Picture the scene.
Under increasing pressure from the boss, your workload stacking up and your stress levels dangerously rising, you’ve snuck out the fire exit for an impromptu coffee break with a colleague.
Before anyone notices you’ve gone, you find a quiet, undisturbed corner where you can take a long, deep breath, before uttering that time-immortal line: ‘I don’t get paid enough for this’.
If that sounds familiar (and it probably does – we’ve all been there at one point or another), then maybe you should put this common sentiment to the test.
It’s easy to complain about a job we don’t particularly like, after all, but when it comes to your salary, could you actually have a genuine cause for complaint? In other words, are you being financially sold short by your employer or – as can sometimes happen – getting overpaid?
This is why it’s important to have a strong understanding of what exactly your going rate should be. To give you a hand, we’ve detailed the things you should keep in mind and the sources you should consult to get an accurate figure, as well as what you should do about it if you fall on either side of the line.
So, if you’ve sat at your desk, Rome burning around you, and asked yourself: ‘How much should I get paid?’, read on.
This is what you need to know.
How Do Companies Arrive at a Salary Figure?
It’s important to establish that, even though it may sometimes feel like it, not every business or organisation is setting out to underpay you. Indeed, in certain industries and for certain professions, this approach is detrimental and counter-productive.
The figure offered is dependent upon a variety of factors, though. Company budget is, of course, a prominent one. Most companies will conduct a salary survey to at least remain competitive against their rivals, while those that have the means and the resources will likely engage in benchmarking (the practice of poring through reams of company reports and data to extract a firm number).
Many companies will then balance this against the merits of the individual candidate, which we will discuss later.
Where Can I Get Salary Information From?
Obtaining a figure when you have a whole HR department behind you is one thing, but what about you, the humble employee? The good news is that, while accurate salary information is notoriously difficult to come by (after all, if it wasn’t, you presumably wouldn’t be reading this article), there are numerous sources that calculate the available data in order to provide answers.
For the purpose of finding a ballpark range, some of these methods can be useful:
Salary Comparison Sites
There are numerous high-profile websites that pertain to provide accurate salary information, and these would be an excellent place to start. It’s important to consider, though, that these numbers are gathered by anonymous users, with no way to verify their authenticity or even that the person supplying the information has ever worked for the company at all (corporate subterfuge is a very real thing, people).
They also don’t take into account a variety of the factors that we will discuss below such as the personal circumstances of the employee or the difference in locations. Therefore, when consulting such websites, you should retain some level of scepticism. It’s a good idea to pay closer attention to official government websites such as the Bureau of Labour Statistics (BLS) in the US and the National Careers Service in the UK.
Job boards are another easily accessible resource. Simply type in your job role and see what other companies are offering. Of course, this isn’t always a successful tactic, as not all companies will advertise their salaries, but many do.
Pay particular attention to industry-specific job boards, too, as recruiters know that their postings will come under more scrutiny.
There are numerous benefits to having a well-connected and active network, and one of them is the ability to get the inside track within your industry. For example, maybe an old friend from university just got a job offer at one of your company’s rivals; why not meet for a beer and get an idea of where you stand?
Again, this isn’t a fool-proof method. Maybe that same college buddy wants you to think he’s a big shot, for instance, and inflates his earnings accordingly. You are essentially going off word-of-mouth again, so bear that in mind before you march indignantly into your boss’s office demanding a raise.
Essentially, there’s only one way to find out for sure if you’re worth more or less elsewhere: get offered a job! This might be through an unsolicited offer or, if you’re seriously considering leaving your current role, by applying and successfully navigating the interview process.
Of course, it’s impractical and time-consuming to go through a bunch of recruiting procedures, especially if your only intention is to put a figure on a potential salary. This should only become a factor if you’re seriously considering taking your prospective employers up on their offer. It could work both ways, too: you might be offered less, for example, and realise that things aren’t so bad where you are after all.
In many cases, particularly within industries that pay by the hour (such as hospitality), it’s also essential to ensure that you’re receiving a fair wage. While the going rate for bar staff, for instance, will generally be the same across the industry, some employers will – unfortunately – still try to take advantage of this agreement and pay you as little as they can get away with.
The key here is to, well, not let them get away with it. In the UK and the US, there are stringent employment laws in place that companies must adhere to. All this information is freely available online, so do your research – particularly into minimum wage and living wage legislation – and ensure your employer is meeting their legal obligation.
What Is Likely to Affect My Salary?
Once you’ve got an idea of what everybody else is getting paid, it’s important to consider that there are other individual factors that come into play. For instance, consider:
Obviously, your employer will dictate your wage, so don’t assume that Company X will necessarily be willing to pay someone the same salary as Company Y, even if their levels of experience and competency are exactly the same. This isn’t something that you can really have an influence over; it’s down to organisations to set their own pay structure, after all, and it is down to them to deal with the consequences of overpaying or underpaying employees.
Don’t assume that base salary is directly comparable, either. Some companies prioritise perks, benefits and incentives over the number at the bottom of your paycheque, and this can sometimes work out in your favour. A company car, for instance, could save you money on your finance payments and leave you better off in the long run.
Geography is another key factor in determining your salary, as industry value fluctuates significantly across the globe; it’s pointless considering average salaries in the UK, for example, if you’re looking for work in the US.
This applies on a smaller scale, too; in London, for instance, you will get paid significantly more to do your job than if you performed the exact same role in a regional office, but the figures alone don’t account for the fact that London is a far more expensive place to live. Make sure you always consider the wider context when putting a figure together.
It’s only natural and, in most cases, fair that your, or a colleague’s, salary is dictated by how effective and competent you are in the role, and most companies will take this into account when making you a final offer. After all, if you’re new to the job and still have a lot to learn, you can’t really complain when your colleague Steve is receiving extra numeration for his 10 years’ experience and knowledge of the role.
Indeed, the time to complain might be if you’re actually in Steve’s shoes but minus the extra salary; in many industries, experience counts for a lot, so don’t overplay – or underplay – it.
It seems difficult to believe that this might still be an issue in 2018 but, unfortunately, it is. There are documented cases where people have been paid less than they should based purely on their gender, age, race, religion or sexuality.
Of course, there has been no way to ‘prove’ this traditionally, but ongoing changes in legislature are ensuring that companies are open and transparent about what they pay. Companies in the UK, for example, are now required to publish annual salary reports that take into account the pay differences between men and women.
When Should I Raise the Issue?
Knowing when to raise the issue can affect how your gripe is received. Many companies hold annual salary reviews, for instance, which is the perfect time to present your findings to HR. It can also be pertinent to bring up the issue of a potential raise during a performance appraisal, especially if you’ve been hitting all your targets and proving yourself an asset to the company.
Alternatively, you could request a meeting with your superiors, documenting why you believe you’re getting the short straw. You should be very careful with this approach, though, as even if you have a strong case, your employers might not take too kindly to you rocking the boat. Have a backup plan in case your request backfires, and make sure that you are professional and diplomatic throughout the whole process.
Salaries are a sensitive and subjective issue; for every employee that is adamant they’re worth more, the reality is that they’re exactly where they should be. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t know where on the pay ladder you sit, though; knowledge and information is everything.
The next time you get a job offer or sit in front of a pay review board, don’t go in blind. Do your research, check as many sources as you can and keep in mind how your own individual circumstances can impact your case. Essentially, know how much you are worth, and make your next career decision accordingly.
Do you think you’re underpaid? What did you try to do about it, and did it work? Let us know in the comments section below!