Your Career: A Good Choice for the Future?

Hands over a crystal ball which reads "The Future of Your Career" inside.

Perhaps you are making a career choice for the first time. Or, maybe you are already working but have decided to change career fields altogether. Either way, making a career choice is a serious decision, one which will certainly impact you for years into the future.

Sure, you want to choose a career about which you are passionate and excited. Unless you’re already wealthy, you also expect it to pay the bills and support the lifestyle you want. Unfortunately, many people stop analyzing their career choice right there. They forget to ask a very important question. What does the future look like for this field? Of course, nobody can predict the future with absolute certainty. However, there are resources which can help you at least make an educated decision.

A Real Example

Years ago, a friend told me he was going to change careers.  Like many people, he had a job but wanted a real career. He wanted to learn a marketable skill which would serve him for years to come.  In fact, he had already started taking classes at a local college and seemed to be well on his way. You could see the excitement on his face and hear it in his voice.  Naturally, I asked what field he had chosen.  “Drafting,” he said proudly, “I really like drawing and there will always be a need for drafting.” I said, “That’s great! Which drafting software will you be learning?”

Back at that time, computer-aided design (CAD) drafting software packages like AutoCAD® and MicroStation® were rapidly entering the workplace. These then-new tools were quickly becoming the norm for performing drafting tasks. Computer terminals were replacing drafting tables with lightning speed. “Oh, I’m not learning any software. Besides, I don’t like computers,” he said, “I’m learning to do drafting by hand.”

Uh-oh!

I didn’t want to rain on his parade but knew drafting tables would soon go the way of dinosaurs and cassette tapes.  So, I mentioned again how CAD was the wave of the future.  I suggested that if he learned CAD, it would be a real opportunity. He could get in on the ground floor of something new.

“No,” he said confidently, “computers will never replace draftsmen.  There will always be a need for draftsmen. And, as I said, I don’t like computers.”

Well, as you probably already know, computers and CAD software did indeed replace drafting tables.  In the end, his career change did not turn out as he had hoped or expected.  I found out later he eventually went to work in a different field entirely. What a shame.  All that time, energy, and money spent on training were lost. I am sure the whole experience was a big disappointment to him personally.

Where Did He Go Wrong?

Obviously, he failed to fully scope out the new career field he was pursuing. I doubt he visited firms which hire drafters or asked about the employment prospects for newcomers. A little research would have quickly revealed the role of computers and CAD software in the future of drafting. Even the old term “draftsman” had evolved into the more technical “CAD Operator” or “Drafting Technician.” Plus, since he “didn’t like computers,” he could have learned this was obviously not a wise career move. At least not for him.

How Can You Look Into the Future?

How does someone who is not currently working in a particular field learn about its expected future prospects? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Contact a few companies and ask if you can visit the department of interest. Talk to people already working in the field.
  • Consider “job shadowing,” either with your current employer or another firm. (See the Career Lantern article Job Shadowing Saves Time, Money, and Regret.)
  • If you personally know someone working in the field of interest, talk with them. Since they know you, they may give you the “real scoop” on the field (at least as they see it).
  • Trade organizations/associations, unions, and credentialing bodies for the field may have information on their websites.
  • Colleges or high schools may have data and other resources available about future prospects for various fields.
  • Check out the career of interest in the online Occupational Outlook Handbook at the U.S. Department of Labor at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/home.htm/es/ooh/home.htm.

A Great Resource

The Occupational Outlook Handbook at the U.S. Department of Labor is a great resource and treasure trove of data.  Search for your career of interest and the results will provide you with valuable information such as:

  • Median Pay Rate
  • Typical Entry-Level Education Required
  • Work Experience Required
  • Additional On-the-job Training Needed
  • Number of Jobs
  • Job Outlook
  • Upcoming Employment Change Expected

A Closer Look

Back when my friend decided to pursue drafting, I’m sure he didn’t know about the Occupational Outlook Handbook. In the days before the internet, this document was probably something available primarily at the local public library. However, had he used it, he would have learned about the major changes which were taking place at that time in the field of drafting.

Fast forward to now. The Occupational Outlook Handbook is readily available online. As an example of what information one might find for a specific career, let’s stick with the field of drafting. Suppose someone is looking to enter the field of drafting today and consults this online resource. What types of things would he or she learn? A quick search of “drafting” on this website will land us on the following page.

A screenshot of the "Summary" page from the Occupational Outlook Handbook on U.S. Department of Labor website.

The Summary page contains a great deal of information.  First, notice the title of the job has been updated to the gender-neutral “Drafter.” What about the pay for this field? A change in careers is usually made, at least in part, to seek higher wages. The Median Pay data is useful in comparing one’s current compensation to that of the new field. However, remember this number is statistically calculated. Therefore, actual pay will vary considerably by individual company and geographic location.

Note an Associate’s degree is the typically expected entry-level education requirement. The How to Become One page provides useful information regarding preparing for a career in this field.

A screenshot of the "How to Become One" page from the Occupational Outlook Handbook on U.S. Department of Labor website.

The Future Outlook

Check out the Job Outlook page. The 10-year employment outlook for drafters indicates a 7% increase from 2016 to 2026. The number of drafting jobs is expected to grow by 14,600 workers over this time period. Note the report goes on to state this increase is “about as fast as the average for all occupations.”  This suggests drafting is not a high-growth field. According to the information, the expected modest growth is due to a projected increase in construction. Obviously, any unforeseen downturn in the economy could adversely impact this expected increase. If that happens, the result might be fewer job openings in drafting.

But, doesn’t the skill itself required for drafting help provide some assurance of long-term job growth, stability, or security? No, not necessarily. The Job Outlook page reveals something very interesting (I added the highlighting).

A screenshot of the "Job Outlook" page from the Occupational Outlook Handbook on U.S. Department of Labor website.

In the days before CAD, engineers and architects relied on drafters to create all the drawings and blueprints. Manual drafting required a degree of artistic skill, a valuable talent certainly not possessed by everyone. However, according to the information, CAD technology enables engineers and architects to now do much of the work themselves. Just click a mouse. Thus, when caught in a financial pinch, companies could probably get by with fewer drafters.

Here’s the point. When looking at the future of a career, consider how it is changing and the technology involved. Will these factors help ensure someone with your skill set will always be needed, or, does it enable others to easily replace you?

What’s the Future for Your Career Look Like?

Unlike my friend, you have easy access to career data and projections. You can get a glimpse of the expected future for your chosen career field. Yes, it may be only an estimate, but the information can also help ensure you ask all the right questions. What does the future look like for this field? How are changes in technology apt to impact it? 

Final Thoughts

Above all, the field you choose needs to be the right fit for you. But, before choosing or changing careers, carefully do your homework using ALL available resources.  Talk to people in the field. While helpful, do not rely solely on statistically-derived data which can vary greatly and is subject to change. A field which looks promising one year may appear bleak the next. No information or data are perfect, so there will never be any guarantees. However, by utilizing multiple resources you will be basing your decision on the best information available at the time. After all, that is the most anyone can do.

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Featured image courtesy of Tumisu-Pixabay

Negotiating a Starting Salary

Small metal suitcase-like box full of $100 bills.At last! You applied for a new position, went through an interview (maybe even several), and now have an actual job offer. Like most successful applicants, you are thrilled and excited. However, you might be thinking the starting pay offered should be, well, a bit higher. What do you do now? You may be very skilled in your particular line of work, but negotiating salary might be way outside your comfort zone. Plus, you don’t want to appear ungrateful or mess up this opportunity over a few dollars, right?

Relax. Catch your breath. Negotiating an acceptable starting salary is usually just a normal part of the overall employment process. Nobody is going to be shocked or appalled if you try to bump up that dollar amount – so long as you do it reasonably and professionally.

Remember, the interviewer and Human Resources (HR) department have a duty to find and hire the best possible employees at the lowest reasonable price. Plus, employers expect some level of salary negotiations may take place. Therefore, they might lowball the first salary offer a bit so there is wiggle room to offer you more… if you ask.  This way, in the end, you feel like you’ve negotiated a great salary deal and they’re still happy with what they have to pay.  Sounds like a win-win to me!

Should I Have Discussed Pay Earlier?

No, probably not. Unless an interviewer starts actual salary negotiations, it is usually best to wait until a position is offered. Think of it this way. When the employer finally decides that YOU, out of all the other applicants are the one they want, you actually gain some leverage in the negotiations. They also now have something to lose if they cannot successfully negotiate a starting salary. They have invested time and money to find exactly the person they want to hire. Now, like you, they too don’t want the deal to fall apart over a few bucks.

During the job interview, be careful to not confuse obligation with negotiation.  For various reasons, some organizations require their interviewers to mention the usual starting pay or pay range.  They might say something like, “This interview is for a Technician II position which has a starting pay level of $19.81 per hour.” Such a statement is typically NOT an invitation to begin salary negotiations right then and there. Again, wait until an actual offer is on the table which gives you a better bargaining position.

Evaluate Your Bargaining Position

Being successful at negotiating a higher starting salary also depends on what YOU bring to the table and can offer the employer. Consider an entry-level position which requires little or no experience and has only modest educational requirements. If you meet just the bare minimum requirements, you really have little negotiating power as you offer nothing more than any other qualified cookie-cutter applicant.  Plus, the other similarly qualified candidates might gladly accept the starting pay offer – and the employer knows it.

On the other hand, when you bring valuable experience, skills, or education beyond that minimally required which other applicants do not likely possess, you become more desirable to the employer. The question is really whether you can justify asking for more. And yes, sometimes you can.

According to the article How to Negotiate a Salary Offer for a New Job by Dona DeZube on Monster.com, “When I was a corporate manager, I rescinded offers when people tried to negotiate salary without sufficient justification,” says Gwen Ward, a principal at Fish Out of Water, a professional-development company in Leesburg, Virginia. “This revealed another view of their analytic skills that I apparently missed in the interview process. But in other cases, I met their counteroffers if their request was well-thought-out and leveraged their previous accomplishments to the department or company goals.”

If the organization really values the extras you possess and wants those on board they will be willing to pay more. Within reason, of course. So, what is reasonable?

Do Your Homework

I will assume you have carefully researched the going job market salary for the position you seek. You did this, right? If not, how do you even know whether the dollar amount being offered is fair and reasonable?  Suppose they offer $34,000 and you were thinking $65,000.  In this situation, one – or perhaps both – of the parties obviously have very unrealistic expectations. You may have heard the expression “knowledge is power.” Having a solid knowledge of the going salary rate for similar positions in your industry in the desired geographic area may provide just the power you need.

In the article Dos and Don’ts for How to Negotiate a Salary on LiveCareer.com, Jacob Share says, “As you learn how to negotiate a salary, hear this loud and clear: you can only get what you’re worth if you know what you’re worth. With the number and variety of salary resources available online, you only need to put in a little effort to know your current market value and what recruiters are likely to offer.”

The point is that before throwing salary numbers around make sure you know what you’re talking about and how desirable you really are as a candidate. Then, just as in poker, you must try to “read” the other party. Can you get a sense of when they have reached their limit? However, you must know your own limits as well.  At what point are you willing to turn down a job over a weak salary offer? You will negotiate with more confidence, think more clearly, and feel under less stress if you consider this matter in advance.

The Employer Has Limits Too

Negotiations are all fine and well, but keep in mind most employers have limits and restrictions placed on them. The person with whom you are negotiating may or may not have the authority to decide the final starting pay level. Most every position has an established pay range, low to high. Pay ranges are usually tiered in increments (often called steps) based on some factor, such as years on the job. The starting salary will be somewhere within that range.

The hiring manager may have some wiggle room within the low range of the pay scale, but it is not uncommon for Human Resources to have the final say. Not all managers are good negotiators, so HR may require justification if they want to offer you a higher starting salary.  The hiring manager may even ask you for some time to discuss this with HR; that is normal.

HR departments have a duty to ensure salaries are reasonable compared to the job market, are handled equitably throughout the company, and are not in some way discriminatory. In heavily unionized organizations, bargaining contract restrictions regarding pay may exist which the employer must observe.

Flexibility of starting pay may also depend on whether you are applying for a promotional position with your current employer. HR departments often have a prescribed formula to use to determine the new pay level for someone transferring internally to a higher level position. In this case, there may be less room for negotiation.

Let’s Blame the Budget

Then there is the matter of the budget. Management develops and approves an annual salary budget which assigns dollar amounts to every position. Do not be surprised if the budgeted dollar amount is used as a negotiating tactic to avoid initially offering more money. The employer may try the excuse, “Oh, we only budgeted $46,000 for that position so I don’t see how we could offer the $48,000 you are asking.” In reality, if the organization has a large number of employees and the overall budget for salaries is sizable, there is almost always some wiggle room. Don’t fall for that trick, especially if the pay difference is small.

Do Salary Negotiations Always Work?

Every situation is different and things can go either way. I remember getting a job offer for a position I really wanted but the salary was just too low. Despite my efforts to negotiate, the employer would not budge from the initial offer. Not even a penny.  So, I declined the job and walked away. What a disappointment! However, turning down that job was the best thing I ever did. I kept searching for a similar position and soon after found one with better pay, one which also opened the door to many more future opportunities.

Another time, I was offered a position and pushed back a little on the initial pay offer, citing my experience and credentials as justification. Much to my surprise, the employer responded with a new offer considerably higher than what I ever expected. One thing is for sure: if you merely accept the first salary offer, that’s all you’ll get.

Look at the Whole Compensation Package

Consider the compensation package as a whole and don’t get hung up on just the per-hour or per-year salary dollars. Benefits may play a significant role in the offer. For example, spending less out-of-pocket for healthcare coverage than you currently do can boost your take-home pay. Some companies offer incredibly attractive 401k or similar programs with generous matching funds.  Employers typically define available benefit packages so these may not be negotiable. However, a great overall package may be a sound reason to accept a slightly lower per-hour salary amount than you had initially targeted.

What Do I Say?

So, perhaps you agree you are really worth more than the current offer. Although it may be uncomfortable, you’re even willing to try to negotiate a higher starting salary. But, you are likely not a professional negotiator (unless your job involves that skill). On the other hand, unlike you, the company representative negotiates salaries with applicants all the time. How do you pull this off?

First, separate yourself from the emotional aspects of the conversation. Think of this like any other business discussion, even though it is about you. You must remain objective, polite, and professional. Keep your voice cool and calm. Although each of you may push back a little – after all, that is how negotiations work – neither side should try to threaten or bully. If the professionalism breaks down, the negotiations are over and will fail.

Still wondering what to say and how? Check out the interesting article The Exact Words to Use When Negotiating Salary by Robin Madell on the U.S. News and World Report website. Her article offers a realistic scenario of how a sample dialogue might go between an applicant and hiring manager. I suggest you think about salary negotiations in advance and even rehearse what you might say.  Doing so will help reduce stress and avoid being caught off guard.

Ready to go for the Big Bucks?

Let’s summarize some of the critical points regarding salary negotiations:

  • Recognize that negotiation of starting pay is a normal part of the hiring process.
  • Accept that you will likely need to engage in such negotiations.
  • Discuss salary when you have some bargaining power, such as when an actual job offer is in the table.
  • Know your actual desirability as a candidate.
  • Do your homework and know the market pay rates in your field and geographic area.
  • Receiving a job offer is exciting, but don’t let it cloud your judgement. Know your bottom dollar limit and at what point you are willing to walk away from a poor salary offer.
  • Recognize that while hiring managers and employers have budget limits and authority levels, they also usually have some wiggle room. They may need time to get approval to offer higher pay.
  • Keep the negotiations polite, professional, and objective at all times.
  • When deciding on an acceptable starting salary, look at the compensation package as a whole.
  • Think about what you will say in advance so you are less nervous and the words come easier.
  • Remember that salary negotiations may not always be successful in terms of dollars, but if you are still happy with the final job offer, you win.

Good luck!

Agree? Disagree? Share your experience or thoughts?
Click “Leave a Comment” at the top right of this post (or at the bottom of some mobile apps).

Featured image courtesy of Maklay62/pixabay.