IT salary survey: Highest- and lowest-paying industries

Our IT salary survey reveals a shakeup in the highest-paying industries, with financial services knocked off its perch on top and health care rising.

Where did it pay to work in 2011 if you were an IT executive at a large company? Based on the responses of senior and midlevel IT enterprise executives to our annual CIO/IT Strategy Media Group IT salary and career survey, four industries stand out:

  • Aerospace/defense
  • Business services/consulting (non-IT)
  • Manufacturing (IT-related)
  • Research and development

Financial services dipped to seventh place in 2011, with only one-fifth of its IT executives making more than $210,000 annually.

In these industries, one-third of IT executives received annual salaries of more than $210,000. The financial services industry, on the other hand, dipped to seventh place in 2011, with 21% of its IT executives at that pay level. That percentage is down from 2010, when 27% of financial services IT executives made upwards of $210,000. The loss of the sector's top-dog status, therefore, suggests the recession has finally caught up with it. The lowest-paid IT executives for two years running are in education, where one-quarter to one-third of IT executives made less than $90,000 a year.

An industry where IT executive pay improved considerably in 2011 was health care (see graphic of average salaries by industry below). Salary survey data shows that the medical/health care/pharmaceutical/biotech category was tied with financial services for seventh place among the highest-paying industries in 2011. Of the IT executives in this field, 21% made more than $210,000, and a relatively low 9% made less than $90,000. That was the reverse of 2010, when the industry was second from the bottom in pay, with only 9% of IT executives making more than $210,000.

Our annual IT salary survey was conducted among readers of SearchCIO.com and SearchCIO-Midmarket.com in November. It gathered more than 1,700 responses from IT executives and roles globally across 32 industries. The rankings are based on responses from senior and midlevel IT leaders across all industries, categorized by annual earning power: Highest earners are those who earn more than $210,000 annually; midlevel earners earn $90,000 to $210,000 annually; low earners earn less than $90,000 per year.

2012 salary survey: Bonuses and cuts, by industry

As for 2012, the IT executives who are pretty certain of getting a bonus along with a raise this year are in the legal/insurance/real estate sectors. An incredible 80% of the executives in those fields said they expect to receive a raise and a bonus.

Salaries by industry

IT managers, directors and senior executives
Average salary
Medical/health care/pharmaceutical/biotech $132,987
Financial $128,569
Manufacturing (non-IT) $127,911
Wholesale/retail/trade (non-IT) $122,336
Education $112,691
Government $110,131

There were plenty of other industries, however, where 50% or more of IT leaders expect a raise and a bonus. These include: aerospace/defense; business services/consulting (non-IT); entertainment; manufacturing (non-IT); financial services, technology service provider; and wholesale/retail/trade (non-IT).

If you work for government, on the other hand, you probably won't be getting a boost in pay: Only 7% of IT leaders in that sector expect a raise and a bonus, and 5% expect their pay to drop.

Job satisfaction by industry

In terms of job satisfaction, the energy/utilities and construction/mining and agriculture sectors boasted the largest percentage of happy IT executives in 2011. About a third of the respondents in these two industries describe themselves as "extremely satisfied."

At the other end of the spectrum, doom and gloom prevail. In three industries -- automotive/transportation, government, and research and development -- more than half of the executives responding said they were "somewhat" or "not at all satisfied" with their jobs. In fact, in almost all industries -- 15 of the 22 polled -- more than 30% of respondents were "not at all satisfied" or "somewhat dissatisfied."

For veteran IT executive José Botto, who spent 2011 as a highly paid interim CIO for a Miami-based global financial services company, any job dissatisfaction he felt was unrelated to his pay or to the industry in which he works. He contends that the fast-moving, multifaceted financial services industry is perhaps the most rewarding sector for a CIO. Instead, the frustration IT executives could be feeling is endemic to IT. CIOs today are struggling to get the "structure in place to accommodate an IT environment provided from multiple sources," including internal, outsourced and cloud-sourced solutions, he said. IT organizations have not evolved fast enough to handle this multisourced environment. "We still have global companies where IT people see themselves as specialists, when what we need are people with solid project and program management skills."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

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