best possible wage."

My answer: Do your homework. This is when salary sites are a crucial resource in your job search process. You should know the ballpark of what a position pays before you respond to such questions and before you sit for an interview.

As you search sites for salary data, including the Department of Labor, your alumni association reports, industry groups that track employment data, or Web sites devoted to this subject, pay particular attention to three factors: the source of the information, the collection and analysis methodology, and the size of the profile pool.

A site that offers information on a marketing manager salary, but doesn't differentiate between a position at a small nonprofit and a Fortune 50 corporation, isn't as accurate and meaningful as sites that do make those critical distinctions.

PayScale, for example, draws from a database of 13 million salary profiles. Glassdoor, which also offers salary reports, has about 40,000 such profiles, since it's the newest site of this kind on the Net. PayScale also probes users on relevant details. When collecting CEO data, the site asks the size of the company's revenue, since a CEO of a company generating $5,000 in sales is dramatically different from one generating $5 million, $50 million or $500 million annually.

As you investigate the all-important salary information, lean on Vault, Glassdoor and maybe even JobVent, for a look at everything else. Management style, culture, benefits and opportunities for advancement are even more relevant to workers today than salary alone.

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