Monday, August 9, 2010

In job search, salary information often requires digging a little deeper

By Vickie Elmer
Special to The Washington Post
Sunday, August 8, 2010
The job looks enticing and the commute would be half your current one. But the pay? Who knows? The ad doesn't mention it and the company offers nothing on its Web site to clue you in.
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If you're looking for a new position, you also may want to start your due diligence -- your search for the salary skinny -- right away. Salary information from a previous search, even as recent as a year ago, may no longer be relevant.
"Salary data is volatile and it changes constantly," said Deborah Keary, human resources director for the for the Society of Human Resource Management, an Alexandria-based professional association. In other words, your dream job may not pay as much as you dreamed.
In the past two years, millions of people's salaries were reduced or frozen, or their positions were turned into contract jobs without benefits. Vacation days and pay raises dropped from sight last year in many sectors, though salaries are climbing back now.
Top-performing staffers around the Washington metro area can expect raises of 3.9 percent, on average, this year, which is higher than the national average reported in a recent salary survey by WorldatWork, a human resources association based in Scottsdale, Ariz. The highest-rated staffers -- one fourth of all workers -- will collect more, but the bottom quarter may get meager raises or none at all this year, WorldatWork officials said.
The average pay increase nationwide this year is 2.5 percent -- below the gains of 3.5 percent or more that had been logged in recent years.
"You can't expect a lot of money unless you're a really good performer," Keary said.

If you win a promotion, that could bump up your pay 7 to 15 percent, according to Paul Rowson, managing director at WorldatWork's D.C. office. "Top performers tend to be considered for promotions faster than average performers," he said. Either way, you're likely to earn more if you know the market's pay rates and your own worth in today's job market.
Here's are four strategies for learning more about pay and benefits:
-- If you already work for the organization, simply go to the human resources department and ask. This may work for some outside candidates, too, especially if they are finalists for the job. "Transparency is an up-and-coming thought," Keary said.
-- Check recent job postings specific to the city and industry where you want to work and to your level of experience. Exclude contract jobs (unless that is what you're seeking), because their base pay is much higher. Recruiters also can be great sources, Rowson said.
-- Use Web sites to learn a ballpark estimate of market salaries, Keary suggests.

 -- Talk to people who already hold the job you want. "Don't be a researcher. Be a networker," Rowson said. Connect with them on LinkedIn or through professional associations. Ask for career advice and insights -- including salary ranges.
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Keary agreed that people are a great source -- if handled gingerly. "People are interested in the subject" of salaries, she said, though many would rather discuss them in third-person generalities. Ask about a fair salary for someone with 10 years of experience in that field. "Make it clear that you're not prying into their personal business," she said.
You also may want to find out how the organization treats its staff. "You'll hear the horror stories first," she said, including tales of those who went years without a raise. Dig deeper and ask a variety of people about compensation history and practices.
Most jobs have established pay ranges, and government jobs have pay grades that can be found online. Ranges may be broad, especially for management jobs. It's tricky to determine where you would fall within a stated pay range. Among the factors are years of experience, technical prowess and standout abilities. "You've got to be conservative. You can't overestimate your worth" or you may get kicked out of the running, Rowson said.
Many experts suggest you hold off on discussing pay and benefits until late in the hiring process, after a job has been offered or you're at least a finalist.
Candidates may want to have three figures in mind -- or stashed as a note on their mobile phones -- as they begin to discuss pay, said Mary E. Hayward, director of career services for the SIT Graduate Institute in Brattleboro, Vt.
The first number is the market salary for the job you want. The second is your highest expectation of what you could earn. And the third is the lowest pay you would accept.

Employers will be more likely to negotiate a higher salary or better benefits if you have demonstrated your qualifications and any extras you bring to the position, Hayward said. She recommends developing a list of bargaining points ahead of time. "What this gets down to is you're marketing a product," she said. "And the product is you." Try to be collaborative in salary discussions. "Don't accept the first offer," Hayward said, since it's probably a low-ball offer.

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