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How much is your position worth?

In polite company, you're not supposed to discuss politics or paychecks. But that won't get you far in the real world. When it comes to job searching, pay is one of the most important qualifiers of a job, yet it's rarely discussed before a job offer is made, and negotiating for better pay can be difficult without a proven formula for why you deserve more.

Perhaps employers prefer that salary information remains hidden behind smoke and mirrors, but if you want to ensure that you're receiving pay for what you're worth, you'll need to do some research. Here's how to get started.

Go online
Whether you're looking to join a new field or take on a new role, it's helpful to know what ballpark your pay should be in. In order to create a pay range, start by looking online. "A great start is to use some of the many online resources," says Katie Donovan, a salary and career negotiation consultant, equal pay advocate and founder of Equal Pay Negotiations LLC. "You also can find salary wizards on most job sites. Most salary wizards have the options to specify the location, the industry, the type of organization, the size of organization, the candidate/employee's experience and the candidate/employee's education."

Get on the phone
While online resources can garner a range that your salary may fall in, the more personalized your quote can get, the better. This is the time for a human assessment, and Donovan recommends utilizing staffing agencies. "Call one up and tell them your job title and pay," she says. "Then ask, 'Can I do better?' They will let you know if they are getting openings for that job with higher pay and if they currently have any. This call accomplishes two things: 1) You find out if your current pay is in line with the market and 2) you can start/expand your job search at the same time."

Go through your own numbers
It's essential that you understand industry standards to ensure that you're pricing yourself realistically, but there's one last factor to consider before you name a number: You. "Sure you need to talk about your value added, but you individually are truly the third criteria in the determination of pay," Donovan says. "The job value is first. The employer's ability to pay and pay philosophy are second."

How can you go about proving your worth to a potential or current employer? As Donovan says, the numbers need to back you up. "You need to talk about your value in terms of financial impact since you are discussing finances. You want $10,000 more in pay -- then tell management how you saved $100,000 by changing vendors or improving a process. Tell management how you made $200,000 above sales goal or marketed to a new demographic," she says.

Prepare other bargaining chips
While a bigger paycheck is an attractive outcome of determining your worth, it may not be the only perk you can negotiate. Paul McDonald, senior executive director at Robert Half says, "Think beyond starting salary/career investment. What does the company offer in terms of long-term career prospects, growth and learning opportunities? Does it have a stable management team in place? Will you have schedule flexibility and other work-life benefits? Many factors should go into your decision beyond just the initial salary offer."

This is the benefit of determining your worth. While some may place emphasis on better pay, others may find work flexibility to be a better offer, while others still would prefer more modern technology. No matter what qualities you gather to determine your worth, the goal is to be fairly compensated for your work.