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Understanding Military Salary Histories

Posted by Bob Wheeler

calculatorThere’s no doubt that a candidate’s salary demands/expectations are critical in determining whether or not they will take (and remain) in a position. This is why so many applications, career sites, and early interviews will ask the candidate about their salary history.

While it’s standard practice in the industry, believe it or not salaries can often be one of the most confusing things for job seekers coming out of the armed services to answer. The more recruiters and hiring managers understand how the military system is set up, the more you’ll understand why.

Here’s a quick look at how the military salary is calculated and once you see how complicated it can be, perhaps you’ll understand why so many veterans find the task of “listing salary for previous positions” such a daunting challenge.

Base Pay– This is the monthly pay set by Congress based on rank as well as number of years in the service. This is often the only portion of the service members pay that is taxable. See the full table here.

Housing Allowance-This is the single largest factor in salary differentials between service members with similar skills. It’s based on three factors: Rank, location, and believe it or not, marital status. It’s true- the military is probably the only job in the country where two people doing the exact same job get paid a different amount based on their marital status. Single service members who live in government quarters such as on a ship or in a barracks do not get this money at all. This portion of the salary is not taxable. This handy website allows you to check the BAH rates by rank and zip code.

Basic Allowance for Subsistence– A separate allocation for food that is also not taxable. Not based on marital status – but also not given to service members who live in a barracks or on a ship since they eat for free at a chow hall.

Special Pays – Many jobs in the service do receive extra pay. This may be for a job that involves jumping out of an airplane, working as a recruiter, or simply for having spent a significant portion of your career on a ship or submarine just to name a few. These pays are generally only paid while the member is assigned to that specific job, so it may come and go throughout their career. This is also not taxable.

Let’s consider some examples. How about two Intel Analysts – both E7’s with 20 years of service, one stationed in Fort Meade, MD and the other in Fort Bragg, NC. The pay difference could be $13,000 ($88K to $75K) assuming everything else is the exactly the same.

If the service member in North Carolina had 4 less years in the service and also wasn’t married the gap would be $5,000 greater ($88K to $70K). Yet both could still be doing the same job.

This is not to say that employers shouldn’t be concerned with a candidate’s expected salary. That is a legitimate concern and any recruiter worth their salt would be remiss if they failed to do their due diligence early in the process.

But it’s worth considering that the manner in which the question is asked will have an effect on the quality of the answer. In addition to the fact that service members’ previous salary had very little to do with the value of their technical skills on the open market, the service members themselves are loathe to put this info down for fear of being rejected out of hand simply because they made too much or too little due to factors like geography or marital status.

Poorly put together application processes not only make for poor candidate experience, but they also may lead to information that isn’t truly useful in the decision process. There are a few things employers can do to help.

  1. Instead of asking for a salary history for each previous job, simply state a general pay band for the position to let job seekers self-select out if it doesn’t meet their needs.
  1. If you’re afraid of losing applicants or don’t want to make that info public, try replacing the salary history blocks with an “expected salary” either as a text field or a set of options that job seekers could select.
  1. If you absolutely feel you must continue to ask for a salary history, include a short statement as to why this info is important and how it will be used and offer a way for applicants to explain any unusual salary history such as military experience or any other reason.

The concept of candidate experience is very real and the trend is to make the application process as smooth and efficient as possible. As an employer you want to ensure that the data you ask for is relevant and that the info provided by the job seeker is actually useful in your decision making process.

Bob WheelerBob Wheeler is a ClearedJobs.Net Account Manager, a Navy veteran, a former recruiter and a certified veteran transition coach. You may reach Bob at [email protected]

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 05, 2016 5:27 pm

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