Good news: there are ways to figure that out, according to career and human resources experts Steve Kane, Lynn Taylor, Samantha Zupan, and Andy Teach.
Here’s how to determine your value in the labor market:
The experts suggest you start with an online search on sites like Payscale.com, Indeed.com, Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, or the Bureau of Labor Statistics website, which all provide ballpark salary estimates for any given profession.
“I think that getting information from salary-related websites is a great place to start,” says Andy Teach, a corporate veteran and author of From Graduation to Corporation: The Practical Guide to Climbing the Corporate Ladder One Rung at a Time. “I can't speak for the accuracy of these websites because a lot depends on how many people supplied salary information and when they supplied that information. But as I said, it's a starting point, not an ending point.”
HR expert Steve Kane agrees. He says these sites generally offer an accurate salary range for each profession—but the ranges tend to be large, and the information isn’t specific to your skills, accomplishments and circumstances.
“People are usually somewhere in the range, but these sites don’t always contain enough information to determine if one’s pay is appropriate,” he says.
Every person is unique, so compensation packages are not always one size fits all for the same job at the same company, adds Samantha Zupan, a Glassdoor spokesperson. “However, doing as much research as possible can help set your expectations as to where you may fall.”
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily deserve the “average” pay.
The average pay is just that; it's the average of all the salaries that have been assimilated or submitted, Teach says. “It doesn't mean that it's what you should expect or deserve. If you're an above average worker with a great work reputation, then it's safe to say that you probably deserve to be at the top of the salary range or at the very least, above the average.”
Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and author of Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant, agrees. She says no two employees are exactly alike, and “there are many factors that weigh into what you should earn.”
Factor in your prior experience.
If you’re new to the workforce, the company, or the profession, you might make less than someone who has been in this job for years. So, when you look at that salary range you found online--you'll probably want to place yourself somewhere at the bottom if you have little or no experience, or somewhere toward the top if you're an established professional.
Consider your location.
Are you in a big city or a small rural town? Are you in the South or the Northeast? Depending on your job—there’s a good chance location will play a role in your compensation.
The BLS website breaks down salary data by the 100 Metropolitan Statistical Areas, so check there to see the average pay in your city.
Think about your level of education.
In some professions, a bachelor’s or master’s degree could bump your salary significantly. If you go back to school and earn a degree while you’re working, make sure your employer is aware of this accomplishment.
Think about your responsibilities.
Another important factor to consider is what your responsibilities are compared to other employees, Teach says. If your manager assigns you a wealth of responsibilities, clearly he or she values you as an employee, and trusts that you can get things done. If you’re given more and more responsibilities with no pay increase, there’s a good chance you’re worth more than you’re making.
Consider awards, on-the-job training and courses taken.
Any achievements that lead to concrete results, such as increased sales or reduced expenses or turnover, will increase your value, Taylor says.
So, if you’re constantly winning “Employee of the Month” or engaging in training courses related to the job, and it’s not reflected in your pay, you should bring this up at your next review.
Factor in your soft skills.
Are you a good manager or team leader? Do you know how to motivate others? Do you communicate and present well? Are you upbeat? These are all things to think about when figuring out what you’re worth, Taylor says.
“Soft skills count for a lot. If you're a great confidante to your boss and can role model upbeat, motivational leadership; that can be worth its weight in gold.”
Think about your level of contribution and accomplishments.
Kane says pay is “ultimately determined by your level of contribution.”
Teach agrees. “What you should be making really depends mostly on your accomplishments,” he says. “As a former boss once told me, ‘Andy, all I care about is results.’ If you're an employee who always gets results, you can maximize your salary potential.”
Discuss salary with other professionals in your industry.
Tap mentors in the industry and ask them for their advice and feedback on what a fair compensation package would be, given your personal work and education history, as well as the location of the job and company, Zupan says.
While talking salary is historically taboo, you may be surprised how open trusted colleagues are when it comes to sharing salary, she adds. “One tip is to politely ask a colleague if they’d be willing to meet with you for coffee to get their take on how best to tackle the topic of compensation with your boss. Even if colleagues are hesitant to provide some specifics around compensation, they may offer some valuable insight on the topic.”
You should never get caught discussing salary with a co-worker, Teach says. “Unfortunately, in order to get the most accurate salary information that will help your cause, you probably have to talk to co-workers about their salary or about their knowledge of the salary range. The key is to do it as discreetly as possible. Pick one co-worker whom you trust and is in-the-know and swear them to secrecy.”
Taylor suggests you ask salary questions through social media, using a general name. “For example, if you work at a bank, you can use a LinkedIn group that is associated with banks to get salary feedback.”
Figuring out what you should make isn’t easy, but doing your research can make a big difference when it comes to being paid fairly, Zupan concludes.