Sunday, April 29, 2007

Researching Salary: How and Where to Look

*A cross post from Firm Advice. If you have questions about where to look for salary specifics in your field, post your questions in the comments section, and I will try to help you find a reliable resource.
Ever wonder if you're making what you're worth? Well, if you're wondering, you probably aren't making what your worth. One of the most important things I learned as a recruiter was that salaries vary greatly for practically identical positions based not only on skill but also on knowledge of the market and ability to negotiate.

Knowledge is power. It can make a huge difference. I once interviewed two gentlemen employed in nearly identical positions at equivalent organizations. Much to my surprise, one was making approximately $50,000 a year less!

He must have been less qualified, you might think. Perhaps his educational background wasn't as impressive or his work experience was less extensive. Sadly, no. The only significant difference between these two candidates I was interviewing for the same position was that one knew his worth and knew how to negotiate and the other did not.

The man making less wasn't aware he was being underpaid and didn't know how to ask for what he was worth. In order to ask for what you are worth, you must first know your worth.

The advent of the Internet has made salary information much more accessible. Where companies formerly shielded salaries as a closely guarded secret, smart companies today are more open in salary negotiations, faced with better informed prospective employees. Negotiating is another part of the interview process. Someone who is well-informed and negotiates to a win-win solution adds value to her worth before even beginning the new position.

Researching the salary range for your position is much like familiarizing yourself with an area by looking at a map. You can begin by using salary sites like, and These will give you a bird's eye view, but not the detailed information you will need to skillfully negotiate your way to your destination. Using these sites alone for your salary research would be like trying to find your way around Los Angeles using a map of the United States of America. For a better view, using more than one source and more than one type of source, will help ensure your research is balanced and accurate.

Very detailed information, including salaries for certain titles at named companies in certain cities, is available from, a leader in the area of targeted salary research. Although you have to pay to see these reports, the information is worth the small fee, if you are considering working for a large firm or corporation. If you are considering a position with a small firm in a small town, the information is not as relevant. To balance your view, turn to industry organizations and sites such as,, and FindLaw's

Once you have done your initial research online, reality check what you have found by talking with a professional counterpart you trust in your geographic market. If you don't yet know anyone you feel you can ask, you can use a message board such as the one found on

While salary information is more readily available for large firms, you can get a reliable look at compensation at medium to small firms in your area by relying more heavily on the last part of the process described above. Regardless of the size of your market, staying connected with colleagues is great way to not only enjoy the camaraderie of people with similar interests, but also continue to learn about your market. Having a friend with whom you can discuss important professional decisions can put you far ahead in evaluating whether a position offers the right opportunity for you.

When considering the information you find, keep in mind the many factors that impact salary, including but not limited to: 1) your salary in your current and previous positions; 2) geographic location; 3) cost of living; 4) size of firm; 5) areas of law in which the firm practices; 6) locations of the firm's other offices, if any; 7) prestige/name recognition of the firm; 8) hiring history; and 9) salary in relation to billable and non-billable hour requirements.

Be sure to continue your research until you reach a firm conclusion on the minimum and maximum compensation amounts you consider fair. Consider this your "comfort zone." Once you have identified your comfort zone, stick to it.

If you receive an offer significantly outside of your comfort zone, in either direction, be very cautious about going to work with the extending firm. While reaching a compensation agreement most often includes some amount of negotiation, an offer either unreasonably low or high can be an early indicator of serious problems right from the beginning. More to come on how to address this situation in next week's follow up article, "Negotiating Compensation."

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