#SHRM19 Interview with Sarah Reynolds of Salary.com



This is a 2019 SHRM Annual Conference & Exposition interview with Sarah Reynolds, Vice President of Marketing at Salary.com. Learn more about overcoming compensation complications, creating pay programs, and pricing your own job.  

Who is Salary.com!? Tell us everything, just as you would someone approaching your booth and asking you this question at SHRM ‘19 in Las Vegas.

Salary.com is the leading consumer and enterprise resource for compensation data, software, consulting, and education. For nearly 20 years, we’ve not only helped people understand their worth – we’ve also helped organizations attract and retain top talent by enabling smarter pay decisions. Today, we serve more than 8,000 enterprise customers, 25,000 participating organizations in our surveys, and millions of consumers each year by connecting them with critical pay and benefits data, technology, and resources.

With our data, we specialize in helping our enterprise clients find the right price, for the right job, every time. We offer HR-reported market data that covers 15,000 unique job titles across 225 industry breakouts across the US, as well as traditional salary survey data from more than 25,000 organizations in 100 countries around the world, delivering unparalleled pricing accuracy to HR and compensation professionals worldwide.

With our award-winning CompAnalyst platform, we enable compensation and HR professionals to marry external market data with their internal company job and employee pay data, making it easy to keep pay practices externally competitive and internally equitable. We offer streamlined market pricing workflows, robust salary structure modeling capabilities, comprehensive survey participation and management tools, and self-service reporting and analytics solutions that help our enterprise clients make smarter pay decisions.

Salary is fascinating. At least to me. I’m sure it is to you too. What are some of the learnings you’ve had in the three years you’ve had at Salary.com? Learnings could range from “people aren’t paid enough!” or “no one knows what their worth!” Etc.

I have learned so many things that it’s hard to narrow it down! The main thing I’ve learned is that compensation is so much more complicated than people think, and that it’s so critical to marry your external market data with your internal company data. When thinking about your pay program, external competitiveness and internal equity should be two sides of the same coin, so to speak. You can’t make decisions based solely on market conditions, but you also can’t make decisions based solely on your current pay practices - too much emphasis on one over the other is going to result in recruiting, retention, and employee morale issues. It’s a balancing act, and executing that every day is not something for which compensation and HR professionals get enough credit.

When we started our digital marketing company, salary was across the board. Some people got paid this, and others got paid that...for the same roles. That become problematic. So, we implemented a Level System that would compensate people more fairly according to their role, expertise, and demonstrated performance. What I learned is that implementing salary structures are tough, and seem to be ever evolving. What’s your advice to small businesses looking to implement a salary structure that fairly compensates people?

As your small business grows, it’s essential to create a pay program that will promote internal equity and growth within your organization. Salary structures, as you mentioned, can be a great tool to help you visualize the external competitiveness and internal equity of your pay programs. These visualizations make it easier to evaluate your pay across job groups and keep pay programs up-to-date as conditions inside and outside your business change.

My biggest tip for getting started with salary structures is to make sure you have a clear compensation philosophy in place before you start your structures work. What guides your decision-making around your internal comp programs? What market percentile do you target when pricing jobs? Do you tend to prioritize market competitiveness, or are you hyper-focused on internal equity across similar jobs? How do you view promotions, jobs changes, and opportunities for pay progression in your organization? The answers to questions like these will drive critical decisions about how you’ll build out your structure, including how many grades you’ll have, how wide your ranges will be, which jobs will fit into which ranges, and more.

I love salary structures, but the first time I saw one in Excel - yikes! Structures can be daunting, but they don’t need to be. In our CompAnalyst platform, for example, you can now use our salary structures wizard to build out a structure in just two clicks, either based off of market data or an existing structure in your library. I always say that if I can use it to build a structure, anyone can - and I stand by that!

Let us in on the magic. What’s the salary structure and process like at Salary.com? How do you utilize your own tech and process to compensate people?

A huge benefit of working at Salary.com is the transparency that we have around market pricing. Here in Marketing, I make sure that every one of my employees has access to our CompAnalyst Market Data product, and when we have new hires join the team, I always tell them that I expect them to price their own job and let me know if they have questions so we can talk about why they were hired in at the rate they were. Same goes for tenured employees - if you have questions about your pay, or your opportunity for pay progression here at Salary.com, I want to know right away. There’s nothing worse than letting unanswered questions about pay or career growth and development linger and grow into miscommunications or resentments, and I’m so thankful that our culture of pay transparency promotes those kinds of opportunities for thoughtful discussion.

Obviously, on an organizational level, we use our data and our software in all aspects of our pay practice, from market pricing to merit planning. But we also leverage our internal subject matter expertise on compensation to make sure we’re making data-driven, strategic compensation decisions. Our Director of HR works closely with our Senior Vice President of Compensation and subject matter experts from our data, compensation, and consulting teams to optimize our approach to total rewards, and then works closely with all of the departmental heads to ensure smooth and consistent communication about our policies.

What do you wish more HR professionals and recruiters knew about salaries?

The 50th percentile shouldn’t be the end of the pricing conversation - it should be the start. With market pricing, so many of our clients set the base pay for their roles at the market median, or 50th percentile, of the job and move on. But there are a million reasons why the market 50th might not be the right answer for every job in every organization. Maybe you’re recruiting for an emerging hot job and need to pay a premium in your local pay market in order to land the best candidates. Maybe you’re promoting candidates internally from more junior roles and want to enable pay progression within their next job. Maybe you have high turnover in certain jobs or departments. Maybe setting offers for new hires at the market 50th will create salary compression with tenured employees. How you price your jobs should reflect your compensation philosophy, the pay markets in which you recruit talent in, and your organizational goals - not just the market median number in a salary survey.

What are the biggest challenges companies face when paying employees? How do they overcome those challenges?

Keeping prices up-to-date and in line with the current market is hugely challenging, especially if your organization is growing rapidly or you’re operating in extremely competitive pay markets. Many organizations that used to conduct market reviews once annually are now revisiting their market pricing twice a year or even four times a year, especially for the hot jobs in their organization. We’ve also seen job-range salary structures grow in popularity as organizations try and keep pace with ever-changing market prices. Having a different grade for every job in your organization may sound daunting, but it allows you to quickly adjust your internal pay ranges and better align your pay with changing market conditions.

In the same line of questioning above, how important is salary in employee retention? I know you’re biased, but, I know you also have a unique perspective on this.

I definitely am biased, but I think most HR experts would agree that if not the main contributor to employee retention, compensation is up there in the top three. According to the Compdata Survey Practice at Salary.com, the average voluntary turnover rate in the US in 2018 was 14.2 percent, meaning that 1 in every 7 employees left their organizations to pursue other opportunities last year. In that high-stakes environment, getting pay right is critical to retaining top talent, especially in roles and locations where the market is moving quickly.

While I firmly believe your pay practices can make or break your retention efforts, I also think it’s important to recognize the role that your approach to total rewards can play in those same efforts. Every aspect of the total rewards model - compensation, benefits, career and development opportunities, recognition, work-life balance - can have a huge impact on your ability to retain employees, and it’s critical that you embrace a total rewards approach that maximizes your employee experience and demonstrates your employee value proposition.

For anyone who won’t be able to make it to the Salary.com booth #2606 in Las Vegas, what do you want them to know?

You can price a single job for low or no cost, right on our website! Even if you’re a small business just getting started with a more formal approach to compensation, or if you’ve yet to get approval for a fully-fledged HR budget, you don’t need to settle for subpar data quality when it comes to pricing your jobs.

To build on that point further, you can price YOUR job on our site. As an HR professional, it’s critically important to understand your market rate and to negotiate your best possible compensation and benefits package. At Salary.com, we’re all about enabling the power of you. When it comes to total rewards, you set the tone for your business, and you should feel confident knowing that your business is getting pay right - for you and for your employees.


SHRM is proud to partner with Salary.com to provide single-position compensation data reports through the CompAnalyst® platform. Leverage one of the most trusted sources of HR-reported pay data in the market. CompAnalyst's all-new job taxonomy groups jobs by family, function, and focus to deliver better data alignment, smarter matches, and more accurate prices.Search from over 15,000 job titles across 225 industries and buy just what you need!



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