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Great advice from The Lawyer Whisperer

January 28, 2016

I’m interested in a great job opportunity, but the compensation range is below what I want. Should I apply anyway and see if they will offer me more money if/when they fall in love with me?

Julie Q. Brush

Ah love. It’s a wondrous thing. It can make people giddy, sing songs, write poetry, do stupid things, do heroic things, break with reality…and even turn the biggest grouch into a softie.

But here’s one thing it won’t do: Drive an employer go way outside their compensation grid in order to land a candidate they have shortlisted. Stretch a little? Maybe. Get creative? Slight chance. But no matter how truly dazzling you are, a hiring manager will not go against company “rules” or policy and absorb the professional risks to pound the table for an off the grid offer. There are simply far too many attractive fish in the sea.

In addition, employers take great care in qualifying candidates on compensation. It’s a hot button issue in today’s market. So the money conversation tends to happen sooner rather than later in the process. Far before your awesomeness has had the opportunity to seduce everyone in the organization. Consequently putting a wrench in your Love Strategy.

I’m seeing a lot of candidate funny business in the market right now. And the “they’ll change their minds about __________ [fill in the blank] once they fall in love with me” approach is one of them. It’s tough out there. No question about it. Professionals need to maximize options, gain competitive advantages, secure great offers, preserve marketability and feed their families. Do what they can to survive in this Darwinian market. I know. I get it. I see it every day. But this mode of thinking will never result in anything positive. Trust me. And in many cases, you’ll end up hurting your reputation…and your career as opposed to moving it forward. Why? Because employers expect candidates to be honest and forthright regarding compensation. So by employing this approach, you will be perceived as disingenuous and slippery. Inconsiderate of other people’s time. Because every professional is far too busy to try and jam a square candidate in a round role.

So does this mean you should always walk away when the comp initally appears to be too low?

Not always. If the stated compensation range for a job is unappealing to you, it’s perfectly reasonable to ask whether there is any flexibility on the numbers. And if so, what kind of flexibility. Employers are pretty straightforward regarding what they can…and can’t do when it comes to compensation. So after learning more, if you know that – at the end of the day – you would be disinclined to accept an offer if the compensation was in the discussed range, you have an obligation to walk away. If you’re applying for a position online and unable to speak with an employer directly about the low comp range, provide your expectations in your application and let the chips fall where they may.

It’s tempting to see the role of your dreams, only to have them dashed by a compensation range that is…out of range. For any professional in this situation, I recommend the following exercise:

  • Go through your personal finances and determine whether there is any possibility you could make the stated compensation range work with your current or planned financial obligations.
  • If the answer is yes…or it’s a close call, then assess the virtues of the position and weigh the positive effect on your career and overall happiness. Is the trade off worth it? What’s the ROI? If there is big upside in being in such a role, I recommend that you explore the opportunity further. But only with the understanding and expectation that the compensation range will not materially change.
  • If the answer is no, then assess how much more would you need a year. $10k? $30k? $100k? If your gut tells you the delta is just too wide…It is. And no amount of wishful thinking, charm or dreamy eyes will bridge that gap.

Love is indeed a wondrous thing.

Like this

K.C. Victor, Principal, Victor Legal Solutions

To expand only slightly on Julie's excellent answer, when someone with whom I am working starts to look for a new position that may pay noticeably less than their current one, I suggest they take an hour and make a list of the absolutely fixed expenses for which he or she is responsible. (Yyour spouse or partner may also have income. Those typically include rent or mortgage, groceries, uninsured regular medical expenses, car and driving expenses, and more for many people. When you have that number, add $10,000 to $20,000 because emergencies do happen, and most adults do not want their only nights out to be for pizza. That is your true minimum number. Unless a potential job is so special to you, and some are to some people, it makes little sense to interview for jobs that will force you to dramatically alter your lifestyle. How close is the expected compensation to the number you would accept? Unless the job is one you would change your life for, if it is not close, next. Sad but true.

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