Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Glassdoor’s Salary Estimates

Why You Shouldn’t Rely on Glassdoor’s Salary Estimates
Photo: NYC Russ, Shutterstock

The go-to resource for anyone curious about a new gig’s salary is Glassdoor, given the site teems with crowdsourced salaries for various positions at literally thousands of companies. If you take Glassdoor’s salaries at face value, then you’ll have a pretty decent indication of what this prospective job might pay. Right?

Maybe not. Because Glassdoor’s salary numbers are assembled through a combination of self-reported worker salaries and AI-generated algorithms that comb through millions of data points, there’s a big caveat hovering above most, if not all, of the payrolls presented on the website. (On rarer occasions, companies offer salary ranges  themselves, though this information is typically closely guarded).

But without a big, trusted brand name to consult, how can you go about researching what you can expect to be paid for a newly found and enticing job? There are other tools out there, and just because they don’t have the sleek interface of a well-funded tech site doesn’t mean they’re not worth your time.

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How do Glassdoor’s salaries work?

As stated previously, Glassdoor works on the honour system. This means former and/or current employees offer up their salaries of their own accord. That isn’t to say these employees have lied, or that the self-reported figures are inaccurate. But salaries that were accurate upon the time of reporting could have changed drastically by time you start your research.

Glassdoor’s reliance on machine learning to generate the big salary ranges for various jobs you’ll see beneath listings also makes it tricky to get a true understanding of the results. The company is pretty up front about this, writing on its FAQ section:

Glassdoor also wants to remind you that salary estimates are estimates. They do not represent guarantees of actual salaries and they are not necessarily endorsed by the employers. The purpose of salary estimates is to use predictive data science to provide job seekers a likely salary range so they can make more informed job decisions, and help employers recruit informed and quality candidates. For this reason, Glassdoor does not guarantee the accuracy of estimates.

Salaries change all the time

Moreover, because sharing salary information is still kind of taboo in the U.S., and companies aren’t enthusiastic about offering it publicly, it’s rare that companies will list theirs on Glassdoor. When they do, you’ll notice, because when “employers provide salary information, Glassdoor displays ‘Employer Est.’ on job listings,” the company says.

Salaries change constantly because of inflation, and the one reported salary you’re viewing might be lower (or higher) than the one you’re primed to receive, as location is a huge factor when it comes to calculating your pay grade. Someone in Davenport, Iowa isn’t going to be paid as much as a colleague doing the same job in Chicago, for instance, due to the higher cost of living in the larger city.

Moreover, salaries can vary broadly within the same job title. Occasionally, people stay in a single job for a number of years without receiving a promotion, but still get pay bumps, whether it be through merit or annual company raises. Job titles also frequently aren’t indicative of anything concrete, meaning two people with the same title at different companies could have wildly different roles and pay grades.

As Rush Recruiting and HR explains:

Peers may have the same role on paper, but that doesn’t mean that they actually have the same job. Companies may adopt common terms such as “marketing manager” or “senior marketing strategist”, but their hierarchies can apply different seniority to these titles.

One word of advice: Salary listings are often a bit more accurate at bigger companies. More employees usually indicates a higher degree of crowdsourced data, not to mention uniformity across the board.

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Alternatives to using Glassdoor

It never hurts to ask people who used to work, or who still work at a company you’re looking to apply to. Talking about money is important when it comes to finding a job and creating a workplace conducive to positive morale, and a lot of workers — whether they’re acquaintances or friends — will probably be happy to share with you what the pay is like.

Alternatively, your local Bureau of Labour and Statistics is a good resource. Take it for what it is — a giant repository of government data — and go from there. The BLS uses data collected by employers, which are all beholden to the law to report their numbers accurately. While it’s kind of a generalised look at what certain employees make by industry, it’s definitely useful.

You’ll have to search within your own industry, but you can get pretty specific. For example, check out the Bureau’s average salaries for employees of museums and historical sites.

There are other websites, such as Salary.com and Payscale, which largely do the same thing as Glassdoor. Payscale lets you navigate according to job title, industry, and any degree you might have, in addition to other criteria. Though no one online database will give you a perfect indication of a potential salary, using a number of these tools in tandem with any word-of-mouth intel you can gather should give you a ballpark idea of what to expect.

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