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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Cha-Ching: How Money Influences The Job Search

See all of our recruiting blogs for the student jobseeker at Vault.com:


Cha-Ching Off-Campus / How Money Influences Your Search
Posted on MAR 30, 2009 12:00 A.M.

Posted By Caroline Ceniza-Levine


I recently coached a client who was trying to identify suitable target industries.  She also wanted to start at $50,000 (she is an undergraduate, class of 2009, in NYC).  When I pointed out that her target salary implied banking and consulting and not much else, she was taken aback and quickly lowered her target salary to $40,000.  I pointed out that even at $40,000 she ruled out media, advertising, PR, and many non-profits that start out in the $30’s, sometimes less.  She was again aghast. 


Frankly, I was aghast.  That she could lower her target by 20% so quickly suggested that she hadn’t really thought about her budget — a 20% swing is a big deal.  That she wasn’t aware of typical base salaries in different industries suggested that she hadn’t researched the money while researching industries for her search. 


Money influences your search.  You don’t want to target a job only to find out that it doesn’t pay what you expected.  Here are money issues you need to work out in order to have a productive job search:


What is your budget?  You may have student loan payments to make.  You may want to live on your own.  You may target an expensive city like New York.  All of these considerations need to be factored into your search.  If you want to live in NY and your parents can’t subsidize you and you have $500 loan payments kicking in, add up your expected budget and figure out how you’re going to meet that.  You may decide to still pursue an industry whose typical starting salary doesn’t cover this, but then you know you need to supplement with bartending, retail, or some other source of income


What are your dream jobs paying at the entry-level?  Salaries for some low-paying industries can rise dramatically over time when you consider executive or management positions.  There are six-figure jobs in PR, advertising and non-profit.  If you can take a long-term view, don’t let the entry-level salary dissuade you from a genuine interest you have.  However, you should still be aware of what entry-level salaries are so, coupled with the budget question, you ensure that you take care of yourself in the short term.


How important is money in general to you?  Will you take your second choice company if it offers more money?  Do you need to have a performance bonus incentive or the promise of rapid salary growth?  Is money a key sign of status, something you hadn’t thought of until reading this column, or something in-between?  Every job comes with a salary, benefits and other money-related implications so you need to know how you feel about money in order to have a job search that reflects your priorities and values.


Ask the above questions now while you are planning your search, not when you have the pressure and urgency of an offer to consider.



Cha-Ching On-Campus / How Money Influences Your Search


Posted By Connie Thanasoulis-Cerrachio


On Wall Street, some things have changed dramatically and other things haven’t changed much at all.


Dramatic change:  the number of entry level full-time and summer hires made by top firms from campus recruiting efforts; Little change:  the entry level salary once you are hired.  From Caroline’s email above there seems to be some uncertainty as far as salaries go.  So why don’t we clear this up– starting at the high end and moving downward: 


$60,000 – $65,000:  Investment Banking, Global Markets, Asset Management, Consulting:  For those select candidates that find themselves the recipient of a full-time offer in these disciplines, good for you!  Up until last year, they were the “sexy” businesses and still lucrative if you can grab a coveted spot.  Bonuses will be down, but the salary remains the same.  These disciplines will look for a GPA is at a 3.8 or above, or you may not make the resume screen.


$60,000:  Technology:  There is still a supply and demand issue here and you are a more attractive candidate if you pair it with a business minor.


$55,000:  Wealth Management and Accounting majors will garner this salary, and if it’s accounting, your goal will most likely be to work for one of the Big 4:  1) Pricewaterhouse Coopers, 2) Deloitte & Touche, 3) Ernst & Young, and 4) KPMG. Remember that they don’t pay bonuses to entry level hires – smaller bonuses are paid to more senior managers, but if you work in financial services, a bonus could be yours. 


$50,000 – $55,000:  Engineers rule!  Obama recently mentioned the importance they will play in our economy going forward.  Chemical Engineers are at the high point, followed by Electrical and later Mechanical and then Civil.  Whatever the focus, Engineering is a great discipline.  In fact, I’ve heard that there are fewer than 200 Ocean Engineers in the U.S. so supply and demand applies here.


$45,000 – $50,000:  Marketing, Operations, Compliance, Human Resources.  These areas offer solid entry level positions into a company and with them come exposure.  For example, you could be an HR analyst, and face off against investment banking one year, followed by markets the next, and wealth management the next.  Spring boarding into another discipline could be your goal once you do well here.


$35,000 – $40,000:  Media, Public Relations, Advertising.  A liberal arts degree can land you into one of these disciplines and that is a good thing because if you are smart & learn from the bottom up, a good career can be hard.


A global Universum study found that graduating seniors ranked work/life balance as the #1 concern.  From the US to Europe, to PacRim there was only one exception:  Indian engineers who ranked it #2.  But Caroline makes a great point in her blog above …six-figure salaries appear in every profession, you just need to build your career the right way to ensure you get there. 

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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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