Gimme the $$$ Part 1 – Salary Basics

Posted by Patra Frame

While you have seen the advice to put off salary discussions as long as possible in discussing a potential job you need to learn about salary ranges and what is realistic early in your job search. 

Your knowledge, experience, and the value you demonstrate you offer are critical aspects of how much you will be paid. But so is the market.

This means you need to do some research about what current salaries are for the jobs that interest you. Many professional organizations do salary surveys for their members – check those you belong to. Ask these questions when you are networking:

“What is the typical current pay range for X position?”

“What do you currently see happening to pay rates for Z?”

You can also ask headhunters you know for their take on the current market. 

Metro DC and most larger cities have a very wide range of salaries for most any job because we have such a wide range of options. Typically, one job can pay very differently depending on:

  • Type of organization: major national company, government contractor, federal or state agency, etc.
  • Size of organization
  • Function within the organization: is it a core business competency or not?
  • Location: While most of us realize that pay rates differ across the United States, many jobs have  noticeable differences depending on whether they are in the city, in inner or outer suburb, etc.  And of course, there are huge differences when you are looking at overseas locations.
  • The state of the market: supply and demand

There is a lot of salary data online. Some decent sources include,,  The free versions of these, and the branded versions of them used on various job boards, are best at providing fairly generic relative information. Be sure you check the best possible job description match to your needs and look at the 25-75 percentile figures. Understand that most of the data is rolling, large-scale averages. And when you look at data for a specific location, that is national data adjusted by standard factors to approximate local data. There are lots of links to good pay data via the  

As you learn more about salary ranges and external data, you also need to think about your own career goals and needs. Defining your personal range is more than just what you are making today plus or minus X%. You need to think about your value to the organization and the mix of salary, any incentives, and benefits. Then factor in other goals you might have: shorter commute, better training opportunities, telecommuting, whatever. And create the range of salary you are willing to accept so that when you do have to answer that salary expectations question you are ready.

Coming next – tips for negotiating salary and benefits.


This entry was posted on Friday, October 22, 2010 6:58 pm

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