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If you’re an engineer, you’re automatically in a prime negotiating position when it comes to commanding a good salary–it’s a simple matter of supply and demand. But while a big check in the near term might seem like the best idea, it may not be the best move for your overall career. The career tips below will make sure you’re doing what’s best for the long haul.

On Asking For And Negotiating A Pay Raise (Successfully!)

Often, people place too much emphasis on current salary. Money will come to those that enter a company and find the opportunity to significantly improve some aspect of that company.  Negotiating for $5k to $10k is nothing when you compare that to getting to the senior ranks within a company where you can start negotiating multiples of that number. With that said if you’re currently negotiating a pay raise, it’s important to hold your ground.  You cannot be afraid to say “no.”

As for when to bring up a raise, after a big project is a good idea. Be prepared with market data and set the expectation of what it is you’re seeking.  You may not get it then, but they will understand your expectations. Ideally, you should also raise the issue before your company’s review period. In some companies at the review period is too late as you have already been measured.  Keep track of your major accomplishments over the year and present them before the review period so that you’ve set the stage.

On Working As A Contractor

Excluding some very specific circumstances, engineers shouldn’t be doing contract work. The marginal difference between going contract versus full-time employee isn’t worth the stagnation that most contractors incur. Additionally, due to the nature of contract work, it creates “jumpy” resumes and no hiring manager at a good company wants someone that’s jumpy. An exception to the rule is for those who are young and using contract work as a mechanism to travel the world while working remotely. But remember: even as a contractor it’s best to go all in. Get into a company, work with the latest tech, stay current and move the needle.

On How Long To Stay With A Company

Get into the best company where you can make the most impact and stay for a while to grab a hold of a top position. Three years is a good time frame, with two being the minimum and five being the max. Generally speaking, quitting after only a year will burn a bridge unless there is an extraordinary reason.

If you’re leaving in two years it should be for a good reason. Also, make sure you make an impact before you leave. There are innumerable ways to do that, and it all depends on your role in the organization. The key is that is has to be something measurable, such as building a platform to scale, or rebuilding a mobile app from scratch. Staying and making solid contributions will far outweigh any nominal salary differences in the short term. Too many people are jumping around in this hot market, which actually prolongs their path to the senior ranks.

On Choosing Between Multiple Offers

Remember to take your time in choosing the right company and position–there’s no rush. Your demand level won’t suddenly change, and most companies are looking for more than one of an in-demand skill set.  Sure, everyone wants to talk to you right now. Vet companies against each other, and make the right move. The best offer is unique to the person getting the offer—focus on the offer that aligns best to your career aspirations and has an appropriate level of risk for you. The fundamentals remain the same.

To avoid burning bridges with companies, be firm in your resolve, but professional. You’re leaving a company for a reason–stick with it. Be clear about that reason and explain the opportunity, and how the current company does not give those same opportunities. If you can’t concisely and clearly elaborate on the deltas between the roles, then you’re not ready to quit and you risk burning a bridge with either company. Get assistance with how to be clear in your resignation from people you trust. Wavering back and forth will only make you look bad. You want to be “the one that got away,” so that if you ever need that relationship again, it will be there. Hiring managers should be investing in their employees and it takes time to reap the rewards of that investment.

Note that if a company is paying an absurdly high salary beyond the market, there’s probably a reason why. Understand what that reason is, because any place you work for a six month stint is six months of your life you can’t get back, and it’s something that will stay on your resume for years.

On Getting An Outsider’s Perspective

To that end, figure out who the best search firms are, and find a recruiter you can trust so you have an experienced outside perspective.  Admittedly, there’s a natural distrust in the market for recruiters, and as an ex-engineer I get why. However, finding a recruiter that’s knowledgeable about the market and has access to the best companies in the valley can be an ally and can help take your career to new heights.

Photo credit: Bigstock

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