This is what no one tells you about conducting salary research

Figuring out how much you should ask for when starting a job or getting a raise takes a little bit of savvy work.

This is what no one tells you about conducting salary research
[Photo: jacoblund/iStock]

Every article on salary negotiations has the same piece of advice: Do your research before naming any figures.


But what exactly does this entail beyond going on websites like Glassdoor and Payscale? How do you find out whether a salary is “fair” when your coworkers won’t talk about how much they make, or you’re a new grad with no connections to people in the industry? Fast Company spoke to two salary negotiation experts to find out just what salary research involves.

1. Start as early as possible

Ideally, you should start your salary research before applying for a job. For example, “if you’re an IP lawyer, you need to know what you’re making five years out of law school,” business adviser and leadership consultant Carol Sankar tells Fast Company. Cynthia Pong, former public defender turned career coach, agreed. “A lot of it [comes down] to the planning. Ideally, it’s good to start this conversation before you put the application out.”

Related: Exactly what to say in these four common salary conversations

2. Use LinkedIn to your advantage

While looking up figures on Glassdoor and Payscale can be a good start, you can’t just stop there. Pong recommends starting with family members and friends who might know someone in your industry, “however you can get your way in,” she said. “I think it’s great to use search tools like LinkedIn, you know you can message people on LinkedIn pretty easily and it’s not terribly intrusive.” A lot of people won’t reply, but if you send enough messages, some inevitably will, Pong said.

Sankar agreed, saying that it’s a “beautiful resource” to have organic conversations with someone who sits “at the table you want to sit at.” When you approach them, make sure to frame it as a conversation and a strong interest in learning about a particular field. “It’s okay to ask, I’m planning to look for a job in this area. I don’t know what the landscape is like . . . do you know what the general landscape is like for someone with similar experience to mine?” Pong said.

Sankar said that once you do have a ballpark figure, you can go into the negotiation armed with facts and figures rather than assumptions. Say you learned that the standard salary in your industry, at your level, is $80,000, and the company offers you $60,000. When you go negotiate for a higher offer you can say something along the lines of, “According to my recent research and the conversations I’ve had with others in similar roles in this city, this is the market salary.”


Related: How to negotiate your salary when you have no obvious leverage

3. Find out if there is an employee resource group in your office, and if there isn’t, think about starting one

Perhaps you took a job without negotiating your salary, and after you’ve been in your job for a year, you have a suspicion that you might be underpaid, at least in your company. You’re thinking about speaking to your coworkers about it. In this situation, “It’s best not do it during your lunch hour,” Sankar emphasized. She recommends going to HR and seeing if your company has an employee resource group that provides tools that helps workers negotiate their salaries, and if the answer is a no, think about starting one yourself. Chances are, there are many others in the company who would benefit from having access to the information you’re seeking.

4. Figure out who your allies are in the office

If, for whatever reason, starting an employee resource group is not an option, take the time to figure out who your allies are in the office. “This is where somebody who has built relationships in the organization [will] do better,” Pong said. If you are going to take this approach, Sankar also suggested approaching more than just one coworker. Not only will you get more data and information, but talking to just one coworker might raise suspicion, Sankar said.

5. Once you have all the information, identify your unique value proposition and sell that to your boss or the hiring manager

Sometimes, discussing market value isn’t enough. Employers want to see a reason to justify the increase in salary. This is where your unique value proposition comes in, Sankar said. Everyone has it, “but at the negotiation table, very few people bring up what’s unique about them.” As a result, they’re missing out on the “differentiating factor” that can bump their salary. Using herself as an example, Sankar said that when she pitches herself as a speaker, she highlights the fact that she is a writer as well as an orator. “I have to be able to create value around what I’m doing that no one else in my industry [has].”

Pong also recommends using examples outside of work if you’re early in your career, whether it be internships, volunteer work, or even similar responsibilities in your personal life. You need to always tie it back to “the benefit of the organization hiring you, and what you will be able to do for them,” she says.

If you’re seeking a raise, make sure you have a running list of accomplishments before initiating a conversation. Ideally, Pong said, you should have planted that seed during the interview process by making sure you know what success is required in that role, and what metrics you need to meet. That way, when you approach your boss for a raise or a promotion, you can quantify your achievements, and show that an increase in salary will not benefit only you, but the company.

About the author

Anisa is a freelance writer and editor who covers the intersection of work and life, personal development, money, and entrepreneurship. Previously, she was the assistant editor for Fast Company's Work Life section and the co-host of Secrets Of The Most Productive people podcast.