First of all, if you’re looking for an article that will tell you that you begin the process of figuring out salary based on what you’re “worth,” read no further. This post is written for those military professionals who really want to know in a frank, candid way how to handle money talk in their transition from the military.
Most service members have never had to negotiate their compensation and benefits, and those who may have done so aren’t familiar with the current industry trends. So the purpose of this article is to share the six things you need to know about negotiating your salary so you don’t blow that dream job opportunity as you hang the uniform up.
1. Don’t You Dare Start with “As Long as I Can Maintain My Current Standard of Living…”
One of the first questions I ask as a candidate recruiter is “How much are you looking to make?” And, without a shadow of a doubt, the most frequent answer is “The same amount that I make right now.”
While this gives me a starting point as a recruiter to determine which jobs may be a good fit, it generally means that the job seeker has some homework to do. For some reason, a lot of folks like to have trained, accredited professionals do everything except give them an accurate assessment of their financial picture. This is an absolute must-do as you transition.
You can get one at no cost at your local FFSC if you’re in the Navy or at your local military Family Service Center and save the $500+ that civilians pay for a similar service. This takes the guesswork out of your salary range, as well as your insurance and benefits needs, especially with regard to the minimum levels needed. It gives you a practical “walk away” figure that will enable you to refuse an offer because you know that you won’t be able to make ends meet. Generally, I suggest that only you (and your spouse) know this figure.
2. Companies Don’t Care About What You Think You’re Worth So Much as What They’ve Budgeted for the Position
With the abundance of resources on the Web today, there’s absolutely no excuse for not knowing what the average salary ranges are for your given industry and your level of expertise. As a military candidate recruiter, I can provide “real-world” insight because I know what employers are willing to pay for candidates with a certain type of background. However, if you’re conducting your job search on your own, you need to know these figures.
As a matter of fact, a lot of online job applications mandate the salary field be filled out (and no, “negotiable” is not allowed). Don’t start with those military compensation calculators because that’s putting the cart before the horse. Instead, start with websites such as Glassdoor, Payscale or Salary.com to find out what companies are paying for your type of position.
3. Understand the Dynamics of the Local Labor Market If You (or Your Spouse) Don’t Want to Move
By this I mean that Economics 101 applies here. High supply of military labor ÷ limited jobs = significantly less salary.
Not so long ago, when the defense budget was very well-funded, jobs in high military concentration areas paid very well. The multitude of jobs and high wages made transitioning into the civilian sector a painless process.
We’ve all heard of that person who left the uniform on Friday and went to work the next Monday in a suit making twice as much. These days, with a mandate by the general population to curb federal spending, not only are the salaries in those previously lucrative contracting jobs greatly reduced; the number of job opportunities themselves have dwindled.
Service members who are transitioning and will soon be job seekers acknowledge that they know they’ll be paid less in areas such as Hampton Roads, San Diego, Jacksonville, etc., but I believe that many don’t understand the full ramification of this (see point #1). Ironically, many of us would avoid high-cost-of-living areas when it comes to our next duty station to go where we would be compensated in a more comfortable fashion.
4. Before You Even Think About Negotiating Your Salary, Understand the Dynamics at Play
The numbers are stacked against you in the hiring process, and a hiring manager may be looking at 25 candidates for their job opening. Understand that if you are 1 of the 3 invited back for the second interview and offered the job, the employer wants you to be happy and, more importantly, say yes. Because recruiters know your salary range beforehand and match you only with those opportunities that fall within your parameters, the same applies.
If you do believe that there’s room for negotiation, ask if there’s any “wiggle room” in the offer. However, be careful, because you may potentially screen yourself out of an opportunity. Remember that the employer is taking a huge risk by bringing you on board (especially at a higher level).
5. Understand That Salary Negotiation is Like Buying a Car
Let’s suppose for a minute that you wanted a base model econo-car just to get you around town. If the car salesman tried to convince you to buy the fully loaded model the moment you walked onto the dealer’s lot, you’d quickly reject them outright, correct? However, if the salesman agreed to show you the base model, take it for a test drive and find out more about your driving habits, commuting routes and suggested additional features that would matter to you, you may consider paying more than you had initially planned for an upgraded model.
The same principle applies to the salary discussion. Don’t be afraid to start off with a lower figure if pressed during the interviewing stage to disclose what your figure is. However, pay close attention to what the employer is looking for in terms of duties, responsibilities and the number of people you’d be expected to manage, and try to highlight your “features” to build your value to the hiring manager.
6. Understand That Salary Negotiation is Nothing like Buying a Car
There’s a misconception among military professionals that civilians are out to pay them at the lowest possible level—like car dealerships aim to get the most out of your wallet. While this may be true for less-reputable employers (which you should avoid anyway), the majority of companies are keenly aware of what their competitors’ compensation and benefits packages look like and look to pay their employees comparably. If they weren’t, they would be in a perpetual hiring mode (which, if you haven’t noticed yet, is quite expensive).
My point is: resist the temptation to “win” while you negotiate your salary. Negotiate in good faith based on your needs as identified in step 1, because—unlike buying that car and never dealing with that salesperson again—you’ll likely be working with, and potentially for, the person who is extending a job offer to you.
Remember that you’re taking your transition seriously by being proactive. (Heck, you’re reading this article, aren’t you?) So keep these ideas in mind, do your preparation, and you’ll not only find a job that’s a great fit for your skills and background, but you’ll walk away knowing you were better-prepared to handle the discussion about salary.
Sultan Camp is a proud veteran, travel hound and Orion International Military Recruiter looking for hard workers to place into rewarding careers within Fortune 500 and 1000 companies. Making your military transition successful is his goal.