Salary is one of the most important yet least understood considerations in the job search. Many individuals do well handling all interview questions except the salary one. As a result they may be paid much less than they are worth and lose thousands of dollars over the years by failing to properly negotiate their salaries.
The government sets military salary based on rank and years of service. In the private sector you must be prepared to negotiate your compensation based on your projected value to the employer. Salary is seldom predetermined, and many employers have some flexibility in negotiation. While most employers do not try to exploit applicants, neither do they want to offer applicants more than what they are willing to accept.
Salaries are usually assigned to positions or jobs rather than to individuals. But not everyone is of equal value in performing the job; some are more productive than others. Since individual performance differs, you should attempt to establish your value in the eyes of the employer rather than accept a salary figure for the job. The art of salary negotiation will help you do this.
Many transitioning service members often undervalue themselves in the civilian work world because they tend to equate salary with base pay. If you’ve received base housing or a housing allowance, you know this benefit can be considerable. It translates into a specific dollar figure that should be added to your base salary. For example, if your base pay is $60,000 a year, you should include another 20% in benefits to arrive at a total compensation figure that would be equivalent to a civilian salary – around $72,000. If you only use your base pay as your current salary figure, you may undervalue yourself to civilian employers. For those receiving “professional pay” or additional money for living in a hardship area, don’t forget to include this in your total compensation computations.
Use the following Military Compensation Calculator to determine your equivalent civilian compensation:
You should be well prepared to deal with the question of salary during the job interview. Based on your research and networking activities you should know the approximate salary range for the position you are seeking. You can also use these websites to gain useful salary information:
The question of salary may be raised anytime during the job search. If the question comes up in application forms, cover letters, and telephone screening interviews, try to delay the discussion of salary by stating “open” or “negotiable.” The ultimate purpose of your job search activities is to demonstrate your value to employers. You should aim at establishing your value in the eyes of the employer prior to talking about a salary figure. Most frequently employers will talk about salary during the employment interview. If at all possible, keep the salary question open until the very last, and remember to refer to your total military compensation rather than your base pay. You should not attempt to translate your value into dollar figures until you have had a chance to convince the employer of your worth. If you give the employer a salary figure early in the process you are likely to lock yourself into it, regardless of how much you impress the employer. You also need to know more about the duties and responsibilities of the job before determining a salary value.
You should never ask about salary prior to being offered the job. Let the employer initiate the salary question. When they do, take your time. While you may know approximately what the employer will offer, try to get the employer to state a figure first. By doing this you will be in a stronger negotiating position.
When the salary question arises and it is the appropriate time to be discussed, your first step should be to clearly summarize the job responsibilities/duties as you understand them for the purpose of:
After clarifying and summarizing the value of the position in relation to you, your next step is to ask:
What is your normal salary range for a position such as this?
Depending on how you feel about the figure, you can follow up with one more question:
What would be the normal salary range for someone with my qualifications?
This line of questioning will yield the salary expectations of the employer without revealing your desired salary figure or range. It will also indicate whether the employer distinguishes between individuals and positions when establishing salary figures.
After finding out what the employer is prepared to offer, you can decide whether to take the offer, reject the offer, ask for time to think about the offer, or negotiate for more money in the hope of reaching an acceptable compromise. The first two options indicate you are too eager or playing hard to get. The last two options are recommended.
If you decide to negotiate, you should establish common ground by placing your salary range into the employer’s range. Place the top of the employer’s range into the bottom of your range. Then emphasize your value, state why you believe you are worth what you want, and back it up with examples, statistics, comparisons, etc.
If you opt to ask the employer for more time to think about it, a common professional courtesy is to give you at least 48 hours to consider the offer. During this time you should carefully examine the job and job offer. If other employers are considering you for a job, let this employer know you may be in demand elsewhere. Contact the other employers and let them know you have a job offer and that you would like to have your application status with them clarified before you make any decisions with the other employer. You may be able to greatly enhance your bargaining position in this way.
In negotiating your best salary, you need to keep in mind that you should always negotiate from a position of knowledge and strength, not because of need or greed. Learn about salaries for your occupation, establish your value, discover what the employer is willing to pay, and negotiate in a professional manner.
Exercise 9a is an evaluation form. Use it to evaluate each job offer individually and to compare multiple offers to help you make the best choice for your future.