Many military veterans know their take home pay but not their gross income, or compensation before taxes. In the military there is no salary paperwork or negotiation process. As a result, veterans don’t always know what their salary history is when they transition to the civilian sector.
Typically, senior military officers underestimate their market value and junior enlisted overestimate. Both are problematic in the job market.
Why knowing your compensation is important
Knowing your desired compensation range helps narrow the job opportunities we target to those aligned with your goals. Interviewing for jobs below your range is inefficient for you, the company, and the recruiter.
Money matters. While you may be willing to accept slightly lower compensation to achieve lifestyle goals or join a company whose values you strongly believe in, there is a limit to how much you should compromise. Being underpaid can quickly turn to feeling undervalued, unmotivated and unhappy.
To avoid that situation, it’s good to know your compensation range, both on the high and low ends. But how do you know if that matches with your target company’s range?
How to set a target salary range
When I ask candidates how they chose their target salary range, the answer is typically some variation of “I don’t know.”
However, those candidates are setting themselves up to have unrealistic expectations. Here are five ways to do your homework and set a target salary range:
Glassdoor: Glassdoor lists salaries for certain companies and specific job titles. But those numbers are self-reported and subject to a wide range of variables that make them unreliable. However, taken with a grain of salt, they can give you a general sense of what people in your desired role are paid.
Friends in similar roles or industries: Asking friends financial questions can be uncomfortable but they are a great source of intelligence. Try asking what they believe your target salary range should be and why based on first-hand experience instead of their personal salary.
MBA programs: Many military veterans transition out of the military directly into business school. MBA programs will often promote themselves by touting how much their recent graduates are making. These numbers can be a useful data point if you keep in mind that, unlike veterans, most MBA students have previous work experience in the business world.
Personal finances: Once you have a general sense of the realistic salary range, consider what income would meet your monthly expenses and savings goals. If that income is comfortably within the realistic range, it should become your minimum desired compensation.
First-hand market intelligence: The only way to develop an accurate target range is from hiring managers themselves or an insider who has direct contact with your target companies, such as a recruiter.
How a recruiter levels up your interviewing
As a recruiter, I’m in conversation with a wide range of employers, particularly those that seek out the unique value military veterans offer. I know what the ranges are and I can provide realistic numbers based both on those conversations as well as previous placements.
I ensure that candidates only invest time and energy in interviews with the potential to result in an offer with their desired salary. But it all starts with understanding your worth and preparing accordingly.