Show Me the Money, Salary and Benefits

Posted by Patra Frame

When you are looking for a new job, a critical issue is pay and benefits. Yet too many of us don’t even think about these issues in advance. You need to or you may make simple mistakes with large dollar, long-term career consequences.

So first, what constitutes ‘compensation’ in the USA?

Compensation includes

Direct pay: base pay, wages, salary, overtime pay, bonuses, incentives, commissions, tips

Indirect pay (money spent on your behalf)
– government mandated benefits: employer portion of Social Security and Medicare contributions, unemployment insurance, and workers compensation
– optional benefits such as: health insurance, retirement savings plans, paid holidays, paid time off, tuition reimbursement, stock, and many more
– services in lieu of pay such as: training, on-site gyms or game rooms, family functions such as picnics, relocation assistance, and so on.

When you are seeking a new job, one of your challenges is to understand the current pay practices common to your industry and career field. If you are transitioning from military or government service, you also need to learn a whole system.

Compensation practices change over time. What was common 2-10 years ago may not be common now. Moving to a different industry or career field means different compensation practices. As you talk to your network and to recruiters, you should be asking questions. “What is happening now in compensation? What’s new? What’s changing?”  And you should be asking your network for current pay ranges for the position you seek.

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

* Type of organization, such as non-profit, major national company, government contractor, service business, association, etc.

* Size of the organization

* Function: Is the function a core business one?

* Location: Many jobs have big differences between DC proper, in the inner or outer suburbs, etc.

* The state of the market in the career and area: Supply and demand issues.

There is plenty of generic pay data available on the web., and can provide useful, although limited, data on pay ranges. Be sure you do a careful match of job scope and requirements. Note: When you put in a specific location, you primarily get national average data multiplied by a standard factor for the location relative to the U.S. average.

Many professional groups do salary and benefit surveys. These are a great resource.

Other good sources you may want to look at include:

DOL’s National Compensation Survey

Career OneStop


Long before you are actually interviewing and getting job offers, think about what your total compensation ‘needs’ and ‘wants’ are. What is the salary range you seek? How does that relate to the market? How much do you expect to be guaranteed and how much is ‘at risk’ ? What benefits are most critical to you? What trade-offs among different categories are you willing to make to get your ‘needs’ met? Your ‘wants’?

At some point in the job interview process, you will be asked what pay you are seeking. Always give a range that is based on current market reality for the value you offer.

Bottom line: you need to decide what total compensation you are seeking and how you will consider breaking that up among base salary, other pay, benefits, and/or services.  Your desire needs to be based in current market reality for the value you offer.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 07, 2011 8:06 am

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