Different jobs and industries have vastly different pay scales. As you work out your real worth in the job you are in now or hope to move into, do everything you can to research the market.
Understanding the relationship
Just like many areas of business, employment is a deal done on the basis of supply and demand. The workers with the skills and experience influence supply in the job market, and the companies currently hiring for certain positions influence the demand. How rare you and your skills are and how much your employer needs you is the fundamental basis for calculating your worth in salary and benefits.
One example of this in practice is within popular industries such as journalism. There are many talented writers around and a finite amount of jobs which means newspapers can offer very low pay rates to entry-level employees. The combination of few opportunities and the fact that people after these roles often do it for the love, not the money, puts the employer in a very strong bargaining position.
Finding the going rate
The Internet is a priceless tool for salary research. Using an online salary calculator will give you a rough idea of what you can expect in your particular role, industry and location. They are however limited in the amount of information they can provide as everyone's skills, experience and situation is unique.
Search through various job descriptions to benchmark your role against. It will give you a good idea of the key attributes companies are looking for in certain jobs, which means you can emphasise these in your CV to make yourself a more attractive prospect. If you are lacking in any important areas, make an effort to brush up on your skills to maximise your value.
An individual's salary is not something that is generally discussed in the open, even within close groups of friends so try and steer away from asking people outright what they earn. Online it is a different matter as you have a certain level of anonymity. Ask a question such as “Is £25k a good salary for a Marketing Manager in Newcastle in the telecoms industry?” in a forum and see what your peers have to say.
This isn't an exact science as all companies use various bonuses and benefits to bolster their employee's salary packages, but it should give you a good idea of what to expect.
Using your findings
If you're approaching your boss for a pay increase in your current role, you can expect some scepticism when you present your results, so be ready to back them up with specific examples. Make sure that any job description comparisons you make are fair, and that you are not exaggerating your own importance or qualifications.
Work with your manager to examine your role in detail. There may be things you are doing that your boss is not actively aware of, such as working unpaid overtime at home or skills you have developed, which are a real benefit to the business. All these can be used as extra leverage when you get down to the actual numbers.
If you're discussing the possible salary for a new job, your potential employer will usually have a salary range in mind set by their management team. When you're made a job offer, you're immediately in a good position to negotiate as they obviously think you're the right fit for the job. Consider the offer and match it up with your research to see if it's fair. As you will probably be unaware of their other options, you shouldn't get too over enthusiastic and go back to them with an unrealistic number, but if you think the offer could be topped up a little, there's no harm in asking.
However strong your case, an employer simply may not be able to pay the figure you're asking for. Budget constraints operate in every business and it's impossible to accommodate every pay demand from every employee. If money really does end up as a stumbling block, consider using transferable skills to move into a more profitable and high-paying industry or job.
Choosing the right company to work for is an important decision at every step of your career, and if one doesn't appreciate your value in the market, there will be another out there that does.