Being a defense contractor provides some reliable predictability as to your earning potential — as long as the job has a civilian equivalent.
How money finds its way into your wallet can sometimes be a mystery in the DoD and IC services support marketplace. Compensation and incomes are not tied to market shortages nor always the going market rate for skills. Wages are often negotiated years in advance via five year contracts.
So How Much Am I Worth?
You are worth what you negotiate … and that negotiation can be a challenge because the defense contractor market can be like a three layer system:
- Basic services and keeping the lights on: Hello, Bell Curve! Good income, maybe not great … but life is good in the middle of that Bell Curve. Usually.
- Those that decide, influence decisions (on a higher level), create ideas and make ideas happen: often earn in Top 25% of the compensation Bell Curve.
- Deciders, directors and people that are the top of their game. “Critical fills” earn Top 10% of the income Bell Curve and probably earn at higher levels that cannot be accurately determined.
Compensation Bell Curve?
Bell Curve may not be the best word, but the concept is relevant. You can view compensation distribution on websites such as Salary.com
Employers often pay a compensation range. Knowing your market value is important.
Supply and Demand — Knowing the median compensation is good, but that does not mean that the median is the ‘average‘. Both numbers are knowable.
When both median and medium are within $5K of each other then your negotiation needs to salute those numbers as being the market rate — unless you really bring exceptional skills AND there is a demand for those skills.
Understanding the Compensation Bell Curve
We can fairly accurately predict paychecks because we know how much people actually get paid for doing different kinds of jobs. Your paycheck is reported to each state’s Department of Labor each month. Numbers and circumstances get collected and crunched. We have tracking numbers that go back to 1939.
Many career fields are defined by 5-8 levels of expertise. See Department of Labor Job Definitions.
Compensation estimates for Levels 1-5 should be considered very accurate. Compensation estimates for level 6, 7 and CXO jobs can be more challenging. Those earning in the Top 10% of their peers should consider salary estimates as a firm starting point for discussion. Predictability of compensation at the high-end is an art, not a science.
So What Should I Ask For? You are going to run into a recruiter or program manager that looks you in the eye and asks: So what (how much) are you looking for? YOU need to have an answer.
If the income distribution for your level of expertise shows $60-85K with $72 being the median then ask yourself: Am I truly a stellar performer? Are there only a few like me? Very few? If yes then shoot for $85K … and when they ask how much you are looking for: $90K would be nice … =^) … this answer gives you room to negotiate because you know your market value. HOWEVER, if you are just ‘good’ then chances are that your probable income will be around $70-75K … so ask for $80K and negotiate from there.
ABOUT Intelligence (IC/ISR) professionals: have found that the salaries shown for consultants or business services professional is usually a solid number for you. You ARE fish of the day!
Negotiate With Confidence – It Gets You More Negotiating helps when you speak from confidence! Have found it both OK and even advisable that when someone tries to talk you down in $ to say: Gosh, that is a bit less that what the current market is earning. Salary .com shows that the median is $___, and for a strong performer like myself, the upper 10% are earning $___. Do your home and let potential employers know that you know your value. Have a source for your information.
I love questions!