The 10 Most-Asked Questions Veterans Have About Salary Negotiation


Meeting in person with job-seeking veterans and spouses is my favorite part of the job. As the transition master coach for's Veteran Employment Project, not only do I get to adjust the master class depending on what the group needs, but I also get to field their real transition questions in real time.

This week, I was at Fort Belvoir's Soldier Recovery Unit in Virginia. The people I spoke to were especially interested in salary (not so much on negotiating benefits). They wanted to figure out civilian pay, the job-offer process and getting a fair shake when it comes to salary. They wanted to know how to negotiate without seeming like sharks or pirates.

They were right to be curious about the process. According to a new study from McKinsey and Company, 60% of transitioning U.S. military service members earn less in their first civilian job than they did on active duty, resulting in billions of dollars of lost economic value.

As a transitioning military member, a veteran, or a job-seeking spouse, these may just be your questions about salary negotiation as well.

If you would like us to come visit your unit and deliver a master class in person, contact our program manager, Rachael Hubbard, at We love to see your faces!

Q.: When exactly do I start salary negotiations?

A.: Starting the salary negotiation too soon in the process is considered rude. Yes, it is essential to know your value on the market and be ready to act as your own agent, but you do not declare your number before you are asked. That is not the norm in the civilian world.

Q.: What exactly is the salary negotiation process?

A.: First, do your salary analysis early so that you have a salary range prepared for the recruiter, sourcer or talent management professional when they do the first phone screening. That saves both you and the employer from going through the whole interview process, only to lose out to an unacceptably low salary at the last minute.

Next, wait to talk about your salary and benefits until you have a job offer in writing.

Q.: Why do I need to do a salary analysis? Shouldn't my civilian pay be the same as my military pay, plus a little (or a lot) extra?

A.: Your military pay and your civilian pay are completely unrelated. So many factors figure into what you will earn. For example, your actual job, your in-demand skills, your new industry, the state of the economy, your geographic location, supply and demand, etc., all factor into your offer. Salary analysis -- including input from your network -- is essential. Learn how to do a complete and accurate salary analysis in our free master class, Show Me The Money.

Q.: Won't they take away the job offer if I ask for more money?

A.: There is less risk than you think. In a survey of 1,000 companies, nearly 90% of employers said they have never rescinded a job offer because of negotiations during an interview. As long as you negotiate promptly, politely and reasonably, negotiation is an expected part of the civilian process.

Q.: Are you sure? Won't they think I'm rude if I want to negotiate? After all, they asked my salary range.

A.: The compensation team at your new company puts a lot of work into the job offer. They consult national averages, local averages and their budget. Publicly traded companies are especially subject to audit, and auditors hate to see big disparities in pay. The salary they send you is not arbitrary, random or personal.

That said, the hiring team has made this offer with the expectation that you will negotiate. In a recent survey, 84% of employers said they always expect employees to negotiate. Always.

Q.: What about this book I read about hard-core negotiating for every aspect of the job offer?

A.: If you are a born negotiator, go for it. Don't let me stop you. My personal opinion is that most military people do best in negotiation when they are their straightforward, natural and genuine selves. Performing the expected ritual of negotiation in a relaxed fashion takes you most of the way to a great salary.

Q.: What are exactly the right words I'm looking for when it comes to salary?

A.: When you get your job offer by email, here are the right words:

Dear (whoever sent you the letter):

I am delighted to receive the job offer for (job title). I am very excited at the prospect of working for this company, especially because (offer a reason -- usually something that came up in the interview).

Your offer of a base pay of $XXX is generous. I hope you can see your way clear to increase your offer to $XXX because (offer a reason).

Q.: What is a good reason to offer the employer?

A.: The truth is, you do not need to offer a good reason at all. You can leave it as a straight-on desire for them to increase their number.

Offering a reason might make your request more compelling. Make sure your reason is related to the job itself, like an in-demand skill or subject matter expertise you have, a rare security clearance or computer language, or a job offer from another firm. Do not make it a personal reason like your house payment or your 10 hungry children or a crop in the fields. Give them something.

Q.: What if they say no?

A.: Then they say no. In the world of job hunting, asking for a better compensation package is not a sin. Throwing a fit or laughing at an offer is.

Q.: I see what you are saying, but why can't I just accept the offer as is?

A.: You can always accept the offer as is. It is your offer. But please know that the most common thing I hear from veterans about their salary is that they wish they had at least tried to negotiate. It is really distracting at work knowing that the person next to you who is not as skilled as you are and does not do as much work as you do is making more money -- all because they asked.

There is so much more to salary negotiation than I can include here. You can discover all this and more in our master class, Show Me the Money: Secret Practices of Best Paid Veterans. After serving so faithfully in the military, you are well-suited to so many jobs in the civilian world. Don't miss your chance to get the best paycheck ever by avoiding the salary negotiation process. It is expected, and you can do it.

Jacey Eckhart is's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website, Reach her at

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Transitioning military, veterans and spouses may be qualified for the job, but they are missing the secrets of civilian hiring. Find out everything you need to know with our FREE master class series, including our next class. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.

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