How to find out if you're being paid what you're worth

Your next one-to-one with your line manager is coming up soon. Is it time to negotiate a pay rise? Or maybe you’re considering a career change or have just been offered an exciting new role and would like to know how much you should expect. How do you know if you’re being paid what you’re worth?

Is it time to question your salary? 

Broadly speaking, here are some typical situations you might find yourself in that could prompt you to question your salary.

  • You’re negotiating your pay at the back of a new job offer.
  • You want to ask for a pay raise in your existing role.
  • Or you’re thinking of changing careers and need to find out what you might be able to earn.

So how exactly do you go about finding out whether you’re being underpaid or what you could expect when accepting a new role?

The factors that might impact your salary

1. Location

Salaries for jobs tend to be affected by the region you work in. For example, roles in Central London attract higher pay than jobs on the outskirts of London or further afield. Availability to large numbers of highly-skilled individuals means that competition is higher. And better wages become the norm.

If you’re interested in understanding more about regional differences, have a read of this article from the BBC and find out what the highest and lowest paid cities and towns in the UK are.

2. Sector

The amount you get paid for your job also varies from sector to sector. Financial Services, for example, is traditionally a high-paying sector. Average salaries in the public sector, on the other hand, tend to be lower for the same roles than in their private counterparts.

So, if you know of ex-colleagues or acquaintances in similar positions who work in other industries or sectors, there’s a chance their pay may be different. And of course, the level of education and experience also plays a part.

3. Salary bandings and pay grades

Some organisations, although these still seem to be in the minority, may use ‘salary bandings’ and/or ‘pay grades’ for each of the jobs within their company.

A ‘salary or pay band’ defines the range of compensation given for a certain role. So if you’ve just accepted a new job, for example, you can clearly see the difference between your starting point and the maximum that your salary can go up to. Of course, how much you get paid right now may depend on your seniority and your experience in that job. But being aware of the range gives you an idea of what you can aim for when you next discuss a pay rise with your line manager.

Similarly, a ‘salary or pay grade’ is a structured pay format where new employees are placed at a given pay level (or grade) based on their education and the work experience related to the position. Because each job that exists within the company is matched with its own specific pay grade, as an employee, you can clearly see your progression path in front of you.

While salary bandings and grades are helpful, not all businesses use them. And those that do aren’t always transparent about them and may choose not to share them with their staff. If you’re not aware of your pay grade or aren’t sure about the salary band for your role, speak to your line manager or your HR department if you have one and ask for more information.

How do you find out how much you should be paid? 

Certain organisations, like Willis Towers Watson and Xpert HR, conduct hugely-detailed and reliable salary surveys to get accurate information on exactly what salaries are being paid for what jobs. However, these surveys are expensive to access. Because they are created for and sold to medium- and large-sized organisations as part of a wider HR support services offering, as an individual, you wouldn’t be able to obtain this information.

However, if you work for a company that has an HR team, they may have access to this salary data and might be able to provide it to you on request. And if not, if you’re not sure you’re being paid what you’re worth in your current role and would like to ask for a pay raise, there are a few other things you could try.

1. Salary benchmarking

Have you ever considered asking your HR team to ‘benchmark’ your salary for you? This process allows you to match your job description to external jobs with similar responsibilities to identify the market rate for each position. Your HR department may or may not agree to go ahead and do this. But it’s worth knowing that it’s within your rights to ask.

If you don’t have an HR department, or if they can’t do the benchmarking for you, you can carry out a similar exercise yourself. The best way to do this is to track down some salary survey data that some of the larger recruitment companies publish each year about the salaries attached to different positions.

Here are some salary guides that I’ve used in the past and that I regularly recommended to clients:

2. Accessing salary data

You can also use websites (such as Glassdoor or Payscale) that provide salary data and also make for perfect tools for career research. These websites collect salary information by asking their users to enter their own pay when accessing their services. So, if you log on to their website and use their services, you will also have to enter your own salary.

Naturally, the fact they rely on website users to provide information indicates that their data may not be as robust as the data from the sources above. But if you’re doing your own research, these websites are worth a try and may provide you with useful insight.

What to do if you find you’re being underpaid?

Once you have understood the reasons for potential differences in pay and done your research, you’ll have a more accurate picture of what you can expect to earn. So if you feel the salary in your recent job offer isn’t satisfactory or think you’re being underpaid, how can you go about asking for more?

Asking for a better-paid offer

If you’re sitting on an offer for a new job at a different company, but the salary doesn’t match your expectations, you can share any data you have collected with your new employer and simply make a case for a higher offer. Rather than just asking the company to increase the amount they’re prepared to pay, you can use the information you gathered during your research to make a more informed and thought-through request.

Asking for a pay rise

But what if you’d like to negotiate a higher salary for your existing role? If you’ve been with the business for a while, there’s a chance you may be underpaid. This is because people who may have started months or years after you came in on a higher salary. So while your pay may have increased incrementally each year to keep up with inflation, some of your newest colleagues might be getting paid more than you are. And the truth is, you may not get the pay rise you deserve unless you ask for it!

So how do you do this exactly?

  • Call for a meeting with your line manager (and HR if you have an HR team), and prepare in advance.
  • If you’ve done your research, you can use the data you have collected to ask for a pay rise. But don’t forget to also show your employer that you’ve been doing a great job. You want them to know that you deserve the salary increase you’re asking for.
  • Consider putting together some slides detailing your history with the company. And don’t shy away from giving your line manager evidence of your continued commitment and proof of your achievements.

Providing tangible evidence

Once you’ve prepared your slides and made your case, print them out, and take copies with you into the meeting. Be sure to make your achievements sound as impressive (and still realistic) and tangible as possible. Wherever you can, include evidence and measures.

For example:

  • If you have brought in new clients, how many were there? What is the financial benefit to the company?
  • If you’ve introduced new processes, what are the time and/or cost savings to the business?
  • Or if you have improved the quality of services within the organisation, how has this impacted it?

If you’ve done your research in advance, make sure you include the pay data on your slides. This shows that you’ve taken a thorough and logical approach for asking for a pay rise – and this will go in your favour. It’s likely that your manager isn’t going to be able to agree to anything on the spot. But you can expect them to say they’ll come back to you with an answer at a later date. So don’t be shy about asking what time frame this is likely to fall in.

Would you like my help with your next salary negotiation or career move? 

As an experienced Career Coach, I offer a series of packages to help you with your job and career. Whether it’s about negotiating a higher salary in your current role or asking for a better offer after you’ve been successful in an interview, I can help. If you want to find out more about how we could work together, you can book a FREE, 30-minute no-obligation discovery call, and we can discuss your specific requirements.

Photo courtesy of Michael