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Salary Reality Bites

Posted by Patra Frame

Salary Reality BitesThe past five years have been quite difficult for people in the cleared space and throughout government contracting. Jobs have disappeared while existing pay rates have been cut. On average, wages started declining in 2010 and that process increased as sequestration kicked in. In DOD, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began winding down and government contracting jobs were being cut significantly as were pay rates for the more limited positions remaining. By early FY14 and again in early FY15, there were some positive outlooks but many did not work out. And sequestration is scheduled to be with us for three more years.

I have regularly talked with security cleared professionals facing 25-40% cuts in pay over the past few years. At ClearedJobs.Net resume reviews, I often have seen people who have been out of work for long periods while they hold out for previous salary levels. When they finally do take a position, they are facing both the losses from months without a job as well as the new lower salary.

In developing this post I looked at salary surveys and also talked with a number of government contractors. All continue to face lower pay rates in new contracts, often with lower experience requirements. Most see limited pay growth, even in cybersecurity and software development, despite the growth in demand.

What Options Do You Have

Many people look to change jobs as a way to get a bigger paycheck. This is most possible if you are in an in-demand technical field and hold advanced clearances and/or various polygraph levels. Even here, the pay increase is more likely to be in the 5-10% range than not. Be sure you know what you are really gaining in any such job change, unless you are already very unhappy with your current employer. Jump ‘to’ a job, rather than ‘away from’ a job for better career success. Your best chances at getting a new job are when you are employed, so do not wait for your contract to end.

5 Strategies for Success

People who are keeping up with new technologies or adding relevant certifications are also more likely to find an internal promotion and pay raise. If you have been too busy to focus on your own professional development, start doing so now. No-one else will be responsible for your career, you have to pay attention and make smart moves. Use any benefits available from your employer, but pay your own way forward if you have to – you are making a great investment! Consider lateral moves within your current employer as a way to get into jobs with a better outlook or to position yourself for future promotions. Ask your boss about career development options and how you can move forward.

Get your financial house in order. Make sure you understand all the benefits available through your employer and are using them wisely. Save at least enough to get the full matching dollars in any retirement savings plan offered – those amount to free money. Be careful in selecting health insurance plans to get the best value for your needs. Use any pre-tax options offered. Look at how you are spending your money and what you can do to cut expenses. The basic financial advice is that you need at least six months income in emergency savings – but few of us actually have more than a month or two.

Keep a job journal showing your achievements each week or day — and how they impact your employer and their customers. Use this to create a record for your manager of the most critical impact achievements you have. Then use that to justify your request for a pay raise.

Build your relationships with other people inside your company and across your career field. Too many people suddenly start to network when they need a new job which is ineffective and slows the process. Build those connections into reciprocal relationships now. Then when you are ready to move or forced to do so, you will have people who can help you in the process. Plus some of them may be able to recommend you for jobs at their organizations – which is a far easier way in than any other.

Think about your future options. Would you be happier in a private sector position outside government contracting? Are there state or local agencies which might be a good match? As the intelligence analyst jobs dried up, many moved into marketing research, business intelligence, and police support functions. If you have IT or cybersecurity expertise, there are many jobs in corporations which need your skills. Whatever your career area, it is likely that there is an equivalent or related field outside the government contracting world. Think about your transferable skills!

Whatever steps you take, be sure that you are checking with your network to learn more about both the options available and the pay rates for positions you seek. Ask for information about current market rates and trends for jobs which interest you. Hiring managers, recruiters, and executives you know are great resources for this information. More generic information can be found on Glassdoor and Vault while some industry groups do salary surveys that are available to members.

“This too shall pass”, as have previous such difficult times. But you can improve your position now, and be ready for better opportunities when they come, with just a little effort.

This entry was posted on Sunday, October 04, 2015 9:22 pm

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