10 Factors That Determine Your Salary After the Military

10 Factors That Determine Your Salary After the Military

I conduct classes on bases as a part of the Transition Assistance Program and other base educational programs. Whether it's our Evaluating Employee Benefits, Marketing Yourself for a Second Career, or Financial Planning for Transition class, a frequent question I get is, “What salary can I expect in the corporate world?”

Folks commonly assume there is a universal scale for converting their military specialty and status to something equivalent in a civilian position. That's not the case at all. The following factors won't lead you to a solid number value, but they can help you evaluate what positions command high salaries and which are worth the lower pay.

1. Location. You know there are high-cost and low-cost areas of the country. Using Salary.com, you can figure the cost-of-living differences between two locations. For example, the Washington, D.C., area has a cost of living 41 percent higher than San Antonio, but typical wages are 15 percent higher. So you'll earn a bit less in San Antonio but live at a higher standard.

2. Competition. Are you one of a few people after a position or one of dozens? You lose leverage when a company has more choices and doesn't have to meet your requirements.

3. Pond size. You have to decide whether your future is with a small or large company. Research using Fortune-rated companies indicates the larger the firm the greater the salary, in most cases. The exception is in small start-ups that expect big things in the future. These companies might pay well or offer other financial incentives for top talent, but the extra pay is to help mitigate greater risk. Nonprofits and associations aren't known for top-market salaries.

4. The role. There is a big difference when you are applying for a leadership or supervisory position or as a team member. The boss takes on a program or a department with budget and program concerns. You probably had supervisory responsibilities in the military, and you know what a challenge that can be.

5. Pulling back on the throttle. You might have burned the candle at both ends during your military career. Now that you are getting out, de-stressing has appeal. Maybe you want to find that work-life balance you've heard so much about. You might decide to take a team member position as a starting job and move up the ladder over time. Taking on less responsibility will decrease your salary potential.

6. Going pedal to the metal. Or maybe you have decided to continue the quest for greater challenge, status, and/or money. This means you will be seeking positions with the greatest responsibilities and the best opportunities for career development and upward mobility. You'll command better pay if you meet these position qualifications. With higher salaries, companies expect you to be loyal to the firm whenever and wherever they need you. They don't pay higher dollars for nothing.

7. Embracing your free spirit. You've spent part of your life dedicated to the country. You could look for work in something you know, where you have experience and training. Or you could go way outside the box and pick something you've always wanted to do but couldn't or wouldn't in the past - a hobby, a calling, an adventure, a new business. In these situations, you'll set the salary or project a salary based on your business plan or needs.

8. You're a rookie. We see ourselves as the culmination of all our education, experiences, training, and jobs. Of course, as we assess ourselves, we place a high value on our abilities. This leads us to think we are worth a high dollar amount. But, to a hiring firm, you're a rookie, the potential new guy. They don't know you at all, and you represent a risk to the company. Your résumé might be embellished by excellent writing skills. Your salary expectations could be out of sync with those of a firm looking at an unknown who talks a good story. This is where networking and knowing someone on the inside can help. An insider can vouch for your past and lobby for you.

9. Choosing service. You might decide to forego a higher salary for the opportunity to serve in government or at a nonprofit or charity. If you're in this category, you probably aren't fixated on salary. You're the type who receives greater value from the service opportunity.

10. Family matters. You've spent your time in the military being at the beck and call of your country. When it mattered, the service came first. Stop thinking about you and your transition, and think about your family situation. What are your spouse's desires and needs? Can you foresee other special family needs or extended family concerns? Sometimes the best situation for your family is stability, which often is tied to a particular location. There's no military-civilian pay equivalency scale when it comes to family.

Now that you've had a glimpse at some of the variables involved, you understand why there's no short answer to the salary question. Check out the Bureau of Labor Statistics wage data. See if you can find where you fit.

One of the best pieces of advice I can offer is try to do what makes you happy. Don't sweat the numbers if possible. Peace of mind is a valuable commodity.