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jonathan brandtGuest blogger, Jonathan Brandt, PMP, PMI-ACP, has taken multiple courses through Watermark Learning and recently wrote an article that highlights important factors for when you may need career advice, whether in a job transition or wanting to make a job change.

“Dude, where’s my job?”

Sliderule Bob is a Senior Applications Designer for Widget-tron, which provides control software written in DODO (“Defense Oriented Data Objects”) for a large military contractor. He has worked for Widget-Tron and its predecessor, LinguiniCor, for 22 years. He makes $140,000/year, has 5 weeks annual vacation, and is completely vested in a defined-benefit pension plan. 

In May of 2014 Widget-Tron consolidated its operations and closed Sliderule Bob’s facility. Rather than relocate to the consolidated site, Sliderule Bob accepted a buy-out package that includes several months’ severance and dislocated worker assistance.

Sliderule Bob rents an RV and takes his family on a 5-week holiday, visiting national parks, touring historic forts, and dancing their way through the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

In August 2014, his severance critically depleted, he dusts off his resume and struts down to the local Workforce Center to pick out his new job…

See where this story is going?

The Tale of Sliderule Bob is not completely cautionary. A deeper look into his career reveals volumes of accomplishments that evince in-demand skills: business acumen, critical thinking & reasoning, career management & mentoring, cost & quality control. But, on a Venn diagram of these skills, how likely is it that any union of them will map to an opening for a DODO programmer at six figures?

“Pick a number between 1 and Infinity.”

Too often, the Sliderule Bobs among us invest their efforts in nursing their pride and trying to convince the world to give them their old jobs back. Many (including this writer) eventually accept it that the best new opportunity will not look like the old one. Towards that end, there are books, blogs, and bulletins a-plenty that address the topic of packaging and marketing one’s in-demand skills.

But skills are only part of the equation. What about the money? How much is a good offer? What is the value of your skills and experience today, in your industry, in your locale? Pay rates, both literal and hearsay, can be found scattershot through any sampling of job-board listings. There is no single source of truth here – some figures come from recruiters, others from internal HR, others from peers. Some quotes are meant to entice, others, unfortunately, to lure. Besides, what use is it, knowing the salary of a position 2,000 miles away?

The exercise of pricing oneself in a market is often not performed until it has to be: at the workforce center, while completing an online application, when asked point-blank by a hiring manager. How likely is it that you’ll compose an informed, objective response on the spot? What’s worse, what’s the risk of basing your job search on a dream figure, holding out for so long that you wind up having to take any offer, no matter what it is? Before the circumstances are thrust upon you, here is an approach that I have found to be both useful and rewarding.

“It’s from your Government, and it really is here to help you.”

Check out Occupational Employment Statistics (OES). This website, maintained by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, provides a wealth of data that can serve as the basis for valuing yourself in your industry in your location.

Why consult government data? Objectivity comes to mind. Many salary surveys are driven by figures supplied by current and former employees (who <gasp> might not be completely honest), or by placement professionals (see previous gasp). OES data comes from the employers themselves as reported to the government. There is little incentive for them to distort and possibly serious consequences if they do.

Start by navigating to the “OES Data” page. Then get a pen, something to write on, a refreshing snack, and start fact-finding. This article is not meant to be a training manual, so there will be no step-by-step instructions or screen shots. Suffice it to say you must first determine how what-you-do or what-you-wish-to-do maps to official occupational classifications. There might not be a precise match. That’s okay, the object is to get as close as possible. Combine that with your geographic area and execute a search.

The results will include Percentile values and an Annual Mean Wage.

  • Look at the 25th, 50th, 75th, and 90th percentiles. Ask yourself:
    • What is the median level of experience in this profession in this area? 5 years? 12? 20? What percentile am I in with comparable length of experience?
    • How does my current or most recent employer rank me on my performance reviews? Am I a rock star? Above average? Adequate? What percentile am I in value to this employer compared with my peers?

Chances are you have arrived at two different percentiles. That’s okay. Look at the range of earnings values between the two. That’s what your skills and experience probably command in the marketplace right now.

These results might be surprising, but not necessarily depressing. Either way, you will have a much more objective basis on which to form a job-seeking strategy.

“Why wait for a rainy day?”

This exercise has even more value to those who are not in a state of transition. For example:

  • If you are “ahead of the curve” in terms of percentile –
    • And you are not looking to make a change, allow yourself a feel-good moment. But, if you are in the 90th percentile today, what are your prospects for continued increases? Think about how well your skills and experience position you to reach for the next rung.
    • And you are looking to make a change, ask yourself: What are your chances of doing the same or better elsewhere? How would you demonstrate to a new employer that you are worth your present place on the curve? This is a good means to sharpen your skills at informed self-advocacy.
    • And you sense a change is imminent, compare your present spot with the Annual Mean. Are you prepared to absorb a decrease if you had to? If so, for how long?
  • If you are near the Annual Mean Wage –
    • And you are staying put, this is a good time to compare your earnings with your performance reviews. Are you a 75th-percentile employee earning a 50th-percentile wage? This would be a solid talking point for your next performance or salary review. Even if you cannot persuade your employer to close the gap in one fell swoop (and you most likely cannot — they have budgets and other employees to consider), you may get the momentum going in your favor. The main thing is: your employer will know where you stand and the factual basis backing you up.
    • And if you are looking to make a change, you are probably more competitively priced than many of your displaced peers. But don’t sell yourself short. Ask yourself the same question as above and work on that informed self-advocacy.
    • And you sense a change is imminent, the opportunities for a lateral move are probably more abundant. If you can afford to wait for something better, you’ll have a more accurate picture of what “better” looks like.
  • If you are below the Annual Mean Wage –
    • Ask yourself, right now: “Is this worth it? How happy am I right here, right now?” You might have nowhere to go but up.

No matter what your situation is today, there is something to be gained from improving your fiscal self-awareness, today. Training through Watermark Learning can help you fill gaps and help you get to where you need to be. Check out our public class schedule for upcoming courses.

Editor’s Note: Want to gauge your earning potential?

PMI launched Earning Power: Project Management Salary Survey – Ninth Edition. This report looks at project management salaries around the world, reporting on compensation across variables such as country, position, industry, years of experience, type of project, gender, education and Project Management Professional (PMP®) status. View the updated webpage and report.

For the first time, PMI is making this report available at no cost. PMI members are granted exclusive access to the online salary query, which allows users to directly compare new and historical data by position and country.

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