Know your worth: how to name your price in the civilian job market

One of the most common financial tips you receive when you leave the military is… (be prepared) KNOW YOUR VALUE.

The person giving you this advice in an informational interview usually stops for a moment so you can write it down and the earth will stop shaking.

For the transitioning service member, knowing your worth sounds like great advice for a job seeker — kind of New Age-y and self-esteem-boosting at the same time. It sounds like the advice giver is telling you that you have great intrinsic value and can make a difference in the world, so you should never settle.

Which is most likely true.

Later, however, this advice turns to you – like the milk you ask your mother to smell to see if it has soured. Instead of giving you hope, it makes you feel like you don’t know what you’re doing in the job market.

It’s especially painful after your phone interview with the human resources person who asks you what kind of salary you expect – then quickly hangs up. Did you just quote a figure that was too high? Did you just offer yourself at such a low price that you presented yourself as a beginner?

Suddenly you suspect that there is a secret group of people playing hardball and making real money because they know their worth and you don’t.

This is madness.

What they mean by “Know your worth”.

When people advise you to know your worth during the military transition, what they’re really telling you is to do your homework. They tell you to talk to your friends and acquaintances about money and salaries and how the civilian world really works when it comes to finances.

It makes the military squirm. In military culture, we hate to talk about money. It’s embarassing. It’s embarassing. If you want to know how much someone makes, we think you should be able to look it up on a handy salary chart like normal people do.

How not to name your prize

As’s Lead Transition Coach, I see people trying to get by on their financial homework by doing one of these three tricks:

1. Military Pay = Civilian Pay

It’s the mental leap that says everything I did in the military is what I’m worth in the outside world. Plus 10%. At least.

2. Billing for quality of life

This is the calculation often made by retirees to determine how much you need to add to your retirement in order to maintain the same quality of life. Plus an additional 50% to account for taxes.

3. Government job equivalents

It’s the mental gymnastics you’re doing that makes you look up your government equivalent on a federal salary chart and decide you should earn at least as much as a GS-15. (Everyone thinks they should earn as much as a GS-15.)

Understand that none of these things are how your next salary will be determined. Instead, civilian employers set the salary for each job based on their own type of calculation.

Usually, your salary is directly related to how much the employer can charge a client for the work you produce, plus their profit. This information is not published on the company’s website, so you still need to do your homework.

How to name your price in the civilian labor market

The first stage is an online stage. Find the jobs you want on company websites and job boards like Monster, LinkedIn and Indeed. Then, research those job titles on sites like and Glassdoor to find a pretty good estimate of what they pay, but that rarely takes into account local factors like housing costs.

Then you need to start talking to your friends, acquaintances and mentors who live in the area where you want to live. You never, ever never need to ask these people what they are doing. This question is still considered rude, thank goodness.

Instead, one of the questions you ask them about transitioning is what your lineup might be. I imagine the conversation would go something like this: “I have a phone interview with someone from HR. I know they’re going to ask me about my salary expectations, so I’m trying to figure out what my range should be. be. In that area, I think it should be something between X and Y. Do you think I got it right?”

Then they will tell you and you can adjust your ideas. Then, when the HR rep asks about your salary expectations, you can reply, “I’ve done some research and in this area, I think the range for this type of position is somewhere between X and Y.” Then you stop talking.

The other way to get this number is to ask the HR professional or recruiter something like “What kind of range do you have in mind for this position?”

Getting your job outlook and salary range is one of the tasks that everyone must undertake during job search. Do your homework on the salary and know that you are worth every penny.

For more tips on how to make a successful military transition, sign up for one of our many FREE military transition masterclasses today. You can view previous courses in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.

Jacey Eckhart is’s Lead Transition Coach. She is a Certified Professional Career Coach and Military Sociologist who helps service members get their first civilian job by offering career-level masterclasses through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website . Contact her at [email protected]

Learn more about the Veterans Employment Project

Worried about your transition finances? Sign up for our FREE Transition Masterclass, Fistful of Dollars: Financial Strategies for Transition, August 4 at 4 p.m. EST. Find out how you can create a transitional financial plan now that will help you transition to the civilian side of life, no matter how much you have (or haven’t) been able to save.

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