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“What Are The Best Salary Surveys?”

Posted on April 10, 2015
Amy DozierWritten by Amy Dozier | Email author

how to choose the best salary surveyA young Administrative Assistant who was asked to research market data for her company recently called me asking exactly that. “What are the best salary surveys” that she should use?

First, I thought it was great that she was given the opportunity to work on this project to help her grow professionally and get experience in the HR field, which is ultimately what she wanted to do. Her employer clearly valued her and she was excited to be given the chance to work on this project. But I digress…back to the best salary surveys. I told her “it depends” after which I began asking a lot of questions. We talked for a bit and I gave her some recommendations of what to consider before purchasing anything:

5 Tips to Help You Choose The Best Salary Survey for You: 

  1. Reputation: Make sure the organization publishing the survey has a solid reputation and have statisticians analyzing the data.  You want to make sure too that the sample size is big enough to be significant. Usually there have to be a minimum of 5 organizations providing data in order for it to be published.  Ask for a copy of the Executive Summary, which usually tells you how the data was collected and provides some highlights from the survey.
  2. Jobs:  You will definitely want to see a list of the jobs the survey covers. Titles are often deceiving so I suggest asking for a copy of the job summaries to ensure you will be able to get data for the jobs in your company. Keep In mind though, you will rarely find a perfect match. Look for the survey job to match at least 70% of your company job.
  3. Industry: You want to make sure that you are comparing your company data to data from similar organizations. Ideally you would want your competitors to be participants of the surveys you are using because they are the ones you are competing with for talent. So ask for a list of the participants too.
  4. Geography: The cost of labor varies greatly across the country so make sure the surveys you purchase are for your region or at least have a data cut for your location. Depending on the size of the survey you might be able to cut the data as far down as a specific zip code, but I usually recommend using data cuts that cover the entire region from where you recruit. For example, Helios is in Reston, VA, but if I were doing a salary analysis for us I would most likely use the DC Metro Region because we search the entire metro area for talent.
  5. Data: Ask to see a sample of the report to make sure it captures everything you are looking for.  Most surveys will publish the 25th, 50th, and 75th percentiles as well as the average salaries for base and total cash compensation.  Are you looking for target bonus data? Do you want it to break down long and short-term incentives?





Salary surveys can be a big investment. But if you do your research ahead of time and buy the right survey for you, your return on investment could be priceless. Paying your employees competitively is just one step closer to having a competitive total rewards package and becoming an employer of choice.  If you are ready to take that first step, but do not have the expertise in house, Helios can help you get started!

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