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PayScale, a job seeker's best friend

In exchange for your information, Seattle-based company will share data about what kind of money others in your field are making.

PALO ALTO, Calif.--Americans have always been forced to play guessing games about their market worth. Job seekers or those who suspect they're underpaid should visit

The Seattle-based company operates a Web site where anyone can supply details about their compensation and the service will tell them how it stacks up against peers.

Employees have typically dug up info on pay scales by asking friends employed in the same field--an inexact and frustratingly limited amount of information. Who knows if Joe or Sue is telling the truth?

"This throws light on information that has always been hard to find," Michel Floyd, chief technical officer at Knowledge Networks, said during the AlwaysOn Stanford Summit here on Wednesday. Floyd was in the audience during a presentation by PayScale CEO Mike Metzger. "This is information that businesses are going to want as much as individuals," Floyd said.

The Seattle-based service, which last month announced it had received a $10 million round of funding, is free to individuals. The company makes money by charging for premium services. For instance, after completing a report about myself (that lasted about 5 minutes) and being shown where my pay and benefits rank among journalists in similar positions, I was given the option of obtaining more detailed data for $20.

Based on the quality of information I received from the free search, I'm tempted to buy the premium package. In addition to informing me about my field, the service provided fun facts, such as average compensation of software engineers who graduated from the University of Southern California, my alma mater.

I could also create a set of scenarios or "what ifs" that could help me learn how much I might be making with an MBA or if I lived in New York.

Most of PayScale's revenue comes from employers. Companies pay $100 for a single report or $350 for five. The 5-year-old service also offers annual subscriptions.

But is PayScale's information any better than querying friends?

People hate sharing information about how much they earn but are more likely to share if their identities are kept anonymous and if they get something in return, according to Metzger.

"There isn't any motivation not to tell the truth," Metzger said. "People are motivated to give accurate information so they can get accurate information back. We also do a lot of validation tests and flag answers that look iffy."

PayScale has accumulated 8 million profiles, and the number doubles annually. As the company accumulates data, the less a phony response is going to matter, Metzger said. And PayScale isn't just for executives. About 40 percent of visitors are hourly workers.

"We see a broad range of positions," he said. " We get nurses, attorneys, coal miners, truck drivers, rabbis and phlebotomists."