Salary Negotiation Tips For Veterans

Congratulations! You finished the final interview, and they offered you the job. Now, it’s time to negotiate your salary. If you’re like most veterans transitioning to a civilian job, it will be your first time fielding an offer, and it’s important to advocate for the salary you deserve.

Why? A staggering one third of veterans today report being underemployed in their current position. This figure isn’t too surprising considering how military salaries are determined. While civilian companies usually have a pay range in mind that’s open to discussion, the military pays based on a predetermined scale. As a result, active military personnel miss out on the chance to exercise their negotiating prowess during their time in the service. Fast forward to the civilian working world, and those same veterans aren’t trained in the art of pay negotiation.

Luckily, like any skill, negotiating is an ability that can be learned and perfected. Keep these tips in mind to become an salary negotiation expert.

1. Your Potential Employer is Your Ally, not Your Adversary

You should approach conversations about your salary as something you and the employer will work through together. Try using language like this:

  • “I’m very excited about this opportunity, and I look forward to working together on this.”
  • “This company will be wonderful to work for, and I’d be happy to accept an offer in this range.”

By making your negotiation a team effort, you give your employer an opportunity to be your champion. You should provide factual reasons why the higher salary is justified so that the company can feel confident about boosting your pay, and everybody wins. This teamwork approach creates an ally in your employer, not an adversary.

2. This is Business, Not Personal

A salary negotiation is a business conversation, not a personal one. When you negotiate your salary, you are negotiating a transaction—the exchange of money for your work, skills, and expertise.

Don’t bring up your personal expenses as justification for a higher salary. Instead, lean into a more sturdy argument and focus on how you can benefit the organization. You should create a list of your abilities and accomplishments and how those will translate to company capital. Initiatives you’ve led or processes you’ve improved are great examples to bring up.

3. Do Your Research

Research is a a key part of salary negotiation and helps to ensure you won’t be underpaid. You can leverage company or industry knowledge about what people in your role and city typically earn to confidently determine your salary ask.

Try countering the company’s offer with a salary that’s slightly above the industry average, and then be prepared to negotiate down. It’s likely you’ll land on a final number that makes both you and the company happy. For example, if the average entry-level Design Engineer in Los Angeles makes $65,000 – $70,000, you could ask for $75,000, and negotiate down to around $71,000.

4. Define Your Walk-Away Point

Once you’ve honed in on your target salary range, it’s also important to identify the minimum salary you will accept. If a company declines to meet your walk-away number, it might be time to move on to different opportunities. Your range and walk-away point are things you should keep in mind during the negotiation, but they aren’t numbers you need to disclose to the employer right away, or at all.

Remember that employers usually anticipate a counter offer, so even if the initial offer is higher than your walk-away point, there’s still an opportunity to negotiate.

5. Never Say a Number First

In a salary negotiation, you should never be the first person to suggest a salary number or range. Instead, let the employer lead the conversation. That way, you won’t miss out on potential income by starting with a pay range that’s too low, or risk forfeiting your offer by suggesting a number that’s too high. Try saying something like this:

  • “Can you provide a range that is commensurate with my education and experience, and we can discuss it from there?”
  • “Let’s start the conversation with what the previous employee in this position was earning, and we can go from there.”

You shouldn’t feel pressured to provide a salary range or history on any job applications either. Write “negotiable” in the space allotted for salary information, and discuss it with the employer after a job offer is extended.

6. Time Is On Your Side

One misconception many job seekers have is that salary negotiations need to be completed in just a few hours or days. Some even worry that taking time to think over the compensation package might cost them the job. This is understandable, but remember that if an employer is negotiating your salary with you, they’re eager to bring you on board and most likely don’t want to lose you. Try saying something like this if you’re unsatisfied with your offer:

  • “I am excited about this opportunity. However, I need a few days to think over the salary offer.”
  • “Can we schedule another meeting to discuss the compensation package in a couple days?”

It’s likely the employer will respect that you are taking time to consider the offer before accepting.

7. Don’t Forget About Benefits

Compensation packages almost always include more than the dollar amount on your paycheck. If your salary offer is lower than you’d like, and the employer seems unwilling to budge, try to negotiate other aspects of the offer. You can request a sign-on bonus, more vacation days, work from home days, stock options, and more.

If you intend on staying with the employer for several years, it’s important to consider more than just your annual cash income.

No matter what industry you’re hoping to break into following your time in the service, most leave room for salary negotiations. These conversations are a stark departure from how your pay was determined in the military, but in the civilian workforce, they’re common practice. But don’t worry. Once you’ve familiarized yourself with our salary negotiation tips, you’ll be prepared to advocate for the salary you deserve at every step of your career.

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