Discover what you should be earning

You can’t get what you want if you don’t ask for it… and you can’t ask for the right compensation package if you don’t know what it is.

In this post, I’m breaking down the best strategies and the most useful resources for finding out what you should be earning.


Step 1: Research

The quickest way to get started is to do some online research. Online salary calculators and aggregators have a dubious reputation, so relying on them alone isn’t wise; that said, they can be a great place to start to generate a target range.

For Salary Research, my favorite online databases are:

  • Career Contessa’s “The Salary Project”

    • How to use it: Fill out your current salary info and get a customized salary report, along with access to their salary database.

    • What I like: The Salary Project promotes both knowledge and salary transparency. The more we share on this site, the better the salary calculator becomes, and we’re contributing to better salary outcomes for all women.

  • -

    • How to use it: Sign up for an account and get instant access to their salary database.

    • What I like: They show base salary and bonus, and the actual company name.


    • How to use it: Search for a job title (and if you can’t find an exact match, select one of their suggestions) and location to get a basic salary range, then edit it to match you more accurately.

    • What I like: The Salary Wizard lets you customize the projections based on your level of education, years of experience, # of direct reports, and more. Plus, you can see bonus potential, the precise value of your benefits, and comparisons to similar job titles.

Don’t forget your college alumni network - check out their career services page to see if they provide salary data. And many professional organizations offer salary databases as a perk of membership - something to consider when looking at the value of that annual fee.


>> Action: Gather estimates based on your job duties, geographic area, experience level, and an honest assessment of your level of contribution in that role, toss out the outliers, and write down the range you uncover.

>> Go deeper: Don’t just focus on base salary! Write down the range of bonus percentages you uncovered as well as the value of the benefits offered. And if stock options are part of your total compensation package, offers some great educational and informational resources.


Step 2: Connect in-person

Reach out to people in your network who can give you accurate insight into salary for your position.

Take a look at your professional network and identify some people to talk with:

  • Trusted colleagues in your HR department can give insight into the ranges for roles within your organization.

  • People who are in, or who have been, in that role, and people who are responsible for managing that role or similar roles, especially if outside your company, can help you discover if your organization is paying at, above, or below market rate.

  • People in recruiting or compensation often have a good general sense of pay ranges and can be especially informative on how pay is influenced by experience, special skills, and geography, as well as who pays equitably and who pays well in your industry.

While some people will be 100% willing to share their exact compensation package info with you, it’s a good idea to prepare more questions than just, “How much do you make?” Use the range and other compensation details you uncovered as a jumping off point for your questions:

  • “I identified that someone with my experience in this geographic location should be making between X and Y, does that sound about right?

  • How much would you expect a company like Z to pay for X role?

  • “What special skills or experiences influence the pay for X role?”

Questions like these help the conversation flow in a way that allows you to really dive in and deepen your understanding of the total compensation for your skill set.

Action: Make a list of five people from your network in one or more of these categories and reach out to set up a call or in-person conversation today. If you can’t identify five people in your network, see if you can go one degree outward and then ask someone in your network for an introduction.

Step 3: Make this a regular practice

Knowing what your skills, talents, experience, and work product are worth in the marketplace is critical to ensuring you’re being paid what you’re worth. Make it a priority to regularly invest time into this at least annually, so that you’re up-to-date on your value when going into annual reviews or job interviews.


Remember, every single dollar left on the table is a compound loss; since your bonus is typically calculated off your salary, you lose even more money in bonus potential, as well as retirement contributions and matching programs, disability and beneficiary insurance calculations, and future percentage-based raises.


Step 4: Pay it forward

Salary transparency is crucial to closing the pay gap and eliminating pay disparity based on gender, skin color, sexual orientation, and other discriminatory factors. In addition to contributing to The Salary Project or similar efforts, pay it forward by setting up conversations with more junior folks in your network who could benefit from you sharing your salary experiences and giving them a candid assessment of their own situation.


If you liked this, you’ll love my free career development guide, Take Charge of Your Career: Five Actions You Can Complete in 20 Minutes or Less! Subscribe to my periodic email updates to get your free copy today!


About the author

Sharon Stolt is a transformational career strategist and career coach based in Boulder, Colorado. She is on a mission to help unapologetically ambitious professional women take charge of their career future. Learn more at