by Teri Fritsma

When exploring careers or evaluating a job offer, one of the first questions you might have is, “what’s the pay?”  Salary info can help you decide if an occupation will give you the lifestyle you want, if taking out a loan for your education will ultimately pay off, or if a wage you’ve been offered is in the right ballpark.  Here’s what you need to know when using salary data.


1.  There’s a lot of salary data out there–and not all of it is good.

The best data in Minnesota — and what we use on ISEEK —  comes from the Minnesota Salary Survey, conducted by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.   If you’re not from Minnesota, every state has this program — just google your state and Occupational Employment Statistics.  If you want to compare wages in different regions of the country,’s salary tool is a nice resource.

I won’t say much about the salary data that’s low-quality, except this: if you can’t find any details on how the data’s been collected, think twice about making important life decisions based on it.  A marketing pitch won’t tell you how data has been collected; you need an honest-to-goodness discussion of where the data came from, like this one.  What’s the story behind the numbers?  What types of workers were included in the sample?  Do the wages include tips, benefits, or overtime?
2.  Most salary data is for broad occupational fields, not specific job titles.
For example, you can find salary data for the occupation psychologist.  But this won’t tell you what a school psychologist earns compared to a private practice psychologist.  Plus, there are a lot of specific job titles that fall under the broad category “psychologist,” like child psychologist, marriage therapist, and mental health counselor.  To really figure out what you could earn at this level of detail, you have to go beyond the numbers and do a little more digging.  One good source for more specialized information is your field’s professional organization.  For example, the American Psychological Association conducts a salary survey that provides a lot more detailed information.



3. The median salary is the mid-range of what people in that occupation earn.  Your salary could be higher or lower.

On ISEEK, we publish the median salary in each occupation.  Imagine you could write down the salaries of every psychologist in Minnesota in order from lowest to highest, then circle the wage that’s right in the middle of the list.  That’s the median, and it tells you the mid-range salary for that occupation.

ISEEK also publishes percentiles, such as the 10th percentile (low-end) and the 90th percentile (high-end) wage.  You might assume these represent the “starting” and “experienced” wage, but that’s not the case.  For example, Minnesota bartenders earn between $7.15 (10th percentile) and $14.72 (90th percentile).  But the difference between the low-end and the high-end wage isn’t all due to experience.  Bartenders working for the more upscale downtown establishments are more likely to earn top dollar, and those working at rural mom & pop establishments are probably at the lower end of the pay scale.