When Carol Gardner was negotiating a raise for a job as systems engineer at a Boston telecommunications company, she did some research on Salary.com, a popular salary site on the Web.
"I had been taking on more and more responsibilities, and I knew what I was earning was not what market pay typically was," said the 34-year-old Gardner. "But I also knew I couldn't just go to my boss and say, 'I'm worth more.' "
So, Gardner prepared a two-page proposal for her boss using figures from Salary.com, which she said helped her find different levels of pay based on responsibilities and experience. Then, to make sure she was on track, she also cross-referenced what she found with real job postings that offered salary ranges.
The result of her research: a $10,000 raise.
"It was a very important tool for me to develop my own proposal," Gardner said.
The key word there is tool. A number of salary Web sites have sprouted in recent years, designed to help workers at a variety of levels figure out what they could and should be earning. But users must bear in mind that these sites are best used to establish a range of numbers to work from.
More homework is necessary to be sure the number you settle on is realistic.
It's also important to know the potential flaws in the data. First, consider the source of the information. The most reliable data come from human-resources departments within companies, or from established compensation consulting firms, as opposed to salaries reported directly by employees, which experts say tend to be inflated.
Also make sure that the information is no more than a year or so old, and that the sample size of salaried positions is large enough to give an accurate picture. Sites also should break out salaries based on locations and company sizes, and provide detailed job descriptions instead of mere job titles.
Here's a rundown of some of the most popular sites: Salary.com. One of the easiest resources to use, Salary.com ranks among the 10 most-visited career sites and is linked to other career-help heavyweights such as Monster.com and Brassring.com. Its free Salary Wizard tool can quickly generate a basic salary report containing pay data for nearly 2,000 job descriptions with various levels of experience in specified locations.If you're willing to pay $49.95 for a customized Personal Salary Report, the Web site -- based in Wellesley, Mass. -- will give you access to compensation data most everyday workers never see -- salary figures compiled from surveys of human-resource departments around the country.Salaryexpert.com. This site is similar to Salary.com but can be quirky, perhaps because some offerings are new.The new $39 Premium Salary Report, for example, can be a chore to read and the results too general. A requested survey on print reporters, for example, included results about broadcast reporters -- a job with distinctly different skills and salaries. Another report generated the same salary range for a public-relations representative with four years' experience and one with only a year's experience.SalaryExpert Chief Executive Michael S. Gillie said the company is working on the problems, which he says are the kinds of glitches that often appear in new products. SalaryExpert is owned by Baker, Thomsen Associates Insurance Services Inc., based in Newport Beach, Calif.Federal government. The Wages, Earnings and Benefits section of the Department of Labor's Web site, www.bls.gov, is chock full of free statistics. But it won't win any awards for good looks, organization or ease of use. Nor is it always timely.A government site that's a little easier to navigate and also draws on government data is America's Career InfoNet, www.acinet.org, part of the U.S. Labor Department's CareerOneStop portal. But again, be sure to note how old the data are. A recent search for reporters' salaries in New York City yielded figures from 2000.Salarypower.com. This site, expected to go live this summer, is one to watch for. SalaryPower.com intends to pay compensation consulting firms for their data.Salary reports will go for about $25 to $35, and higher-priced reports will be available to human-resources professionals.The next stepYou may think you're finished after using one of the preceding sites. But to really make a strong case for a raise, you'll need to support the data you've found so far with additional information and verify it against other sources, such as industry sites, actual job postings that quote salaries, professional associations and trade organizations.Here are a few more Web sites that can help you do that:Jobstar.org. This site has links to more than 300 salary surveys, many of which are industry-specific. Be sure to check the dates on those surveys, as always.Mary-Ellen Mort, a longtime librarian in Oakland, Calif., who created the free site, also recommends checking out the Encyclopedia of Associations, a set of reference books that lists thousands of organizations, professional societies and trade associations and is available at many local libraries. Also try the Associations on the Net page at the University of Michigan's Internet Public Library, at www.ipl.org/div/aon.Careerjournal.com. This is a free career-advice site from Dow Jones & Co., featuring salary and hiring information, job-hunting tips and features and news from The Wall Street Journal about trends in various industries and professions and work-related issues.The site also has links to SalaryExpert.com and to a salary calculator on HomeFair.com that compares the cost of living in various U.S. cities. Dow Jones, based in New York, publishes The Wall Street Journal.Computerjobs.com Some Web sites are tailored for specific industries, but be careful. They often rely on employees to report their own salaries, and numbers sometimes aren't broken down geographically.ComputerJobs.com, for example, is an information-technology employment site. Its Salary Ticker lists annual compensation data collected nationwide for various computer-industry job categories and related subcategories with specific skills.But keep in mind, the figures come from the workers themselves, and the site says it attempts to eliminate extreme highs and lows. So what you're left with generally is average self-reported figures. The business is a private Atlanta-based corporation with investments from Internet Capital Group, Wayne, Pa., and Mellon Ventures.Sec.gov. It's no secret how much top executives at publicly companies earn. Their pay is made public through the Securities and Exchange Commission in a filing known as a DEF-14A. Check out the SEC Web site: www.sec.gov/edgar/searchedgar/companysearch.html.Finding the data on the SEC site is cumbersome. Enter the exact name of a company, then scroll down through all the SEC filings by the company, and then scroll some more, until you find the most recent DEF-14A. Clicking on that will bring you to the actual proxy, and then you must look for the "Summary Compensation Table," which typically lists the five highest-paid executives' annual compensation.Be sure to keep reading: Option exercises and details about other compensation awards are listed elsewhere in the proxy.Ecomponline.com.It is much faster and easier to find executive salary information with this service, from Chicago-based Aon Corp.'s Aon Consulting Worldwide. The site compiles the same SEC salary data in clean, easy-to-read -- and easy to obtain -- charts. But if you want to see the entire compensation package, beyond salary and bonus, you'll have to register with the Web site. (Registration is free.)Salaryexpert.com says it soon will release another helpful tool for researching executive salaries: a $79 report that will compare salaries of executives at a half-dozen companies of comparable size, revenue, industry and location. SalaryExpert finds those companies for you. Such a tool can be useful not only for job hunters but also for boards' CEO search committees and pay panels. Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun