Playing Poker for Your Pay?

What do you really need to consider when it comes to salary negotiations? How do you negotiate fairly with a prospective employer and come to an agreement that works for both parties? This week,  CareerPro Plus takes  a look at the process and answers a few questions.

Is negotiation really like playing poker for your pay? If you’ve got a good hand or a good bluff, you can win, right?  Not exactly, but negotiating your salary is a new skill you’ll need to develop if you’re transitioning from military life to the private sector. The poker analogy kind of works, though, so we’ll use it.

What Cards Do You Need?

In poker, it’s good to know the rules before you start the game. A full house beats a flush, but sometimes you can get by with a pair of aces.  It’s basic, but you need a budget to tell you the bottom line. If you’re starting with your military earnings as a baseline, you many need to do some financial analysis. Make sure to include housing allowances on the income side and get an accurate picture of extra costs you’ll incur in a private sector job, especially insurance and medical costs. Most larger companies share the cost of insurance with their employers, but the annual premiums for a family of four can easily run into the thousands.

Your local military family Service Center (or the FFSC if you’re in the Navy) can provide valuable help with financial analysis and can help you come up with an operating budget for life in the civilian economy. With a good budget, you’ll know that earnings range you’ll need to support yourself and your family.

What cards do you have in your hand?

Pair of AcesWhat are you worth? Chances are you have some ideas of the direction you want to take in your new career. If not, the DoD’s Transition Assistance Program is a good place to start. There are several resources that can provide you with an idea of salary ranges for the careers you are considering. and are two well known websites, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook provides an excellent source for position profiles, jobs in demand, and salary information.

This is where the wild cards come in. What skills and experience do you have that will set you apart from your competition? If you’ve successfully managed battalion logistics, you have the experience needed to run a distribution center. Certified on a forklift? That’s a valuable skill of a different position at the same employer.

A word of caution. It’s important to be realistic with your assessment and also take limitations into consideration. If you’ve decided to live in rural Montana, it’s not likely that you’re going to find a six figure management position with a tech firm. Weigh all of the factors – lifestyle issues, cost of living, income potential, and career flexibility.

Never play your hand before the betting starts

When do you negotiate? Let’s be clear. The first interview is usually not the time to talk salary. Recruiters and HR managers may bring money to the table early in the conversation. This isn’t an invitation to negotiate, they’re just finding out if they’re in the game. They have a salary range in mind for the position they want to hire and they’d rather not play if the stakes are too high.

It’s valuable for you to think in similar terms. You can respond to initial salary questions by asking if they have a range in mind. Alternately, you may want to respond with a range.

This sounds like bluffing, but It’s really not quite the same. If you’re honest, the decision isn’t whether to fold or bluff and stay in the game. Rather, it’s whether you and your prospective employer should stay at the table and talk. Both parties need to assess whether the game is worth playing.

Do we want to play?

The primary goal of a good interviewer is to find out if you fit their organization. They’re looking for answers to a few questions:

  • Do you have the skills they need?
  • Can you describe experiences that demonstrate them?
  • Do you have the commitment needed to succeed with their company?
  • Will you fit the organizational culture?

You’re goals are really the same. If you have the skills, experience, and commitment needed and you like the environment, then this is a position you want. The poker analogy breaks down here, because the ideal outcome of the negotiations between you and your new company is two winners, not one. You begin a career that you love and that supports your family. Your new employer gets a team member who brings talent and adds value.

The End Game

If you decide to stay at the table, there are some rules you’ll need to know. You might want to consider some interview coaching to sharpen your skills, but the important thing to remember is that the best end game is a win for both players. Because the win is mutual, you should play the your hand in good faith. What this means in practical terms is considering the interests of your prospective employer:

  • Don’t waste the time if the job doesn’t fit.
  • Agree on the offer first, before negotiating the terms.
  • Negotiate for middle ground.

It’s also important to be conscious of the individual you’re negotiating with and their role in the organization. If you come to an agreement, you’re likely to be working together every day. If you’re negotiating with the HR manager in a large organization, counteroffers are part of the process. It may be very different if you’re talking with the owner of a smaller business who has tight budgetary constraints.

chipsShowing Your Hand

Since the goal of this odd poker game is for both players to win, it’s probably good to go “all in” at the end of the game. The last phase of negotiation may well be a plan for you both to succeed. Even if you haven’t quite reached agreement over salary, some employers may sweeten the pot with workplace perks – onsite childcare, a gym or health club membership, an opportunity to travel.

You may also have an opportunity to add to the take at the end of the game. If you’ve both been thorough during the interview process, you and your employer know the goals – the specifics that the company needs and what you can provide. It may be a good strategy to set the stage for a continuing conversation as goals are met. It’s best to be specific, maybe with a question like this:

If I’m able to improve the efficiency of the department in six months and demonstrate the results, can we revisit the salary question?

There’s little risk in this kind of question at the end of the game. An affirmative answer is acknowledgement that the game continues at another table and that both players will continue to win and share in the success.

As an afterthought, perhaps we should have used a chess analogy for this article. Transitioning from the military to a civilian or federal government career is really more a matter of strategy than of chance. CareerPro Plus can provide you with some valuable help as you plan and execute your strategy. Our team of professional writers have created over 55,000 resumes with a 99.6% satisfaction rating. Can we focus on your success? Get in touch to get started with a free career consultation.

About the author:

Previous Article11 Factors Entrepreneurs Should Consider Before Pursuing Change Next Article14 Questions to Tell Constructive Feedback From Harmful Criticism