Editor's Note: This is Part 1 of a two part series. Click here to read Part 2.
How do you determine whether the salary you currently earn — or are being offered for a new job — is fair? In the parivate sector, pay for the same job can range considerably. It is important to know the market value of your professional, experience, skillset, qualifications and location. Not everyone in your role or similar will be compensated similarly. Salary depends on individual and external factors.
It is advisable to research a few reliable sources for data on median salaries for your role, experience, and skills in your present or intended location before you negotiate a raise, or a starting salary with a potential employer. Conduct an industry-specific search to know what others with similar duties, experience, and expertise earn.
If you are applying for a new job, try to find out what the company pays employees in your area of work. Well-established organizations normally pay better.
More than just money
When evaluating what an optimum salary would amount to, remember that salary constitutes only one part of compensation. Benefits and perks are important components of total compensation. Depending on one’s circumstances, matching 401(k) contributions, a good employer-sponsored health plan and a generous vacation policy may compensate for a slightly lower salary.
Then there are perks. Large tech companies, and even some small and mid-sized ones, offer great perks. These can include (but are not limited to) on-site sports and recreation facilities, onsite day-care centers, parental leave, paid time off, remote or hybrid work options, commuter benefits, mental health plans, and gym memberships.
Consider personal priorities as well. For example, it might be worthwhile for an entry-level professional to accept a slightly lower salary at a company that invests in employee engagement and growth. Long-term career prospects are better at some organizations.
Such companies sponsor education programs, organize training courses, and are known for promoting personnel based on performance and expertise. At the initial stage of one’s career, you might prefer to prioritise career advancement opportunities.
Other factors worth considering are workplace culture, transparency, scheduling, and prioritization. Some organizations expect employees to work long hours regularly. A degree of work-related stress is normal, but working under intense pressure day after day is not and can lead to anxiety and loss of productivity.
It is fair to expect a higher salary at such a company. Or, one may rather work at an organization that offers a normal or flexible work schedule, even if the pay is a bit lower. It all depends on one’s situation and priorities.
Salary comparison resources
There are multiple sources of information available online and offline. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics publishes salary data by industry for the U.S., states, counties, and some metropolitan areas, both quarterly and annually.
Databases — Looking up salary databases is a good way to get an idea of what constitutes a good salary for your job, experience, qualifications, skills, and location. You can search for salaries for your occupation and state on the BLS database.
Online resources such as the Robert Half Salary Guide provide data on salary range, benefits and perks. Sites like ItCareerFinder offer salary data for some tech occupations, such as computer systems analyst, database administrator, information security analyst, network administrator, software engineer, web developer and technical support specialist.
You might also find relevant information on LinkedIn.
Online Salary Calculators — There are a number of salary calculators available online, which include PayScale, Salary.com, Glassdoor and Indeed. You can use PayScale’s "Cost of Living" calculator to estimate how much you would need to earn in a specific location.
For company-specific salary information, look up Glassdoor.
Job Listing Sites — Look at location-specific job listings on popular job sites, such as Robert Half, Indeed, PayScale, Zippia and Salary.com. Salaries vary widely according to location. Cost of living, state of the economy, industrial growth and demand for workers vary from state to state and have an effect on the amount employers pay for experience and skills.
For example, average tech salaries were the highest in Washington, California, D.C., Virginia and Massachusetts in 2021, according to business.org. Zippia provides data on average salaries for several locations.
Ask around (provisionally)
It is not advisable to ask anyone about their salary directly. Everyone has a right to privacy. You can ask others in the industry, however, including peers and mentors, for their estimate of what a decent salary would be for someone in your role with your experience, qualifications and skills.
A good way to get current information about salaries for your occupation is by talking to a range of IT professionals. Don’t limit yourself to coworkers at your company. There are multiple sources you can tap, including:
Colleagues — Discussing salary with colleagues can help you get to know about the salary range for your role and whether you are underpaid. Avoid specific questions about someone’s salary in particular, or comparing salaries. You need to exercise tact when talking about pay at the workplace. It’s prudent to keep to a general conversation about pay scales with one or more trusted coworkers.
Former Colleagues — People you have worked with in the past could also be a helpful source of information about the range of pay for your role.
Professional Network — If you are a member of online tech communities or professional associations, then you might be able to get helpful information from these resources. You can also check with seniors in your extended network.
College alumni — Alumni of the college or university you attended who are employed in the tech industry can give you information about salaries at their organizations.
Employees — If you know one or more employees who work at the company you wish to join, then you could ask about pay ranges in general.
Make your call
Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what amounts to a good salary, taking both your market worth as well as personal situation and priorities into consideration. It helps to have a clear understanding of what you want from your job and organization before you begin negotiating a raise or a salary for a new position.