Welcome to SixFigureStart®

Career Coaching by Former Fortune 500 Recruiters

Reader Questions on Salary

From the recent Vault.com and SixFigureStart Ask Anything teleclass, here are some questions on salary:

Lisa asks:  What’s the best way to approach a recruiter about salary negotiation…I’d like to know a) how someone new to the workforce should approach negotiation, and b) how that changes when you’ve got a few years of experience. 

Recruiters will demand to know salary before they present you to the client.  They need to know that you are in the ballpark of what their client is expecting.  It also is good market knowledge for them to have.  So you need to know that whatever you say goes to their client.

When you are new, you might think you have no negotiating leverage.  It is true that the big management training programs or analyst/ associate programs at banks and consulting firms have set salaries with little negotiating.  But for everywhere else, and that means most other jobs, there is no standard salary.  You are paid what the employer has in their budget and what they think you are worth.  So look at the market value of your skills (computer, languages, analytical, coursework), your internships and part-time jobs, and your degrees.  Know what benefit you will bring to your employers bottom line and what comparable people doing these same roles are making.  When you are new, employers will try to pay you based on your years of full-time experience because you have relatively little.  You want them to focus on skills and results.

When you are experienced, it’s trickier because there are more variables but the essential lessons remain the same.  Know your market and how you contribute.  That is your value and that should be your price.

Bhavani asks:  Due to the recession, I committed to a job offer which payed very less(peanuts) but was offered a good job profile. As time progressed I realized that the company did not deliver on its promises and I plan to quit soon. As I apply for jobs, I am expected to quote a salary based on my current salary. The current salary is very little and I believe that with my experience and education I should be able to quote a higher salary. How can one deal with this situation? 

Your current salary is a very strong anchor to what employers think they need to pay you.  So you need to do whatever you can to establish your value before divulging how little you make.  Focus on what you are bringing to the job and what comparable people in these roles are making.  See the points above.  Now that you have established that this is the correct anchor you can explain your salary as an anomaly and one of the reasons you are leaving.  Employers are happy to get good hires at a fair price even if that means paying a lot more than what you happened to make before.

Gordon asks:  How do I respond when a job posting (application) asks for salary history and minimum salary requirement?

This is why I don’t recommend that people spend a lot of time responding to job postings.  There is very little room to maneuver as some employers will toss out applications with missing information, such as salary and salary requirements.  I won’t even move ahead with presenting candidates to my clients/ hiring managers without salary info.  So you have to respond with the truth, and boom, the salary you name anchors how the employer perceives you. 

If you don’t want to respond (such as Bhavani might not give his question above) you need to find another way to apply that circumvents the application.  Network into the decision-makers and bypass the recruiter.  Make a pitch that focuses on your value so that salary is a secondary consideration. 

Caroline Ceniza-Levine is a career expert, writer, speaker and co-founder of SixFigureStart (), a career coaching firm comprised of former Fortune 500 recruiters.  Caroline is a co-author (along with Donald Trump, Jack Canfield and others) of the upcoming “How the Fierce Handle Fear: Secrets to Succeeding in Challenging Times” due out April 2010; Bascom Hill Books.  Formerly in corporate HR and retained search, Caroline most recently headed University Relations for Time Inc and has also recruited for Accenture, Citibank, Disney ABC, and others.  Caroline is also an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Professional Development at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs, a life coach (www.thinkasinc.com) and a columnist for CNBC.com, Conde Nast’s Portfolio.com, Vault.com, Wetfeet.com and TheGlassHammer.com.

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When Can You Ask For Your Pay Cut Back?/ SixFigureStart on Forbes.com

Many companies are freezing salaries or even reducing pay.  See my advice on if and when you can negotiate for more money in Tara Weiss’ latest article for Forbes.com:


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The Dreaded Salary/Compensation Topic

So many clients ask me about what to write down on an application in regards to salary.  They also ask what to say when asked about what salary they are seeking … because they feel they’ll take anything.  They just want to get that job.  They just want to get their feet wet.  Well, it doesn’t have to be so uncomfortable and it should be something you think quite a lot about and feel confident about before you even walk into the door for an interview. 

Here is how you can manage in and around the salary question.

Step 1:  do your research to find out the going rate for a position.  You can use the following resources:  payroll.com, vault.com.  You could even take a look at the Parade Magazine from 2 or 3 weeks ago as it’s still on line.  That’s the fun issue that lists what everyone makes, famous & non-famous alike:

  • Jennifer Aniston, Actress: $27 Million
  • Kelly Ripa, TV Personality:  $8 Million
  • Veronica, Special Education Teacher:  $52,800
  • Mayor Bloomberg:  $1.00

I read that issue every year because it is fascinating to see what people make and what they do.  It’s also fun to fantasize about making $27 Million or $5 Million.  Always fun to imagine how much money you must have to only want to make $1.00 as Mayor of NYC.  OK … back to how to handle the salary question.

Step 2:  Find out whatever intelligence you can about the position you are interviewing for.  Once, when I interviewed for a position at a company, I knew that a good friend had interviewed before me and I called to ask her about the salary they offered.  She told me the starting salary, the sign-on and the bonus.  So when they offered the job to me, and they offered it to me at a slightly lower amount, I had the facts to back up why I should be given the higher salary and that is exactly what I did get.  Not bad for just making a phone call.  But you need not know the person who interviewed for the job.  Perhaps you know someone at the company and you can ask them.  perhaps you know someone who used to work at that company.  Check your LinkedIn contacts.  You’ll be surprised at who you find!

Step 3:  Speak to someone in Human Resources, especially a compensation expert.  They know all the salaries in all of the disciplines.  They are a font of information so use them whenever possible. 

Once you have as much information as you can muster, then come up with a figure that you would be happy with.  I never took a job based on salary alone:

  • #1 reason:  my boss &  my co-workers
  • #2 reason:  company brand
  • #3 reason:  compensation

But with that said, salary was always in my top 3 reasons for accepting a job.  So once you have your information, have a figure in your head.  On the application, I advise candidates to write a range:  $50 – 60,000 for example.  Or they can write “flexible”. 

Interview and get that job offer in your pocket and then the negotiation will be much easier.  And as a last tip, never bring up compensation until the potential employer does.  You know they are interested if they are going to bother to ask, so that should bolster your confidence.

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How Much Does Your Past Salary Impact Future Prospects

I am planning to accept a job that pays below market because everything else about it is ideal, and I expect to move in two to three years anyway.  How much impact will the lower salary have on my future negotiations?    

This was a question from one of our last coaching telecalls.   Read my advice for this jobseeker in my latest post on The GlassHammer:


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Severance Packages: How to Negotiate EVERYTHING about them

A lot of people don’t realize that they can negotiate quite a bit regarding their severance package.   Yes, an employer can always say no, but remember, most managers laying people off want to help in any way possible so test your limits by following the advice I gave in this recent interview:


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In A Job Search, How to Negotiate For Time

Just as you negotiate salary, with an active job search you need to negotiate for time.  Check out my advice on this topic in my latest Glass Hammer Ask A Recruiter column

Bonus tip for blog readers:  a job search is taxing enough without adding additional companies that you are not genuinely interested in.  In today’s tough market you have to cast a wider net.  I also believe that you shouldn’t rule out companies before you have researched them thoroughly.  However, once you know you’re not going to take a position there, save yourself and your prospective employer the time and bow out gracefully.  Keep the contact lines open for networking; just don’t pursue that specific job.

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Start of something new…

The best time to plant a tree…was 20 years ago. The second best time is today. Chinese Proverb

Ok, so Connie and I are finally planting our “blog” tree.  For those of you who read our various newsletters and columns, THANK YOU.  We will still write those.  But this blog we can update more frequently.  I can also answer questions more immediately here…SixFigureStart got a question yesterday from a candidate being offered a lower salary than he expected.  He wants to mention that the offer doesn’t cover his living expenses…For those of you in salary negotiations, it’s NOT about your living expenses.  It’s about the company — what you can do for them and what they are willing to pay for it.  Check out my advice on getting a salary jump on Wetfeet: http://www.wetfeet.com/Experienced-Hire/Salary/Experts/Negotiating-Up.aspx.   Remember that salaries, like trees, grow over time and often are anchored in their original roots.  The best time to get the maximum salary is in the beginning of job and career.  But for those of you who aren’t switching jobs or started with a low salary, you can still become a better negotiator and ask for a raise…The best time to get a good salary is years ago, the second best time is today.

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