Civilian compensation is very different from military pay and benefits. Thus it is important that you learn what to expect in your chosen career field.

What do you want?
Your chosen career plays a big role in your pay. Those fields where there is high demand but limited supply generally pay well – current example is experienced cybersecurity folks. The reverse is also true, which is why so many security guards hold multiple jobs to support themselves.

Your personal interests and lifestyle play a role. One person might be most interested in earning big money, while another does not want the commission plans, long hours, or extensive travel that often accompany such jobs. What are your trade-offs?

Benefits, such as retirement savings or health care insurance, may be very important to you or you may have it covered and be less concerned.

Where you work and live also plays a role so check out your choices in advance.

Salaries Vary Widely
There are a very wide range of salaries for almost any job. Typically, the same job can pay very differently depending on:

  • Type of organization, such as: major corporation or small local firm, government contractor, retail, non-profit, government agency, etc.
  • Size of organization: generally small organizations pay less, large ones pay average rates.
  • Function within the organization: how important is the job to the organizations’ core business?
  • Location: Pay rates differ significantly across the USA and many jobs have noticeable pay differences depending on whether they are in a city proper, in inner or outer suburbs, rural areas, etc.
  • The state of the market: how many qualified people are there to fill jobs?

Which means you need to do your homework.

How realistic are your expectations?
What do your target type of organizations pay for this work?
What options are most available to meet your desires?
Bottom line: you need to decide what total compensation you are seeking and how you will consider breaking that up among base salary, bonus, commission, overtime pay, benefits, and/or services.

And that all means you need to learn how to find pay and benefit information.

Information Sources
What are current salaries for the jobs which interest you? Remember, compare those for the same jobs at the specific type of organization which interests you in your geographic area.

  • Reach out and ask people you know well who are in the field for pay ranges, incentives, and other pay data that they might know.
  • Research the salary information and pay ranges posted on jobs which interest you on job boards.
  • Many professional organizations do salary surveys for their members. Check yours out. Or, if you are not a member, ask people in your field if they have access. Often these surveys also have some information on common benefits, so check for this too.
  • When you are networking, ask these questions:
    “What is the typical current pay range for X position?” and “What do you currently see happening to pay rates for Z?”
  • When you develop a relationship with an agency recruiter, ask about how salaries work in the industry and what benefits are most common.  Also learn what changes in the market they are seeing.
  • Some larger employment agencies and job boards provide basic salary surveys for their core markets. For example, does surveys on IT positions and posts them via their website. These are quite general but can get you in a very general range.

Salary Data on the Web
There is plenty of pay data available on the web. Most of it is fairly general and often rather old. A lot of places use the same source, but brand it for their own use. Useful sources include:

Bureau of Labor Statistics – great information by job on current wages by specific geographic areas. Benefits information studies are also available here.

Commercial sites include,, and many others. Be aware that these are rolling, large-scale averages of averages. When you put in a specific location, you get national average data multiplied by a standard factor for your location relative to the U.S. average.

More useful are those that use employee provided data for specific employers, such as and

Benefits Matter
Benefits are also quite variable. Few companies now offer pension plans although mid-size to larger organizations usually offer some form of retirement savings plan and may match a portion of your contributions. Health care insurance is available in about half of all companies. What you will get and what you pay for it ranges very widely. Most mid-size and larger organizations offer paid vacation, sick leave, and some paid holidays.

Many organizations showcase their benefits on their websites. You should look at these for all the organizations which interest you – and for others in these markets to develop a sense of what is common and what is not.

Bottom Line
Learning about civilian pay takes some work but it will be well worth your time so that you have realistic expectations when you are seeking work. And so you can negotiate a fair deal, if necessary, when you get a job offer.

Adapted from my LinkedIn Pulse article.