Salary Survey Extra: IT salaries by job hierarchy

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Salary Survey Extra is a series of occasional dispatches that give added insight into the findings of our most recent Salary Survey. These posts contain previously unpublished Salary Survey data.

To what extent does where you fall in your firm's job hierarchy impact salary?There are a lot of different factors in IT compensation. When we do the annual Certification Magazine salary survey, we like to focus on certification, but that’s far from the only factor in the equation. Generally speaking, where you stand in your employer’s job hierarchy also impacts your total salary figure. And that’s something we also ask about in our survey.

We’re not going to be blowing anyone’s socks off by revealing that, for example, executives tend to reside at the top of the salary pyramid. On the other hand, you may not be as far removed from the people who have a key to the executive washroom as you think you are. And there are indications that even certified IT professionals at the bottom of their organization’s job hierarchy can expect to do reasonably well.

These numbers don’t provide a 1-to-1 correlation that explains your salary, any more than getting (name of certification) ensures that you will earn the precise average income listed in our Salary Survey 75. On the other hand, there are some valuable general indicators. The average salary in the United States of a senior specialist, for example, is quite close to that of a manager. You don’t necessarily need to be the boss, to get the big money. (Although, sure, it probably helps.)

We also learned some interesting things about the composition of our survey population. For instance, most of the people in that population are a few rungs up the corporate ladder, but still reside below the level of management. Let’s look at that first. The following table lists the percentage of salary survey respondents at each job hierarchy level, both inside the United States, and in all other countries:

Executive4.6 percent2.7 percent
Director8.8 percent4.4 percent
Senior Manager9.4 percent8.5 percent
Manager14.6 percent13 percent
Senior Specialist45.7 percent44 percent
Specialist10.3 percent17 percent
Employee6.6 percent10.4 percent


By far, the largest group of survey respondents are at the senior specialist level. Which is probably decent indication of where most certified IT professionals end up. There’s certainly room to continue rising up the ranks, and there are jobs available at lower echelons as well. If you’re at the senior specialist level already, however, and you find yourself highly contented, then you certainly aren’t alone in the world.

The following picture of average salaries is probably murkiest at the top. Our mechanism doesn’t do a particularly good job of accounting for seven-figure salaries and above, and there are plenty of tech millionaires in the world. (Although it’s arguable whether very many of those guys spend their time completing online employment surveys.) At any rate, here are the numbers:

Senior Manager$129,940$75,070
Senior Specialist$112,280$59,150


We’re going to go out on a limb and say that “Director” probably has a more elevated connotation than “Executive” outside the United States. Beyond that, what’s revealed here is probably what most people would expect to find. Generally speaking, the further up the job hierarchy you are, the more you can expect to earn.

Which smartphone is mightiest? ONE PHONE TO RULE THEM ALL  What is the smartphone of choice for Salary Survey respondents? We can’t tell you that precisely, because it’s not precisely what we asked. We only considered the Big Two. When it comes to BYOD, do you roll into work with a byte of the latest Apple iTech, or are you dazzled by all the stars in Samsung’s Galaxy? There are no other choices, right?

OK, so we did include a few other choices. Here’s what we found out:

iPhone — 43 percent
Galaxy — 26.7 percent
Some Android-powered knockoff that didn’t cast me $800 — 19.9 percent
That thing they sell at Walmart with the minutes preloaded — 1.6 percent
Aren’t Option 2 and Option 3 the same thing? — 8.8 percent

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CertMag Staff


Certification Magazine was launched in 1999 and remained in print until mid-2008. Publication was restarted on a quarterly basis in February 2014. Subscribe to CertMag here.

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4 thoughts on “Salary Survey Extra: IT salaries by job hierarchy”

  1. I’ve looked at a number of salary survey results over the years and there’s one aspect to them that typically doesn’t show up; holding multiple certifications.

    Most of the people that I hire need multiple certifications, as they are often required by US government agencies when we bid on contracts. For example, an Agile ScrumMaster is often required to be a Certified ScrumMaster (CSM), as well as a Project Management Professional (PMP) and hold one of the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) certifications, usually the Foundations one, at a minimum.

    In some agencies, such as the US Department of Defense, a security certification, such as being a Certified Informations Systems Security Professional (CISSP) is required. Another group of certifications that, while not often required, are highly desired, are those awarded from the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) Institute.

    The number of people that hold all of these certifications – and keep them current – appears to be small, thus we are in high demand, and can negotiate our salaries from a position of strength. It would be very interesting to see a survey result that covers folks like us, and quantify the value of multiple certifications.

    Lloyd Diernisse

    • Lloyd,

      You bring up a great idea–one which we have discussed among ourselves for quite some time. Multiple certifications, particularly high-level ones like you possess, are in demand and do allow the holder to negotiate “salaries from a position of strength.

      Alas, thus far we have been unable to agree on the exact form and content of such a survey. But it is a topic with which we continue to wrestle and hope soon to agree on a set format for such a survey.

      Stay tuned.

      • Good article, and excellent replies. I have also been unsuccessful in locating salary information for multiple certifications and would be very interested in participating in any new survey you create or to provide feedback for beta testing…


        Jen Clark, PMP, PgMP
        (Also ITIL, Lean Six Sigma, PMI-ACP)

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