Are Your Salary Expectations In Line With Reality?


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by Randall Scasny

An Army retiree sent me these emails after being offered a job as a technical writer for helicopter training by a U.S. defense contractor:

Army Retiree: “Randall, they offered me $62K. The benefit package is awesome! The salary is good, but the position states “Senior Aircraft Systems Analyst.” I sent them a counter offer for $72K about an hour ago. Let me know what you think.”

My Response: “So, you’re not happy with $62K, I gather? All companies have pay ranges. My guess is that these ranges normally have a $5K-$10K bandwidth. Asking for so much more might be out of their range. While they call you a Senior Analyst, the title is deceiving. You are basically a technical writer. I did some research to see what is the salary standard for technical writers. Most technical writers make between $40K-60K with a small portion making up to $75K. What this says is that the contractor offered you a competitive salary. However, it was good to play poker with them and see what they are made of. I would have asked for $5K more myself.”

Army Retiree: “Randall, their final offer is $65K. And you are right. I will get my foot in the door, and hopefully move up in salary. Thanks.”


The above Army retiree was not particularly happy with his final salary, was he? He believed he was worth much more money and deserved it. But after looking at the numbers, the reality is that his salary was competitive. The problem was not with his salary, but with his salary expectations.

Salaries vary widely. This variance depends not only on the experience of the job candidate but also the industry and the competitive needs of the employer, among many other factors.

Keeping your salary expectations in line with reality is a way to prevent you from shooting yourself in the foot, so to speak, and extending your job search time unnecessarily.

I was working with am Air Force retiree with Maintenance Management experience. In the Air Force, he was making in the $70Ks. He was very rigid about where he wanted to settle. He chose an area that had little need for his aeronautic skills. After a bit of job market research, we found that he would be competitive as a technical service manager or maintenance manager.

He began applying for jobs. After three weeks, he told me he had no response. I thought this was strange. Our conversations finally led to salary. He was asking for a salary in the upper $70Ks. Well, the government statistics for maintenance managers said they averaged in the $50Ks! No wonder he was getting no response from employers.

He grudgingly backed off his desired salary. He still had little employer response. When he contacted me about a “dream” job he really wanted, I decided to conduct a little experiment. I told him that I would send out the job application for this “dream job.”

I sent out his resume and stated in the letter that he was seeking compensation somewhere in the $50Ks.

Well, he received a response for an interview in 48 hours.

The moral of the above story is obvious. However, it begets other questions. Such as, I thought the private sector paid well? Or, Why didn’t he pursue a Federal job?

The private sector does pay extremely well. But it is relative to business need. Federal jobs also pay well. But, in the area where he retired there were few Federal jobs for his area of expertise. In addition, he “demanded” that he get a job while on terminal leave. Hence, he had about 8 weeks to apply, interview and get hired by the Federal government. In my experience, this was simply unrealistic despite’s OPM’s noble initiatives to expedite their hiring process.

I’ll close this article with some facts about salary and compensation.

The average hourly salary for a U.S. Worker is $24.95 per hour (or a little more than $51K). http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t19.htm

The average salary for a veteran is around $44K. This amount is low because the stats include retired veterans who are living on fixed incomes.

About 80 percent of U.S. workers earn $50K or less.

Executives earn much more in the private sector than the Federal government, with their compensation sometimes over $1 million. However, I find that middle managers in the Federal government earn more and have more job security than in the private sector. But since the OPM is pushing to hire middle managers and executives due to the retirements in its ranks over the next decade or so, the job competition for Federal jobs will be intense.

Sales people can make more than middle managers and some executives. For instance, I have a friend who’s 26 year old nephew is a software salesman. He makes $160K a year!

If you have a Top Secret Security clearance AND have software engineering skills, expect compensation, in some instances, around $120K. This amount has been pushed up recently because funding for clearance investigations was curtailed. But this is changing.

Conversely, the salaries for many computer jobs have been reduced because many U.S. jobs have been offshored to companies in India and China.

In this article, I have only touched on the subject of salary expectations. I hope this is enough to introduce this important subject. The salary you expect should not be based solely on what you earn now in the U.S. Military. Your future salary could be more or less, depending on a variety of business factors.

Good Luck!

All opinions, advice, statements or other information expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not necessarily express the opinions of MilitaryHire.com or the publisher.


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