Career Planning and Salary: Salary Basics

Lesson 3: Salary Basics


Salary basics


How much money will I make this year? Will I be able to pay all my bills? What about health insurance and retirement? You will need to think carefully about several different factors when researching salary information.

In this lesson, you'll learn about the importance of salary research. We'll also talk about different resources you can use to find salary information, calculate your take-home pay, or determine your market value.

Watch the video below to learn some tips for researching salary information.

Why research salary information?

Without a clear understanding of the kind of salary you should expect from a career, you might find yourself pursuing a position that can't support your financial needs. In addition to basic salary information, you will also need to research the benefits associated with different careers, such as health insurance, retirement, and vacation time. Sometimes a competitive benefits package can be more valuable than a higher salary.

Even if you think you already know what to expect, consider that the global economic recession has seriously impacted salaries in almost every industry. Having the latest information can make a significant difference as you begin thinking about possible career paths.

Answering some of the questions below will help you to think about the type of information you need to gather as you begin researching different salaries:

  • What kind of salary will I need to support my financial needs?
  • What are the average and entry-level salaries for positions in the field?
  • What about benefits, such as health care, retirement, and vacation?
  • Are there educational costs to consider, such as tuition or student loans?
  • Are there associated costs with my career choice, such as transportation, parking, or union dues?
  • Will I need to relocate for a new career? What would that cost?

If you need additional help with assessing your financial needs, including how to plan a budget or manage your money, visit our Money Basics topic.

Salary research resources

Researching salary information used to be a difficult task, but several online resources have made the process much easier. Still, it's important to note that you should not depend too heavily on a single source as you conduct your research. Using multiple resources will give you a broader understanding of an industry and will allow you to develop more realistic expectations about the kind of salary you're likely to earn.

Try using some of the salary resources listed below:

  • MyPlan is a simple salary calculator for U.S. jobs that can provide you with a good starting point as you gather salary information about different positions.
  • CareerOneStop allows you to see salary averages for different occupations as compiled by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can compare national salary averages against your location, see hourly wage rates, and more.
  • GlassDoor is perhaps the most globally-focused salary research tool available today. You can search for salary information at specific companies around the world and can read employee reviews to learn what it's really like to work for different employers.

Try this!

Look up the average salary for an accountant using two of the resources above.

  • Are the results similar, or do they vary?
  • What is the difference between the average and entry-level salary?
  • What could you expect to earn after gaining more experience in the field? Are there opportunities for salary growth and advancement?

Building realistic expectations

As you research salary information for different careers, be sure to think about all of the variables involved in a salary estimate. If you're not careful, you might end up with unrealistic salary expectations, which can do more harm than good. For example, while the average salary for a position might be $40,000 per year, you shouldn't expect to earn that much if you're just starting a career in the field.

I didn't realize how big the gap between the 'average salary' and entry-level salary would be in publishing. It's been very tough to make my student loan payments and it could be several years before I can ask for a raise.-Peter

You should consider the kind of salary you expect to earn as you gain more experience. Some positions have a clear hierarchy and structure with opportunities for growth, while others don't leave much room for advancement. Think about the kind of salary you can expect to earn after five years in a career and if it will meet your financial needs.

My salary was more than enough to cover my expenses when I graduated from college, but I didn't consider how my financial needs would change over time. I wish I had chosen a career path with more room for growth and development.-Susan

It's also important to think about the added value of certain benefits, such as health insurance and retirement. While it may be tempting to pursue a career based entirely on a salary estimate, a generous benefits package can sometimes outweigh a high salary.

I took a consulting job because the salary figure was much higher than anything else I'd ever been offered. But I was shocked to learn how hard it is to pay health insurance and plan for retirement on my own-Rick

By taking a careful and considered approach to your salary research, you'll be able to build realistic and useful salary expectations.

Calculating your gross income

When you're hired for a job, you're usually told how much you'll be paid per hour, if you're an hourly worker, or how much you'll be paid per year, if you are a salaried worker. These amounts are called your gross income—they're the amount of money you'll earn before income tax is taken out. Here we'll show you how to calculate your gross income per pay period and per year.

To calculate your gross income, you'll need to do some multiplication and division. For a quick math refresher before you start, check out our Math tutorials.

Gross Income Per Pay Period (hourly work)

Let's say you know you make $10 per hour at your retail job. Every week is different, but you tend to work about 15 hours per week on average. If we want to know how much money you earn per biweekly pay period, first we'll multiply the number of hours you work per week by your hourly pay.

$10 × 15 = $150 gross weekly income

Now we'll multiply your gross weekly income by 2 to find out how much money you make per pay period.

$150 × 2 = $300 gross biweekly income

Gross Annual Income (hourly work)

To find out how much money you make annually (per year), we can multiply your gross weekly income by 52, the number of weeks in a year.

$150 × 52 = $7,800 gross annual income

Gross Income Per Pay Period (salaried work)

Let's say you make $26,000 per year. If you get paid biweekly, we can figure out how much you're paid per pay period by dividing your annual pay by 26, which is half the number of weeks per year.

$26,000 ÷ 26 = $1,000 gross biweekly income

If you're paid semi-monthly, or twice per month, we can figure out how much you make per pay period by dividing your annual pay by 24, twice the number of months in the year.

$26,000 ÷ 24 = $1,083.33 gross semi-monthly income

Calculating your net income

Now you know how to calculate your gross income per pay period. However, your net income, the amount of money you actually get in your paycheck, will be less than your gross income, since income tax and any contribution you make to your insurance or retirement will be taken out. Here we'll show you how to calculate your annual net income and your net income per pay period.

How much money you pay in income tax depends on a number of factors, including what company you work for and what state you live in. Therefore, how much tax is withheld will vary from person to person.

Net Annual Income

When calculating net income, you'll start with your annual gross income, since the government uses annual salaries to determine how much income tax you should pay. Let's say that you earn $12,000 a year. We'll assume that a total of $900 of that will be withheld for taxes during the year. To find out how much your net income will be per year, we'll subtract the amount of income tax you'll pay from your gross annual income.

$12,000 - $900 = $11,100 net annual income

Net Income Per Pay Period (all workers)

To find out how much your net income is per pay period if you're paid biweekly, we'll divide your annual net income of $11,100 by 26.

$11,100 ÷ 26 = $426.92 net biweekly income

To find out how much your net income is per pay period if you're paid semi-monthly, we'll just divide your annual net income by 24.

$11,100 ÷ 24 = $462.50 net semi-monthly income

Note that when taxes are withheld from your paycheck, deductions, or factors that allow you to pay less in taxes, are not taken into account. If your deductions are more than the amount that was withheld from your pay, you will get a tax refund when you file your taxes.

Comparing different salaries

comparing salaries

When you're looking for a job or deciding whether to switch jobs, you may want to compare the salaries of two or more jobs you're considering. But there's more to a salary than just your paycheck. Sometimes it's worth it to consider a job offer that pays less, but has good employee benefits. Employee benefits may include items such as health insurance, life insurance, or paid sick leave.

For example, let's say you're currently making $30,000 a year. You receive an offer for another job, but that job only pays $28,000 a year. Should you take it?

It depends on what benefits the new job offers, and what new costs might be involved. For example, a longer commute to a new job might cost you money, while receiving health insurance as a benefit might save you money. Each job will come with its own set of costs and benefits, and it's important to weigh all of them before accepting a job offer.

There are many kinds of employee benefits, and it can be difficult to know how much money each one is worth. This Employee Total Compensation calculator will help you estimate how much each of your employee benefits adds to your salary.

Determining your market value

Once you have a solid estimate of what you will likely earn in a given career field, you can begin assessing your own market value. Your market value is a more exact estimate of what you can expect to earn when entering a career. Your market value is determined by your experience, education, skills, and other assets you can bring to an employer.

Watch this video from Monster UK to learn more about determining your market value.

Try this!

Answer some of the following questions as you begin to determine your market value:

  • Are you qualified for an entry-level position or something more advanced?
  • What is your current level of education? What is expected for different positions in the field?
  • Do you have any special skills that make you more valuable than other job seekers?

Salary negotiation

Depending on where you live and what field you're in, you may be expected to negotiate your salary. If so, when you receive a job offer, make sure you're being offered a salary that is fair and competitive. If you believe the offer is too low, cite your knowledge about average salaries in the industry and your own market value. Only negotiate if you know it's expected in your situation since doing so otherwise may hurt your chances of employment.

Watch this video from CareerBuilder to learn more about how to negotiate a salary.