The 8 Best Practices in Salary Surveys

Hate participating in Salary Surveys?

Here’s what survey companies hate about the responses they get.

  • Surveys are only as good as the quality of the data they compile.
  • We all dislike participating in them and, in some cases, that can affect the information reported, possibly skewing results.
  • We wondered if this is a problem, so we asked representatives from major survey companies what brings on their tension headaches.

    Here’s 8 Best Practices they shared with us:
  1. Know the landscape being surveyed.

Survey respondents should know their organization’s jobs well enough to do job matching. If you’re new to the organization, insist on getting last year’s input to the same survey so you have a starting point. If it wasn’t saved, the survey company can provide you a copy. Ask for help from a coworker who does know the organization and its jobs.

  1. Proof before sending.

This seems pretty basic, but always check the spreadsheet before transmitting. Survey companies report that they have had more than one situation where the spreadsheets have arrived empty or in crazy formats that anyone would have noticed if they had taken the time to look.

  1. Don’t match the jobs on titles alone.

An Accountant II in your organization may be a completely different job than the Accountant II described in the survey job description. If you’re responsible for matching the jobs, read the job description and only use the title as a guide. Be sure to match job levels as well (expert, intermediate, etc.).

  1. Read the part about what’s changed.

If the survey company has added or changed the jobs covered, you may find that you now have a better match than you had in the past, so don’t miss an opportunity to get better results.

  1. Make sure your data is usable.

The survey companies also want you to provide a unique identifier for each incumbent you report…and maintain that same identifier from year to year. Most of their clients will use the employee ID (not the Social Security Number!). Some don’t want the survey companies to hold even that information…so they make one up. Without that, the survey company can’t as easily audit your input or give you good information on year over year changes.

  1. Be consistent about FTE’s, even when reporting part time jobs.

Especially where salaries are part time but bonuses or incentives are not, provide a full time salary or an FTE factor so the survey company can correctly interpret your data.

  1. Don’t do a disappearing act.

When you leave your current job, remember to tell the survey company who’s taking over for you. This frequently overlooked task can wreak havoc on your replacement. When the survey company can’t find the right contact for reminders, everything will become a last minute rush.

  1. Don’t play hard to get.

You may get follow-up telephone queries from the survey companies. If they are any good at what they do, they’re not going to give up until they get what they need.

Common red flags that might prompt follow up calls include:

  • Job Match doesn’t make sense. For example, a “CEO” title matching an Accountant’s job description.
  • Salaries that exceed the maximum or are less than the minimum for their usual range.
  • Vast differences between the salaries in your organization vs. other respondents.
  • Wrong currencies reported for salaries.
  • Added or deleted columns on the spreadsheet. (Don’t do this; it really fouls up the processing).



  • Be methodical. Check your figures. Make sure titles match descriptions.
  • Plan your time so you can complete the survey questionnaire with all the right data in the right places.
  • Your best measure of success is not receiving a single follow-up question from the survey vendor!


A Few Survey Firms to Start

Culpepper Surveys across a wide range of job categories in multiple industries, but with particular attention to technology, life sciences and healthcare.

Towers Watson Compensation, benefits and employment practices information for the US and many other global locations.
Real-time salary reports based on job title, location, education, skills and experience. Reliable compensation data. Up-to-date salary survey data – both nation-wide and state specific figures.

NACEWeb Salary Survey  National Association of Colleges and Employers