Career Development and Compensation

Subject: Career Development and Compensation
From: "Doug, Data Librarian at Ext 4225" <engstromdd -at- PHIBRED -dot- COM>
Date: Fri, 25 Mar 1994 12:09:00 -0600


I'm hoping to get some response to some career-development ideas that were
spurred by Heather's survey. Although it's the theory I've been operating under
for several years, I've never seen it discussed quite this way anywhere else,
and I'd like to know what other people think of it.

At the end, I've also included a method for estimating "reasonable"
compensation. I'm curious about what other people think of that, too.


In the current work environment, I think "job security" is the wrong term for
income and employment security because it implies that security can be derived
from allying with the "right" organization and holding the "right" position in
that organization.

When I left the Air Force in '88, I knew lots of people who stayed with the
service because "as long as the Soviet Union is around, we'll be in business."
Some of them have been discharged because they failed to make tightened
promotion criteria, others haven't been able to advance in their career fields,
and others have left in exasperation. (To be fair, some of them are doing fine,
too.) I'm sure lots of former IBM and GM employees felt their jobs were
"permanent" as well.

Even here at Pioneer Hi-Bred International (world's largest seed company), with
strong growth, two record years for profits (and one just a little short of a
record) and a strong commitment to its employees, a few people were let go in a
recent reorganization because their skills didn't match the company's perceived
needs. My point is, a "secure job" may not exist anywhere.

I believe that "security" does not come from allying with a particular
organization, but rather from building a "portfolio" or marketable skills. Like
a stock portfolio, your skill portfolio should contain some stable,
currently-in-demand abilities that will pay the bills, some advanced versions of
those capabilities that offer a chance for improving returns (and will replace
your current "cash cows" as they weaken), plus some "cutting edge" stuff that
offers the potential for significant future growth, but may not pan out. If
possible, spread your risk across industries. As a practical matter, you will
probably have to build around a single "core skill" and find variations on it.

For example, in my own case the "core skill" is writing. The current "cash cow"
is paper documents for business software systems -- gray binder work, reference
cards, etc. Even though my paper output has declined sharply since becoming a
Data Librarian, I manage to do some and try to stay current on design concepts
and word processors. My growth area is data administration -- learning how
corporate data fits together and how to communicate that to developers and
decision makers. My "bleeding edge" activity centers around creating Microsoft
Help and Microsoft Access documents. These technologies may die on the vine,
but if they succeed, they will be important. I'm also working on a second
Bachelor's degree to improve my technical credentials; my current work in
Computer Information Systems is supposed to compliment my existing degree in

So, when job hunting and considering new positions, opportunities for growth and
training count as much or more than current income. While a prospective
employer's financial stability is certainly an issue, the "portfolio" view
suggests we should be very wary of jobs that pay well, but don't offer the time
or means to expand our skill set. Such jobs encourage us to "sell capital" to
the company at a very low price, and leave us in a worse long-term financial
position than when we started, since future earning ability is reduced.

In the same way, a job with a potential for large skill expansion is probably a
good deal, even if the pay is lower and benefits aren't as good, since future
income expansion and employability make up some of the difference.

As for what is a "high" or "low" salary, this is the advice I gave Heather. Do
the rest of you think this is a fair and reasonable way to gauge (in general)
what is "fair?" Or am I all wet?

....when deciding how "lousy" your pay really is, consult the STC member survey
(if you don't have one, I think you can order it for a nominal fee). The survey
gives the median salary for all members as $37,000, the median for writers with
3-5 years experience as $33,000, the median for writers with 2 years or less
experience as $28,800 and the median for your zipcode area as $34,900.

To develop a "deflator" for your zipcode area, I divide your area's median
salary by the national average, to get .94. This reflects the somewhat
lower-than-average salaries in your area, which probably also reflects
lower-than-average living costs.

Applying the deflator to the two experience-based median salaries, I get a range
of about $27,000 to $31,000. Since you're at the lower end of that experience
range, I would expect to find you at around $28,000-$29,000 depending on
benefits and other factors. Admittedly, this is a crude gauge, but I find it's
tracked pretty closely with my own experience. By all means, get the pamphlet
and develop your own measures. However, I think you will have great difficulty
in breaking through the upper end of the range in "real dollars." (i.e. a raise
that is not swallowed by higher cost of living or reduction in benefits.) By
the same token, you have legitimate reason for discontent if you fall below the
lower end of the range.


Doug Engstrom

Pioneer Hi-Bred International
PO Box 184
Johnston, IA 50131-0184

Voice: (515)270-4225
Fax: (515)270-3346

Internet: ENGSTROMDD -at- phibred -dot- com

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