Find out how much you're really worth

Summary:A new online salary report allows people to calculate their market value in dozens of industries. Finally, a service that may level the playing field between employees and employers.

A new service from Salary.com could put the power of compensation consultants in the hands of ordinary working folk--but it could stir controversy at the office water cooler, too.

The Personal Salary Report, which will be officially launched Monday, is a Web-based service that allows people to calculate their market value based on 43 factors. The report includes data for 850 job classifications, ranging from restaurant cooks and newspaper photographers to academic researchers and chief executive officers in dozens of industries.

"We think people will be able to use this anytime they come to a salary negotiation session," said Johanna Schlegel, Salary.com's product manager for the Personal Salary Report. "We hope it will become as indispensable as a resume or cover letter, when you're starting a new job or when you're preparing for annual performance review."

Salary.com is billing the service as the most detailed, precise compensation data report available to general consumers. Human resource executives, compensation analysts and hiring managers have long used such data, but it's been too expensive or complicated to be practical for rank-and-file workers.

The Personal Salary Report is the latest tool to level the playing field between employees and employers--a trend that gained momentum with the popularization of the Internet in the mid-1990s. Online cost-of-living calculators and other Web-based information have dramatically increased workers' power in salary negotiations, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics' online database for regional wage information has helped give people average salaries for various professions in all states.

Such transparency is a sharp contrast to a decade ago, when HR managers fiercely guarded salary information. By keeping employees in the dark about pay, they made it tough for lower-paid workers to realize they were underpaid, let alone negotiate for a higher wage.

"Fifteen or twenty years ago, you could get fired for disclosing your salary" at some companies, said Deborah J. Thobe, president of Carrollton, Texas-based technology consulting firm Thobe Group. "Workers have more leverage now. The smart employee finds out: A, where bathroom is; B, where coffee pot is; and then C, negotiates compensation."

Salary.com's report takes only a few minutes to fill out. Customers must submit an e-mail address, current title and salary, fill out an online questionnaire, and pay with a credit card. The Personal Salary Report costs $19.95 for a limited introductory period, and the price will eventually go up to $29.95 per report.

The price includes a 13-page report that lists estimated market values, tips for renegotiating your salary, mock conversations with your boss, and figures on bonuses and other incentive pay in your specific industry and job classification. It also includes space for the consumer to jot down notes such as achievement awards and target goals.

Factors for 850 different job titles range from the reputation of a person's undergraduate university and relevant experience to whether a worker handles hazardous materials or toils on the graveyard shift. If a person's job requires certification, the computer will weigh training and programs heavily. Other heavily weighted categories include performance reviews, relevant work experience, and geographic cost-of-living adjustments.

If you have a bachelor's or advanced degree, the survey asks you to rank your university relative to its peers. It also asks how many people you manage; whether you report to the board of directors, chief executive or a mere manager; and how your actual job responsibilities compare with a one-paragraph overview that Salary.com provides.

For most people, the "estimated market value" will be the key result of the survey. Here's a sample of results:

• The market value salary of a computer software programmer who has six years of relevant experience (including one year on the current job), receives a "superior" performance rating, reports to a senior executive, has all required certifications, lives in San Jose, Calif., and works for a software and networking company with at least 3,000 employees is $81,962 to $87,484. Roughly 75 percent of people with these qualifications earn a yearly total of up to $96,913 after bonuses and other incentives are added.

• The market value salary of a technical sales support specialist who has 14 years of experience (including four at the current job), receives an "above average" performance rating, manages up to 10 people, reports to a senior executive, lives in Charlotte, N.C., and works at a biotech company that employs 1,000 to 3,000 workers is $57,408 to $60,951. Roughly 75 percent of people who fit this description earn as much as $73,805 per year when incentive pay and bonuses are added.

• The market value salary of a marketing account executive who has three years of experience (including one in the current job), "meets expectations" of supervisors, reports to a middle manager, lives in Boston, went to one of the top 100 universities, and works at an Internet company is $54,960 to $58,074. With bonuses, the total compensation for workers in the 25 to 75 percentile of that peer group is between $67,386 and $119,838.

The data is based on proprietary research from Salary.com, whose team of compensation consultants establishes data based on primary and secondary research, analysis, and a proprietary mathematical model. The data is compiled continually and updated monthly.

Although people will certainly take interest in their market value, it's unclear whether easy access to the data will actually improve workers' lot. Knowing that you're paid $10,000 less than market value--or knowing that a co-worker is paid grossly more than market value--is not constructive information in its own right, and it could even foster bitterness among loose-lipped workers.

Ultimately, said Thobe consultant Judy Overstreet, one of the most important factors in determining a worker's salary is his or her ability to negotiate--not just the knowledge of a market value. To that extent, human resource managers may question the Salary.com results if employees try to use it during negotiations.

"Sometimes, an HR professional will put more weight on one resource than another one. There's so much judgment that goes into these numbers," Overstreet said. "If I were the HR manager, I'd ask, 'Who's in the database? Where'd they get the numbers, and how'd they come up with them?' There are some really good surveys out there, and there are some that aren't really that good."

Topics: IT Employment

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