Reasonable Salary Agreement: How Much Should I Be Getting Paid?

How much should you be paid?

Are you underpaid? Overpaid? Or paid just about what everyone else in positions similar to yours gets paid?

Salary is one of the big taboos in American life. Unless you’re unionized and the terms of your contract are public knowledge, most of us tend to keep salary matters private. Employers don’t want us to discuss salary. And we’re reluctant to talk about it among friends for fear we or they will feel peculiar after we reveal the numbers (which are so tied up with status, hierarchy and class values). In fact, as a society, we find it easier to talk about sex than about income. Witness daytime television; when was the last time Oprah asked guests about their salary?

So given the general reluctance to talk about income, how do you know if you are being paid fairly and – if you are looking for another job – whether that job pays a reasonable salary?

The answer lies on the Internet. In the past, about the only sources of data about salaries were the U.S. government and surveys published by business magazines for particular industries. The former was rarely current and categorized employment in the mechanical, lifeless way the government defines its own jobs (intermediate file clerk grade 3, for example). The latter were difficult to come by, and weren’t of much help unless you were employed in a particular industry (a plastics engineer, for example).

But the Net has changed all that. It’s tailor-made for seeking salary information. You can search the major job sites, such as, for jobs in your field and in your geographic area. If you find jobs like yours, you’ll get an idea of what prospective employers are paying. Then go to, which has a database of salaries for an extremely broad array of jobs. The site also lets you find the salaries for the same type of job in different parts of the country. That’s important because a $50,000 salary in rural Louisiana goes a whole lot further than the same salary in New York City or Southern California.

Next, do your own searching. If you search for the term “average salaries” on Yahoo!, for instance, you’ll come up with 516,000 links. To narrow your search, use a Boolean inquiry, which searches for data meeting two criteria. For example, you could search for “average salaries” and “accountants.” Or try “starting salaries” and “landscape designers.” In fact, try several combinations to seek out the data that might help you discover the salaries companies are paying for the type of work you do.

Also try any professional or trade groups to which you belong. Often, executive recruiters who specialize in your industry join these groups to build their business. Even if you are not interested in changing jobs but merely gathering information to check your current salary, recruiters usually are happy to tell you about the current salary market in your area. After all, you might be a viable candidate for a job they’re trying to fill at some future time, or you might retain them to help fill an opening at your current or future employer. And some of them even have Web sites of their own with salary data.

(C) Copyright 2001 Evan Cooper. Syndicated by Paradigm News, Inc.

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