How to negotiate a lateral salary when everyone wants to cut it?
January 28, 2011 7:13 AM   Subscribe

How to negotiate salary when everyone wants to cut it?

I'm on the hunt for a new job. I have 16 years experience in the industry and granted, I realize that my current position pays very well and the benfits rock (pension, 401k, over 20 days vacation, flex hours, etc). I'm just tired of the office politics/getting drained here.

I am not officially a manager and never officially have been (title) but unofficially I have managed/supervised/mentored associate staff, officially have managed vendor relationships, projects, negotiated quotes, approved invoices, saved $60k in budget spending, etc. So I do have a lot of really good experience that can justify my salary.

I wouldn't necessarily say it's the market. When the market was good, I took a huge cut before but that was when I was unemployed and desperate. Then I moved to this job and they gave me my former salary back so I was happy. But within the five years I've been here, I've increased my salary by $20k.

As I look for jobs I'm interested in, if they post a salary, or if they respond to my resume, they usually say "I love your experience but we're only paying $20k less than you make now. Will you take that?"

And it's like you know, I worked damn hard to get where I have been in 16 years. For YEARS I was significantly underpaid in my industry because I was young and dumb not knowing what the market paid. And then when I finally was paid what I was worth, even after 16 years, it seems that's all people want to pay.

I don't even want necessarily more money. Ideally, transfer everything I have to a new job---equal salary, all the benefits, and I would think that a job would be happy to do that. But they're not. Even our sister company asked if I would take $20k less. This position is asking for 7 years experience, I have every qualification and then some, and I've been with the core company for five years. I also don't understand how the core company is non-profit and I make more than the sister company who is for profit yet they want to pay me less and hit me back down to what I made five years ago?

It doesn't make sense.

So wheter this sister position (which I informed them I am interested in negotiating depending on the benefits but I would hope that five years service with the core company can open up a dialogue) or a different company all together, how can I have these HR people understand that 16 years experience and all I want is the same salary isn't a bad deal?

If it is an ideal, "perfect" job where I'll learn a lot, we can take a $5-10k hit but you know, it's the principle of the matter. Why should I keep getting cut? I'm not making over 6 figures.

Oh and this position said $20k less but the potential of a 20% bonus. To me potential isn't a guarnatee. Performance of the individual and the company is what makes that 20% so to me, that is unattainable. More like 5-10% so I know I will still feel the 20k salary deduction. Also my salary carries our family. My DH's business fluctuates so much that I'm the stable breadwinner with a child. My "extra" of having a salary I'm pleased with carries us when my DH's clients bail or his business funds are tied up. So there's a personal reason why I just want to stay where I am with the money.
posted by stormpooper to Work & Money (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
For YEARS I was significantly underpaid in my industry because I was young and dumb not knowing what the market paid.

The market giveth and the market taketh away.

It is no different than us shopping for a product or service. We take the one that does what we need for the least price. We pay more if we get more. So employers do the same thing. With unemployment as high as it is, they are in the power position. They can name the price and someone will come along and give them what they need.

Non profit versus for profit: this is meaningless as far as the employer/employee relationship goes. Whether the excess money goes toward shareholders or toward the non-profit's chartered purpose, management will try to optimize that.

So, you can either tough it out at the current place until the market improves, or tell potential employers that you won't take $20k less and see what happens, or develop a new skill that is more valuable (and less available) in the employment marketplace.
posted by gjc at 7:30 AM on January 28, 2011

Response by poster: Yea I know. I didn't mean to sound arrogant or anything about my skills. I'm not all that and a bag of chips but after being $40k underpaid for so long and finally getting a salary that I'm worth, it's hard to hear they want to cut me again.

We'll see.
posted by stormpooper at 7:33 AM on January 28, 2011

Are you venting, or are you really asking how to negotiate?

What you're "worth" is not whatever you think you're worth. What you're worth is what the highest bidder will pay you, and you're only worth that much to the highest bidder. To anyone else, you're worth less. What if you already work for the highest bidder?

I think you should try and let go of having been/felt underpaid when you were younger. Nobody owes you for that. Obsessing over the principle of the matter is just going to deepen your suffering.

Do you really imagine that only people making six figures are getting their salaries cut these days?
posted by jon1270 at 7:36 AM on January 28, 2011

Response by poster: Asking to negotiate.
posted by stormpooper at 7:43 AM on January 28, 2011

Supply and demand is not on your side right now. There are plenty of competent people just desperate to get a job. Any company hiring can likely find their idea employee, and get him relatively cheap. I'm unemployed right now, and probably looking at a 20% pay cut to get off the dole. The 15% raise when you change jobs thing, if it isn't a total myth, only applies when the market dynamics are on your side.

If you don't like with stay where you are. Or start your own company.
posted by COD at 7:49 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

idea = ideal.
posted by COD at 7:50 AM on January 28, 2011

I have to agree with everyone else. Just because you worked hard to get where you are does not mean the market will support what you think you are worth.
During the Internet hayday I was hiring 19 year olds with no college who knew UNIX at 80k per year. That simply does not happen since the bust. There are many many people with your skill who will take the lower pay so why should a company be out 20k just because you were underpaid? If unemployment were low they would not have such a big pool but the pool of people looking for work is large and someone desperate and qualified and will take the job so you will not get the job or the pay you want in most case.
Continue to ask but do not be disappointed if they find someone else who will do the same quality of work for less.
posted by shaarog at 7:54 AM on January 28, 2011

Without knowing your job and location, it's difficult for people who might have specific advice to offer you that advice. Without that information, you'll just keep getting generic blandishments to the effect of "those were the days, there's just no money around now, survive, stick it out, it's a jungle out there, just got to keep working."
posted by Nomyte at 8:01 AM on January 28, 2011

Best answer: A couple ideas, depending on the most important things that you want out of this (it sounds like the $ or equivalent).

If they post a salary, or if they respond to my resume, they usually say "I love your experience but we're only paying $20k less than you make now. Will you take that?"”

“I’m willing to negotiate.”

OP, would you be willing to negotiate other things? So when it comes down to the offer (and if they say in advance the salary limitations), ask for a few weeks more vacation than you have now, or whatever number may be equal to just a few K at least.

The other thing that you can do is….when it comes time for the offer, be really excited and say, “ I still have a hard time compromising the pay cut, and need a few days to think about it” followed by silence from you. I’ve talked to a few pple offering jobs in the past and at that moment, they will throw in a few more K (a few K, not 20K, but whatever). Also, I have a friend who is a really good/tough negotiator. She will ask for more, and then respectfully decline. One potential job came back to her 2 to 3 times, until they did go up to a salary that she found acceptable. If you have a job now with the salary and conditions that you want, you can wait it out.

Also, because you may be in a situation where you need pple/companies that pay your rate, see if your library has a list of companies that do what you do. Then narrow it down by location. Now email or call all those people. If you are looking at 10 to 15 places, and get competing job offers, then you can really negotiate. This may be restricted by your location (are there a few companies? Lots of companies?)

I also really differ on some of the opinions thrown around in this thread. Yes, be careful about getting obsessed about the $ because it can lead to bitterness and being unhappy. However, just because 10% or whatever are unemployed does not depreciate your worth or your value. I find it disturbing, though, that because the economy has some blips that now the employees are depreciating their self worth --you don't need to do this. Some companies are focusing on "the cheapest", but if you have a specialized skill set...seriously, go for it.
posted by Wolfster at 8:08 AM on January 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

It sounds like you're willing to walk away from these job offers if they pay isn't right, and to me is the critical part of negotiating a salary. I don't believe that you can only bluff your way to a higher salary (at least, I can't) because if they call your bluff and you take the job anyway, then they know you were bluffing and any future requests (for vacation, flex time, etc) will be met with skepticism. I will bluff when negotiating small things like tickets or a hotel stay, but not for a job.

I never got all of those negotiating-jitsu tips. But here's the simple tactic I used to get a higher salary at the depths of the reception. First, I was willing to walk away from the offer. I was not so desperate to leave that I would take any offer - other people wanted my skills, and I was willing to wait for an offer that reflected my value. Second, as soon as they asked about salary requirements, I told them the truth: I told them (approximately) what I was making, and told them that I wasn't interested in taking the job unless I got more money (I blamed this on cost-of-living differences, but really I was underpaid). That way, when I came in for the interview, they saw me through the lens of "This guy wants X salary," rather than through the lens of "we can lowball this guy." So when they decided whether to make an offer, they evaluated me as an employee at $X salary, not $X-20K salary. My current employer decided I was worth $X salary and made the offer, which I accepted.

So your strategy is simple. Decide what an acceptable salary is to you right now. Sounds like you've already done that - you want at least your current salary of $Y. As soon as they ask about salary requirements, be honest - you aren't willing to take a pay cut (don't say 'not a penny less,' that's ridiculous. But be straightforward about your desires and your worth.) and you want flex time. Preferably this will happen before the interview. When they decide whether to offer you the job, the'll make that decision based on you getting paid $Y, not $Y-20K. So if they do send a job offer, it's likely to be close to $Y, and if it isn't then you can reiterate your commitment to $Y and move on to the next interview if they don't send you a good second offer.

Finally, you need to remember an important lesson that Ramit Seti taught me: the goal of the recruiter / HR is to get you to take the job for the least amount of cash. So when they ask if you're willing to work for $Y-20K, tell them "No. I am willing to work for approximately $Y." There's a chance that there is actually room in the budget to hire you and you'll get the job anyway. If not, then you move on.

Good luck!
posted by Tehhund at 8:09 AM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

Wolfster"Also, I have a friend who is a really good/tough negotiator. She will ask for more, and then respectfully decline."

This. If you're willing to walk away, then it's easy to sort our the companies that can't hire you at your desired salary from the companies that want you, but are lowballing your salary.
posted by Tehhund at 8:11 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

You're asking for 2 attributes in a job: that it be meaningful (ie, no office politics) and that it pay competitively (ie, equal to, or more than you earn now).

I think you deserve both of those things. However, often it's really really difficult to find a job that offers one of those attributes, let alone both at the same time.

There's negotiation skills, for sure, but there's also numbers. How many companies have you talked to? How are you going about looking for a job?

Ultimately negotiation takes a back seat to research. Have been able to identify companies that can pay you what you want?
posted by KokuRyu at 8:23 AM on January 28, 2011

I don't know if your state offers this service, but in my state you can find out what the pay range actually is for different positions on a state website: . The site gives a high, medium and low average salaries for positions, and gives a national average for each position as well as variations for different locations within our state. I and other employers I know use this site all the time to set salaries for the positions we hire.

Anyone can use the site by signing in under the "zip code" tab. FWIW, salaries in The Last Frontier are high, but the U.S. average salary should give you something to compare your current salary to. Your state may offer a similar service; your Dept. of Labor should be able to tell you.
posted by northernlightgardener at 8:44 AM on January 28, 2011

Response by poster: I have just started the process. The last job I had was 5 years ago and that was during a desperate time.

I agree, I can't have my cake and eat it too. It's a really, really hard decision about career happiness here since I do get paid well and have responsibilities with the family but there are days Im' 1,000% burned out in life and this job with all of the toxic environment that it has so I wonder is the burnout from the job or other things? I'm not in a huge rush but I think maybe it's time for me just to see what is out there to appreciate what I have?
posted by stormpooper at 8:55 AM on January 28, 2011

Right now is a difficult time to look for any job let alone an easier one or better paying. The market dictates what the employers can get away with. And right not they do whatever they want, it seems. Keep your job and benefits. Or at least compare a good salary/benefits with what the market offers. Bored with a job and feeling like you are taken for granted is a small price to pay right now.
posted by JayRwv at 9:23 AM on January 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

It sounds like it might be worse than boredom and being taken for granted. Toxic work environments can really be demoralizing to spend day after day in. But it can be hard to tell whether the toxicity is in the workplace or in your own head. Looking around at your options is a good idea, regardless of whether you come to appreciate what you've got, or find a situation that would be a better fit. If there are multiple potential employers in your area then you're not trapped, even if you do have to take a hit in order to change; that hit might be worth taking.

I think the negotiation part has been pretty well covered. You need multiple offers, or at least you need your potential employer to believe you could get multiple offers. Your ability and readiness to walk away is the only reason they have to give you what you ask for. Even with that, it may be tough to beat your current job in purely financial terms.
posted by jon1270 at 9:48 AM on January 28, 2011

Is the burnout/toxic environment something that can be remedied by time away from the office? If you've got vacation stored up, take it, whether it's a day off every two weeks or several days in a sunny location. If not, is your job something that allows teleworking, and would your company let you do it? Even teleworking one or two days may alleviate some of the toxic office politics.
posted by zombieflanders at 10:00 AM on January 28, 2011

The first thing to keep in mind here is that times are still really tough. As other people are saying...the employers have the upper hand. They can pay people significantly less money then they would if the economy was doing well. And because so many people are unemployed right now, they will find someone who is not only willing to take the job for a lot less money, but is probably overqualified. Welcome to the times we're living in. Keeping that in mind I would encourage you to stick it out in your current job for a bit. Unless it's making you physically ill. Which if that's the case, please find another job. But right now you've got a good job, with good benefits and a good salary. You're very lucky. Now...if you still really want to go for a different job you can negotiate're willing to lose a job offer because of money. Which actually you're in a good position to do because you have to figure that even if you can't find what you're looking've still got a great job. So you have nothing to lose. So...just tell a prospective employer what you want. Be firm, be confident. If they can't give you anything close to what you're asking, you walk away...because you can. You have a decent amount of power because you have that good job. But please...don't quit your job unless you have another one. And if you're seeking employment with outside companies...don't let your current employer find out. You could be fired on the spot. Hope this helps.
posted by ljs30 at 10:32 AM on January 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stormpooper I am in a similar position as you and also have been following many of your posts over the last six months. My advice is to first do your best to kick ass at your job (so at least you dont get fired) and then do your best to get the salary that you want/need and do not take a will be important for you to apply to only those jobs you think you are more than qualified that way you really know you can kick ass in the interviews. Once you get the offer if you are lowballed, being willing to walk away is huge.

As a data point, a lot of companies nowadays are asking me if I would make a lateral move, my immediate response: "If I do make a move, I am looking to improve on my current compensation". They understand, they are humans too......
posted by The1andonly at 10:32 AM on January 28, 2011

Fuck "the market". Employers cite that in interviews/evals and they have no idea what it means. They are just trying to get a free pass for paying you less.

You just need to justify to them that the extra money you want would STILL be a better deal than an inexperienced dude taking the same job for less money.

If you can do that, it becomes a purely financial beneficial decision to give you the raise.

Good luck.
posted by hal_c_on at 1:00 PM on January 28, 2011

I was a "lead interviewer" at Dell for several years. I interviewed several hundred applicants, because I was good at it, most managers are not, and I actually kind of like it.

What irritated me to no end was HR trying to lowball potential hires. "We can get this guy for $xxx, blah blah blah). It messed up my ability to pay my employees and to give them raises. If I hire "this guy" at $20K less than my other employees, he's going to figure it out and expect to come up to at least parity very quickly, which limited my ability to give appropriate raises to my other employees.

Just something to think about.

Also, the market isn't that bad, not for educated people, take a look at the actual stats, not just what your friends and the media say. The "current situation" is vastly overblown, mostly by HR and those who aren't up to snuff. Interviewers, hiring managers, everyone respects someone who knows they are worth and isn't shy about demanding the proper pay.

Lastly, one other piece of advice. Once they've decided to hire you, you are *not* going to make them mad by negotiating. For one thing, it is probably a different department doing the negotiating, for another, it is totally normal, reasonable and acceptable. The absolute worst thing you can do is to accept a lowball offer with a promise of a review in x months. You'll (rightly) be perceived as a sucker. You'll never get that raise, and you'll start many thousands of dollars behind people that know this truth.
posted by Invoke at 4:37 PM on January 28, 2011 [3 favorites]

I am very late to this party (and actually stumbled on this from another search), but here's three pieces of advice from my experience in the recent job market:

1. The fact you have a job really IS a benefit, because you have a fallback position should the negotiations fall apart. Yes, the current job sucks, but you never tell the new job that. Ever. Not even during the "why are you looking?" round of questioning.

2. There's no such thing as a lateral move. Seriously. I thought any job change was going to give me a pay cut, but then it hit me that the reason why I was making so much more than others in "my position" was because of experience, and that experience made me more than qualified for moving UP the chain. In fact, I found out one reason I wasn't getting offers is because the companies thought I was applying for jobs that were beneath me. In summary, don't apply for your current job. Apply for the next one higher on the ladder. You're perfectly qualified, and they'll give you a raise.

3. Do NOT ask for less than what you'll actually take. Ever. No, ask for MORE. Like others have said, they want to lowball you so they can save money. Instead, throw out the most reasonable ridiculous number you can think of. My counter-offer in a job negotiation was well above what someone in my position should be making. But it was back to #1: I had a job, and if this failed the worst that could happen was that I'd still get paid by the current job. The company called back with a "you're breaking the bank but we can offer you this," which was lower than the ridiculous number but much higher than their first offer.

So: Do not forget you DO have an advantage (you have a pension, 20 days vacation, and a PAYCHECK in the current position). Avoid applying for the exact same job elsewhere, since they're looking for someone with half your experience and want to pay as such. And do NOT EVER EVER ask for less than what you'll actually take.

So when they say "oh, all we can offer is ($current_salary - 20000)," then say, "Well, I won't take less than ($current_salary * 1.1)." Or 1.2. Whatever feels more ridiculous without being ludicrous. Because both of you are lying. They're lying that they don't have more money, and you're lying that you won't take less than that obscene number. And both of you know that. So then the fun starts.

And if they aren't lying about how much they have, then they're either extreme cheapskates or they're a non-for-profit. If it's the latter, then it's up to you whether you believe in their work enough to join. If it's the former, trust me, you never want to work for them, because they'll lowball everything. Either way, thank them politely for the offer but say you must decline and you wish them the best. Because you need to get paid for what you do.

I know it's a month out from the original question, but I hope this can help you in the future (or maybe even the present).
posted by dw at 9:01 AM on February 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

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