One of the most common pieces of financial advice you get when you transition from the military is ... (brace yourself) ... KNOW YOUR WORTH.
The person who gives you this advice in an informational interview usually pauses for a moment so you can write it down and the earth can stop shaking.
To the transitioning service member, know your worth sounds like great advice for a job hunter -- sort of New Age-y and self-esteem building at the same time. It sounds like the advice-giver is telling you that you have great intrinsic value and you can make a difference in the world so you should never settle.
Which is, quite possibly, true.
Later, though, this advice turns on you -- like the milk you ask your mom to smell to see whether it went sour. Instead of making you feel hopeful, it makes you feel like you don't know what you are doing in the job market.
This is especially painful after your phone interview with the person from human resources who asks you what kind of salary you expect -- then gets off the phone fast. Did you just quote a number that is too high? Did you just offer yourself at a price that is so low that you have outed yourself as a newbie?
Suddenly you suspect there is a secret band of people out there who play hardball and get the real money, because they know their worth and you don't.
This is crazy making.
What They Mean by 'Know Your Worth'.
When people advise you to know your worth during military transition, what they are really telling you is to do your homework. They are telling you to talk to friends and acquaintances about money and salaries and how the civilian world really works when it comes to finance.
This makes people in the military squirm. In military culture, we hate talking about money. It is embarrassing. It is awkward. If you want to know how much someone makes, we think you should be able to look it up on a handy-dandy pay chart like normal people do.
How Not to Name Your Price
As Military.com's transition master coach, I see people try to get around doing their financial homework by doing one of these three tricks:
1. Military Pay = Civilian Pay
This is the mental leap that says whatever I made in the military is what I am worth in the outside world. Plus 10%. At least.
2. Quality of Life Factoring
This is the math often performed by retirees to figure out how much you need to add to your retirement pay in order to stay at the same quality of life. Plus an additional 50% to account for taxes.
3. Government Job Equivalents
These are the mental gymnastics you do that makes you look up your government equivalent in a federal pay chart and decide that you should be making at least as much as a GS-15. (Everyone thinks they should be making as much as a GS-15.)
Understand none of these things is the way your next salary will be determined. Instead, civilian employers set the salary for each job based on their own kind of math.
Usually, your salary is directly related to how much the employer can charge a client for the work you produce, plus their profit. This information is not published on the company's website so you still have to do your homework.
How to Name Your Price in the Civilian Job Market
The first step is an online step. Find jobs you are interested in on company websites and on job sites like Monster, LinkedIn and Indeed. Then search those job titles on sites like Salary.com and Glassdoor to find a pretty good estimation of what they pay, but it rarely takes into account local factors like housing costs.
Next, you must start talking to your friends, acquaintances and mentors who live in the area where you want to live. You never, never, never need to ask these people what they make. That question is still considered rude, thank goodness.
Instead, one of the questions you ask them about transition is what your range might be. I imagine the conversation would go something like this: "I've got a phone interview coming up with someone from HR. I know they are going to ask me about my salary expectations, so I'm trying to figure out what my range should be. In this area, I'm thinking it should be something between X and Y. Do you think I'm getting that right?"
Then they will tell you and you can adjust your ideas. Then when the representative from HR asks you for your salary expectations, you can reply, "I've been doing some research, and in this area, I think the range for this type of position is somewhere between X and Y." Then you stop talking.
The other way you might get this number is to ask the HR professional or the recruiter something like, "What kind of range do you have in mind for this position?"
Getting your job prospects and your salary range right is one of the tasks everyone has to take on during the job hunt. Do your homework on salary and know that you are worth every dime.
To get more tips on how to make a successful military transition, sign up for one of our many FREE Military Transition Master Classes today. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.
Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project
Worried about your transition finances? Sign up for our FREE transition master class, Fistful of Dollars: Financial Strategies for Transition, on Aug. 4 at 4 p.m. EST. Learn how you can put together a transition financial plan now that will help you cross over to the civilian side of life, no matter how much you have (or have not) been able to save.