Due to outsourcing and the prevalence of contract positions in our industry, it can be difficult to try to figure out exactly how much money you should be making. In general, the only real information we have to go on is the annual salary surveys conducted by some of the online magazines and salary sites. However, this method is extremely flawed and has no basis in the real world.
The surveys use several criteria that are supposed to narrow the range down and give you a better idea of your value. However, the criterion that is used is subject to interpretation and frankly, some people just flat out lie.
The salary surveys typically have menus you can use to drill down to your job title. However, the options are so limited and the job titles that exist are so generic, this portion of the survey should be completely ignored. As a contractor I’ve held a million different job titles, some have been great and others not so much. I recently worked on a project for a very large corporation and my job title was “Operations Analyst”. Does anyone really know what that is? I don’t? However, at this job I reported directly to the CIO and had maintained overall responsibility for an extremely large, complex project.
At another contract I took last year, I filled in a for an IT manager while he took a three month leave of absence. The position kept an eye on finance; developers and IT support vendors for 6 small field offices. However, the parent company completely segmented IT based on business unit and each unit was responsible for themselves. For this reason, my title was Interim CIO. As you can see, the job titles mean very little in reality. My job as an “Operations Manager” had far more responsibility than my job as the CIO!
This is another one that is really open to interpretation. For whatever reason, a lot of people derive their own self-worth from the amount of money they make. I know a guy that bragged about his salary nearly as often as I would see him. However, at one point he applied for a job in a company I was consulting for and I was asked to sit in the interview. When the salary negotiation began, he stated his current salary was around 30% less than what he had been reporting to me. When asked, he simply said well my overall salary is higher when you include my benefits, such as my pension and 401k match.
In addition, many people may make a lot more money as a consultant that they do with a full-time job. However, these individuals have a larger tax burden and have to provide their own benefits such as health insurance, vacation, sick days, retirement, and job security. In the salary surveys, the overall number is the only one that gets reported.
This is the main criteria most salary surveys use to match an employee with a salary and it might be the most flawed of them all. Some people that have little or no experience have every certification under the sun. While others have extremely high level positions and have little or no certification. At one engagement I was on recently, I started talking with the Sr. Network Architect for one of the largest consulting companies in the world. He was ultimately responsible for the entire Cisco infrastructure from top to bottom, including security. When I asked about his certification, he replied he has a CCNA certification, but it may have expired. The fact is this individual was probably one of the highest paid Cisco guys in the world and only held a CCNA certification.
For these reasons, don’t fall in love with what you see in the salary surveys. Instead, look for jobs you are qualified for and your value is the exact amount someone is willing to pay you and not a nickel more.