In our company, no one knows how much others are paid. It was the same in my previous company. I once disclosed my salary accidentally in a previous company, when I gave my application for a US visa to other colleagues as an example of how to fill in the forms. I didn’t think of somehow covering out the salary field. In truth, I forgot about that field at all. So, everyone knew how much I earned, but I still didn’t know that about anyone else.
Frankly, I don’t like the system where you have to guess. You come to the HR interview and you can’t ask “how much are you guys paying”? Instead, they will be asking you how much you want, and this is where it gets really tricky. Usually, you don’t want to name too high a figure, because then they might reject you on the bases that you are out of their range. Obviously, though, you don’t want to name a figure that won’t give you a considerable raise over the current state of things, unless there’re special circumstances, like switching the language to the one where you are less proficient or returning after a long leave, or maybe you are willing to take a cut to get into a company with the big name, but this is all out of scope for this article. In general, when changing a job, you usually want to improve your financial position.
For me, the salary question is especially tricky. I usually hedge out of it by saying something like “well, what I now earn is this, and of course I would not want to lose on this exchange”. I know this is very lame, and actually there’s a guy who is an expert on salary negotiation and he wrote a couple of articles about how to nail it — his name is Haseeb Qureshi and the articles are on his website here and here. However, I never dared to try these strategies, though I wish I had. For me, it was always a case of going with the offer — or not going with the offer. As simple as that.
And that is exactly why I like salary calculators. They can at least give you an idea about how high to aim for, or whether the offer is good or not that good. The one I used before was on Glassdoor — but it is pretty basic and only takes into account the area and the job title. Recently, StackOverflow announced a release of a new one, which allows to factor in several more things — for example, your education, your experience, the tech stack. I checked myself on it and went directly to the 50th percentile — obviously I would prefer to be in the 75th (wink wink), but there it is. I think that it probably has more data for some areas than for the others, but it is still a nice tool to use in this game of wages.
I wish we didn’t have to play games. But if we do, at least we have to use the tools that are available.