Even as the job market breaks records, wage growth has remained sluggish in the U.S.–and employers don’t seem too anxious to change their penny-pinching ways. Two-thirds of employers reported retention as a top concern in PayScale’s “2019 Compensation Best Practices Report,” up 7% from 2018. But of the 81% that are planning base pay increases, slightly more than two-thirds are estimating an increase of 3% or less.
So if you’re seeking a higher number on your paycheck, it’s likely up to you to make it happen. Before you go into a salary negotiation for a new job or a bump in pay for the position you already have, here is the information you should seek out to make your case.
Start with salary guides
Annual salary guides and compensation reports like those from PayScale, Randstad, Robert Half, and others may give you some insight into general salary trends. You can get a sense of how respondents say they’re budgeting for salary increases, what their main concerns are about compensation, and how they’re thinking about salaries in general.
In addition, sites like Glassdoor and Salary.com can also give insight into specific companies and their compensation practices. The general information you find on the internet can be a helpful starting point, says Lydia Frank, PayScale‘s vice president of content strategy. “It’s a good idea to get your information from a variety of sources,” she says.
Consider geographic differences
PayScale’s research found that, over time, some U.S. metro areas led in compensation growth while others lagged. For example, the PayScale Index for the fourth quarter of 2018 found San Francisco having the largest year-over-year wage growth at 4.9%. Los Angeles, Boston, and New York were tied for 7th place with 2% year-over-year growth. The Nashville metro area came in at No. 32 with -0.7% growth.
If you’re in a growing sector in a high wage-growth city, this could be a promising indicator for compensation negotiations. But when you factor in inflation, wage growth generally isn’t much to write home about. “Mostly we have less spending power in our paychecks, even if it’s a higher number than we did in 2006, because inflation has eaten away some of those increases. I think that’s a nuance that gets missed,” Frank says.
Understand your edge
Jim Link, chief human resources officer (CHRO) at Randstad North America, says one thing that stood out to him when reviewing the Randstad U.S. “2019 Salary Guide,” was the rise in importance of some positions that hadn’t seen much of a base pay increase in the past, especially in manufacturing and logistics sectors. Even assemblers and programmable controllers, where a relatively small degree of technical skill is needed, are seeing average raises in the 5% range.
“To me, that’s a good sign for our economy, but it’s also fascinating to me that it’s taken this long for those positions to really flex their muscle in our economy. It’s about time and a little overdue, in my mind,” he says.
This year, Randstad’s research found more marked salary jumps in some specializations and skill intersections, which may offer a salary negotiation advantage, too. For example, engineering coupled with project management experience and information technology (IT) pros with healthcare experience got bigger pay increases than their counterparts who didn’t specialize, he says.
Price your job properly
Frank encourages people who feel like they’ve taken on more responsibility to check in with human resources. Ask to look at the job description that is being used for your current job. If you’re performing additional tasks, especially those that are typically done by someone in a higher-level job, that can be a great negotiating tool.
“Sometimes, HR doesn’t understand how the job has evolved, and the manager doesn’t necessarily know they’re supposed to alert HR to that,” she says. Frank believes most HR departments will be open to this conversation so they can write more accurate job descriptions in the future.
Consult those in the know
Whether you’re seeking information for your current job or a new one, seek out colleagues who formerly worked for the company or champions within the company who have supervisory responsibilities. They may be able to provide insight into compensation levels or expectations, Link says. More important, they may be able to give you insight into how the company thinks about pay. For example, they may help you see whether the company is more open to investing in benefits or performance-based compensation than base salary increases.
Your own performance and value
Of course, be prepared to show the results you’ve generated and the value you’ve contributed, Link says. Whether you’re negotiating for more pay in your current company or proving your worth to a prospective employer, walk in with a list of how you’ve gone above and beyond in your job, the skills you have added, and how you’ve helped make a difference in the company’s performance. “Never forget that the best information you have is about your own performance,” he says. Show that you’re a team member worth adding or retaining, and you may be rewarded with additional compensation.