Guest post by Donna McNamara (learn more about Donna at the end of this post)
Unemployment in the US has been creeping upward again since May and currently stands a little over 9%. For many (myself included), unexpected job loss created a new normal. That new normal seems to translate into a lower salary upon finding work again. My situation is a little different from most. I was laid off while attending an MBA program part-time and I decided to go full-time to complete my degree. My plan was to make a career transition and I had accepted the fact that I’d probably have to take a short term pay cut from my pharmaceutical sales job to transition into marketing with a higher long term salary potential. For most laid off job seekers, however, this new normal is a bitter pill to swallow and a difficult reality to accept.
As a friend of mine put it, “I earned my salary and I won’t apologize for it.” She was laid off from her 10 year pharmaceutical sales job and made it to the final round of interviews for a new position. The interviewer asked about her salary and that was her response. Although I agree with her sentiment and am proud of her conviction, we all aren’t in a secure financial position to make that statement to a potential employer.
I believe that the new normal means seriously re-thinking your salary requirements after a layoff. On the one side is the notion that you shouldn’t take steps backwards; taking a pay cut could negatively impact your earning power over the long haul. The obvious retort is: A salary is better than NO salary. So what do you do to protect your earning power but also keep yourself competitive in a buyer’s market?
There are a few things to bear in mind as you cross this bridge. First, should you decide to take a lower paying position, you can continue your job search while working. More importantly, though, new opportunities with a higher salary might open up internally and you may be a viable candidate as an insider. So look at companies with advancement opportunities and positions that pay accordingly. Lastly, the mental benefit of going to work every day and earning a living versus sitting at home waiting for interviews and collecting unemployment outweigh the risks of taking a smaller paycheck.
That aside, there are a few things you can do to put yourself in a stronger negotiation position.
1. Do your homework.
Check websites such as Glassdoor.com and find your worth in the job market. These websites often list salaries for specific jobs at specific companies or you can find more general information (i.e. marketing manager jobs in NYC). This information can give you ammunition to negotiate based on current industry standards.
2. Prepare, prepare, and prepare some more.
You will be asked a lot of questions about your previous experiences as they are the best predictors of your future performance. Be ready to answer with solid examples highlighting your skills and accomplishments to stand out from the competition. The goal is to be the number 1 candidate and leave no doubt in the interviewer’s mind that you can solve problems for him/her.
During the interview, be memorable; don’t just answer the questions, tell stories that illustrate the competencies and really highlight your strengths. Practice answers to common questions so you have answers at the ready and don’t waste time thinking. You’ll sound more confident. Lastly, be sure to go two or three deep in your preparation. You never know when an interviewer will say “that’s great, can you give me another example?”
3. Be ready for salary questions.
Everyone agrees it’s best not to provide your former or current salary requirements to maintain an edge in negotiations. Unfortunately, I’ve seen more on-line applications requiring you to disclose salary requirements or previous salary history with a definitive number. It’s a terrible practice but it is gaining in popularity.
There are two things you can try: 1) use your research to come up with an industry average that won’t get you screened out as too expensive, or 2) enter the lowest salary you’d agree to based on your research. During the interview/negotiation process emphasize that this estimate was based only on cash salary without consideration of additional compensation for benefits, sign-on bonus, or other perks.
Ideally, the best way to handle questions about salary is to put it back on the interviewer by asking questions such as “what is the range for this position?” If pressed to provide a number, use your research and suggest an acceptable salary range. The key is to really make you the number 1 candidate and salary will be less of an issue in the interviewer’s eyes.
4. Speaking of additional perks
When considering a lower salary, don’t forget perks such as sign-on bonuses, extra vacation time, a company car, expense account, laptop, cell phone or telecommute options can also be negotiated. A better work-life balance can make taking a lower salary more palatable.
5. Final thoughts
When taking a job with a lower salary, be sure to have a reason for accepting it. Taking a lower salary may signal to employers that you’re going to continue looking and leave when something with better pay comes along (this might be true but you don’t want them to know it). You can highlight some reasons why the position is appealing to you and acknowledge the difficult economy. Whatever answer you give, you want the interviewer to believe that you’re comfortable with the decision you’ve made.
Don’t forget to have a good explanation about what led to your layoff. I’ve heard of employers asking point blank “so why do you think you were laid off?” You might suggest that your position wasn’t critical to the company’s survival and such positions were dissolved, then transition into why your skills are important to the company you’re interviewing with (always bring them back to why you are the best fit for their position).
Lastly, if you’ve been looking for an extended period of time, be ready to explain why. Perhaps you took time off to take some classes or pursue a specific certification or spend time with family or travel, or maybe you’ve been selective about the position you’re looking for and have waited for the right fit. Either way, make the timeframe sound like it has been on your terms.
How are you managing/surviving your post layoff new normal? Feel free to share your tips and insights!
About the Author
Donna McNamara is a recent graduate of the NYU Stern School of Business with an MBA and concentration in marketing. She has 12 years of progressively successful pharmaceutical sales and marketing experience and a passion for understanding consumer needs. Her job search began after graduation in May 2011 and she has been using all available resources to educate herself on job search and interviewing best practices. She is happy to share her experiences and learning in the hope that they might help others impacted by the economy find their “new normal”.