EditorialsBy Matt Bud, Chairman, The FENG

Although the job market appears to be getting better, it is still a sad fact of life these days that most of our members face the prospect of a salary lower than they previously enjoyed.

From our perspective as financial folks we struggle with the burden of our hard won escalations in salary over our careers, as if somehow these increases were our birthright. Alas, they aren’t. Unlike those who change jobs more frequently and who, in turn, have a better sense of the market and their value in it, we often do not enjoy such a “sixth sense.”

Therefore, when faced with providing our “salary requirements” in responding to a job posting, we are often at a loss as to what number to put down. Unlike your salary history which is in many respects a “discoverable fact,” our needs and wants are often two very different amounts.

When buyers and sellers meet in the marketplace, salary is a fair question that really should be given a possible range before discussions get too far along, or even get started. When working with clients of The FECG, LLC (The Financial Executives Consulting Group www.TheFECG.com), I almost always ask whether they have a preconceived notion as to the compensation range for the assignment under discussion. Do they prefer to be billed by the hour, by the day or by the week, are also fair questions before I seek out one of our members to fulfill their requirements.

When they ask what I expect to have to pay someone taking their assignment I work them through our model of taking their chosen applicant’s annual salary, adding 15% to cover the lack of benefits and Social Security contribution and then dividing by 250 to get a day rate. It is a simple model and “gets you in the ball park” of what might be reasonable. The purpose, as in any negotiation, is to provide a framework for thinking and not to finalize the decision. For the right person, clients are often willing to pay more. The theory is that the right person can get the job done quicker or better thereby creating a result that by implication has greater value. The lecture I deliver to those clients who want to “squeeze” the chosen candidate is that “happy people work harder.” And, believe or not, your happiness as a candidate IS a concern of those doing the hiring. (Yes, I know it doesn’t seem that way.)

As an individual, being asked for your salary requirements is sort of an unfair question. That said, most of our members won’t work for $50,000/year, and most would be pleasantly surprised if they were offered over $250,000/year. As the range under discussion narrows, buyers and sellers should be in a position to make intelligent decisions whether or not to move forward, and that is the primary purpose in their asking. It may not appear to be a fair question to you, but it is a fair question to them given the number of candidates they need to screen.

I have written often about “it’s always better to be working.” I offer that up now only in the context of your not declining to evaluate “work opportunities” when there aren’t others on your radar screen. If you are making intelligent choices how to spend YOUR time, more power to you. For those faced with limited selections, bowing out of situations before YOU have a chance to consider them isn’t smart and isn’t necessary. At the end of the day, you can always change YOUR mind and say no. (It’s sort of a Nancy Regan thing.) Hard to believe, but no one can make you take a job and force you to come to the office just because you SUGGESTED that you might have interest. If you have the time or inclination, you should play out your cards and see where they go. Often the initial bid for your services is greatly increased if you put out enough bait and fish in the right places. It doesn’t happen often, but it is POSSIBLE.

If you are working with a recruiter or even with a human resources department, you are allowed to ask if they have a relevant range for the position in question. They don’t have to answer, or they may be vague, but that is better than wishing and hoping that something is possible when it clearly isn’t. That said, they are often not well informed, and you should probably also ask the hiring manager BEFORE they have a chance to ask you. As they say, “first liar never stands a chance.”

Delaying your response to this often asked question works in your favor because you need all the time you can get to create that sense of value for your credentials. Try not to be pushed into an early response, but an evasive or uncomfortable reaction won’t work either. Know that it is coming and decide as the conversation progresses how you will answer.

When it comes to taking a job at low pay or no pay, there need to be valid reasons. When I was in the Advertising business, I was told that all agencies had loss accounts. The reason was that they needed experience in various industries. Jumping across industries is a valid explanation for future employers, but if my observation is correct you have to be careful here. Work you have done at a loss isn’t valued as highly as work you have done at your true value, as hard as that is to define. It is a slippery slope. Having given it away for free is rarely a value proposition for a future buyer of your services.

I would also suggest that taking a low paying job at a large company in the hopes that you will be recognized and promoted is also risky and not something that comes true.

This topic is another opportunity for those with different ideas to share them, and I hope you will. Just please try to be clear if we can use your name. Please send your editorial contributions to Leads@TheFENG.org and Leslie will put them in our Notes from Members section.

Regards, Matt

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