A job seeker recently posed the following question:
“I’ve been faced with the following question over and over. I am sure many other job seekers are confronted with this too. So, I’m curious how job seekers answer the question and what hiring managers think of the answers and the issue in general.
As a job seeker how do you answer this question?
The job you are interviewing for pays X. I see from your prior employment you were making more than that. Why should we hire you? What happens if we hire you and the market improves and you can find a job that pays Y (more in line with what you are looking for or previously made). How do I as the employer know you will not leave?
As the employer what do you think of what candidates tell you when confronted with the ‘this job pays X amount less than what you were making.’
Are you still willing to hire these candidates? Why or why not?”
Putting my corporate human resources hat on first, I can say this is certainly an important consideration for the company. As I mentioned in this blog post, all interview questions fall into one of three categories:
. Do I like you?
. Are you motivated?
. Can you do the job?
COST OF A POOR HIRE
The salary question falls into the motivation category and more specifically “Are you a turnover risk?” Companies spent a lot of money on hiring and when a recent hire leaves, the cost goes up exponentially. Here’s just one model from several years ago (in today’s dollars the numbers would be double):
THE 7 HIDDEN REASONS EMPLOYEES LEAVE
Therefore, it is critical for the company to hire someone that is a good fit and who is less likely to leave. There have been many studies that examine why employees leave. Here’s a list from The 7 Hidden Reasons Employees Leave by Leigh Branham:
- The job or workplace was not as expected
- The mismatch between job and person
- Too little coaching and feedback
- Too few growth and advancement opportunities
- Feeling devalued and unrecognized
- Stress from overwork and work-life imbalance
- Loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders
(Come to think of it, this list would make a great source for creating questions that you can ask the interviewer at the end of the interview!)
So, when an interviewer is questioning your prior salary and comparing it what she can pay, she is really trying to figure out if you will feel devalued and unrecognized (#5 above). Of course, there are at least six other factors that when met, could create harmony for you and for the company. Reviewing this list will help you to answer the interviewer’s question regarding salary.
ANSWERING THE QUESTION
AS THE EMPLOYER
I definitely see compensation as an important (though not the only) variable when I evaluate the fit between employer/position and candidate. If a candidate can convince me that they are really, truly ready to take a position of less pay then I would consider hiring them.
Let’s take an example. A former colleague of mine had a real desire to switch careers. He wanted to leave Corporate America and try his hand as a professor in higher education. He knew the pay would be less, he had done his research, he had a nest egg and he knew that this new career would satisfy his itch to teach and mentor students in the field of human resources.
This, to me, is a turnover risk worth taking. The candidate had a well thought out plan.
On the other hand, if a candidate is over qualified for the job and cannot articulate why the job is a good fit (compensation or otherwise), I won’t hire him or her. Recalling the chart above, I know I can’t afford to take this risk – particularly in this economy where supply generally outpaces demand.
AS THE JOB SEEKER
I routinely pass on positions that are significantly below my compensation level. Why would I want to take myself out of the market for a job that is below what I think I am worth? I don’t want to feel devalued and unrecognized and that is exactly how I would feel by taking a job that didn’t challenge me or pay me adequately.
If the job really did interest me (similar to the professor example above) then I would answer the question as follows:
“Thanks for asking the question about my last salary compared to the salary you are offering. Salary is just one of the factors I weigh when deciding where to work next. In fact, as long as I can meet my financial obligations, I weigh other factors ahead of compensation.
Advancement opportunities are very high on my list and from the research I have done XYZ Co. is known for career development and promoting their employees.
The length of my commute is also important to me. Frankly, I’d like to spend less time in my car and more time coaching baseball. XYZ Co. is ten miles from my house and thirty miles closer than my current company.
Lastly, I am looking for a position where I can truly see the fruits of my labor, specifically, how my work directly affects the bottom line of the company. Again, from my research, I’ve been told that due to the culture and size of XYZ, my efforts would be not only recognized, but also rewarded. Once those rewards become a reality, I’m sure my compensation will improve over time.”
In summary, I’m a fan of tackling this sticky subject no matter which side of the table I’m sitting. It’s a crucial question for the employer and it’s a crucial answer for the candidate. In the end, if the candidate can articulate why taking a job of less pay would be good for them, it is likely you will be able to satisfy any concerns from the interviewer’s perspective and land the job.
If not, then it is in both parties’ interest to move on. As a job seeker, don’t forget to end on a positive note because that same employer may come back to you in the near future when they have a higher level position. Then pay will be a non-issue!
Remember, It Only Takes ONE!
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About the Author
Matthew Levy is a well-rounded HR professional and career coach with fifteen years of broad experience in both specialist (e.g., recruiting) and generalist (e.g., HR business partner) roles at blue-chip companies, including Merck, Amgen and Johnson & Johnson.
Currently, Matt works full time as a Senior HR Generalist for Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research & Development. Prior to J&J, Matt relocated his family to Southern California to take a position with Amgen, the world’s largest biotechnology company, where he led the talent acquisition function for Amgen’s commercial operations and corporate staff groups. Before Amgen, Matt spent several years at Merck, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. There, Matt held a variety of positions in both recruiting and generalist capacities.
In addition to his full time work, Matt founded a career coaching practice, Corner Office Career Coaching. Matt works one-on-one with professionals and executives providing them with customized solutions to their career challenges. As a 20-year corporate HR professional with a large network who has also successfully conducted his own effective, cutting-edge job search, he is well qualified to help others reach their career goals.
Matt graduated cum laude with a B.S. in Business Management from Ithaca College. He is an actively engaged member of several professional organizations including the Philadelphia HR Planning Society where he is on the Board of Directors and the Greater Philadelphia Senior Executives Group. He also regularly gives presentations on HR issues as well as how to manage one’s career using social media.
Matt lives in Doylestown, PA with his wife, daughter and son. He jogs through the Bucks County countryside to stay fit.
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