I am always glad to see IT management salary projections come across my desk, so when the Robert Half Technology 2003 Salary Guide arrived in my mailbox recently, I took some time to read through it. What I read inside surprised me enough to make me pick up the phone and call Katherine Spencer Lee, the company’s executive director.
One of my biggest questions for Lee stemmed from one of the guide’s biggest surprises. Why, I asked Lee, do so many of the salaries (all of which are starting salaries, by the way) have negative signs next to them? I saw a lot of these next to IT management titles. Overall, according to this salary guide, average starting salaries in 2003 for all IT jobs in the United States were expected to be 1.3 percent less than in 2002. It’s not a big decrease, but it was still a surprise. I had thought salaries would hold their own, if not creep up slightly.
Lee’s explanation was direct and sensible. “The large number of qualified candidates, uncertain economic conditions, and reduced CIO budgets contribute to the decrease in starting salaries.” She also mentioned a decrease in overall IT management, staffing, and hiring—with some exceptions, such as quality assurance and some networking fields.
The future of pay increases
I then asked Lee to give me her opinion as to whether the decrease in starting salaries portends a decrease in salary for current IT management and other IT positions. She said that salary increases depend a lot on the industry and the individual company that a person works for, making it difficult to say specifically what will happen to salary increases in 2003.
I am a little more willing to say, based on my informal research and observations, that pay increases of more than a few percentage points will be hard to come by in 2003. IT managers will find it particularly difficult to convince bosses that they are worth 10 percent (or even 5 percent) more in 2003.
Lee suggests that IT workers do a “checkup from the neck up” and ask themselves questions about whether they are contributing to the bottom line, have good interpersonal skills, and are marketable. “Now is not the time to be marginal,” she cautions.
IT managers need to take the checkup one step further and make sure that they are able to prove their abilities to their bosses. “They need to be able to show return on investment,” Lee explains. It’s no longer enough to make IT work—you have to demonstrate that IT is paying its own way and is worth the financial investment.
One of the IT niches that companies consider worth the investment, and one with higher than average earnings potential, is any IT job related to security. Lee says chief security officer (CSO) is one title not covered in the guide, but that many companies are looking to fill the role as quickly as possible and are not stinting on salaries for this position.
The salary guide does cover several security-related titles (see Table C below for related salary information). So, if you’re interested in network security, data security, or even disaster prevention and recovery, now is the time to get involved in these kinds of jobs. Your career will thank you for years to come.
Estimating your true worth
The question “how much am I worth?” is a delicate and tricky one, but it’s one that most IT professionals have asked themselves multiple times during their careers. A more worthwhile question, though, is “how much am I worth to a particular employer?” You don’t have to have spent much time in your career to realize that there are companies that will pay you as little as possible for as long as possible.
The salary guide numbers have convinced me that, unlike the old days in IT, you won’t be able to get a higher salary by going to work for another company. Unless, that is, you’re not being paid close to the industry average in your current position, which makes it important to garner as much salary and benefits information about your job title as possible.
A word of caution about any salary projections you see for IT jobs: Use them as broad guidelines only. Do not base your request for a salary increase on these projections entirely; bosses react negatively when you tell them you’ve found out you’re underpaid. They just might advise you to go to work for the companies that are paying the higher salary!
However, you still need to periodically review salary projections to make sure that you aren’t being vastly underpaid. Many employers pay attention to salary guides and try to keep up with the competition. Others don’t. If you are working for one of the latter, you need to know about it.
You should also keep in mind that salary projections may or may not include a dollar estimate of the total compensation, which includes benefits, stock options, and bonuses. If the fine print doesn’t say that the estimate does include this info or if the benefits information is not listed separately, you are probably looking at salary-only information.
The Robert Half Technology 2003 Salary Guide is a good start to doing a salary self-check, but make sure to read all the fine print about how to adjust the national averages to your locality. Salaries vary from region to region. You can get a copy of the salary report by visiting the company’s Web site.
Another good resource is a Web site called Salary.com, which was put together by an employment compensation firm located in Wellesley, MA. The company makes its living by selling compensation-related software and detailed research reports. On the Web site, you can get national and local compensation details for a variety of IT-related jobs at no charge. You can start with the national average for a particular job title and then tailor the search to more closely reflect your job.
Here are a few job compensation details I found on the site. These figures are base pay only, but you can get information on benefits and bonuses at the site: