Updated March 17, 2022

How to find the salary range for any job

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Eric Turner

This post was written by our Japan Dev editorial team.

Applying for jobs is stressful.

Have you ever applied to a position just to find out β€” late in the process of course β€” that there's no way the company can pay your expected salary?

It's rough... knowing you've wasted your time. Having to start over with the next company.

I used to be a bit of a job hopper, so I've run into this problem a lot. Eventually I applied to so many jobs that I developed some techniques for finding salary data. Even when they don't share that data publicly.

Everyone seems to struggle with this problem so I thought I'd share some of the tips I've learned.

Hopefully they'll help you walk into your next job interview or salary negotiation a little more prepared.

Here's a rundown of what I'll cover:


Let's start with some basics.

You're probably already aware of these, but I want to cover all my bases. So I'll start with a few simple resources to begin your search.

I'll assume you have a company (and role) in mind.

Company Career pages

It sounds obvious but sometimes you can simply go to a company's career page and they'll have the salary range published. So if you've just heard about a new company and you haven't actually looked at their job posts yet, definitely try this first.

For example, Indeed is one of the highest-paying tech companies in the Japanese market. And one day they just added salary ranges to all their job posts.

Indeed

↑ Yes, you can earn $200k+ base as a dev in Japan. Check the Japan Dev company list for more companies paying top-tier salaries in Japan.

So it's worth a shot.

Not listed? That's OK. Let's take a look at some sites that are purpose-built to solve this problem.

Salary data aggregation sites

Our next step is to check all of the salary sharing services. There are quite a few of them these days, so there's a pretty good chance one of them will have relevant data.

Here's a list of sites to check:

  • Levels.fyi - Great resource for level-specific info for primarily software engineers. It's focused on bigger US tech companies though.
  • Blind - Another good resource, also somewhat focused on US tech companies but not exclusively (there are threads about Japan and other countries).
  • H1B Data - In the US, companies have to publish salaries publicly for H1B visa applicants. It's an amazing source for US-based companies.
  • Glassdoor - Probably the biggest public database of salary data online. You can filter by company, role, location etc.
  • Angel List - Focused on tech start-ups, but they have a pretty cool "estimated salary" feature that can come in handy. It's just a guess so it's not as good as official data, but I've found it to be reasonably accurate.
  • Reddit spreadsheet - Huge Google sheet of tech salaries from a Reddit form


And if you're in Japan, there's a lot of data out there now:

  • Opensalary.jp - Crowd-sourced database of salaries for tech companies in Japan, with detailed data like years of experience and grade level.
  • Japan Dev Ultimate Salary Guide - I shared a massive amount of Japan-specific resources in this post, so take a look if the company's in Japan.
  • Project COMP - Japanese-only site that's similar to OpenSalary above.
  • OpenWork - Previously known as Vorkers, this site is only in Japanese, but they have an enormous amount of data across a wide variety of industries.
  • OpenMoney - Another Japanese site with info like age, take-home pay, insurance costs and more.

Most countries will have equivalents, so be sure to do some research.

This should be enough to get a ballpark figure for most companies. Even if the exact company you're considering isn't on the list, you can look at comparable companies and get some idea of what ballpark you should be thinking about.

Still can't find the range for the role you want? Don't worry... we're just getting started.

The recruiter copy and paste trick

A lot of companies work with external recruiters (AKA headhunters).

Most of them re-post jobs publicly, but they remove the company name. This makes it harder to search for posts from a specific company on these sites. But not impossible.

Because luckily for us, most recruiters don't actually change the content of the jobs they post β€” at least not enough to avoid being searched. They copy portions of the job description directly from the original.

These posts are useful because they're more likely to have salary ranges listed.

So how can we find job posts for our target company on these recruiting firms' sites?

Here's all you have to do:

  1. Go to the company's official careers page
  2. Find the job description for the role you're interested in
  3. Copy a (unique-sounding) sentence from it
  4. Search Google for that sentence, with quotes around it

Let's look at an example.

I grabbed a sentence from this official job post (which has no salary range listed):

tips4

Then, I Googled that passage in quotes.

And found this on the first page that popped up from a recruiting agency's site:

tips5

It's clearly the same job, but would you look at that? 8 million yen. Good to know!

If a recruiter has hired someone for a role in the past, they'll have salary data that might not be available publicly. And a lot of companies work with multiple recruiting firms, so be sure to check all the links that come up on Google.

If one recruiter doesn't share the salary range, another might.

I should mention: if a recruiting firm's data proves helpful, maybe consider applying to the company through them rather than directly.

If they have salary data, they probably have other insights that can help you in the interview process. So working with them could increase the chances of getting the job.



Going deeper

Depending on the job, there may be more niche online resources with the data you seek. Here are a few examples of communities to check.

Reddit

Reddit's /r/CSCareerQuestions subreddit is a great source for tech-focused salary discussions.

They have regular threads where users input their offer details. Try searching Google for the company in question's name and "site:reddit.com/r/cscareerquestions" to find the discussions.

They have salary sharing threads for every experience level and cost of living, so it's a good idea to search these threads. Even if you can't find data for your target company, you can get a general sense of what people at your level are aiming for.

Hacker News

Hacker News has special Ask HN: Who is hiring? threads every month.

These threads are another great way to find data. Search for your target company and you may be surprised to find that they shared a salary range (HN users greatly prefer it when companies do). There are services that track these threads, or you can search them manually via google.

Even outside these threads, it's worth doing a search on Hacker News to see if people have discussed your target company before. I'd recommend searching from Google for this (e.g site:news.ycombinator.com company-name salary OR comp OR pay).

Searching Twitter using their advanced search can unearth a treasure trove of data. Similar to the above example, you can search for the company name plus words like "salary" or "total compensation" and you might find a tweet that mentions salary info.

Blog posts from employees

Blog posts are another potential data source. Don't ignore them. Search for the personal blogs of people working at the company, or informational blogs about your industry.

One of the first examples I came across of someone talking openly about salaries at Google Japan was a Japanese blog post from someone who used to work there.

If you still haven't found any hard data despite all of the above, then there simply may not be any available publicly.

You may not get an exact number, but there are still ways to get a feel for a company's compensation level indirectly.

Using heuristics

When there's no actual data out there, you have to get creative. There are signals out there that will give you a sense of what a given company can pay. They won't give you an exact range but you can still use them to your advantage.

Ultimately, you just want to determine if the company's a good fit or not. Whether it's worth interviewing with them or not. So even if you can't find exact numbers, the following technique will give a sense of where a company fits in the salary hierarchy. And that's usually enough to go on.

I like to use LinkedIn for this.

This trick is a bit more art than science, but it can be useful.

Basically, you go on LinkedIn and search for people working at the company (now or previously).

Why?

The trends of people joining and leaving the company can be very telling.

Imagine there are two companies: Company A, and Company B.

You're interested in working at Company B, but you can't figure out how much they pay. What if there was a trend of people leaving Company A and joining Company B for similar roles?

That would suggest pretty strongly that, at the very least, Company B pays as much as Company A. In fact, they probably pay more.

Unless something catastrophic occurs at Company A, people don't leave en masse to go work somewhere else for less money.

So how do you use LinkedIn to discover these trends? Easy. Just do an advanced search for people doing the role you're interested in, and check their previous jobs.

You can also see where people go when they leave the company:

LinkedIn Search

If there's a trend (several people leaving the same company to work at the company in question), then you can look for salary data on that company and it should give you an idea of what to expect.

Quick LinkedIn tip

By the way, the more connections you have on LinkedIn the better this works. Their search only lets you see people within a few degress of separation, so I recommend amassing as many connections as possible. That will improve the quality of your search results.

Still can't find the data you're looking for? Starting to fear that it doesn't exist? Don't despair, there's still one avenue we haven't pursued yet.

...Talking to actual humans.

Recruiters

As I mentioned, recruiters often have access to a treasure trove of data about their clients.

Remember the copy and paste trick I mentioned earlier? This can also be a good way of discovering which recruiters work with a company. So you can employ it to find the names of some recruiters who might have access to the data you seek.

Then send them a message (LinkedIn's good for this, they're usually pretty active there) and ask them about the company. They can probably tell you if you're in the right ballpark or not with your expectations based on their past dealings with the company.

And, to reiterate what I said above: if they spend time and provide value to you, please consider applying to the company through them.

This can work with both external recruiters and internal recruiters (recruiters who work directly for the company rather than an external agency) by the way.

Not able to find any recruiters that work with the company? Or you can't get them to respond?

That's OK. The company's gotta have employees right?

When all else fails

It may be time to make a friend at the company.

Obviously, this is only worth doing if you really want to know what the company pays. But reaching out directly to people currently working at the company is a highly effective tactic β€” as long as you do it right.

Plus even if you conclude that the job's not for you, you'll gain a valuable connection.

First, check your network to see if you know anyone at the company. It's a lot easier to reach out if you're already connected.

Otherwise, I hope you took my LinkedIn advice to heart and upped your connection count. It'll make outreach via LinkedIn way easier.

Note: Ex-employees also work. Arguably better than current ones in fact, since they might be more honest. LinkedIn's advanced search lets you search by "previous company" so it's easy to find ex-employees.

And ideally this should be someone doing the same role you're interested in (or at least something close).

Also LinkedIn is just one avenue for this. Twitter is another great option. Here are a couple of other ideas:

  • Ask for an intro if someone in your existing network knows someone working there
  • Talk to them at a meetup or conference (search for ones their company sponsors)
  • If you saw discussion about the company on Reddit/Hacker News, you can reach out to someone there.

Alright. So you've found your target and it's time to send them a message.

What do you say?

How NOT to reach out

Well, you could simply ask them how much they earn:

Hey, could you let me know how much you earn as an engineer over at _______? Thx.

Yeah... don't do this. No one will respond to a question like this (nor should they).

You can't just ask about salary up-front. You have to be respectful. And you have to show genuine interest in working at the company and start a conversation first.

Try this instead

Something along these lines is more likely to get a response:

Hey, I'm Eric. I saw you're working as an engineer at ______. It seems like a great place to work so I was thinking of applying... any chance I could ask you a few questions about the role?

This is a lot better.

But there's still a chance they won't respond. In that case, I'd recommend politely following up once or twice and then moving on to someone else.

When you do get a response, you should discuss the role for a while before mentioning anything about salary. Once you've shown that you've done your research on the company and have a real interest in applying , then you can broach the salary topic.

But you have to do it carefully. You still shouldn't ask them their salary. Or even what they think the range is for the role. It'll just make them uncomfortable.

Instead? Be honest. Throw out the range you suspect the company pays based on the research you've done so far (or your expectations).

You could say something like:

I wasn't able to find much data on salary... I'm thinking of aiming for around $100-120k. Any idea if that's in the right ballpark for someone at my level?

A couple things to note here.

First off, give a range (e.g. $100k-120k). If you say "is $100k the right amount?" and they're doing the same role, saying yes amounts to telling you their salary.

The range gives them some plausible deniability. It creates some distance between the discussion and their own private salary info.

Framing it as for someone at my level also helps take the focus off of them. Everyone's situation is different β€” maybe your level is different from theirs. More distance between them and the numbers.

If you do this right, they shouldn't have too much reason to refuse to answer.

In most cases they'll tell you what you want to know.

Did you find this useful? If so please do share it with your pals β€” it helps a ton. It also lets me know I should write more content like this.

And be sure to subscribe to the Japan Dev email list below for alerts when I write a new blog post.

--Eric

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