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Evaluating wage data

Accumulating compensation data is relatively easy. Then you have to analyze it. Career specialists offer these tips on how to glean useful information from the various figures.

  • Verify the source. Some salary surveys are conducted by companies or agencies with vested interests in the findings. This could produce misleading results. Would the source of the information tend to inflate salaries or trim them?

  • Check out the sample size. If you have a choice between surveys that interviewed 10 or 100, the larger sample is more statistically accurate.

  • Make sure the information is timely. The Department of Labor tends to track wage data over 10-year increments. Even then, statisticians just add on the new data, so while the salary information may have meaning for employers, it may not be accurate for one person currently checking out one type of job in a single region.

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  • Remember that salary surveys often track a few broadly defined job categories. You may not find an apple-to-apple comparison. That means you'll have to do some estimating to arrive at a good figure for your particular profession.

  • Consider the larger job marketplace. Supply and demand definitely play a role in setting salaries. Take the case of Internet companies. When dot.coms were hot a few years ago, Web designers could name their own salaries. When the boom went bust, so did these wages.

In fact, notes Barry Miller, a career counselor and alumni relations liaison at New York City's Pace University, if you switch jobs today, you may find yourself taking a wage cut of between 10 and 20 percent, depending on the field.

Or you may find that what you're making today is actually higher than average because of the length of time you've been in the position.

Jenny C. McCune is a contributing editor based in Montana.

 
-- Updated: May 10, 2004
     

 

 
 
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