Are you being paid what you're worth?

Are you being paid what you’re worth?

Jobs are scarce and talking about salary is taboo—so how do you know you’re getting paid enough? With unemployment still at almost 10%, most employed people are happy just to have a job, and haven’t thought to ask for more money. But incomes are inching upward as the economy limps forward to recovery: The Bureau of Economic Analysis reported last week that personal income rose 0.5% in August, which doesn’t sound like much, but was better than many economists expected.

How much are you worth? Here’s how to find out:

Do the research

Find out what others in your industry are getting paid. Websites like,, and offer customized estimates. Industry-specific trade publications often conduct detailed salary research. Talking to headhunters can be helpful. And the Occupational Outlook Handbook, available from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, publishes median annual wages of a wide variety of jobs.

Talk amongst yourselves

The National Labor Relations Act says companies cannot ban employees from discussing their wages. But think before you gab. Many companies discourage it, and you should proceed with caution. Do you really want to know that your cubicle buddy is making $5,000 more than you? That could be based on any number of factors, including education, performance, or job tenure—and the knowledge might serve only to drive you crazy. But if you have reason to believe your pay is drastically below the normal range, know you have a right to discuss these issues with your coworkers. If you think you’re being actively discriminated against, contact the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which is in charge of enforcing federal discrimination laws. 


A 2003 study found that people who asked for a 30% salary increase walked away with at least a 10% increase. So set that bar high! And as the economy improves, so will your chances of increasing your salary, either before you accept a job or once you’ve already started.

Don’t neglect non-monetary compensation

If your employer—or potential employer—says there’s no more money in the budget for a higher salary, you don’t have to slink away with nothing in hand. Bonuses, vacation time, and flexibility to telecommute are among the factors that you can often negotiate.

Don’t go overboard

Psychologists call it the “Lake Wobegon Effect“: We all think we’re “above average.” Remember, the goal is to be paid fairly, not to double your salary. And amid all the research and negotiation, don’t neglect to continue doing excellent work—in the end, that’s the surest path to a good salary.

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