After the TSP, I invest my money in Betterment and Vanguard. I track all of my investments with Personal Capital. I also wrote a short, 2 hour book summarizing this site. You can buy it here.
One of the most frustrating parts of military or government service is our pay is literally fixed by an act of Congress. If you are the negotiating type or think you are not being properly compensated for your work, there’s no opportunity for bonuses or salary negotiation. This is not true in the civilian world. Byron Chen is a Marine veteran who writes at SuccessVets.com and has written a book on salary negotiation for military servicemembers after they leave the services. Below is a great introduction to salary negotiation for military veterans.
I didn’t get any training when I left the Marine Corps about evaluating whether a job’s compensation package was fair or how to negotiate it if it wasn’t. This lack of knowledge isn’t unique to veterans. A CareerBuilder study showed that about half of the thousands of employees they surveyed never negotiate their salaries and another large percentage rarely negotiate. That same survey showed that 54% of hiring managers are willing to negotiate on initial offers and nearly half were flexible on other perks and benefits, if not the base salary. To me, that means a lot of people could be better compensated if they had asked.
Since my transition, I’ve learned about salary negotiation through mentors, research, and personal experience. Here are some questions I wished someone would have answered for me when I first started to try and figure it all out.
Why can’t I just work hard and prove to my company that they should pay me more?
Companies won’t hesitate to pay you less if they don’t think you’ll have an issue with it. It’s not personal it’s business. You have to act as your own agent so the company recognizes your skills and contributions AND that they pay you for it. They won’t think you know you’re being underpaid unless you point it out through negotiation.
Will I lose the offer or my job if I negotiate?
It’s always possible to lose an offer or your job, regardless of the situation. Welcome to the private sector. But it is improbable, especially if you negotiate the right way. What’s the right way? Being professional and reasonable. Think of it this way. If you make a logical case that you fulfill a position with your skills and experience but the salary doesn’t match the market rate for the position, wouldn’t it be fair for the company to consider increasing that salary? Sure, a company could say no to that. But it would be unreasonable for them to take the offer or job off the table because of it. In the majority of cases, the situation reverts to the original offer.
How do I ask for a raise or negotiate a better offer then?
Well, there’s a lot that goes into that answer (I wrote a whole book about it after all), but there are some basic things you need to know.
1. Do Your Homework
In a Salary.com study over a quarter of the people surveyed did not know the industry standard for their position. I bet this percentage is even higher if you poll recently transitioned service members. I can tell you I had no clue when I first got out. I just trusted the salary ranges on the job position postings. This ignorance is a critical mistake that can be easily corrected. There are several sites like Payscale.com, Salary.com, Glassdoor.com, and Visadoor.com, that have collected salary information from various industries and positions. I would also recommend reaching out to people in the industry for informational interviews to learn more about expected compensation. Use this information to set your expectations and goals when you do your job search.
2. Don’t ask because you want it. Ask because you deserve it.
Understand the market. Don’t ask for what you want. Ask for what you deserve. You deserve something if you can make a reasonable case for its value. For example, if everyone else in the industry makes $45,000 and the offer you received is for $40,000, you can make the case that for taking that position you’d expect $5,000 more.
3. Just ask.
Most people are afraid that if they try to negotiate, some dire consequence could occur. It’s the number one fear of people who say they never negotiate their salaries. I’ve consulted on negotiations worth over tens of thousands of dollars in compensation this past year, for friends and other veterans, and I can assure you that this is an unreasonable concern. Most employers actually expect a negotiation and budget this into their initial offers. An employer may say no to your counter, but that’s the worst of it. Be professional and courteous in your dealings and your employer will treat you the same.
Why is it important to negotiate?
“Not negotiating, however, can be more costly than you think. In their paper ‘Who Asks and Who Receives in Salary Negotiation,’ researchers…found that employees who negotiated their salary boosted their annual pay on average of $5,000. According to the researchers, assuming a 5% average annual pay increase over a 40-year career, a 25-year-old who negotiated a starting salary of $55,000 will earn $634,000 more than a non-negotiator who accepted an initial offer of $50,000.” – Camille Sweeney and Josh Gosfield in Fast Company, 2013
Salary negotiation is just one skill that veterans may not be familiar with when they leave the military. But it is one that can provide the most outsized results. It is definitely worth learning.
Should I always negotiate?
Almost. You have to balance your priorities. Welcome to the civilian world — you now have the luxury of choice. If you only have one job offer after months of interviewing and your funds are getting low or if the job is with your dream company, consider what’s more important to you. Salary may not be what you should optimize for in these cases. Like I said earlier, you act as your own agent. The agent’s job is to make sure his client is satisfied. So make sure your decision makes you happy.
About Byron Y. Chen
Since leaving the Marine Corps, I’ve been on a mission to pass on success stories and lessons learned from other veterans who have made the transition. I started a transition resource site to help service members with their careers and lives after the military through articles, videos, and podcasts. You can learn more about salary negotiations and find out more about my book, Barracks To Boardrooms: Negotiating Your Salary After Serving In The Military, on SuccessVets.com.
2 Websites I Use to Achieve Financial Independence
The best way I know to achieve financial independence is to keep your investments simple, diversified, automatic, and low-cost. Costs eat into your returns like you wouldn't believe! A 1% difference in expense ratios can mean $100,000s lost to fees over a lifetime of investing.
Even if you're a DIY (do-it-yourself) investor like I am, you need to check out Betterment. You can read my full review here, but the bottom line is for only $250 per $100,000 invested (0.25% expense ratio) you get simple, diversified, and automated investing. In addition every account now gets free Tax Loss Harvesting+ features, which should increase returns for the average investor more than the minuscule management fee.
If you're not a DIY investor or are just getting started with investing, then you definitely need to check out Betterment. It's what I recommend to my family and friends who aren't strong investors or don't care to learn about asset allocations, diversification, or rebalancing.
I have investment accounts all over the place. To keep track of all of them in one place I use Personal Capital. It combines all of my accounts, shows me where I may be overpaying in fees, and provides beautiful charts showing my overall asset allocation and performance.
I use Personal Capital to track my Roth and Traditional TSP, Vanguard IRAs, banking accounts, SDP, and my Betterment taxable account, all in one place. It's free, secure and presents me with a one-stop dashboard so I can see all my money on one site.
Read my full review of Personal Capital and see how easy it can be to manage your investments in one place. Trust me, once you try it, you'll love it.
P.S. - If you have over $100,000 of assets and a 401k, you really need to run the Personal Capital 401k Fee Analyzer.