Question of the Month: March 2009

“I’m finding that many employers these days are expecting me to settle for less money than my previous position, given the current economy.  Should I just suck it up and accept a lower salary — or hold out for the compensation package I feel I’m really worth?

Whether discussing the compensation needs of job hunters or the world of consumer products and services, in general, pricing is always a tricky issue — and arriving at the right number at which to sell your “goods” (especially in an economy like this one) is definitely more of an art than a science!

As far as how I’d suggest an individual job seeker approach this issue, a lot depends on the person’s unique situation and the amount of leverage they feel they have relative to any particular job opportunity.  If somebody has been out of work for a number of months and is really feeling pressure to get an income stream back in place again, soon, then obviously it might make sense to not rock the boat and to settle for a lower salary offer, if offered.  There’s certainly no shame in doing so — and the days when people could expect their salary to climb continuously upward throughout their career are LONG behind us, if nobody’s alerted you to this fact.  In today’s hurky-jerky world of work, the truth is that almost everybody will end up taking a step or two back in pay at some point.

At the same time, there’s a fine line that must be walked, even if you are willing to “mark down” your price tag a bit.  As has been demonstrated through dozens of economic studies over the years, there is an extremely powerful correlation between the price of an item and the perception of value in the buyer’s mind.  In one famous story, for example, a gift store owner was having trouble selling certain trinkets to the tourist crowd and accidentally marked a basket of $10.00 items up to $100.00 — instead of the $1.00 discounted rate she had been intending.  To her shock and amazement, the items started flying off the shelves.  Apparently, the high price tag instinctively led people to assume that these trinkets (low-quality jewelry, if I recall) had to be something really special and worth owning if they were selling for a hundred bucks a pop!  So job hunters, in kind, must be careful not to slash their price tag so deeply that they come across to employers as desperate and out of options; otherwise, price-based psychology will kick in, and there’s a good chance the hiring manager will start questioning whether the candidate actually has the skills, confidence, and qualifications to do the job.

If we really pay attention to the lessons of the above anecdote, in fact, one could argue that a candidate gutsy enough to raise his or her salary targets in a recession might successfully attach a “premium” aura to themselves that could turn out to have certain advantages.  This is a risky strategy, to be sure, but I’ve seen it work — and I’ve seen  employers willing to pay top-dollar for a candidate simply because the candidate themselves looked, acted, and behaved at all times as if they were well worth the extra investment!

Want to know what this sounds like?

— “While I realize that times are tough and that your company is looking to keep costs to a minimum, I’m sure you’d agree that this role we’re discussing is a critical one to your ongoing success, and that skimping on it to hire a less-qualified candidate could easily come back to haunt you in the long run.”

— “I certainly don’t disagree that there are other folks out there willing to settle for less than what I’m asking for, given this economy.  To be perfectly frank, however, I think you picked me as the finalist for a reason and have noted that my skills and expertise are a cut above the other people I’m competing against.  So at this stage, I’m afraid I’m going to have to stick to my guns and only seriously consider offers that are a lateral move or better from my last position.”

— “Given my proven track record of helping solve the kinds of problems you’re facing here at XYZ Company, and the rapid time frame in which I’ve shown I can do it, I actually think my skill sets are at a premium right now in these recessionary times — and more valuable to companies than ever.  Consequently, I’m really not looking to take a pay cut and must stick to the salary goals that I outlined earlier.”

— “Trust me, I totally get that you want to hire the best person you can at the least expensive price.  Who wouldn’t?  But you’ve talked with a number of my references now, and as I suspect they’ve all told you, I’m worth every penny you’d pay me — and then some!”

Granted, such aggressive negotiating tactics may seem over-the-top to many of my readers out there, especially those of more modest persuasion, but there are definitely job hunters out there who utilize this type of approach — and who seem to be successful, at least a healthy chunk of the time.  Again, though, it all starts with your own confidence in your capabilities and how quickly you feel you can contribute to a company’s bottom line.  If you’re struggling to quantify the exact ROI you can bring to a company, or you’re emotionally bruised from a long stretch of unemployment, these techniques might not be the right ones to employ for you, at least right now.  If your ego is in the peak of health, on the other hand, carrying yourself like a “premium product” just might pay off!

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One Response to “Question of the Month: March 2009”

  1. Matt – great post – I especially like the dialog examples that you provide. Would you agree that the ability to negotiate like this begins with the candidates level of preparation? Knowledge of their particular strengths and gifts, the employers needs and weaknesses, and some type of quantification of the potential benefits to the employer would go a long way toward providing a psychological boost to the job seeker. Check out (on my blog) my quick 5-step process for articulating value and let me know what you think.

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