Take this job, and compare the pay online

Web site lets you see how your paycheck fares compared with others with similar skills and experience.

Elinor Mills Former Staff Writer
Elinor Mills covers Internet security and privacy. She joined CNET News in 2005 after working as a foreign correspondent for Reuters in Portugal and writing for The Industry Standard, the IDG News Service and the Associated Press.
Elinor Mills
5 min read
Ever wonder how your pay compares with that of people doing the same job across the street, or even across the country?

That information, previously available only through word-of-mouth or expensive surveys of human resources managers supplied to your employer, is now readily available at your fingertips.

Launched five years ago, PayScale is growing fast as more and more curious workers go to the site and provide details on their job, anonymously of course, in exchange for free information on pay and other compensation for people doing comparable work. The database has been doubling every year since 2004 and now contains more than 7 million profiles and gets more than 1.5 million unique visitors a month, according to the Seattle-based company.

PayScale supplies data to job sites including CareerBuilder, Jobster, Simply Hired and human resources firms, as well as more than 3,000 business customers who subscribe. It also includes data on international salaries and represents about 2 percent of the U.S. work force.

"Any recruiter wants you to feel like you are being undervalued where you are, and your own HR department and supervisors want you to be happy, but they're looking to control costs too."
--Louis Griffel, physician

On Wednesday, the company is set to announce a new Syndication Center that will allow Web publishers to embed salary data on their sites, such as tools that indicate market rates by geography for listed jobs, a salary calculator and a job listing calculator. A nursing Web site, for example, could include salary information about different types of jobs in various cities.

"Our original vision was to provide transparency to employees and employers alike," said PayScale founder Joe Giordano. "For the first time, people can get salary data that matches real people just like them."

PayScale helped A.J. Cestero, who works remotely from his home in the Rio Grande Valley in southern Texas, get information he needed to realize that he was underpaid at his former company and to become motivated to look for a higher-paying job. He still telecommutes, but for a company based in New York City instead of Austin, Texas.

"I got a salary increase, about 13 percent, but in terms of responsibilities I took a decrease," Cestero said, now a technical account manager for a maker of enterprise feedback management software. "I was working 14-hour days and was completely responsible for the data that was being brought in and processed...I wouldn't have had the impetus to switch and wouldn't have realized by what percentage I was being undervalued" if not for PayScale.

The same type of information convinced Louis Griffel, a physician working at a big pharmaceutical company in New Jersey, that he should stay put in his job.

"A colleague recently changed jobs and said he got a good raise, and I wanted to see where I stood," Griffel said. "After looking into it more with PayScale, it looked like I was actually doing a little bit better than the mean for someone with my level of job experience and title. Overall it made me comfortable that I was being treated fairly."

Griffel had also consulted Salary.com, another site that provides salary information but which is based on corporate human resource surveys. But he said PayScale was easier to use and appeared to be more accurate because it solicits more information from workers who create job profiles. There is no real incentive for people to lie or exaggerate, he added.

"It's very hard to find unbiased sources of this type of information," Griffel said. "Any recruiter wants you to feel like you are being undervalued where you are, and your own HR department and supervisors want you to be happy, but they're looking to control costs too."

At PayScale, visitors to the site must complete a multi-Web page questionnaire and provide detailed information about their job, the responsibilities they have, their pay, the types of benefits they get--such as retirement and gym membership--the type of company they work for and how large it is, as well as supply their age, gender, education and years of experience.

The site recognizes that not all jobs with the same title are the same. For instance, there are several title options for "paralegal" depending on the responsibilities and years of experience, as well as type of law practice, such as insurance law versus personal injury. The pay scale range for any job is displayed on a chart and adjusted to the cost of living for the particular city or geographic area. A basic report, that tells you what percentile a person at that pay scale is in compared to others doing the same job in the same area, is free. A more detailed report costs $20.

PayScale also supplies detailed information to employers, human resource managers and salary consultancies. The data is richer and easier to use than the HR manager surveys that firms have traditionally sold to businesses, said David Roberts, vice president of human resources at home builder Robert Harris Homes in Woodstock, Ga. He uses the online tools to create different data searches by changing criteria, something you can't easily do with a paper document, he said.

"This allows you to see what's going on in the marketplace," Roberts said. "I use the data to determine what is fair pay at our organization, and when we are looking at (job) candidates to see what would be over pay and what would be under pay for them."

Such information at the hands of workers can empower them on an individual basis but won't necessarily change the hiring and promotion dynamic in companies in general anytime soon, said Jim Holincheck, a research vice president who covers human resources technology at Gartner.

"The unique thing PayScale does is collect data directly from employees," he said. "They do validate and compare it against salary data collected the traditional way" and provide a level of "granularity" that other sources don't. "This will be interesting for job boards and social-networking sites, places where people have an interest in comparing salaries," he said.

"The real question for people is will it make an impact on their negotiations with their employers," said John Challenger, chief executive of outplacement services firm Challenger Gray & Christmas. "Will the employers change their behavior based on this kind of information? I'm doubtful."

Small companies that can be flexible are more likely to pay heed to salary data from other sources like PayScale. But more bureaucratic, larger corporations may be reluctant to for fear they will have to adjust the salary of others in the group, he said.

Regardless of whether PayScale helps people get a raise in a current job or at a new job, Web surfers are likely to use it out of a voyeuristic tendency--being curious to see what pay others make and how that compares to them.

"Compensation is an emotionally sticky topic," said PayScale Chief Executive Mike Metzger. "We tend to tie a lot of our ego and self-worth into our compensation, and there are not a lot of external sources with this data."