Picture the scene: your transition from military to civilian employment is almost complete. You’ve been offered an exciting and challenging role with a company that reflects your values and matches your ambitions. What do you do now? You do what everyone does, you negotiate your salary and benefits package.
A survey conducted by Salary.com revealed that this is emphatically not the norm. Surprisingly, only 37% of people make a point of negotiating their salary, while 18% never do. So, what's holding them back?
There are, as ever, different schools of thought on the subject of salary negotiation and how one should approach such an endeavour. A point on which most agree, is that any negotiation should wait until an offer of employment has been made. This makes perfect sense. You have applied significant time and effort in researching the industry and employer, crafting a CV tailored for the position, and successfully navigating an arduous interview and selection process. The last thing you want is for the employer, who has formed an excellent opinion of you, suddenly to have the impression that you are more interested in money than performing well in the role.
Timing is important, but so too are practicalities – the inescapable facts of day-to-day life. You will have commitments that must be met in order to sustain yourself and your family and, after a career serving your country, it isn’t unreasonable to expect a certain standard of living. However, employers are not inclined to pay above market rate merely to help maintain your lifestyle. Fiona Jackson, a Career Consultant with the Officers’ Association, believes that there is a balance to be struck here:
“You will obviously want to earn the highest possible salary, but be realistic in your expectations. This may be your first role in the private sector – as such, you could be told that you lack commercial experience, which makes it more difficult to justify a higher salary. You don’t want to price yourself out of the role and have the employer retract the offer.”
A vital aspect of your research should be establishing the going rate for the position in question – this way you can ensure that your salary demands are reasonable. It is also important to consider the opportunities for career progression, promotion, and the resulting increase in remuneration. You may think it presumptuous to be considering advancement before you begin your new job, but there is precedent for this. BT, the largest employer of veterans in the UK, reports that ex-military personnel tend to be promoted more quickly through the ranks than their civilian counterparts.
“While it’s important to be realistic, don’t undervalue yourself,” Fiona Jackson advises. “Many of the skills and much of the experience you gained in the Armed Forces will be of great benefit to employers. Plus, we know that veterans can quickly learn and adapt to new working environments, especially where the employer actively recruits from the military community.”
A common generalisation is that pay is higher in the private sector than the public sector which, while largely true, is not the only distinction - pay structures are decidedly different. The public sector is more rigid, with pay grades similar to the Armed Forces, but this does provide a certain clarity in identifying the experience and qualifications required to move up the scale. In the private sector there is more room for negotiation, but caution is advised when asking for a higher rate of pay than that which has been advertised. You will be required to justify your demands and present a convincing case as to why you merit more than the market value.
Adrian Cheesman, Managing Director of Demob Job, served 24 years in the Royal Corps of Signals, operating for the most part as a Telecommunications Manager before moving into a military recruitment role. Nowadays, Adrian uses his considerable experience to guide Service leavers into new careers in the civilian world, and advising them on salary comes with the territory:
“Although salary is not everyone's top priority, it does rank highly; we all have bills to pay and we want to receive fair remuneration for the positive contribution we make in the workplace. However, salary negotiation is a skill that you will not have practised during your military career, the basis of which is the justified value you are bringing to the organisation.”
In his capacity as an advisor to people in the military to civilian transition process, Adrian believes that being up front about remuneration is not just the best way, but the only way, as he explains:
“It all starts with an open and honest conversation, as I need to gain confidence that you are both a strong fit for the vacancy and that it meets with your expectations, including salary. Be prepared though, as a good consultant will test and measure this figure as you may ‘sway’ depending on other factors such as hours, location and benefits. However, good advice and coaching will maximise your chances of gaining the positive outcome you desire.”
There are free resources available online, including job boards such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and Monster, as well as sector-specific professional bodies, that provide information on salaries for particular roles. In some cases, the results can be refined according to criteria such as location, qualifications, and sector. It is important to remember that ‘average’ published salaries include both public and private sector positions, so if you are heading for the corporate world you can reasonably expect to earn more. That said, while the public sector may pay a bit less, there is comfort to be found in the transparency and equitable nature of the ‘banding’ salary system.
Edinburgh-based Emma Davies, Director of Joint Force Alba, has seen both sides of the salary negotiation scenario, having worked in HR, training and recruitment, alongside an 11-year career as an Officer in the Army Reserves. During her time in the Army, Emma operated in intelligence, so it's unsurprising that she offers some additional insight on the subject of research:
“If a salary is stipulated on the advert, the chances are there will be less room for manoeuvre in the negotiation. If a salary or salary range hasn’t been advertised, then you will have more scope. Do bear in mind though that even if the salary hasn’t been advertised, the organisation will still have in mind a rough figure that they’re looking to pay. This will be based on factors such as market rates, reward strategy, and internal comparator employees or roles.”
Emma strongly advocates the use of your network at this point, particularly targeting ex-military people who have already transitioned to the relevant sector. While she concedes that talking about money is “up there with religion, Brexit and a second Scottish independence referendum in terms of uncomfortable topics” Emma suggests that perseverance will pay off and your network will yield useful information.
In his best-selling book on salary negotiation, renowned Chicago-based executive coach Dr Michael Zwell uses an analogy involving a game of chess between an amateur who plays once every other year and a professional who plays every day. Hyperbole aside, it’s a reasonable point. Thankfully, Emma Davies has shared some tactics you can employ:
“Typical negotiation strategy suggests that you shouldn’t be the first to put a price down, you should try to get the other party to reveal their position first. To do this, you could ask for salary banding before applying, ideally via a telephone call. Then you have a start point and can make an assessment of whether it’s worth you continuing to apply. If that’s not possible and you are asked during an interview what your current salary is, don’t give it. You should only provide the salary that you’re looking for.
“In most cases, your current salary is irrelevant as it’s for a different role, in a different organisation, and based on your experience when you started, not what you can offer now. What the interviewer wants to know is how much you’re going to cost and how that is off-set by the value you can bring. If you’re armed with the facts, you can make your pitch for a figure and demonstrate how you will add value.”