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December 12, 2012 3:10 PM   Subscribe

Help me talk about salaries to a potential employer! Snowflakes inside!

So, I'm in the final year of my Forensic Computing degree and I've been throwing out a few feelers for jobs already. One came up on my radar for a company literally around the corner from my University - fantastic! I'd love to stay in the area. The company's a very small (half a dozen employees), highly versatile business involved in technology investigation and consulting (digital forensics, incident response, intellectual property rights and a few other things).

Today I had a phone call with the MD who outlined the kind of work they do on a day-to-day basis; it's extremely varied and calls for a lot of lateral and analytical thinking. There's no real routine because it's highly dependent on the contract they're working on at the time. He told me that up until now he'd recruited from industry, and that the current position was the first graduate he was looking for, so he still hadn't pinned down the position's salary.

He asked me to contact him with my CV (resumé) and a covering letter and said if I had a good idea of what ballpark figure a graduate like myself might expect, that I should include that too. I have a reasonable idea, but I want to make sure I'm not shooting myself in the foot by aiming for the moon (please excuse the mixing metaphors!).

Pertinent details:
  • I have much more experience than most graduates, including 3 1/2 years in two different technical support roles and 1 year undergraduate placement as a forensic analyst
  • I have expert witness training and have appeared in court as an expert witness
  • I am getting excellent grades and if I miss a 1st class degree, it won't be by much
  • The job is located in the North West of England.
  • Both of us had just attended a talk by a manager at PriceWaterhouseCoopers who described a similar role at PWC with a graduate salary of £32,000
  • A similar company in the south of England, CCL Forensics, recruited a friend of mine with a 1st class Honours degree on a salary of £33,000
  • The company in the North I did my placement at employs computer forensic examiners on a salary of approx £20,000 - but the position I am applying for requires a lot more flexibility and adaptability from the sound of it
posted by fearnothing to Work & Money (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I think in this case I'd stick with the conventional wisdom and not be the first one to name a number. If you really really want the job you don't want to ask for too much and have them think they can't afford you, but you also don't want to shortsell yourself. Do you know how much you need to live on? When they name a number, ask for more than what you need!
posted by masquesoporfavor at 3:34 PM on December 12, 2012

Conventional wisdom says that you wait for him to give a number first. But it sounds like he'd like you to help him understand the market, which is a nice opportunity if it presents itself to you.

If I were in your shoes, I'd write out a nice little chart that shows the name of a company or source from research, and the salary for the analogous position. I'd include a line in my cover letter that said something like, "I've done some research on the market rate for this kind of work, and it looks to be in the range of £33,000. Of course, I'd have to evaluate any offer on a total compensation package, not just salary." That gives you some wiggle room to bump it up if they don't offer insurance and you have to pay out of pocket, or agree to even bring it down if they can show you that their benefits are more valuable than their competitors.

Whatever you do, don't couch your salary in terms of what you want or need. Too many recent grads tend to ask for whatever salary they think they want or need, and sometimes they even say this to hiring managers. Yikes! That's a big mistake. Your salary is determined by the market rate. Showing the hiring manager that you know what that is is the first step in getting paid a fair equitable wage.

If this is a job that requires quite a bit of lateral and analytical thinking, you'll be doing yourself a favor by presenting yourself as well-informed about the current market for your work.
posted by juniperesque at 3:53 PM on December 12, 2012 [4 favorites]

I f you are inclined to do so, I'd give him a range within which you are willing to negotiate, much like juniperesque describes. I don't know how likely it is you'd be able to get a PwC or similar salary at a much smaller company, though. Is there anyone in your program at school you might be able to bounce numbers off of?
posted by sm1tten at 4:14 PM on December 12, 2012

sm1tten - I can certainly talk to my course tutor about it; my university also has a service called 'futures' which could give advice on how to negotiate salary.

juniper - thanks, yeah I definitely wasn't going to talk about what I 'needed', but should I also avoid talking about what I'm 'worth'? Regardless, £30k-32k seems to be a pretty common figure for this sort of work - there are several recent examples around that figure on Forensic Focus, the main discussion board for the industry in the UK. I would expect this to be adjusted to reflect the fact that the job is in an area with relatively low cost of living, but given the challenges involved I would certainly hope to get more than the £20k noted for a basic computer examiner.

Based on this, I was going to throw £25-28k out as my expectation for the role, but I will listen to the advice from the green as it is usually excellent.
posted by fearnothing at 4:57 PM on December 12, 2012

A couple of observations:

1. I'm surprised that he asked you to start with the salary game. If you were already working in the industry and had a salary history and were plugged into a personal network, then sure, this is common. As a new grad, there are a lot more ways that you can be wrong than right about a reasonable salary, which ultimate wastes everyone's time negotiating back into a range. Based on your description, it sounds like the firm already has people doing like work and they should have a concrete idea of what they can pay and still be profitable (and commensurate with the other employees).

2. I wouldn't worry about accidentally pricing yourself out of the job in this particular case. Again, if you were already in the industry and looking at taking a big pay cut for this job it would be a cause for concern -- if you name a too-high figure, they many tend to believe you and break off the negotiation. As a new grad, you presumably don't have a mortgage or car payments or kids in private school or a salary history that would make a too-low salary problematic.

3. The cost-of-living in the area is probably going to be more of a secondary effect. The other side of that coin is that you have a specialized skill set that is probably hard to find or attract in a rural part of the country. In a small office -- six employees -- what the other employees are making is going to have a larger effect on the thinking of the MD about starting salaries. Of course this isn't something that is knowable in advance and it could work for you or against you.

4. You've already done a great job of justifying why you are worth £32,000 -- previous work experience, expert witness training, the PwC anecdote, the Forensic Forums anecdotes. Just cut and paste all of that into your letter and see what happens.

Good luck!
posted by kovacs at 6:35 PM on December 12, 2012

kovacs - The company's office is literally a 2 minute walk from the campus, and my university has one of the top forensic computing courses in the country (ranked #5 I think?) so I don't think they'll have any problem whatsoever attracting a graduate in the field. The question is whether they'd pick me and whether they'd offer a package that competes with the other positions out there.

I've gone to the Futures service I mentioned, and spoken to my course tutor, and I've been given some very conflicting advice. The Futures service largely matched what I'm hearing here, though they said given the small size of the company they would be surprised if I actually get £32k. My tutor said I was aiming way too high and that I should consider total lifetime earnings - he felt that the opportunity had enough developmental advantages that I should be considering even £17-18k. He also said that he thought mentioning 32k seriously would put the employer off completely.

Any more input? This conversation I had with him has really made me feel less confident about the approach I was thinking of taking.
posted by fearnothing at 6:26 AM on December 13, 2012

Sent you memail.
posted by kovacs at 3:16 PM on December 13, 2012

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