What is Your Market Value?

Don’t Sell Yourself Short—Research What You Can Command in Today’s Job Market

By Donald J. Strankowski
Ascend Career and Life Strategies

I grew up in Milwaukee a big Milwaukee Brewers fan.  Though spring always brought hopes of a playoff run and a winning season (a rarity for the team the past 20 years or so), the Brewers were usually out of the running by late July or early August.  The biggest problem facing the team year after year was a lack of cash due to playing in a smaller market.

But lately, the Brewers have gained an influx of young talent.  One of the Brewers most promising rising stars is a fireball pitcher named Ben Sheets.  The Brewers are so certain that Big Ben, as he is called around the league, will be a cornerstone for the team for years to come that they recently offered him a 4-year, $38.5 million dollar contract—the largest ever offered in Milwaukee Brewer team history!

The problem facing the Brewers is the same shared by many of today’s corporations: they want to retain top talent but don’t want (or can’t afford to) to pay top dollar.  Companies just like major league baseball teams have a finite amount of money available to spend on their best employees.  So how was Ben Sheets able to sign a $38.5 million dollar deal with a team that is usually cash-strapped and has a hard time competing with its larger-market counterparts?  By determining his market value based on his performance, contributions, and how much others with a similar track record of success are earning.  Top talent commands top earnings—both in baseball and corporate America.

Most workers will tell you that they want a job that motivates and challenges them and one that they find fulfilling.  But most people also want to be paid what they’re worth.  Even in today’s modern economy, most job seekers (and employers) still keep score the old fashioned way—in dollar signs.

The whole concept of figuring out what you’re worth has gotten a lot easier with the advent of the Internet.  A decade ago, it was almost impossible to gain an insight as to what people were making unless you were privy to such information.  The philosophy from the employer’s perspective was the less you knew, the less they had to pay you.  Sometimes, this created huge pay inequities for similar positions within the same company.

The kind of leverage that job seekers and employees had in the free-spending days of the mid-to-late 1990’s dropped dramatically as 2000 approached.  Six years later, in 2006, the pendulum still seems to rest on the employer’s side.  Downsizing, “smartsizing,” automation, outsourcing and other cost-cutting trends, have all led to more qualified candidates being available in the labor pool.  For some industries and occupations, employers simply don’t have to pay as much for good talent—it’s mere supply and demand.  Still, it pays to be informed, know what your personal going rate is and how to receive top dollar when it comes to negotiating your compensation plan or a raise.

Do Your Research!

Like Ben Sheets, most of us don’t have a high-paid agent to do our negotiating for us. So the first step in gaining an idea as to what you’re currently worth in today’s job market is to conduct research.

The Internet has a wealth of data concerning salary ranges for almost any occupation.  Some sites allow you to drill down on a very granular level by offering salary data for a litany of industries, titles and occupations.  With some top sites, you can even survey salaries within certain zip codes, thus figuring in a cost of living index and how it affects salaries within that area.

The best web sites for gaining salary information are:



Recruiters can also be a good source of information.  They deal with employers and potential candidates everyday and know what the latest going rates are for different occupations.  They can also advise you regarding salary trends and how much you may be worth on the open market when figuring in your skills and experience.

When surveying your worth, be sure to research a number of different sites and sources rather than relying on just one.  Salaries may vary from one source to another so the best thing to do is to formulate an average based on your findings.  You must also factor in certain intangibles such as industry, company size, skills required, your level of experience, and the current demand for the position.

Negotiating a salary during the interview phase

Use the previous research recommendations for gaining information regarding what the average salary may be for the position and bring your research along with you to the interview—in hard copy.  In the vast majority of all first interview situations, if the salary isn’t published in the job description, you will be asked what you are expecting to earn.  This is another way for the employer to weed out candidates; eliminate the people who are looking to earn too much money.

Once you do state what you are looking to earn, most interviewers will ask you how you arrived at that figure.  To throw out a random, “nice to have” number is a major interview blunder.  When asked, always quote an exact “hard” figure like $45,500.  This way, it looks like you’ve done your homework and are confident in your request.  When asked, state that you based your figure on your research findings, your skills and experience, and your knowledge of the industry. Coming into an interview and discussing salary with tangible data will afford you much more leverage when finally settling on a figure.

If at all possible, have the employer throw out the first number.  You can take the sword out of the interviewer’s hand by (when you feel the interview is winding down) asking, “Could you tell me the compensation range budgeted for this position?”  Or, “Just to make sure we’re both in the ballpark, what can one expect to earn in this position given my background and experience?”  Remember however that salary is just one piece of the compensation package puzzle.

I want the job, but I’m not being offered the money I deserve!

If you really want the job but are not being offered the compensation your experience, skills, and salary research warrants, there are still a few additional strategies you can employ.
One option could be negotiating a sign-on bonus. It’s a one-time expense for the employer and could be a short-term solution to accepting a lower starting salary.

Another way to increase compensation is to demonstrate you can do more than the job requires. Adding duties can justify an increase in pay and possibly assist the employer in that it may eliminate hiring another person or giving even more responsibility to an already overloaded employee.

Also consider the benefits package. People seeking employment need to remember company-paid health insurance, profit sharing, vehicle allowances, stock options, discounted stock purchasing plans, a 401K and other perks all have a dollar value and should be considered part of the total compensation.  Some estimates place the benefits portion at close to 30 percent of your overall compensation plan. When you add the value of a company’s total benefits package to your base salary, you may be closer to the level of compensation you were seeking initially.

You may also want to ask for a six-month review as opposed to the standard 12-month (or in some cases, no review at all). You can start for less and then demonstrate your value to the organization by exceeding the boss’ expectations.  Try to include metrics or measurable wherever possible to measure your success and job performance effectiveness.  After six months, request a review of your compensation. If you’ve performed well, your value to the company should be self-evident.  Keep a record of your accomplishments and results and prepare a short proposal detailing what you have done to this point and how it has affected the company.

You can also shoot for an increase in non-monetary rewards, like more vacation time with pay or some extra three-day weekends if you’re getting stonewalled asking for more money.  Yet another option is to try and negotiate a stake in the company, like stock options, or an increase in the number of stock options (and perhaps an accelerated vesting schedule) you’ve already been offered.

When negotiating a salary, be reasonable and flexible.  Don’t let your ego get in the way of a great opportunity because you aren’t being offered top dollar.  Getting what you’re worth in the current market means researching what you’re worth and presenting your case with tact and professionalism.  So before embarking on any job change or asking for a raise, always remember to determine your market value before entering into salary discussions.  It may not net you a million-dollar raise like it did for Milwaukee Brewer’s pitcher Ben Sheets, but will position you to earn what you’re worth in today’s open market!

Good luck!

Donald J. Strankowski Jr. is founder and President of Ascend Career and Life Strategies, LLC, a career management and professional development firm for businesses, professionals, and executives.  He works out of Boulder, Colorado and can be contacted at 303-245-7049, via email at [email protected], or on the web at www.AscendCareers.net.