The economy is booming, unemployment is at record lows, and there has never been a better time to be a job candidate. With all of the news out there, it’s easy to believe the internet lie that you should be getting a 10% raise on your next annual review, and your boss should be begging you to stay. But it’s just as Honest Abe says: Don’t believe everything you read on the internet.
Earlier this year I came across this riveting Forbes’ story about a software engineer who ‘negotiated’ herself into a $90k salary increase. Like all clickbait titles, it captured my attention, and I kept reading, particularly when I noted the story was about a software developer in Washington, D.C. with a security clearance.
The story explains how a woman was working as a senior software developer making $90k with a defense contractor, and was able to increase her salary to $180k with a $30k bonus.
The article gives the woman credit for her great negotiating abilities and research, which led to such a phenomenal salary increase!
The woman was underpaid in her initial role, and was able to negotiate a higher salary due to:
- Nepotism. The CEO of the company making the offer was a former student – don’t doubt that personal relationships will lead to better salary offers. Nepotism and networking are underrepresented in their importance for career development.
- Industry change. She was going from working for a defense contractor to a New York City-based start-up. Defense industry and government positions offer a key benefit a start-up led by a 20-year old CEO generally can’t – job security. Depending upon your personal situation, you may need to pick security over salary.
- Locality. Washington, D.C. is a higher-paying region than Indianapolis. But New York City (where the new company was based) will offer a higher base salary than D.C.
Studies have shown that as the unemployment rate has gone down, wage growth is increasing – but more slowly than you may expect. And while the continued cleared market trends (a shortage of candidates and 1-2 year delays in issuing new clearances) are driving salaries up, keep in mind not all pay raises are created equally. Ultra-in demand candidates such as senior software engineers, data scientists and developers are sometimes earning pay increases of 8-10% (particularly when they make a job change). But that means there are still many cleared analysts and engineers getting a 3-5% pay increase.
Doubling your salary is just not a reasonable goal, even for the hoppiest job hopper transitioning to a new industry – unless you’re grossly underpaid to begin with. A TS/SCI security clearance holder in D.C. with IT/Engineering experience is generally making between $100,00-120,000 according to the ClearanceJobs security clearance salary calculator. It’s great that a random woman on the internet was able to double her salary, but it’s not as impressive if you consider she was likely being paid $20-30k less than she should have been to begin with.
Want to Be Happy with Your Salary? Don’t believe the Internet
Don’t get me wrong – I want you to read all of the fake news stories I write about the job market. But when it comes to something like salaries and pay increases, you’re better off following the broader industry trends than one internet anecdote about an engineer who doubled her salary – that’s just not reality. It may also give you the false perspective that if you simply do better research and are a better negotiator, you’ll be able to double your salary, too. It doesn’t work. (Trust me – I’m very persuasive and I’ve been telling my boss, Eric, to double my salary because of my sparkling personality for years – he still insists my pay raise be related to my performance).
If you have an active federal security clearance, in-demand skills, and can demonstrate your value to your employer, this certainly may be the year you ask for a salary increase beyond the 3% average. But you’ll be more likely to earn a bigger figure if you’re able to demonstrate how your performance contributed to company goals than by comparing yourself to other earners – both in your industry or liars you read about on the internet.