Know Your Worth: Find What Salary You Should Be Getting Paid

Katie McBeth  | 

People will only pay you what they think you’re worth. However, you control their perception of you.

This is the message Casey Brown shares in her TEDx video on discovering your worth. Simply put, if you can define your personal value, and then communicate that value to your employer or clients, then you should be able to receive accurate compensation for your work. This simple equation: Define + Tell = Earn can help you achieve your full earning potential.

However, there are many other factors to consider when it comes to defining your salary. Although it’s important to keep this simple equation in mind, it’s also important to factor in all the other aspects of your position.

With all the information that goes into determining your salary, how exactly can you land on a number that best defines your worth? And once you do, how can you communicate that worth to your employer or clients?

Let’s look at all the different factors in place that can help you determine your salary potential. Once you land on a number, you can use that information to negotiate your salary, ask for a raise, or simply use the knowledge you gained to better advocate for yourself.

What Am I Worth? Resources for Estimating Your Top Salary

If you’re unsure of how to define your value, you’re certainly not alone. It is all too common for professionals to fall into the trap of imposter syndrome — the idea that you’re really an imposter in your role, not very good at the job, and will someday be found out for being “fake.” Imposter syndrome can feed into your self-doubt, making you less aware of the value you ad to the business.

However, you can manage to overcome or talk yourself out of imposter syndrome simply by recognizing your achievements, not comparing your success to that of anyone else, and embracing your ambitious nature.

Did you possibly help your company through a financial rough patch by retaining clients or streamlining a company process? Perhaps you’ve volunteered as a trainer, and have helped multiple new hires adjust faster than before to working with the business. Did you manage to get through a personal issue without letting it affect your work, and still performed well? Did your manager highlight your work and recognize the benefit it brought to the company?

All of the scenarios in which your work stood above the rest should be highlighted in your mind. You have brought your value to the company, and you will continue to provide value in many different forms. If you left, how much money would they have to expend to replace your knowledge and skills?

Overcoming imposter syndrome is easier said than done. In many ways, it could haunt you throughout your career, but that doesn’t mean it has to affect your salary. Be sure to not sell yourself short when you consider the value you bring to the business.

Just as with any other career advancement, it’s important for you to do some homework and study up on the industry. When researching your worth, there are plenty of resources available to help you better determine what you should be paid. Here are some of the top resources available to you:

Talk to Recruiters

Recruiters are proficient in understanding and learning all about the current job market. They will not only be able to suggest alternative jobs or positions for you, but they can also help you determine your worth as an employee. More than likely, any recruiter you speak with will have an in-depth knowledge of the industry standards, as well as some insider knowledge on pay rates between companies and between employees.

Contact a recruiter in your local area and see if they can schedule a consultation with you. Some recruiters might specialize in your industry, so be sure to do thorough research about the recruiter before you meet with them.

Once you’ve been able to sit down with them, you can ask them questions about the industry, such as:

  • What is the typical starting salary for people in my position?
  • What should I be asking for in terms of salary negotiation?
  • How much should I be paid with my experience, and would another company in the area pay me more for that experience?

If you are willing to investigate other businesses that might pay you a more fair salary, you can also use the recruiter’s advice (and connections) to help you apply to other better paying jobs in the area.

Research Salaries Online

If you find you cannot afford a recruiter, or prefer to do research on your own, there are also online resources available to help you determine how others are being paid in the industry. For one, you can research similar job openings in your area. Oftentimes job descriptions include information on starting salaries, which can help you understand how much other companies are paying their employees.

Additionally, you can research information provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which looks at salary estimates based on area and occupation.

Salary Calculators

Another resource that might be easier to access than a professional recruiter is online salary calculators or estimates. Websites such as Glassdoor, Salary.com, Payscale, or Paysa collect and calculate your salary information, which is based on multiple factors:

  • Your region or location
  • Your years of experience
  • Demand for employees within that sector and within that region (the higher the demand, the higher the pay due to competition between companies)
  • How others are being paid in the industry, both with your employer as well as competitor businesses (this information is acquired through surveys that visitors take when first creating an account with the website)
    • This is either given in an industry “average” or through a “market salary estimate” of your worth

Free websites like these can help you visualize the standard salary for people in your same position with the same level of experience. They can also suggest other businesses in the area that are hiring currently and can offer you a better salary if you find you’re being underpaid.

Variables that Affect Your Salary:

However, if you don’t want to utilize online calculators, or if you’re unsure of how your salary is properly calculated, you can follow your own formula to better understand the method behind it. A salary range might not help you determine if you’re being paid accurately, so it’s best to understand how that range can be tipped in your favor. Here are all the variables that can affect your salary:

  • Experience: Your experience plays a major role in determining your worth as an employee. The experience must be relevant to the position, and typically your experience does not include your education if it is not relevant to the job you’re seeking. Other forms of experience that you can consider include volunteer work, internships, study abroad programs, or freelance work that you might have taken during a gap in employment.
  • Credentials: Have a special certification that is relevant to the position can also be a useful bargaining tool. This can include anything from: degrees earned in trade school or at a university, specialty licenses earned, or certificates that required special training to earn. These specialized credentials can help set you apart from other employees.
  • Location: Your location also plays a major role in determining salary, mainly because local laws directly affect wages. State laws such as minimum wage or “right to work” (anti-union laws) can set the bar for wages in starting positions, but can also ripple up to more experienced positions. Additionally, the local cost of living can affect your wage, and can be used as a slight bargaining chip in negotiations. If you’re being paid under the cost of living, you might be able to negotiate a higher salary with your employer by explaining your situation (the less stressed you are about money, the better you’ll be able to work). Lastly, if you’re able to telecommute or be a remote worker, location and flexibility can also affect your salary.
  • Economics: The demand for workers in your area is another essential factor to wage calculations. Cities like Seattle are flooded with technical workers, but also have very competitive technical job openings with different businesses. This can make salary negotiations swing in your favor, as competition between businesses results in an increased demand for experienced employees. On the reverse, if you live in a smaller city, it might be hard to find a position that meets your salary needs, and there might be more experienced employees than there are positions available. Remember the basics of supply and demand, and make sure to account for that in your calculations.
  • You: Finally, your personality and personal characteristics can also play into how your salary is determined. Remember, you control the perception other people have of you, so even if you are an extremely introverted person, you can help them understand how great of a listener you are, how dedicated you are to the business, and how important you are to the culture of the business. It’s important to acknowledge, also, that your personal characteristics — such as gender or race — can sometimes have a negative effect on your overall perception due to harmful stereotypes and assumptions based on your protected class. However, if you believe you’re being discriminated against or unfairly paid due to a protected class, you can always seek out the guidance of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

What is My Job Worth? Assessing Your Pay Beyond Salary

When discussing salary, most people only picture a paycheck and a number. However, your salary consists of a lot more than just your monetary income. You also need to be considerate of how the business supports you in other ways. This is especially true when it comes to your work-life balance: is your company helping you find balance, or making it more difficult?

Many companies increase the perks they offer employees to better attract top talent. Other businesses might not consider perks from the start, but can be convinced to investigate options for additional perks if you properly negotiate with them.

Here are some employee perks or benefits that you might want to consider before going into a salary negotiation:

Benefits and Perks

Health benefits, retirement plans, and other insurance options are all essential benefits to have in our modern day America. Any business that employs workers on a full time basis (and that has more than 50 employees on staff) is required by federal law to offer some form of health benefits to its workers. However, those health benefits aren’t always the best available on the insurance market.

If you believe your health insurance does not meet the needs of yourself or your family, you might want to consider mentioning it in your salary negotiations with your boss. If the company is aware that you want better healthcare and has the means to pursue better options, then you should be able to use it as a bargaining chip with the company. However, be aware that the bigger the company, the harder it might be to ask for increased healthcare or retirement benefits: often times larger companies have more bureaucratic hurdles, making it almost impossible to request a policy change to something that is a company standard.

Other perks that the business might offer or that you might be able to suggest include:

  • Company-matched 401K contributions
  • Free food or drinks in the office
  • Increased paid time off (PTO) accrual
  • Paid holiday leave (that is separate from your normal PTO)
  • Extended weekends or four day work weeks
  • Onsite daycare, or daycare reimbursement
  • Life insurance, or other forms of supplementary insurance (accident, disability, etc)
  • The ability to work remotely (from home) and telecommute

Bonuses and Supplementary Pay

Another factor to consider is annual bonuses or other forms of supplementary pay. For many employees, they might not be aware of opportunities to seek out bonuses, but there are plenty out there. Depending on your company’s policy, they might be able to issue a bonus when:

  • You sign on to work with the company, you can ask for a signing bonus (possibly instead of a salary increase).
  • You’re scheduled to have a performance review. You can also ask to have a shorter review period, such as six months instead of a year.
  • You achieve a performance goal.

The business might also offer you supplementary pay in the form of tuition reimbursement, child care payments, commission, back pay, or tips. If your business offers other perks like this to other employees, then it’s possible that they might be able to offer something to you, as well. Consider the options that are available, and be sure to factor that into your negotiations.

Opportunities for Advancement

Asking for a promotion can be difficult, but if you believe you deserve to be treated fairly for the work you provide the company, then you should definitely consider asking about advancement within the business. Although not all promotions will come with a guaranteed wage increase, there might be other perks that come with the position that make it worthwhile, and sometimes recognition for your effort can be enough (at least for the short term).

However, not all businesses have the ability to offer promotions. Small businesses, especially, might struggle at offering opportunities for advancement. This doesn’t mean you should shy away from asking, but should research your options. Maybe you could suggest a new position be created that meets your qualifications. Or you could simply ask for a title change that meets the standard of work that you’ve been producing.

Training and Skills Development

Another essential perk is training and skills development. Your business should be invested in your ability to grow and improve, and if they aren’t, then you should work that into your negotiations.

A good example of training perks is tuition reimbursement: where the company either helps pay off your student loans, or offers you a scholarship to help you get through college. If you’re interested in improving your education and using the skills you learn in college to become a better worker, asking about tuition reimbursement is an excellent perk to negotiate.

Other than college, the company might also offer training classes at a discount that open up new opportunities for you. For example, they might offer a discount or full reimbursement for forklift certification, commercial drivers license training, or other similar opportunities. If the business can offer some form of career training opportunity, then you should definitely factor that into your negotiations.

Networking

Lastly, consider any networking opportunities that the business can offer you. This might include attending trade shows on behalf of the company, or attending conferences where you can meet other people within the industry.

Networking is essential to career success — knowing the right people can be enough to guarantee you a job — and an opportunity to network should not be taken lightly. Be sure to consider different networking opportunities that the business might be able to offer you.

Knowledge is Valuable: Getting the Salary You Deserve

In the end, knowing your worth is a lot more than just asking for a raise. There are many factors that need to be considered: from your experience to your location. However, once you have the knowledge and can understand how to calculate your worth, you can use that important information to advocate for a pay that reflects the value you bring to your company.

Once you can determine your value, all that is left for you to do is to communicate it to your employer. Remember, people will only pay you what they think you’re worth, but you control their perception. Remind them of how valuable you really are, and take pride in knowing your worth.


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Katie McBeth is a researcher and writer out of Boise, ID, with experience in marketing for small businesses and management. Her favorite subject of study is millennials, and she has been featured on Fortune Magazine and the Quiet Revolution. She researches SEO strategies during the day, and freelances at night. You can follow her writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth

This post was updated March 27, 2018. It was originally published March 29, 2018.