The best salary research sites are Glassdoor, SalaryExpert, Salary.com, Indeed, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). You can use these resources to find the median or average salary for your job title in your area, the anticipated pay trajectory in your career path, and other related data points to help you make sound career decisions.

Whether you’re weighing a job offer or due for a raise, negotiation is key. And the first step in successful negotiation is knowing what you’re actually worth in the job market.

Salary research can give you a better idea of just the right number to shoot for, and of what increases you can expect as you advance in your career. The best salary research websites will help you do your homework in any field. (And most are free to use!)

Best salary comparison websites

Glassdoor

Logo for GlassdoorGlassdoor is known for its extensive company reviews and employee feedback. A salary search provides data for specific cities and/or specific companies, rather than a general, nationwide median salary for a given job title.

Here’s how Glassdoor sources its data: To access the free salary info on the site, you have to either submit a review (anonymously) of a previous employer or the salary you received from a previous employer. This policy puts up a bit of a barrier between you and the information you’re seeking out, but it’s also logical way to crowdsource valuable salary and career insights.

Pros of Glassdoor:

  • Top Paying Companies section lists employers in your area and the reported salary they pay employees in your position.
  • Total Pay Trajectory shows your projected salary growth as you climb the ladder in your chosen profession.
  • Top Interview Questions and sample interview tests are reported by your peers to help you prepare for the hiring process in your chosen career.

Cons of Glassdoor:

  • Some listed career metrics outside salary info are quite vague, e.g., a ‘work life balance’ score is given for each profession, but with no context (score scale, score meaning, etc.)
  • Salaries are also displayed for cities outside the United States, but information for these international locations can be wildly inaccurate.

SalaryExpert

SalaryExpert logoWith data updated daily, SalaryExpert offers not only free salary reports but also cost of living analysis and career salary potential.

The site’s overall design is very clean and intuitive. It’s probably the easiest site to navigate and interpret among all the major salary comparison players.

Pros of SalaryExpert:

  • Clearly shows how your current salary compares to the average salary for that job title in both your area and nationally.
  • Salary Potential graph projects anticipated salary growth for your position over the next five years, which can help you out when planning mid-term financial goals.
  • Education pie charts show the percentage of jobholders with your job title for each level of education attainment. E.g., 68% of graphic designers in Austin, Texas have a bachelor’s degree; 11% have an associate’s degree.

Cons of SalaryExpert:

  • Salary and cost of living info is often incomplete for locations outside the United States, including major overseas cities.
  • Popular skills listed aren’t always the most relevant for a given job title.

Salary.com

Salary.com logoSalary.com allows you to tailor your expected salary estimate based on location (major cities only), education level, years of experience, direct reports (the expected number of subordinates working under you), whom you report to, and your self-assessed performance level.

Salary.com doubles as a career site — sort of. The site features job listings for your selected geographical region, though they often are totally immaterial to your selected job title.

Pros of Salary.com:

  • Cost of Living Comparison is a straightforward way to check an anticipated salary increase/decrease relative to a cost of living increase/decrease if you move locations.
  • Benefits calculator allows you to estimate the total value of your salary + benefits relative to industry averages.
  • Benefits breakdown shows the median values for your position’s healthcare benefits, 401(k) contributions, time off, etc.
  • Resume review service provides free and actionable analysis of your resume’s formatting, content, and voice. Results are emailed to you within 48 hours.

Cons of Salary.com:

  • ‘Similar jobs’ salary comparison chart sometimes lists positions that are quite dissimilar.
  • Annoying pop-ups interfere with the user experience, and they’re not always targeted well. E.g., employees may be bombarded by ads targeting employers/HR.

Indeed

Indeed logoThe well-known job listing aggregator Indeed also has salary research tools. The site is particularly transparent about the pool of data it draws info from: Every average salary listed for a city or company is accompanied by the number of reported salaries it’s based on, and a clear low to high range is displayed.

But Indeed’s biggest asset is probably the way it displays degree requirements, and trends in degree requirements, for a given job title. The number of openings listed on Indeed for your chosen job title that require(d) a specific degree are shown for each of the past seven years or so. These educational requirement trends for different industries could/should serve as important data points before you choose to enter a degree program.

Pros of Indeed:

  • Trends in degree requirements are displayed for specific job titles, as well as the influence that holding a given degree may have on your salary.
  • Clearly displays its data pool for each salary average.
  • Lists average hourly rates for a given job in addition to monthly and yearly salaries. This could be a useful reference point for freelancers.

Cons of Indeed:

  • Little to no information is provided for cost of living differences from one city/state to the next, making some of its location graphs rather useless.
  • Average salaries listed for some job titles vary substantially from the median salaries listed by top competitors (like Glassdoor or Salary.com).

Bureau of Labor Statistics

BLS logoThe most recent “Occupational Outlook Handbook” from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides median annual salaries and hourly wages for thousands of jobs, searchable by field. But this Department of Labor site’s ideal audience is anyone planning on switching professional fields. You can search for jobs by the salary you aspire to and or the job’s projected growth rate for the next ten years, among other useful metrics when mapping out a new career.

Pros of BLS:

  • Anticipated demand growth/reduction statistics for a job title are accompanied by a clear explanation of why demand for that job is expected to increase or decrease in the near future.
  • Different median wages are provided for the same job title as it applies to different industries. E.g., the median wages for a graphic designer working in an advertising firm vs. at a newspaper.

Cons of BLS:

  • Exceedingly dull, lifeless site design typical of a government institution
  • Data is updated somewhat infrequently — once every two months or so — compared to private sector salary sites.

What influences your salary?

Sites will often allow you to search based on job title, education, level of experience, and location. But how does each factor affect the compensation you should ask for?

Job title

Titles reflect responsibility and experience. While some companies allow you a little latitude in naming your job, others won’t be so flexible. Make sure you’re clear on the responsibilities of the title offered (or the title you want.)

Industry

The same job title can come with very different salaries depending on the industry and/or company you work in. Sales representatives, for instance, can work in multiple fields. But sales reps in high-demand fields, like pharmaceuticals, may be able to ask for more than those in other industries.

Location

If you live in a location where housing, transit, food, and other essentials cost more than the national average — like a large city, a coastal city, or a tourist destination — you should earn more.

A cost of living analysis, offered on some of the sites above, lets you know what to expect in your region.

Read more: Is now a good time to ask for a cost of living raise?

Experience

Work experience in your field can increase your value and your salary. Internships may count in your favor, depending on the responsibilities you held as an intern.

Read more: 7 reasons to consider an apprenticeship before going to college

Education

Having a degree, period — an associate’s, a bachelor’s, or an advanced degree — should boost your salary expectations. Having a degree in your field is even better.

Where you went to college can sometimes make a difference, too. PayScale has a “College ROI Report” (ROI stands for return on investment) that analyzes how degrees from different colleges can affect your salary.

If you didn’t go to the Ivy League or a “top” school, don’t count yourself out! Education’s one of many factors that employers consider when setting compensation, and the more experience you get, the less it typically matters.

Read more: Go to college or go to work: Which one makes financial sense for you?

Special skills

Whether it’s a software program, a type of design, or a foreign language, special skills can be lucrative in the job market. Try doing a keyword search for a unique skill, and see which employers are willing to pay more for it.

The key is supply and demand. Workers in more in-demand fields, like nursing or computer science, tend to have more negotiating room.

But, as you can see, there are plenty of factors that determine the “right” compensation for your job. And there are variables you can’t control. Racial and gender wage gaps, for instance, still persist. Industries in decline, or going through a temporary financial slump, may not have as much money to offer.

Tips for a successful salary negotiation

Have a range in mind, rather than a number. This gives you and the company more flexibility, and you’re likely to end up within the middle to high end of the range.

Know the lowest salary number you can live with. It’s better to have a floor than a ceiling.

Request benefits such as employer-paid health insurance, retirement contributions, and achievement-based bonuses — if your company’s less willing to negotiate on salary. Benefits may end up saving you more in the long run.

Summary

It’s normal to feel squeamish talking about money — especially with your boss. Throw in the possibility of confrontation and contention, and negotiating for a salary increase can be completely nerve-racking.

But being prepared — knowing what you can expect, and what others in your same position are making — can help calm your nerves and improve your pay prospects.

Featured image: Shutterstock/LightField Studios

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About the author

Amy Bergen Writer
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Amy Bergen is a writer and editor based in Portland, Maine. She's interested in technology, literature, and how the world will change in the future. You can reach Amy on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Facebook.