The deer in the headlights look.

That’s the look you might have when asked by an employer about your salary requirements if you don’t have a clue. It’s not a professionally appealing appearance. It is one that leaves the employer with the impression that you are not quite the candidate that they had in mind after all.


The Dream and the Reality

Before you even start to apply for jobs in the civilian world, get a grip.

Everyone wants the six-figure job and the corner office with a view. Everyone doesn’t get it in the best of times and they certainly don’t get it today. Fact is, you are searching for a job in a less than ideal job market. Accept it. Work with it and do your best not to sell yourself short.

The following strategies can help you avoid becoming proverbial road kill.

What You Earned in the Military

For however long you wore a uniform, you received a monthly paycheck or two from Uncle Sam. You also received a leave and earning statement (LES) reflecting your entitlements, allotments and deductions listed in an alphabet soup of codes such as BAQ, BAS, VHA/OHA and COLA.

Perhaps you understood every acronym on it or maybe your focus was more on spending it. Either way, as you transition from the military to a civilian career, you’ll want to take a closer look at what you were earning in uniform so you can figure out what you need to earn and want to earn as a true blue civilian.

Don’t neglect to also consider the value of benefits not listed on that LES such as medical, dental, housing, tuition assistance, reduced price shopping venues and free space available travel.

What You Could Earn as a Civilian

What you could earn as a civilian will depend on a number of factors.

  • Are you staying in the same career field?
  • Is that field hiring?
  • Are you switching career gears?
  • Are you hell-bent on finding any job back home or are you willing to go wherever the right job may take you?

There is no right or wrong answer, only the right answer for you and your current priorities.

Conventional wisdom, however, holds that if you have years of progressively responsible experience in a given career field and you are willing to relocate to work, your odds at landing a decent paying job increase significantly.

I’m just saying.

Establishing an Acceptable Range

Once you know what you want to do and where you want to do it, you need to come up with a salary range you can live with. You already know what you made in the military. Now you need to research your potential in the civilian job market.

What do other people make in the civilian world having similar credentials? Tap into your network and ask others who may know. Attend your transition assistance program and gather all the intel you can from facilitators and fellow attendees. Research reputable salary surveys such as:


Making Your Answers Count

  • While you may be fully prepared for the discussion, don’t be the first one to bring up the subject of compensation and/or benefits.
  • Know that it’s acceptable to answer a question with a question. Q: How much are you looking for in a salary? A: What is the salary range you are offering for this position?
  • If an employer brings up the topic too early for you in the interview and presses you for an answer, explain that you would like to learn more about the job first.
  • When you must say something, provide the employer with a salary range – one that is 10-15% higher than the one you’d accept. It is far easier to negotiate down than up.
  • If the employer offers you a lesser salary range, make your case for a higher one. Be prepared with solid work examples to back up your claim.
  • Don’t accept a job before you have fully negotiated both salary and benefits.
  • Negotiate salary first then benefits. Keep them separate.
  • Never accept or reject an offer on the spot. Mull it over and get back to them later.
  • Don’t be afraid to haggle over dollar amounts or benefits. This is business.
  • Be satisfied with a salary before you accept it as it becomes the basis for all your future salary increases with that company.
  • Make sure anything you agree upon is written down in an employment contract or offer letter, signed and blessed by both parties.

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Janet Farley is the author of the Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job (Jist Inc, 2012). She writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspapers.