By Vicki Salemi

U S News, February 15, 2018 —

Recently, I had the honor of speaking at a Boss Moves event at the Rebecca Minkoff store in New York City. One question during the fireside chat seems ubiquitous regardless of the stage of your career and is the quintessential starting point for any job search (in addition to when you’re immersed in your current job).

How do you determine what salary you’re worth?

The answer isn’t so succinct. In fact, it involves both an inward and outward journey that should ultimately serve as a job seeker’s guiding light throughout the job search process.

Speak to former colleagues and bosses about fair compensation for various job titles and years of experience. (PhotoAlto/Odilon Dimier/ Getty Images)

First, it starts with inner worth. Step back and take a second to realize you are worth it, you deserve getting paid market value and you are entitled to get paid for the skills and experiences you bring to the table day in, day out. That self-confidence, that ability to not only intrinsically know you’re valuable but also display it outwardly, is a muscle that needs to be flexed often.

There are a variety of ways to cultivate it. For starters, fake it until you make it. Exuding that confidence, whether you feel it yourself or not, could shift other people’s perception of you. Another step to take is to make a “kudos file,” or an online folder where you can keep all your glowing testimonials from clients and colleagues. Taking a peek at this every now and again can boost your confidence and remind you how awesome you really are, even when you’re feeling low and insecure about your performance. Be sure to also include quantifiable examples of saving your company money, streamlining efficiencies, etc. As a bonus, this file can also double as a powerful tool when preparing for an interview.

The second and more outward step depends on numbers and doing your homework. Knowing your worth means you know what a person of your general skills and experience is worth at market value. Venture into this territory and do your research; talk about salary with former colleagues, former bosses or current mentors. Ask about the going rate for professionals in your industry and geographic region given your level of experience and accolades.

Go one step further by connecting with professional organizations. Reach out to officers at these organizations and mention you’re doing your due diligence, researching information to ensure you’re paid market value when you interview. Be persistent – someone there will hopefully point you in the right direction to get specific answers. Follow up, ask more questions, get more answers. Put reminders in your phone if you don’t hear back right away, but be specific with your ask. The more you outline precisely what you’re looking for, the better chances you have of getting the answers you’re seeking.

While doing this research, be aware of your emotions. Unfortunately, through your research you might find that you are currently being paid well below your worth and market value. All you’re doing in this stage is determining the number you merit. Step back and re-evaluate how you can use this information as fuel. The shortcomings that may exist can help empower you in the job search, so instead of feeling deflated by it, let it ignite a positive spark for your job search instead.

Compile all this information in an organized way. Feel free to search online as well, but the idea is to amass this information in one place, such as the notes section of your phone or an excel spreadsheet. Next, do some digging internally if you’re currently employed. Many companies list pay ranges for a variety of roles on their intranet sites; others do not. Never stop gathering this information. For example, if you’re not currently looking for a job but you have lunch with a former colleague who mentions a starting salary they’re offering someone at your level, compare and contrast that to where you are in your current position.

Ask yourself if you see reoccurring patterns within the same ballpark, or if the range is widespread depending on the company. Hopefully it’s the former. But keep in mind that compensation packages can largely differ from company to company, based on time and cost of commute, employee-related out-of-pocket health care costs, number of days regarding paid time off and more. The salary itself is still most important to keep in your back pocket, so you can conduct your job search in an informed and knowledgeable way the next time prospective employers mention the salary.

If you are presented a salary range that is way too low, you now have the confidence and knowledge to negotiate to something more in line with your research. And if the offer won’t budge, there are plenty of employers out there who will recognize your worth – all you have to do is search.