How to find out earnings for different jobs
by Richard Batty on February 25th, 2013
When you’re thinking about earning money to donate it to charity, you need compare different jobs on how much you’ll earn over your lifetime. We have an on-going project to help you work out which career path has the highest expected earnings for you. Over the next couple of months, we’d like to show you:
- Where to get the data to make your own estimates. The best general sources we know right now are here.
- A couple of methods for making your own estimates, plus common pitfalls.
- Tables of expected earnings by profession, broken down by skill level.
- Detailed estimates for some of the most interesting and tricky cases, like jobs in finance
Currently, you can only find tables of median earnings by profession. Unfortunately, median earnings don’t translate into your expected earnings. This is partly because income distributions tend to be skewed - the top half of the population has a wider range of salaries (including some very high salaries) than the bottom half. The other reason is that you probably have some information about how good you’ll be - so ideally you want to know what the salaries are for different levels of the profession and what your chances are of getting promoted. And there are further problems with this data - this post outlines some of them. These problems become all the more pressing with jobs that have a wide spread in outcomes and high drop-out rates, like those in finance.
So can we do any better? In this post I’m going to guide you through one of the best sources of earnings information - salary.com - and show you how to use it. See this post for other websites for getting earnings and general career information.
What is salary.com?
There are lots of sites for working out salaries for different careers, but we’ve found that salary.com is the most useful because:
- It’s easy to browse through lists of job titles - you don’t have to search separately each time or enter lots of information.
- Their job categorisations are narrow enough that they reflect real jobs and wide enough that you can get a quick overview.
- Their job categorisation includes levels of seniority, so you can estimate how your salary will rise as you get promoted.
- Their methodology is good. Data is gathered from employers, not from people using the website, so it should be fairly solid. And 90% of the jobs listed have salaries calculated from more than 100 people in the job, so small sample size shouldn’t be a problem.
How to use salary.com for salary estimations
The most useful part of their website is the salary wizard where you can search or browse jobs.
Search for jobs that you’re interested in, and try to find job descriptions that have levels of seniority (which are the ones with roman numerals after the name e.g. Software Engineer III). Then for each job you can view:
- The proportions of the people in that job who have a certain level of experience and education.
- Data on salary + bonus for different levels of earnings within a job.
One way to go from here is to:
- Find a job which has several levels of seniority listed on salary.com
- Make a graph for each level of seniority that shows the different levels of pay for that seniority.
- Look at how much experience is normally required to get promoted to each level.
- You could either just get an overview from looking at these graphs or you could do a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation what you think you’ll earn. You can do this by making assumptions about how fast you’ll get promoted and how good you’ll be within each level of seniority.
- You can then do this for other jobs and compare.
In a future post, we’ll take this further and show how to do calculations based on salary.com data to estimate your lifetime earnings.
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