Everyone makes a salary. These are like individual dots on a chart. When you bundle all the salaries together for all the people who do the same work as you do, you get a pattern. The pattern shows that some people earn more and some people earn less doing the same job. There is an average.
All those dots create a “competitive salary range”. Your salary is probably within that range. It might be at the higher end or the lower end, depending on the size of company you worked for and your level of experience. Larger companies generally pay better and smaller companies generally pay less but have better titles.
For example, an HR Director working for a small company probably makes less money, has fewer people on his/her team and is responsible for all aspects of HR. An HR Director working for a large company who probably has a larger span of responsibility, maybe more people working for him/her, and almost certainly makes more money, probably as much as 50% more money with larger bonuses too. An HR Director in a smaller company is probably more similar to an HR Manager in a larger company. Same is true with other fields. A Controller in a smaller company is probably more similar to an Accounting Manager in a larger company, not similar to the Controller of a larger company.
I don’t make the rules. I am just reporting how it works!
Ok, now we have covered basic statistics, why is this useful or interesting to you? During your job search you will be asked to reveal what you earned at your last job. The person asking the question is trying to figure out if you will fit in their company. If you earn too much money, they will think they can’t afford you. If you earn too little money, they will think you are not strong enough to fit into their business.
You have to know how this works in order to know how to respond to questions about your salary. A few tips:
Learn about the company. Is your target company large or small compared to other companies doing similar work? If it is small, you can expect the smaller salary with larger responsibility and better title. If it is large, you can expect a smaller title and larger salary.
Research salaries. You know your own salary but since your salary is just a dot on that big salary chart, you need to know what the big salary chart looks like. The information you are looking for comes from salary surveys. My favorite resource is www.salary.com. HR people use this site to double check salary ranges and so should you.
Follow along with me on this example for an Accounting Manager in Cleveland OH.
At www.salary.com, you see a search box at the top. I enter “Accounting Manager” and enter “Cleveland, OH”. I find a list of jobs that have Accounting Manager in them along with a little job description. I like the first one so I click on the title, Accounting Manager. Take a look at that job description. Does that sound like you? If so, then take a look at the cool graphics below the description. This shows information about the people who do this job in that market (Cleveland). In this case, it shows that the people surveyed mostly have a bachelor’s degree, have more than 5 years’ experience, and work in companies that are less than 500 people. This is interesting to you because you can judge how close this survey information is to your experience.
Now, click on the green box that says, “View Salary Info”. Up pops a graph! According to the survey, the median salary of Accounting Managers in Cleveland OH is $84,953. You are also interested in the range that shows $74,765 at the low end to $94,819 at the high end. Bingo! The magic information! If you were an accounting manager in Cleveland, OH, you would now know that the salary range for your position in that town is between 75k and 95k.
When a hiring manager asks the salary you are looking for, don’t just give up the salary you earned at your last job. The smart answer for an accounting manager in Cleveland OH would be, “I am looking for a competitive salary between 75k and 95k”. This covers all sins. It answers the question with real data without tying you down. Odds are they are expecting to pay a salary somewhere in that range so you are cleared to go to the next stage of interviewing, assuming they like you and your background.
You can use www.salary.com to check any salary you want in any location you want anywhere in the world. It is a very valuable tool in any job search!