John Hadley's Career Accelerator Blog
Seek Answers to Your Career / Career Search Challenges

January 2022
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Negotiating A Higher Starting Salary
Filed under: Interview, Salary, Negotiation
Posted by: John Hadley @ 10:28 pm
“The last company I worked for was small and didn’t pay very well. I gained a lot of experience but my pay doesn’t match my last position. I am attempting to get interviewed/hired into a position that is a step up from my last position and a large jump in pay but I am having trouble overcoming the “what was your last pay rate” question. One person who called me actually laughed at me. How can I handle this situation?”

You need to focus on what you bring to the table:

  • Research what the market pays for the job you want.
  • Match up your experience and skills to the position description for that job.
  • Put together your compelling accomplishment stories that back up the results you will bring to that position and demonstrate that you are worth the market pay.

    Now present yourself relative to the market, not relative to what you happened to be making before.When the question comes up, don’t play their game:

  • Start with an answer about the market value of the position, and why you are worth that level.
  • Focus on the value you bring to the table for that role, rather than attempting to explain why you are making less than market value.
  • If/when what you were making before becomes an issue, make your answer very simple, along the lines of the following:
  • “As a small company, XXX didn’t have the budget to pay market value, but I saw this as a chance to gain valuable job experience. I am confident I will be able to do x, y, z for the right company, and from my market research understand that this is worth “$XXX,XXX”
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    Pay (Cut) Negotiations
    Filed under: Salary, Career, Negotiation
    Posted by: John Hadley @ 10:33 pm

    “I am working for a recruiting firm, and have been told that I can stay if I accept a 40% cut in pay until business picks up.  A bucket of ice water in the face does not adequately describe my initial thoughts. I am at a crossroads as unemployment would be more for me after taxes, but I have great insurance with the company that I could not get w/out.

    Any advice? I would imagine there are more questions, please hit me with them! Need an outside perspective on this.”

    This is a very tough situation – I would have described it more like a sucker punch in the gut than ice water in the face!

    You should think carefully about options, longer term goals, etc, and be careful not to simply act out of the stress of the moment. Possibilities that occur to me off the top of my head include:

  • Figuring out a quid pro quo for the 40% pay cut, such as guaranteed employment for 1 year, benchmarks for production that when achieved will trigger an automatic bump back up to the prior salary, a substantial increase in paid time off (which you could use to seek other employment, though you wouldn’t tell them that), variable comp based on increasing your accounts above their current level (so that you can ‘earn’ your way back to your current pay)…
  • Negotiating with them on the size of the decrease (and coupled with any of the above). Get really clear on the results you have brought to their operation and expect to bring going forward for that discussion, and make that front and center in the meeting.
  • You could even try to negotiate a move back to contractor status at the pre-cut pay with a variable bonus based on production above a certain level, which would leave you with a smaller cut after paying for the insurance costs you lose, and would give them the benefit of moving you out of a fixed long term cost.
  • Seeking a new job while continuing to work with them at the lower pay.
  • Negotiating a severance package of some sort, and then going to look for a new job full time.
  • In preparation for the discussion, also try to examine how much they would be hurt if you walked away. What would that possibly cost them in terms of the remaining accounts, relationships, and the need to pay someone else to take on what you’ve been doing?

    If you have a strong relationship with those accounts, what could you do to sell the benefits of your services to them, either as part of the recruiting firm, as an employee with them, as an independent contractor (lower cost), or with another firm? (Obviously, any non-compete agreements with your current boss will affect your options … and if you have those, then part of the quid pro quo negotiation to accept any pay cut should include limiting or eliminating such restrictions until the point they bump your pay back up.)

    Finally, think about:

  • Do you really like the job, the company, your boss, etc.?
  • Does this pay cut affect how you feel about those elements?
  • What does it say about what else they might do in the future?
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    When & How To Resign
    Filed under: Salary, Career, Negotiation
    Posted by: John Hadley @ 9:40 pm

    “I started two years ago as a temp to hire with the belief that my salary would increase when I became full time. It did not and I was already into the position for months, and made the decision to stay because when my review would come then my salary would increase. It did, about 30 cents. Also, I have had enough with bad communication with senior management. I have a good work ethic and do not believe in quitting until another opportunity is available. However, I am looking to go into work tomorrow with my resignation letter in hand. Any advice would be appreciated.”

    There is nothing wrong with quitting without another opportunity lined up, as long as you have the financial resources to afford it.  Looking for a job is much easier when you can do it full time, and are free to meet with people for networking meetings and interivews during the day without needing to request time off from work.
    Even though you feel like you have not been treated well at your current employer, you need to put that aside.  Leave on a positive note, without burning any bridges.  You never know when you might run into some of these people again, and you want every potential hiring manager to see you as a true professional, not someone who says negative things about people / companies they’ve worked with before.
    Next time, don’t simply hope your salary will increase.  Sit down and make a list of what you’ve accomplished in your job, and what results that produced for your employer.  Try to quantify those results.  And look at what your job pays in the market.  Then approach your boss about how much you look forward to continuing to produce results like those, and could you talk about an increase in compensation to reflect the contributions you are making and expect to make in the future.
    When To Talk About Salary (Redux)
    Filed under: Interview, Salary, Negotiation
    Posted by: John Hadley @ 3:49 pm

    When I first wrote my piece “When to Talk About Salary”, I received the following comment:

    “I couldn’t disagree with your comments about salary more. Hiring someone is an economic transaction. To not talk about salary is to hide part of the facts of the transaction from one of the parties involved in the deal. There is no reason to feel shame in discussing it. In fact, the job candidate who asks about salary early in the interview shows to me a business acumen and forthrightness that makes him/her look more favorable in my eyes, not less.”

    My response

    I was surprised to receive such a strong disagreement with this article. Coincidentally, I received a comment from another actuary who couldn’t imagine anyone taking issue with what I said - he thought it was such obvious common sense!

    Even if you reduce hiring to just an economic transaction (debatable), how do you determine the ‘value’ of that transaction? How do you measure the value of the future results this candidate will produce for the organization? This is where negotiation comes into it. And I would never start a negotiation by laying out all of my cards on the table face up.

    I’m not advocating “hiding” anything. I just believe firmly that the best time to get into the discussion is after the hiring manager is convinced that he or she needs the candidate, that the candidate is the strong solution to his or her serious challenge. That’s the time that the hiring manager is prepared to make the best offer, and to be the most flexible in negotiation. To get into the discussion earlier is to risk ending the interview prematurely, or set things up for a significantly lower offer.


    Feel free to post your own comments on this topic!

    comments (0)
    When to Talk About Salary
    Filed under: Interview, Salary, Negotiation
    Posted by: John Hadley @ 11:24 am

    When a job seeker told me he’d had a great interview, but that they wouldn’t pay him enough to make it worthwhile, I asked how he knew. His answer: “Because I asked them what the range was.”

    I asked why he did that. The question surprised him. “Because I wanted to know … but don’t worry, I first told them that money wasn’t the most important thing to me, that I was most interested in the challenges, etc.”

    This is a common mistake among job seekers. They are naturally worried about compensation, and want to know what the possibilities are. They want to be prepared for offer negotiations. But there are many other ways to find out enough information to satisfy those concerns, such as through networking with people in similar roles at other companies, or friends at the particular company who aren’t involved in the hiring decision; and through research in the library and on websites like

    The problem with being the first to bring up compensation with anyone in the hiring chain is that just raising the question:

  • Communicates that at some level, money is more important than the job, no matter how you couch the question. (It also projects less confidence than the person who doesn’t bring it up, who assumes that compensation will take care of itself.)
  • Makes you less impressive to the interviewer than someone who didn’t raise the question; someone who is entirely focused on the job, and what they bring to the table.
  • Weakens your bargaining position.
  • “Oh, but I said all the right things first.”

    So? Do you think hiring managers aren’t savvy enough to know that you ask every question for a reason? Do you really believe that they don’t try to use every piece of information offered, including what questions you ask, to get a fix on what’s important to you and whether you are the best possible candidate?

    “Don’t worry, I didn’t ask the hiring manager … I just asked the HR person.”

    OK, that’s better than asking the hiring manager. But don’t you think I will seek input from every person you talked to prior to making a decision whether to move forward? Or do you assume that the HR person’s opinion carries absolutely zero weight?

    “But I didn’t ask about salary, just other benefits.” (eg, paid time off, medical/dental)

    Why is that any better? Those benefits are still part of the total compensation. In fact, that might be worse. As a hiring manager, I can at least understand why someone would be so worried about salary that they ask about it, but to ask about specific benefits? Now I’m wondering whether you are even focused on the right issues, and understand that benefits are a tradeoff for salary. And if it was vacation time you asked about, I might now be worried about whether you are prepared to put in whatever time the job requires.

    “But, wait, by asking early on, I’ve often been able to find out they couldn’t offer me enough to make it worthwhile, and saved us both the time and energy of a pointless interview!”

    Perhaps, but how do you know that they couldn’t offer you more than what they said? If I’m a hiring manager interviewing for a job whose range was $70-100,000, typically I’m going to try to bring in new employees in the lower half of the range, ie, $70-85,000. 90% of offers I make will be under $87,000, but there will sometimes be exceptional candidates to whom I offer $90,000 or even $95,000.  And once in a great while I will even upgrade the job to a new grade level to fit that exceptional candidate, opening up a whole new range.

    But if someone asked me early in the process what the range was, I would likely answer $70-85,000. I don’t want the candidate thinking I can offer more, and then bargaining for that higher amount. Plus I don’t want to set things up for them to potentially be disappointed with the offer because they compare their offer to a top of the range I don’t expect to offer.

    In fact, twice in my years as a hiring manager, I offered a candidate who was a superstar a salary only a few $1,000 below what I was making! But I NEVER would have even considered revealing that number as a possibility to either a prospective candidate or a recruiter who was interested in sending me candidates - until I interviewed those candidates, I hadn’t considered that amount a possibility myself!

    Here’s the most fundamental reason never to bring up compensation yourself: You don’t want a prospective employer thinking about how much you might cost them until they are convinced they want you on their team. If you’ve done a great job in the interview of getting deep into their challenges, of establishing how much it’s costing them not to have you in that position tomorrow, that you are a great solution to their problems, then they will want to make the best possible offer they can to get you on their team!

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