Salaries in IT support

A big post and subject – Salaries. I wanted to put together an article showing you from a managers point of view how salaries work and how our hands are tied when giving salary increases by most companies.

I thought this would be good to put this out there at the start of the year when people are setting their new years resolutions. Towards the end I have some advice for how to manage your careers and could be some new year resolutions starting this year.

Please note : All salaries are numbers I have plucked from thin air in £ and then just done a straight conversion to $ USD.

Let’s take our example as Paul and he is looking to start in IT support. As he has no experience but is keen as mustard and he gets a job at a company. Let’s say the starting salary is £20,000 as I’m English or $26,000 USD for all you who are the other side of the pond. Paul works his hardest getting up to speed and proves to be a really great member of the team. He watches loads of IT videos and learns lots in the first 6 -12 months of starting. In some ways, he is better than David and Hayley who are two of my more senior analysts who are both on £28,000 / $38000. As he has powered through learning and coming up to speed way quicker than anticipated. Well now I have a problem as Paul’s manager. Here is my problem, most companies pay 2-4% pay increases per year based on performance. Most companies have a grading system of high performance, average performance and under performance. This can be dressed up by various different names but essentially this is what the levels are. Getting an amazing performance rating is akin to capturing lightning in a bottle, it is near impossible to get as the performance weighting are done against the whole IT department and against a bell curve. High and low performers are on either side of the start and end of the curve and the middle is where most people end up in average performance rating. So while any of my team might have absolutely rocked their socks off for the entire year, everyone will get an average performance grading as this is the biggest section of a bell curve. Other teams will have completely more impactful and bigger projects that will have helped the business much more than BAU IT support. So based on the percentage banding Paul is going to get a 3% increase, so his salary will now be £20,600 / $26,700. I know what you are feeling right now. Think how I feel when I have to sit across the desk from Paul knowing he is worth more but can’t get him there and telling him his salary increase. Don’t shoot the messenger. I would love to align all my team on salary so I know everyone is being paid fairly for the work they are doing. Unfortunately, this is the real world and the real world bases salary increments on percentages. Anything over a 10% increase and it going to be near impossible to justify. I’m sorry.

So what are my options as Paul’s manager to get him closer to David and Hayley’s salary if they are performing all at the same level, some companies offer an ‘out of band’/ out of sync with the yearly performance increase which is where the manager puts together a case for the employee that they are under paid based on some justification eg he is as good as David and Hayley, he has studied and got these qualifications etc. The most companies usually award is max 10% increase. Any more and you have to go all through the IT organisation to very senior people to get a sign off. 10% usually just goes a couple of levels up in the org structure. So lets say I get him a 10% increase. He is now on £22660 / $29500.

So that is an example of how salaries work in a yearly pay review cycle.

Another way is some companies allow line managers to give lower pay increases to some people in the team and higher pay increases to others eg David and Hayley get a 1% increase and Paul gets 8% when it comes to the yearly performance review. This is a great idea but when it comes to it, HR normally has worked out the increases across the whole IT department and the CTO and senior directors know the bottom line cost of the entire departments salary increases, so when me as the manager and asks if I can tweak some increases I am and have been told, No as everything has been worked out prior to me knowing what increases were agreed for my team.

So what are Paul’s options, stay and grind out the pay increases year on year, get promoted or go find another job. IF he wants to get a higher salary.

Please note : Everyone works to different speeds in life. Some people are very happy doing IT support for years and this is perfectly fine. I love IT support and did this for 10 years, now I get to manage teams who do IT support. I am happier than a pig rolling around in prize winning mud. So do not think everyone needs to be on a hard and fast career path from the word go. Probably this will lead to burn out further down the line as some people went too hard at the career at the start for some people not ready for the pressure. Do what feels right to you at the right times in your life. You are going to be working for 40 years, so it is a marathon where the route is not sign posted and you will go down wrong paths, rather than a well marked 100m sprint.

Let’s explore these options:

Stay and grind out the increases, cool, expect 3-4% increases year on year. Day in, day out he will do the same sort of work until he changes it up or his manager sees the potential and tries to give him more responsibilities and align him on a career path to a team he wants to work in.

Find another job in IT support. This where if Paul are really lucky a new company might give Paul a big raise because they think Paul is underpaid or they want to make sure everyone doing the same job are aligned on pay. I have seen this type of raise only once and I have hired many people over my time as manager. If this happens to Paul, I would advise him to go buy a lottery ticket as this is a rare and very lucky day for him. Paul switches jobs and get a 10% increase based on his previous salary. So now his salary increases to £22600 / $29500 to £25000/$32450. Switching jobs are a risk as he may or may not find a better team / manager / work environment. You want to enjoy going to work for the whole month instead of just the day you get paid, right? He can keep doing this for a few years but there will become a ceiling on the max a company is willing to pay on someone doing IT support.

My overriding suggestion based on personal experience and seeing friend who realised this way before I did, is get promoted. Find a company with a big IT department and get stuck in trying to find out about all the different teams, what they do and if you like the sound of what the team does, then find out the career path eg certs / experience needed to get into that team. People are on different timings in life, some are go getters, some are not. Personally, for 10 years I had a great time working in IT support 1st and 2nd line but then I realised it is a young persons game and to earn the bigger bucks I needed to move on. Some of my most successful friends realised this way before me and grinded out the junior jobs, spoke to people working in senior teams on what they did and asked if they could stay late or work through their lunch break and understand a bit more. You need to sacrifice something in order to get ahead as not much will come for free. A friend summed it up by saying, you need to show a company what they could get from you before they will give it to you. It can and will feel like you are getting taken advantage of, but, when you look back where it got you in 3-5 years time. The grind will be worth it. Treat it like a work workout. Workouts suck at the start but you see the results after time. Working out your career is the same but it takes a bit longer then it takes to get a six pack.

So go and try to work with the Server team / Network team on an issue you would have normally just passed over to those teams and find out more and how they solve the problem. Probably speak to your manager about doing this before going off for an hour and spend it with another team. You might get more access and be able to solve those issues on your own without having to pass over the ticket in future. If the technical route isn’t for you, maybe talk to your manager on what are they working on or the change / problem managers to find out about what they do. Nobody is going to push your career forward except for you.

All you are looking for is for someone to give you a break into another job or team. By making these sacrifices and building these relationships you put yourself before anyone else when a vacancy might come up in that team. Why go out to market and get a random person from the street when the hiring managers has someone who is really keen to get into Networks, has been working with the networks team for 6 months building their knowledge and the team really likes to work with them. Slam dunk that you put yourself in the running to get hired over some unknown who comes for interviews.

My big break was when a job came up to be a Support Team Lead in a team where I was just a IT support analyst and I finally implemented my Service Desk Triangle which had been in my head for a few years click here to watch my webinar on this. Hopefully it might give you some ideas how to make new relationships with teams and present your new knowledge to senior teams.

There is no guarantee this will work. However, like Michael Jordan said:

You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

Even if you don’t get the promotion then you still have the newly gained knowledge and maybe a better idea of your career path then you did just working the support desk. You can then look out but maybe with more of a chance of getting a junior network / server position or Change analyst.

Money is a huge driver and it is hard not to think about it. It is hard not too and they are times, lots of times, I have felt very hard done by with my salary increase to performance or for my team. However, if you look at the nickels and dimes in the short term…you aren’t looking at the dollars in the long term.

My philosophy to my IT support teams are it is the first / second rung on IT career ladder and they are many rungs above. I am an asshole if I don’t let my team progress. It is great to see people you hired go through the ranks and remember you. If you read my ‘Interviews for IT support positions’ article, click here to read, then you will know I am not that fussy on who I interview so re hiring is not too much of an issue. I just want to see people happy and achieving their potential. To be honest, most managers expect most people to do IT support for about 3-5 years before moving onto bigger and better things.

As with all these articles, these are just my opinions and I really want to know yours so my opinions can be challenged and I can grow and learn. How have you navigated your career and got to a higher salary? Are you happy with what you are doing? Any managers out there who know other ways to get their team members higher salaries based on performance that are above the company standard?

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