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Seven Tips for Using Salary Survey Data to Negotiate a Raise

Seven Tips for Using Salary Survey Data to Negotiate a Raise

The right salary survey data, used in the right way at the right time, can help you prove you deserve a pay raise. Try these seven tips for collecting and using salary information in your next salary negotiation.    

1. Don’t Try to Manipulate the Salary Data You Collect

When you’re gathering salary information to bolster your negotiation, be honest about your role, degrees and certifications.

“If you’re an intermediate accountant, look at salary for intermediate accountants -- not senior accountants and not CFOs,” says Mark Szypko, managing director for Salary.com. “Use the data for the job you’re actually doing, not the work you’d like to be doing or think you should be doing.”

If you have a qualification you aren’t using in your current job, don’t use it in your salary research either. “I may have a PhD in nuclear physics, but if I work as an accountant, the PhD won’t affect my salary,” Szypko says.

Do consider geography when checking salary guide data. “An employee doing a job in Boston will be paid more than someone doing the same job in Brush Cut, Wyoming,” Szypko says.

2. Consider the Source of Salary Survey Data

The gold standard for compensation data is a salary survey completed by your company’s direct competitors. The next best salary surveys are created with salary information collected from employers in the same industry then scrubbed by compensation pros, says Szypko, who admits to being biased since this is how Salary.com generates its data.

Trade association salary surveys, especially those created with data self-reported by members, won’t be taken as seriously by those in the know. “When you’re looking at trade association salary data, with all due respect they have an opinion, an objective and an agenda -- to build up the profession,” Szypko says.

Don’t rely on any salary survey that doesn’t tell you what companies participated, how many responses were counted and how the data was chosen, says Monster’s Negotiation Expert Paul Barada on the Salary & Negotiation Tips forum.

“Depending upon who’s doing the survey and how they do it, it can be off by 25 percent to 35 percent -- and usually that’s over, not under,” he says. “Also make sure you know whether the numbers are the average, mean, median or mode. Median is the most reliable. It’s where half made more and half made less.”

3. Don’t Use the Info the Day It Comes Out

The right time to ask for a pay raise may or may not be when the salary surveys come out. “This is where candidates struggle,” says Corey Edmonds, regional managing director for The Mergis Group, a Fort Lauderdale, Florida, professional placement firm.

The best time to use salary information to request a raise is at review time -- assuming your review is going to be positive. That’s when your boss is focused on your results and your impact on the organization.

Most bosses need time to prepare for salary negotiations and to find the budget to cover the cost of raises, so just dropping into your manager’s office to ask for a pay raise because a salary survey came out last week likely won’t work.

When you see relevant salary data, note any trends and tuck them away until your review. “If salaries are growing 12 percent a year and the data is three months old, you can adjust the numbers up 3 percent,” Edmonds says.

4. Don’t Expect Data Alone to Get You the Raise

You’re not worth more simply because someone else gets paid more to do the same job. Before presenting salary survey data, explain why you deserve a raise. Outline soft and hard skills you bring to your organization and how you contribute to the mission or the bottom line, Edmonds says.

Then, use your salary information as an added point -- not the main point -- of your salary negotiation.

5. Mind What You Say

If you were a manager, which of these phrases would you rather hear? 

  • “This data shows you’re underpaying me by $10,000 a year, so if you don’t give me this raise, I’m going to go look for another job.”
  • “Based on some conversations I’ve had with individuals in my role elsewhere -- and data from this survey -- I understand that folks delivering the same quality and quantity of work have a more attractive compensation structure.”

You picked the second statement, right? The first creates a hostage situation where your salary increase is the ransom demand. The second is a professional request to have your paycheck reflect an industrywide salary range, Edmonds says.

6. Follow Up Your Demand by Talking About Why You Love the Job

After requesting the raise, express your passion for your current job, Edmonds says.

Try this line: “I feel I’m successful in this role, and I enjoy working here. In the past six months, I’ve successfully done A, B and C and have brought D, E and F to the team. And in the next six months I plan to do G, H and I.”

7. Expect Your Boss to Push Back

Most larger organizations participate in salary surveys where participants get the results. Your boss may come back with a salary survey based on data collected from your company’s direct competitors showing that the salary you're asking for is high. If that happens, respond with the other reasons you already outlined for deserving a raise -- what you contribute to the team and the company.

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