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Good Faith – Military to Civilian Salary Negotiation

by Tom Wolfe, Career Coach and Contributing Editor

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Article Sponsored by: Sunbelt Rentals

Return to July/August 2013 Issue

transitioning military hired for operations management A military to civilian career change is a voyage and, as with any voyage, successful completion depends on setting goals, obtaining information, planning carefully, and taking the necessary action to stay on course while minimizing risk. Although a part of risk management is avoiding problems, there is one problem you might actually want to have.

Picture this. Your search is in full swing. You continue the interviewing process beyond the initial filtering stage, pass the tests, interview successfully, and receive a formal offer. So far, so good. Well, what if that offer is less than expected? Yes, that’s a problem, but it’s really not so bad - at least you have an

offer!

Research and filtering often minimizes or eliminates the occurrence of this problem. Early in the sourcing and screening process, companies may use salary as a filter by making sure your requirements are in line with what they intend to pay. If not, why proceed? However, at times, these filters fail or expectations change and military to civilian salary negotiation does enter the picture. You would be wise to prepare accordingly.

For help, consider this Q & A.

What is the corporate culture? Although you can attempt to negotiate an offer, there is no requirement for your potential employer to agree. Corporate culture comes into play. Some companies fully expect to negotiate and the first offer they make is not their last. This is often the case when the job requires effective negotiation skills, such as sales or contracting. Other companies are like those old Saturn dealerships: you get their first, last, and best price upfront. It would be prudent to have advance information on the company’s culture on this issue.

What is your leverage? Why are you asking for a higher offer? That’s easy - you want more. Well, we all want more, but that is not a valid reason. To an employer, when you ask for more money, it means that you believe you can add value in excess of what the company is offering. How do you know that you can produce that added value? Where is your proof? You need leverage and your desire for more simply does not carry enough weight. Do you have higher offers to do similar work? Have you made cost-of-living adjustments? Is there something in your background that they missed? No, my degree is not complete, but it will be by the time I start working here. How about your current salary? Is that leverage? Be careful. Let’s say you are a helicopter pilot and the Army pays you an additional $600 per month for that skill. If you are interviewing to be the Channel 9 Eye in the Sky, you have leverage. On the other hand, the manager at the distribution center could care less about your stick skills.

How much room is there? Most companies use salary ranges, which allows them to consider level of experience and education, among other things. It also gives them flexibility during performance and salary reviews. Many companies bring you on board near the midpoint of the range. Why? The person they want in the job is probably too good to land at the bottom. On the other hand, bringing someone in at the top leaves no way to increase the salary until a promotion. Since that could be several years, your salary is frozen until then. John, you have been doing outstanding work for the past 12 months, but since you will not be promoted for awhile, we can’t give you any more money. Sound familiar?

How far apart are you? Rule of thumb: if there is more than a ten-percent difference in the offer they have made and the offer that you would accept, then you probably should not be interviewing for this job in the first place. Normally, this issue gets resolved much earlier in the process, as mentioned earlier.

Are you negotiating in good faith? This is essential, both professionally and ethically. What does this mean? Simply stated, it implies that both parties sincerely want the deal to go through and are working together toward that goal. Here is an example. XYZ Company offers you $60K. You counter-offer at $66K and the employer agrees. You call back later and decline the offer because you decided the job was not right for you. Whoa! That’s bad faith! When you asked for the additional $6K, you were in effect saying, “This is a great match and the only deal breaker is the money. If you fix the money by raising it by $6K then I am coming to work for you.”

Moral - do not ask for more money until and unless all other issues are resolved and you are ready to accept the offer.

When should you ask? One of the biggest mistakes is making a counteroffer at the end of the decision timeline. For example, if you and the company have agreed that you will respond to the offer by October 1, it is bad form to call that day and ask for more money. Assuming the company will negotiate, the process required to modify and approve the offer may take several days.

Whom should you ask? Your best bet is your future boss. He or she wants you on the team, has lobbied for you, and has strongly recommended and/or approved your offer. Hopefully, your boss will go to bat for you again. As a matter of courtesy, you should also keep human resources in the loop, although it is also possible that that department will take the lead in the negotiation.

Have you set the stage properly? When a company makes an offer, the employer is telling you that the company wants you on its team. The company believes you are the right person for the job and you have sent very strong signals of interest. It is important to let the company know that you are excited and enthusiastic about the opportunity, but there is one area in which you need help. The employer will want to help you solve this problem. You let the company know that you are ready to commit if it can up the ante. Using your leverage, you explain why you believe the offer undervalues your worth and ask if there is any room for negotiation. You should be prepared to propose a counteroffer, one at which you are prepared to accept the position.

Finally, will you pass this test? There are three possible responses to your request for more money: yes, no, or something in between. Here is a test. If this is really the right opportunity for you, then you should be prepared to accept, regardless of the response. Think about it. The first possibility is a no-brainer, assuming you are indeed negotiating in good faith. As to the second and third possibilities, let’s revisit our $60K example. The company offers $60K, you counter at $66K, it comes back with $63K, and you decline. If you are walking away from the opportunity because of $3K, then this was not a good fit anyway. Do the math. $3K divided by 12 paychecks, less taxes, works out to about $180 per month. If the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ is $180 per month, then it is most likely a mismatch anyway. Even if the company does not budge from $60K and the delta becomes $360 per month, the same logic applies. Factor in a reasonable increase at the one-year point and the spread evaporates.

Military to civilian salary negotiation can be hazardous. It is a process with rules, but they are not simple. Navigating these waters is tricky. Let good faith be your polar star, stay off the reef and complete your journey successfully.

GOOD HUNTING!

Tom Wolfe is contributing editor & columnist for Military Transition News and author of ‘Out Of Uniform: Your Guide to a Successful Military-to-Civilian Career Transition.’

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