/Career Advice/Negotiating/Figure out How Your Salary Compares /

Most individuals fail to negotiate the best deal possible during salary negotiations—and there’s a reason for that: People rarely know their worth in the marketplace and in relation to other candidates.

So how exactly do you determine your worth? And how do you apply that knowledge to the negotiation process to get what you deserve? Should you trust online portals? 

Here are a few pieces of advice to consider:

Know what you are up against

It’s no secret that there’s a huge imbalance of information available on salary structures and current market rates. Employers will always have the upper hand whereas you’re on the opposite end of the information spectrum and are left to play a guessing game. That basically leaves most people with two options: Living in constant fear of overstating your salary expectations which then makes you come across as naïve and uninformed of industry standards. Or worst still, understating your desired salary, which means losing out on money that could have been yours. 

That’s why most companies take the strategic approach of asking (potential) employers to state their salary expectations rather than to offer a number themselves. To ensure you get what you’re worth, we can’t stress this enough, but you need to research, research and research. Once you’ve done your research, you’ll be armed with the most valuable information. Keep in mind that you should be open ended in negotiations, and if possible, let the hiring manager or employer give you a figure first.

Don’t trust salary websites

And obviously, don’t mention them when you’re negotiating! Online salary portals might seem like the most clear-cut way to figure out what you should be earning. The problem is that those sites (particularly the free ones), don’t take into account the varying scopes of responsibility that comes with job titles. These variables are what ends up determining your salary range and can differ wildly by field, company, the size of the company, and the amount of experience you bring to the job.

Many of these sites rely on self-reported and user generated data that are largely inaccurate, dated or biased. The range will most likely be quite far off from actual industry standards so you you should not take it as the absolute truth. Instead, it should be the estimation that you try to establish and confirm by talking to people in your field and/or industry.

Research what the company pays

There’s still a weird taboo associated with asking people about their salaries, and honestly, keeping things this way just feeds more ambiguity into the whole topic and process of negotiations. It’s going to take a while before this huge mindset change takes place. In the meantime, talk to people in your company and companies in the same industry to find out more. 

It’s crucial to phrase your questions tactfully, so rather than outrightly asking how much they make, ask them how much they think someone in a similar position (with comparable qualifications) at a competitor company earns. Even if nobody tells you their personal salary, you will at least hear their views on the salary range for  their field, which already places you in a much better position than before. 

Know what other companies will pay you for the job

One of the biggest mistakes people make during the job search is focusing on one company. Of course, loyalty is lauded, but it doesn’t hurt to know your opportunity cost. Nothing will help you gauge your worth better than this. Interviewing at other companies can actually be helpful as it gives you a chance to see what other companies are paying. You can then leverage this knowledge in negotiations with your dream company.

Be flexible

As you conduct this research, you’ll start to identify trends and patterns. In most cases, you’ll likely to end up with a salary range for the particular position. Using this range, you should settle on what your salary request would be based on your personal experience and accomplishments. 

At the same time, you need to be flexible and know how to tweak each salary request based on each company and their employee benefit package. You should factor in things like bonuses, vacation days, equity stock options for startups, and the quality and cost of the employer’s health insurance (if applicable). A startup is probably unable to offer you the same salary figures as a large corporation but could compensate you with stock options, remote working option or flexible working hours. So look at the big picture as well instead of getting caught up with the numbers.

Jason Reich
Co-Founder | TalentSpace

Jason is a co-founder of TalentSpace, where he keeps himself up at night thinking of new and innovative ways to make recruiting an enjoyable and fruitful experience for everyone. He's worked on the international expansion of US-startups, Casper and HotelTonight (acquired by Airbnb), and was also on the Value Creation team of Google Chairman Eric Schmidt's VC, Innovation Endeavors. He graduated from Bocconi University.