Career Resources

Is Your Salary Competitive?

By John R. Platt

Are you making as much money as your peers? If you moved to a new part of the country, how much money should you earn? Are you offering competitive salaries to your new-hires? These answers and more can be found in the 2014 version of the IEEE-USA Salary & Benefits Survey and the accompanying online Salary Service.

The data for these newly updated products comes from an annual survey of all employed IEEE members in the United States. This year’s information includes responses from nearly 16,000 members, who provided insight into their salaries, areas of technical competence, work experience, benefits, job satisfaction and more.

The volume of responses put both the survey and service head and shoulders above similar offerings, which draw from much smaller pools of information. “The more responses you have, the more accurate and granular the survey becomes,” says Scott D. Grayson, IEEE-USA associate managing director.

“People have used this information to lobby for better salaries based on their area,” says Holly M. Cyrus, chair of IEEE-USA’s employment and career services committee and a project manager with the Federal Aviation Administration. “The beauty of this service is it gives you a sanity check to find out if you’re being paid the right amount or to find out what kind of experience you need to gain to achieve the salary you wish for in the future.”

The beauty of this service is it gives you a sanity check to find out if you’re being paid the right amount or to find out what kind of experience you need to gain to achieve the salary you wish for in the future.

Both products are available online. The 2014 Salary & Benefits Report – an 83-page PDF with detailed breakdowns of salaries by technical field, job role, experience level and many other factors, as well as information on benefits and job satisfaction levels – is available for $125 for IEEE members or $225 for non-members. IEEE members can purchase five uses of the IEEE-USA Salary Calculator – which allows users to see how salaries should compare by location, experience, field and other factors – for just $65. Members who responded to the salary survey earlier this year receive five free uses of the Salary Calculator. IEEE-USA also offers five industry-specific reports that summarize salary data for specific groups of IEEE members – those whose primary area of technical competence (PATC) is in Circuits & Devices, Computers, Energy & Power, Systems & Control, or  Telecommunications. Each report is available as a PDF file and contains an executive summary and salary charts delineated by employer type, number of employees, line of business, degree level, supervisory responsibility, years in the professional, years with current employer, and geographic location.


The Key Findings

The salary survey reveals that the median-pre-tax income for people working full-time in their primary area of technical competence in 2013 was $129,000 – more than two times the U.S. median income of $53,891. Communications Technology continues to be the highest earning technical field, with a median income of $142,000. Within Communications, people working in consumer electronics have the highest median, reaching $153,250. Energy and Power Engineering have the lowest median incomes at $112,000.

The numbers have improved in recent years as the economy has also improved. “Everyone had a slump, but now engineering is coming back,” says Cyrus. “We are seeing a revival, both a resurgence of employment and the fact that people are getting paid better.”

Although the improvements are notable, so, too, is the fact that most of the survey numbers are consistent year after year. “What I always find reassuring about this survey is the stability,” says Michael Wehrman, associate manager of IEEE corporate research. “It says a lot about the stability and financial well-being of people who are members of IEEE.”

The data does show that women’s salaries continue to trail behind men’s. The median income for men was $125,760; for women of the same experience level, it was $109,225. That $16,500 gap, however, was $500 smaller than it was in the previous year’s survey.

The salary gap between Caucasians and African-Americans was slightly larger than the male-female gap. The survey found that whites, overall, earned $17,750 more than African-Americans. The good news, however, was that the gap was $1,250 smaller than in the 2013 report.

Although white males continue to dominate technology fields, progress continues. In 1972, the field was 99% male and 95% white; today it is 92% male and 76% white.


The survey also found exceptionally high satisfaction levels across the board. “This is not just a field where compensation is substantial,” says Wehrman. “It’s a field where people are satisfied about their work.” This year’s respondents were overwhelmingly satisfied with the technical challenges of their jobs, their compensation and their advancement opportunities. Scores for each were all the highest seen since at least 2005. All told, the number of people who reported that they were dissatisfied was lower than 9%.

Using the Salary Calculators

The IEEE-USA Salary Calculators now offers two ways for users to look at the data and see how it relates to them. The original calculator lets you enter in factors such as your years of experience, education level, industry, sub-industry, geographic location, and the number of people you manage to see what you should be making based on survey responses. In order to get a result, you must answer all of the questions the calculator asks.

The second calculator, added last year, allows you to be more selective. Instead of answering all fields, as with the original calculator, you can now use it to see a variety of answers. For example, you can see an average of what all women make, or what men make in Casper, Wyo., or what people earn if they have a B.S. degree. “It allows you to filter out the data you don’t want,” says Grayson.

Wehrman says the calculator is great for people who are relocating, as well as for students or recent graduates. “You can ask if, ‘I have this degree and this number of years of experience and I’m going to live in this particular city, what can I expect to earn?’ This way you’re not living in Fresno asking for Silicon Valley money, or more importantly, living in the Bay Area and not really underselling yourself.”

Using the Report

The Salary & Benefits Report is mostly used by HR departments, headhunters and academic researchers who are studying particular industries, says Grayson. “The HR world uses it to set salaries,” he says.

In addition to the excellent data itself, this year’s report contains, for the first time, several infographics that present interesting findings in a new way. One set of graphics, for example, shows median income by state as well as each state’s change in median income over the past four years. Interestingly, Maine is the only state where the median income has fallen. The highest increases, meanwhile, come from several states you might not expect, such as Montana, Louisiana, South Dakota and Iowa – all states with traditionally low incomes. That insight was not immediately visible in the report’s text-driven tables.

Together or individually, the Salary Calculators and the Salary & Benefits Report contain information of value to anyone working in high-tech industries. “It’s real data gleaned from real engineers throughout the United States,” says Cyrus. “It gives you leverage.”

John R. Platt

John R. Platt is a freelance writer and entrepreneur, as well as a frequent contributor to IEEE-USA InSight, Scientific American, TakePart and other publications.

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