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Show Me the Money: Salaries

By Patra Frame

Civilian compensation is very different from military pay and benefits.

Thus it is important that you learn what to expect in your chosen field.

Many transitioning military assume civilian pay is always higher, but that day is long gone.

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What do you want?

Your chosen field plays a big role in your pay. Those fields where there is high demand but limited supply generally pay well. The reverse is also true, which is why so many retail workers and security guards hold multiple jobs to support themselves.

Your personal interests and lifestyle play a role. One person might be very interested in earning big money, while another does not want the long hours or extensive travel that often accompany such jobs.

Benefits, such as health care insurance, may be very important to you, or you may have it covered through a spouse and be less concerned.

Where you work and live also plays a role.

Salaries Vary Widely

There are a very wide range of salaries for almost any job. Typically, the same job can pay very differently depending on:

  • Type of organization, such as: major corporation or small local firm, government contractor, retail, non-profit, government agency, etc.
  • Size of organization: generally small organizations pay less, large ones pay average rates.
  • Function within the organization: how important is the job to the organizations’ core business?
  • Location: Pay rates differ significantly across the USA and many jobs have noticeable pay differences depending on whether they are in a city proper, in inner or outer suburbs, rural areas, etc.
  • The state of the market: how many qualified people are there to fill jobs?

Which means you need to do your homework.

  • How realistic are your expectations?
  • What do your target type of organizations pay for this work?
  • What options are most available to meet your desires?

Bottom line: you need to decide what total compensation you are seeking and how you will consider breaking that up among base salary, bonus, commission, overtime pay, benefits, and/or services.

Information Sources

And that all means you need to learn how to find pay and benefit information.

What are current salaries for the jobs which interest you? Remember, compare those for the same jobs at the specific type of organization which interests you and in your geographic area.

  1. Reach out and ask people you know well who are in the field for pay ranges, incentives, and other pay data that they might know.
  2. Research the salary information and pay ranges posted on jobs which interest you on job boards. 
  3. Many professional organizations do salary surveys for their members. Check yours out. Or, if you are not a member, ask people in your field if they have access. Often these surveys also have some information on common benefits, so check for this too.
  4. When you are networking, ask these questions:
    "What is the typical current pay range for X position?" and "What do you currently see happening to pay rates for Z?"
  5. Some larger employment agencies and job boards provide basic salary surveys for their core markets. For example, Dice.com does surveys on IT positions and posts them via their website. While these are quite general, if you are working with someone in such a firm, they can tell you the local details.

Check out "Negotiating the Best Starting Salary for Your New Job" on WorkCoachCafe.com.

Salary Data on the Web

There is plenty of pay data available on the web. Most of it is fairly general and often rather old. A lot of places use the same source, but brand it for their own use. Useful sources include:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics - great information by job on current wages by specific geographic areas. Benefits information studies are also available here.
  • JobStar's links to salary surveys.
  • Commercial sites include Salary.com, SalaryExpert.com, and many others.
    Be aware that these are rolling, large-scale averages of averages. When you put in a specific location, you get national average data multiplied by a standard factor for your location relative to the U.S. average.

Benefits Matter

Benefits are also quite variable. Few companies now offer pension plans although larger organizations usually offer some form of retirement savings plan and may match a portion of your contributions. Health care insurance is available in about half of all companies.

What you will get and what you pay for it ranges very widely. Most mid-size and larger organizations offer paid vacation, sick leave, and holidays. Some do tuition reimbursement and provide free parking or supplement the costs of public transportation. It depends on the location and the competition for good employees.

Many organizations showcase their benefits on their websites. You should look at these for all the organizations which interest you -- and compare them with others in that market to develop a sense of what is common and what is not.

[Related: Winning Negotiation Strategies for Your New Job.]

Bottom Line

Learning about civilian pay takes some work but it will be well worth your time so that you can negotiate a fair deal when you find the right job. And so that you do not have unrealistic expectations when you are seeking work.

For More Information:

Read Job-Hunt's Working with Recruiters Expert Jeff Lipschultz's article, The Starting Salary Question. Also see Job-Hunt's free eBook, Winning Negotiation Strategies for Your New Job by Barbara Safani.


About the author...

Patra Frame has extensive experience in human capital management and career issues in large and small corporations. She is an Air Force vet and charter member of The Women In Military Service for America Memorial.  Patra speaks and writes regularly on job search and career issues through her company Strategies for Human Resources (SHRInsight) and PatraFrame.com where she blogs advice for veterans and other job seekers. Watch Patra's ClearedJobs.net job search tips videos on YouTube, and follow her on Twitter @2Patra and on Google+.


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