According to the Defense Department, military spouses make 25 percent less than their civilian counterparts. Let’s put that in perspective: The average annual pay in the United States is $45,790. A military spouse working the exact same job is averaging $34,342.50 -- that’s $11,447.50 less per year.
That’s a lot of money. Think about it: That’s the equivalent of 2,632 Caramel Macchiatos, 38 Coach purses, or a year’s tuition at a public university.
So, how can you make sure you’re earning what you deserve? Start by asking for a raise. Not sure how to go about it? Just follow these 5 simple steps:
1. Be a hard worker and exceed expectations.
Yes, this should go without saying. But you would be amazed at how many employees I’ve had in my office asking for a raise even though they constantly show up late, do the bare minimum, and/or recently received a disciplinary action.
If you want a raise, you need to earn it. Most companies aren’t giving cost-of-living increases anymore, so if you are just doing the job you were hired to do, you don’t really rate a raise.
You need to prove that you are worth more money by expanding your job description, increasing your responsibilities, or helping save the company money. That’s what will get you a raise.
And, if you were recently disciplined for something, you need to wait at least six months before you start negotiating your salary.
2. Put together a portfolio of your accomplishments.
Do you always assume extra responsibilities? Work overtime when asked? Expand your skill set by earning certifications or licenses? Bring in lucrative clients? You should be keeping track of these and other things you’ve accomplished in a portfolio.
The portfolio should not only include all of your extra responsibilities, awards, accolades and positive performance reviews, but also evidence that you are a benefit to the company.
For instance, if there is a report that shows that you consistently bring in 38 percent more in sales than the rest of your team, you should include that report. Above all, your portfolio should show how you are impacting the company’s bottom line.
That’s what your boss really cares about. Numbers and data will strengthen your negotiating position more than anything else.
3. Know what you’re worth in the local economy.
The most damaging thing an employee can do when negotiating for a raise is ask for an unrealistic number. If you ask for too low a number, you’re hurting yourself.
If you ask for too high a number, you risk getting nothing. This can be especially difficult for a military spouse because the average wage changes depending on the area of the country you’re living in.
For example, a paralegal working full-time in California earns about $58,570, while a paralegal in North Carolina earns only about $41,740. So, if you move from California to North Carolina, you can’t expect to make as much as you were before. It’s not realistic.
But, you can (and should) expect to make a competitive wage for the area. The most accurate way to find out what the average salary is for your job is through industry associations, but if you don’t want to pay for a membership, you can also check out the U.S. Department of Labor’s National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates or online salary calculators like NACE or Salary Wizard.
Once you know what you’re worth, you’ll know what number to ask for.
4. Request a raise review.
Timing is everything when asking for a raise. If you stop your boss in the hall and try to bring it up your request out of nowhere, you’ll just look unprofessional and be told no. Instead, you should request a meeting with your boss and make it clear that it’s for a raise review.
If appropriate, you can provide your portfolio to your boss in advance so she can review it before your meeting.
5. Have a Plan B.
Sometimes your boss just isn’t in a position to give you raise. It’s a reality. Be prepared for it. How you handle this will determine whether you get a raise in the future.
Whatever you do, don’t cry and don’t get angry. Ask the reason why and then listen carefully to the answer. If it has to do with your performance, ask what you can do to get a raise in the future. If it has to do with the company’s finances, ask if they can compensate you in other ways.
Negotiating various benefits is very common during raise reviews. Think about something you want that is not money and ask for it. The most common thing that’s requested is extra vacation time, but I’ve seen everything from parking spots to bus passes to office chairs negotiated.
I highly recommend military spouses try and negotiate for a better job title and/or recommendations because those can make it easier to get a job next time you PCS.
Researchers say that 75 percent of people who ask for a raise receive it. So what do you have to lose?
-- Heather Wagner is a human resources expert who is passionate about helping military spouses navigate their careers. She earned her MBA in Human Resources Management, holds the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) certification and consults worldwide on HR issues. She’s also the proud wife to a Marine and mom to two rambunctious boys. She provides career advice for military spouses at Everyday Patriotism.