Best of the Net

To launch or expand a company in times like these is an act of defiant optimism. But even optimists need to make payroll. How much will you have to pay to attract or keep the kind of talent your new venture will need?

The Web can help. Dozens of sites report salary data: sites for job hunters, for corporate managers relocating to a new city, and for compensation professionals who set pay rates in large companies. There are even salary-data sites for entrepreneurs like you.

All that information would be too much of a good thing -- if it were useful to growing businesses. The bad news is that even the best salary sites get most, if not all, of their data from surveys conducted at large companies. Small businesses are for the most part left out of the picture. Even small cities are often ignored. Moreover, some sites -- admittedly the very worst -- let Web surfers input their own data with no external checks on the accuracy of their entries.

One challenge, then, is to find reliable, useful numbers that you can access quickly, preferably at no cost. With those criteria in mind, we narrowed the field of salary-data Web sites to just four:,,, and the online version of Occupational Outlook Handbook, posted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Then we asked a panel of compensation experts to review them: Matt Ward, CEO at WestWard Pay Strategies Inc., an executive-pay consulting firm in San Francisco; Raylana S. Anderson, owner and president of Anderson Consulting, an HR adviser in Peoria, Ill.; and Kathy B. Rogers, president and CEO of staffing company Time Services Inc., in Fort Wayne, Ind.

While our judges liked much of what they saw, they also warned that salary surveys should be only one of many sources you consider when setting pay scales. Similarly, they unanimously recommended checking out multiple salary sites rather than relying on just one; reading the survey notes carefully; and taking what you find with a large grain of salt. For one, consider that most salary surveys are out-of-date as soon as they appear, the judges said. Also, try to determine when, why, and how the raw information was collected; then look at how the site reached its conclusions. Most important, remember that only you can decide whether a salary site's findings are relevant to your company, job descriptions, and goals.

Jane Salodof MacNeil is a freelance writer in Groveland, Mass.

The Savvy Entrepreneur's Guide to Salary Data on the Web
Site What it's good for Don't waste your time if What our CEOs had to say What you should know
Base pay for 4,000 job titles, searchable by either keyword or job category. You want to see pay levels sorted by company size or industry. "It's comprehensive, quick, and easy to navigate," said Kathy Rogers, who ranked as her favorite of the four sites. Data for national averages are purchased from compensation consultants.
Salary data by city, state, and job position -- plus comparisons with national norms. You want pay levels sorted by company size or industry, or pay levels for executive-level jobs. SalaryExpert was Raylana Anderson's favorite of the four sites. She praised its valid data and solid methodology. Salary data come from the Economic Research Institute, a well-respected industry source.
General career, relocation, and headhunter information. You expect the site's salary wizard to follow a consistent standard. Matt Ward called it his least favorite of the four sites. "Not for CEOs," he said. "Can't find pay info that's meaningful." Editorial content comes from the Wall Street Journal. (Both the site and newspaper are owned by Dow Jones & Co.)
Occupational Outlook Handbook
Detailed descriptions of occupations, useful in defining job responsibilities. You want the latest pay data. Most of the salary numbers date back to 1998. Two reviewers complained that the salary numbers were both outdated and buried in text. On this government site, the key word is outlook. Job-market changes are forecast through 2008.

Copyright © 2001 Jane Salodof MacNeil.

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