Is it ever right to accept a lower salary?

Is it ever right to accept a lower salary? Author: Kathryn Gallan Published: 25 July 2017

Over the last week I’ve been asked by senior digital leaders how to handle salary negotiations at interview stage. This can be a difficult conversation to have at first interview. You may not necessarily get an indicator of whether the hiring company perceives you to be a good fit for their company, or whether the decision to invite you back hinges around your earning expectations.

Salary negotiations can become more difficult to judge if you’ve been with your current employer for a period of time, you’re finding yourself redundant for the first (or a very long) time or you’re looking to move sectors.

Traditionally the approach to salary negotiations has been to look for around 5-10% more with each move, almost by way of demonstrating progression. But when you really need to move, should the way you handle salary negotiations change?

The answer is yes. Judging your career success by monetary rewards can actually be one way to destabilise your career.

 A constantly increasing salary often means that your personal or family expenditure increases in line with it (bigger car, bigger house, more holidays) and future decisions then become based around continuing your lifestyle. There’s a great chapter in leading talent strategist Dr Brad Smart’s book “TopGrading” which describes how A Players can quickly become B Players by making career decisions purely based on salary. I have personally seen many great candidates go from being stars with their company to being underperformers because they didn’t consider how much extra pressure or responsibility came with the bigger salary.

So what should you ask for?

If you’re at the stage where you’re earning £100,000 plus, then you need to build in a £20,000 tolerance. I’ve advised many candidates over the years on what they should look for and it’s evident that worth and value are not the same thing. Your future employer will not necessarily pay you the same or more than you earned previously because it just doesn’t sit comfortably with them.

£110,000 can easily be a director at a small or mid-sized business but it can also be a head of department at a much larger company. Many candidates, in my opinion, make the mistake early in their job search by holding out for a salary comparable to their current/previous one and in doing so miss out on many exciting opportunities.

If you are out of work, your market value will erode the longer this remains. So even if you’re comfortable taking your time to find a position with the right remuneration and responsibility, you may find your earnings deteriorate by as much as 25% over a 12 month period.

The advice that I give to salary negotiations is three-fold;

First, consider what you need for a comfortable standard of living. Anything over this allows you the freedom to select work you really want to do.

Second, scrutinise the job description. Determine which aspects of the role profile you excel in, identify the significance of the areas where you have limited knowledge; how long it will take to learn and what this means for the company by way of side-lined projects etc. Work closely with the Search Consultant, they will know how you compare to other applicants and they’ll also be able to advise you on how best to negotiate to get the best outcome for you.

Finally, make decisions based on how you can affect or influence the success of the company, the people you can inspire along the way, whether you learn new skills or whether you can be yourself and have a little fun Monday to Friday along the way.

Kathryn Gallan is a Consultant in the IT & Digital Leadership practice

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