How To Decide What Is A Good Salary For Yourself

By Ryan Morris
Jul. 27, 2022
Articles In Life At Work Guide

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It can be tricky to figure out how much money you should actually be earning. You may know how much you’d like to make, but it can be more difficult to figure out what is actually a fair salary for your work experience, location, and field of expertise.

In this article, we’ll go over how to determine a good salary for yourself, why this can be so difficult, and how to go about actually earning a good salary if you aren’t already. In addition, we’ll also talk about other benefits besides your salary and how they play into all this.

Key Takeaways

  • Refer to information on salary websites, your location, and your industry as well as your level of education and experience when determining a good salary for yourself.

  • You can look for a new job, negotiate a new salary, or grow your skills until you are earning a salary that is good for you.

  • Don’t overlook the value of benefits such as health insurance, bonuses, retirement, time off, flexible schedules, and tuition assistance in your salary negotiations.

How to Decide What is a Good Salary for Yourself

How to Determine a Good Salary for Yourself

Before you can start making the amount of money you deserve to be making, first thing’s first: You have to figure out what amount of money that is.

There are a number of methods for doing so, and ultimately, the final number you come up with is going to be subjective. It’ll depend on what you ultimately believe yourself to be worth.

But even so, it’s worth backing up that number with as much information as possible.

Here are some things to keep in mind while determining your perfect salary:

  • Salary websites. Start with websites dedicated to your chosen profession. There are plenty of salary calculators out there rolling around the internet — while these won’t be perfectly accurate, they can give you a good starting ballpark amount to work with.

    From there, check with websites that show you how much people with your level of education tend to make in the position you’re looking at. Websites like the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Payscale, and are great for finding salary information based on a host of factors.

  • Educational level. Having a bachelor’s degree boosts your career earnings, and that should be reflected in your current salary. Additionally, if you have extra post-graduate degrees, certifications, or licenses, it should result in a higher salary.

    Of course, not every field values education equally, so the value of different degrees and certifications is variable. Conduct research on companies hiring for your dream position to see how in-demand your educational background is.

  • Experience level. One of the most significant factors in determining your salary is how much experience you have. Typically, someone with a few years of experience will earn more than an entry-level worker, and an individual with five or more years of experience should earn even more.

    Companies are willing to shell out more for employees who know how to do their jobs without as much oversight or direction, because they trust your capabilities more based on your past performance. The longer you stick to a profession, field, or industry, the larger your salary should become.

  • Geographical location. Don’t forget that your physical location, as well as your scheduling flexibility, can be a big boon when it comes to getting paid more money. Different states and cities differ in terms of taxes, demand for workers, cost of living, etc.

    For example, earning $50,000 as a programmer in San Francisco might be considered quite low, while it would be a great salary somewhere in the Midwest. To really focus your salary research, include geographic information. Also, try to figure out how quickly your job is growing and what the demand in this particular location is.

  • Industry. Many jobs can be performed over a variety of industries. Consider an HR rep or accountant who could work for a hospital, a tech start-up, a governmental organization, or something in between. While the job title may not change, each industry is radically different.

    This is usually reflected in wildly different salaries depending on what industry you work in. If you have a job that exists across industries, be sure to narrow down your salary research further by indicating what industry you work in or aspire to work in.

Why Is Determining a Good Salary So Hard?

Determining a fair salary is tough because, by and large, people don’t like to talk about how much money they’re making. This is one big Western cultural holdover that is slowly dying, and it’s one that has never really made any sense.

It’s true that there are times that employees benefit from keeping salaries to themselves, and it can be embarrassing to learn that someone who does the same thing with the same training is making more than you are.

But for the most part, keeping quiet about salaries only benefits one group — employers.

Now, thanks to the internet and the relative anonymity it brings, more and more people are speaking out about their salaries in a medium where retribution from bosses is unlikely.

As an employee or potential employee yourself, it’s important that you take advantage of this new information. For perhaps the first time, you’re not relying on rumors or drunken coworker confessions to figure out how much money you should be earning.

You should just be able to look it up.

How to Actually Start Earning Your Desired Salary

So let’s say you’re already working somewhere, but for some reason, you’ve only just taken the time to work out what a fair salary is for yourself based on all these factors.

And let’s say that, for whatever reason, the number in your head doesn’t line up with the number on your paycheck.

Obviously, this is a problem — it can cause you a lot of distress to feel like you deserve to be earning more money than you’re making, especially if you have good reason to feel justified about this feeling.

But how do you go about earning the amount of money to which you feel entitled?

Here are some big things to remember when it comes to figuring out how to start earning your preferred salary amount:

  • Determine the salary you want. The first step is to figure out what it would take to earn your preferred salary amount at your current job. What are the steps to get a raise at your current place of work? You might find that just having a well-timed conversation with your boss can be enough to get you up to your preferred salary level — but you’ll have to negotiate.

  • Start looking for a new job. If you find that it’s impossible to make the amount of money doing what you’re doing at your current place of work, then it’s time to start looking elsewhere.

    Assuming that the salary number you’ve come up with is reasonable, then you shouldn’t have too much issue convincing other people you deserve to make it — at least, it shouldn’t be any more difficult than an ordinary job interview. Which, granted, can be extremely hard no matter your qualifications.

  • Negotiate with confidence. While applying for a new job, you have to remember two things: 1) you deserve the salary amount that you’ve picked out for yourself, and 2) any potential employer is going to try to lowball you.

    Go into any negotiation about salaries with a “walk away” number — if you get offered anything that low, then just decline the job offer (politely). Remember — you deserve to be paid appropriately. You’re not “lucky” to get the work you’re finding — employers need employees.

  • Grow your skillset. Sometimes you may not be able to earn a higher salary without additional qualifications. Do some research into what certifications, skills, and degrees are in high demand in your field and then pursue those. Your employer may even pay for you to take classes to do this.

    Having these additional qualifications may make you eligible for a raise or a higher salary bracket, and they can also make your salary negotiations easier since you’ll be bringing more to the table.

  • Find a mentor. Having someone with more experience give you advice on how to negotiate salaries, find higher-paying jobs, and grow professionally can be huge for your career success. If your company offers a mentorship program, take advantage of it, or if not, find someone you look up to and ask them for advice as you go.

Other Benefits Beyond Salary to Consider

When you’re determining the value of your compensation package, remember that your base salary is only one element. A company that offers an attractive comprehensive benefits package may pay you less, but your quality of life will be higher.

Consider these additional factors when deciding whether you’re receiving a fair salary:

  • Health insurance. If your company covers a huge chunk of your insurance premiums and offers very generous health plans, then you should factor the value of that into your salary.

    For example, if you were to take another job that paid $5,000 more a year, but covered $6,000 less in insurance premiums, you’d get a salary increase, but your take-home pay would be lower.

  • Bonuses/commission. If you work in a competitive field like sales, a big chunk of your annual income might come in the form of commission. Remember to factor in your average commission income into your salary.

    Additionally, some companies opt to give bigger bonuses around the holidays in lieu of a raise. This can be a considerable sum or not much at all, but don’t forget to include it in your calculations.

  • Retirement plan. If your employer has a generous 401(k) matching plan, take advantage of it. And include the amount that your employer contributes to your final pay. After all, it is money you’re being paid — you just can’t access it until you’re retired.

  • Paid time off. Work-life balance is important, but it’s up to you to assign a dollar value to it. Working for a company that offers plenty of vacation time but pays less might be better for your overall well-being.

  • Flexible schedules. Whether it’s the ability to work from home or set your own hours, flexible scheduling options are a huge boon for employees’ work-life balance. Again, the actual value of this is entirely subjective, but it’s something to consider when considering the quality of your salary.

  • Tuition assistance. If you’re saddled with mountains of student debt, then a tuition assistance program can be worth a whole lot of money to you. Working for a company with a generous tuition reimbursement plan should certainly be a factor in determining if you’re being paid fairly overall.

Final Thoughts

That’s all for this one! Just keep in mind: If you’ve worked out how much money you deserve to be making and realized that’s a greater amount than what you currently earn, it’s true that just getting a raise might help you out.

But beware if you find that raise wrapped up in a promotion — at least if that promotion also comes with more responsibilities.

Promotions are great, most of the time. They let you move up the ranks and earn more money while making you look more hireable to people outside as well. But that number we’ve been talking about, your preferred salary — that number pertains to the job that you already have, and not to whatever job is above that.

Taking on additional responsibilities to earn the amount you should be making for what you’re already doing doesn’t make sense, as it doesn’t increase your value as a worker.

Instead, you might be being tricked into keeping your value the same — they’re giving you the amount of money you want, but they’re making you do more to earn it than someone else might at a different company.

So if this happens to you, remember that there are other jobs out there and that looking around for new work might be a better option than taking on a promotion that’s not really a promotion at all.

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Ryan Morris

Ryan Morris was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog who tried to make the job process a little more entertaining for all those involved. He obtained his BA and Masters from Appalachian State University.

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