Using a Salary Guide When Applying for Jobs

May 2, 2013

Salary GuidesIf you are looking to get a raise, or you will be applying for new positions in your field, it’s never good idea to just “wing it” when it comes to your salary requirements or expectations. There are ways you can get very specific information about salaries in your field, which will help you to be realistic in your salary requests to your employer or to or a prospective employer.

Below are some online salary guides that will help you to get the information you need. These are popular sites, but they vary in quality. I’m particularly partial to the BLS site, since it contains comprehensive government statistics on employment. My suggestion however would be that you use several of these, that way you can come up with a solid consensus of realistic salaries in your field and in your geographical location. might be most popular of all the salary guides, even though it is at least 50% job search related. (For what it’s worth, the site looks identical to the Salary Wizard, but they’re probably related.)

The site itself is fairly simple – which is an advantage – and provides some nice features. It allows you to enter different information giving specific title, experience, and education level to adjust income considerations. uses a survey system, in which you complete a survey that will result in a salary that is very specific to your skills and the position you’re applying to.

The questionnaire is very specific, and encompasses several pages of questions. It asks questions about your background and qualifications, but also about benefit levels.

It can actually be quite tedious, but by the time you’re done you will have a customized report that is probably one of the more specific salary sources available.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS is an agency of the United States government. As such, you probably have the most comprehensive database of all things related to jobs and salaries. The site will not only provide you with median salary information for nearly every occupation in the United States, but it will also give you the common ranges.

In addition to national job and salary information, it will also give you regional salary ranges, right down to various metropolitan areas. There can be wide differences in the salary of the same occupation from one city or state to another.

There is a secondary site within the BLS that has information that is equal in value to the salary information provided. The Occupational Outlook Handbook has detailed information on the requirements for a typical job in the field, the number of people employed in the occupation, and the future outlook for the field.

The outlook will list the number of new jobs expected in the field, the percentage growth within the field, and compare it to overall national job growth rates (below average, average, above average, and more).

The outlook for a specific job classification can be just as important as salary range if you’re looking to get a raise, or establish an acceptable salary for a new job. If the field has a high expected growth rate, your chances of getting higher pay will increase. But if the field is in relative decline, you may have to be more conservative with your salary request.

The site is CareerBuilder’s salary center. It’s a simple system to use and it will give you the information you’re looking for quickly. But as CareerBuilder is first and foremost a job board, there will of course be job ads beneath the salary information.

There’s one caveat on this site – it is advertising intensive. It may start out with a survey that looks like it’s part of the site system, but it’s not. It’s actually an education survey to determine if you’re interested in taking online college courses. It looks convincing because surveys are on other sites as well, and they also start out by asking career-centered questions, but then they quickly switch over to education questions leaving no way out. If this survey portion comes up, click the “no thank you” to move on. caters more to high-end employees such as executives and upper management. The site offers an executive salary calculator, which can be especially valuable since high level positions have a much wider range of compensation than most other fields.

In addition, high-level positions usually include a much wider variety of functions and responsibilities. The addition of one, or the elimination of another, could change the entire salary outlook.

Have you ever used these sites to determine your salary level? Are there other salary guide sites you use that you have a high degree of confidence in? Leave a comment!


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Kevin Mercadante is professional personal finance blogger, and the owner of his own personal finance blog, He has backgrounds in both accounting and the mortgage industry. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and two teenage kids and can be followed on Twitter at @OutOfYourRut.

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