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64. Salary surveys: Know when to fold 'em.
How much are you worth? How much should you ask for when you apply for your next job? Human resources managers rely on salary surveys to figure out how much to pay you, so shouldn't you use the same tools to gauge your worth?
Time and again, HR managers lose great candidates when they make low offers because they relied on salary surveys. Why? Because salary surveys describe groups of people, not individuals; the data they comprise is often out of date; and the descriptions of skills and jobs in these surveys never quite match the candidate. If surveys were a good way to figure out what a person is worth, then we wouldn't have to negotiate job offers. We'd just look on the survey curve and see where a person falls, and that would be his salary, take it or leave it.
The fact is, things don't work that way. Salaries are negotiated based on a person's unique constellation of skills, talent, motivation, enthusiasm and street smarts; on the company's needs at the time; and on the person's ability to produce profit in the job. A job offer also depends to a large extent on a person's ability to articulate his worth to a particular company. Because they fail to account for such individual differences, salary surveys commonly backfire on job hunters and employers alike.
Salary surveys might provide a frame of reference that suggests what a class of jobs or workers is worth, but surveys cannot, by definition, help you establish what you're worth or what you should ask for when you're negotiating a job.
In the end, the true measure of your worth lies in a dialogue about the work between you and the employer. When you refer to the surveys, you've gotta know when to fold 'em: right after you open them.
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