What Competitive Pay Is and How to Negotiate for It

By Anil Sharma · June 21, 2024 · 6 minute read

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What Competitive Pay Is and How to Negotiate for It

“Competitive pay” is a term commonly used among employers looking to attract qualified candidates to their business. Offering competitive pay means providing a compensation level that is equal to or above the market rate for a given position, geography, or industry.

Competitive pay typically includes base salary as well as additional employment benefits such as a signing bonus, health insurance, retirement benefits, or stock options offered to an employee.

Why Is Competitive Pay Important?

In highly competitive job fields, or when there is a shortage of talent, offering competitive pay can be a powerful lever for employers to attract and retain highly qualified employees. At the same time, employees who are in high demand might choose to seek out competitive pay in order to earn more than their counterparts at other companies.

Competitive pay is ultimately a measure of an employee or job candidate’s value to the business, and is something that can be offered by an employer or negotiated by an employee or candidate.

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What Determines Competitive Pay?

Competitive pay rates can be determined by a variety of factors:


Where you are physically located can greatly impact the competitiveness of the pay you are offered. For example, an employee in a metropolitan area like New York or San Francisco with a higher cost of living may be able to earn more than a counterpart in a more affordable geographical area. Certain states also have higher minimum wage standards, which can increase the average compensation for any job offered within that state.

Level of Education and Experience

Many jobs will offer competitive pay commensurate with a candidate’s education and experience. That means that a candidate with a college degree and 10 years of industry experience may be offered higher compensation than someone with no degree and fewer years of experience. Candidates with specialized degrees or certifications can sometimes use that to negotiate more-competitive pay.

Job Title and Industry

Most job titles and industries will have a baseline market pay rate that employers use to guide their job offerings and employee salaries. If you want to compare a job offer with the market, you can find market pay rates for most jobs on the Bureau of Labor of Statistics website or through websites like Indeed and Glassdoor.

Market Demand

One of the biggest drivers of competitive pay is the overall supply and demand for a job in the market. If a job is highly in demand, either due to a shortage of workers or a sudden increase in the number of available jobs, compensation for that role may become more competitive. Candidates can potentially use that to their advantage when applying to jobs and negotiating salaries with employers.

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Competitor Salaries

Similarly, when multiple companies in the same or adjacent industries are competing for employees, they may offer more competitive compensation packages to try and win over prospective job candidates.

Minimum vs. Competitive Wages: How They’re Different

While competitive wages are offered at the discretion of employers, minimum wage is the minimum hourly pay rate under federal law. States can also establish and enforce minimum wage requirements for certain jobs or industries.

Like competitive pay, minimum wage typically takes into consideration living costs, geography, and job titles or industries. However, it tends not to change as often or dramatically as competitive wages. In fact, the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has not changed since 2009. Also, minimum wage only takes into consideration base salary, whereas competitive pay includes other benefits and forms of compensation, such as signing bonuses.

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Examples of Competitive-Paying Jobs

Competitive pay rates are constantly shifting, especially as the market for talent becomes increasingly competitive. However, here are the some of the most competitive-paying jobs in 2023 — the most recent data available from the BLS:


•   Average annual salary: $423,250

Computer and Information Systems Managers

•   Average annual salary: $180,720


•   Average annual salary: $176,470

Financial Managers

•   Average annual salary: $166,050


•   Average annual salary: $158,270

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How to Negotiate for More Competitive Pay

Whether you’re applying for a new job or reconsidering your current employment situation, negotiating competitive pay is an important part of getting paid what you believe you are worth. There isn’t an exact formula for negotiating higher pay, and it’s important to take a methodical approach that considers both your needs and the perspective of your employer. Here are five strategies that can help you in the course of negotiating competitive pay:

1. Establish your priorities

Going into a pay negotiation, you should think about what you would need financially to consider joining or staying with a company. You’ll want to determine your needs, including any debt you may be paying off — a online budget planner can be a useful resource. Then once you have a number in mind, try to identify a compensation package that meets your financial requirements.

Competitive pay can also mean different things to different employees. For some, it may mean a higher base salary, while others may want other perks like assistance in paying off college tuition or student loan debt, greater workplace benefits, or better health coverage. Identifying exactly what you need is important for deciding when it makes sense to push back or walk away from a negotiation.

2. Build Your Case

Even in competitive markets, an employer may not be willing to meet your salary or benefits requirements. However, going into that conversation with evidence and clear reasoning for why you are asking for more competitive pay can help support your case.

You’ll want to clearly show why you believe your compensation isn’t as competitive as you’d like it to be, due to the fact that you’ve been working harder, delivering greater value to the business, or have incurred higher living costs.

3. Know Your Pay Rate in the Market

Before negotiating, it’s also important to research how the competitive rate for your specific job title or industry has changed. Or, if you’ve suddenly taken on additional responsibilities outside of your core job function, you may want to look at what similar employees in those roles are getting paid and factor that into your pay rate. All of that data will help you to know what you’re worth as an employee and be able to communicate it to your employer.

The Takeaway

“Competitive pay” is a term commonly used among employers to refer to a compensation level that is equal to or above the market rate for a given position, geography, or industry. Other factors that help determine competitive pay include a candidate’s education and experience, and market demand.

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Is competitive pay a red flag?

“Competitive pay” has become an industry buzzword used by many employers on their job postings and websites. While seeing “competitive pay” on a job posting isn’t a red flag, it’s still important to conduct your own research to ensure pay rates are competitive with similar industries, geographies, and employers.

Does competitive pay come with good benefits?

Competitive pay does not necessarily come with good benefits like 401(k) matching, health insurance, or paid time off. However, those benefits are becoming increasingly important for job seekers. When analyzing competitive pay, it’s important to look at an employer’s full compensation package (benefits and salary) to ensure it meets your needs.

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