By Don Orlando
You’ve seen the questions often enough: what are your salary requirements? What is your salary history? Your first reaction is probably the right one: it’s none of your business! But in the private sector, it is part of their business. A big part of every corporate budget is compensation they pay employees. Firms have a right, even an obligation, to get the greatest return on the every investment they make, including payroll. And most companies honestly try to pay a full day’s wage for a full day’s work. But those in the private sector have an advantage retiring or separating military professionals don’t have. Their pay isn’t a public record as it is for anybody wearing the uniform.
There are many fine books on the subject of negotiating for salary, benefits, perks, and severance. The “bible” is Jack Chapman’s Negotiating Your Salary: How To Make $1000 a Minute. I won’t repeat any of his guidance here. But I do want to touch on the special circumstance of the retiring military individual. Sometimes, uninformed hiring officials let it slip that they’ve “adjusted” their salary offer because…after all…you do have retirement pay. Those same interviewers wouldn’t think to ask a private sector applicant to reveal her bank balance. How then might you react if you find yourself in this situation? First, cut the interviewer a little slack. Chances are he’s never served on active duty nor has anyone in his immediate family who has.
Tempting as it is, don’t try to “educate” the interviewer on the differences between your years on active duty and any job in the private sector. Yes, I know you were probably underpaid. Yes, some of our younger enlisted members qualify for food stamps. And I can never remember a failed general being offered a $12M severance package. But that is all beside the point. Offer the interviewer the return on investment he is seeking. After all, he got approval to fill the position only after he gave his pledge to his boss that the next person he hires (you?) will make the company more money than it takes to find, hire, and retain you. So use the success stories in your resume to document that ROI.
Here’s an example: “Payoffs: Produced $1.6M savings by streamlining production, just as the tempo of operations shot up to wartime standards with little notice. Reduced deferred maintenance and functional check flights by 66 percent, cycle time slashed from 120 to 21 days.” Then guide the conversation back to the issue at hand. You want to know (and the interviewer certainly knows) what the bottom and the top of the salary range is for the job you’re shooting for. You can then compare what they are offering to the range, a measure of your value on the market.
If the interviewer continues to low ball you, consider walking away. If you can’t do that because of the current economy, there is another option. You can offer to share the risks and the rewards by asking for an early performance review. Make it clear during that review, you’d want to review your contributions as a baseline reevaluate your pay. If the reviewer agrees, get the arrangement in the letter of offer.