Did I ask for too much money?
June 27, 2013 11:24 AM   Subscribe

I’m being laid off, and my exit interview is tomorrow. I would like to ask the HR manager’s advice on what salary I should request at my next job. Help me work out how to phrase my question, please.

When I moved from upstate NY to Boston last fall, I was not sure what kind of salary to ask for, as obviously the cost of living is quite a bit higher in Boston. I asked other people and poked around online, and came up with a range.

I had about a dozen interviews, and only got this one job offer, where they needed someone RIGHT NOW. I’m wondering if the salary I was quoting was a part of that (both the not getting other offers, and the fact that this firm hired me when they needed someone urgently, but don’t want to keep me now that that their fires are out).

I feel like it’s a pretty fair salary. If anything, quality of life is a little lower here than it was in upstate NY, even though my income is about 25% higher. However, if it’s putting employers off, I would like to know.

Is it an appropriate question to as the HR manager, and if so, how can I phrase it so that it doesn’t sound like I’m begging to stay at a salary cut or implying that my work might not have been worth the pay?
posted by Kriesa to Work & Money (16 answers total)
It's a fair question but I doubt you will get a straight answer. It's a pretty squishy equation. It may be that compared to others making your salary, your performance didn't measure up which put you low on the "totem pole" (i.e., the master list of employees when layoffs occur). Or it may have had nothing to do with your pay at all. Sometimes it's just being in the wrong group at the wrong time, and being one of the most recent hires. My guess is that the HR person who does the interview hasn't really given your salary level much thought at all.
posted by Doohickie at 11:32 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

If they hired you, you didn't ask for too much. I would phrase it as: "As someone in a hiring position in the industry, and understanding the continued progression of me skills and experience, can I ask what salary range you would advise me to seek at my next job?"

Assume that you are worth more than what they have been paying you, and that they can simply no longer afford to fill the position.
posted by 256 at 11:34 AM on June 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

I would be surprised if they answer this question. Giving an employee any "reasons" other than "We no longer need you," opens them up to weird exposures of risk. Whether from a legal or just public relations standpoint there's no upside for them to answer this question.
posted by cjorgensen at 11:35 AM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

"Given my position in this company/organization as well as my individual merits (performance review results), what range of pay would you suggest I request at my next job?"

That was long. Sorry. Perhaps a little stuffy-sounding. Shoot, I'm not sure but I hope that helps. I've always worked in education where the (low, pathetic) pay scale is neatly set up for me and any "negotiating" is through the teachers' union.

I'm sorry you were laid off. Keep us posted on your next adventures!
posted by bakedbeets at 11:37 AM on June 27, 2013

I think you should do your own research through salary.com or payscale.com for the area and your field and try to come up with it on your own.
posted by zizzle at 11:39 AM on June 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't ask this question. Do not approach this as some kind of meaningful meeting for you. Give them back the badge, the computer, the card key, your SecureID and sign all the paperwork for your severance. Lie through your teeth regarding any 'exit interview' questions they may have. Everything was hunky-dory and you're sorry you got laid off because you liked the job so much.

Leave it at that.

I know being laid off is traumatic, and you struggle to find a reason or a meaning in it. But it's just a thing that happens. Focus all of your energy on getting a new gig, and sign up for unemployment the MINUTE you get that separation letter.

Good luck!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:49 AM on June 27, 2013 [16 favorites]

I agree that this HR department is probably not the right place for you to get this kind of information because it may not be a comfortable question and any information provided might not be accurate or useful.
posted by Dansaman at 11:54 AM on June 27, 2013

And adding to what Ruthless Bunny says, get onto unemployment right away.

The MA Unemployment Office is notorious for losing info and right now, they're undergoing a massive change in how people file for benefits.

I once applied and was approved for 26 weeks, and for the next 18 weeks, I had to call in every single week because I wasn't getting the money. For 18 weeks I was told the problem was fixed and I could expect a check within 3 days and for 18 weeks, I wasted at least an hour weekly on the phone with those knuckleheads.

Be persistent about MA unemployment. (I did eventually get a lump sum payment but 18 weeks of the runaround and no money? Seriously...)
posted by kinetic at 12:00 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Don't ask this question. You'll make the HR person feel uncomfortable and he or she has no way of knowing what another company is willing to pay for your skills and experience. If you really want feedback on appropriate salaries, do research on your own, talk to colleagues in your industry, etc.
posted by dfriedman at 12:47 PM on June 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Thank you very much. I won't ask. I did feel like it would be awkward, but I didn't want to lose an opportunity out of embarrassment.

Just to clarify, when I said, " I asked other people and poked around online, and came up with a range," I meant that I used salary.com, payscale.com, glassdoor.com, my industry association's annual salary survey, a couple of industry-specific online forums, and spoke to the people I know in my field in the Boston area (mostly getting vague answers; asking about salaries makes everyone uncomfortable). I "did my own research" to the best of my ability, and I'm still not at all confident that I'm in the right ballpark. This is partly because I'm in a field that was hit hard in the recession, and I believe that salaries are ridiculously scattered in the post recession years.

If those of you who are suggesting that I "do my own research" have additional suggestions, please elaborate. I wasn't trying to take some sort of shortcut out of laziness.
posted by Kriesa at 1:11 PM on June 27, 2013

Massachusetts unemployment has an awful system, but it is being moved online, so maybe it will be better. But Massachusetts unemployment benefits are some of the highest in the country, so don't miss out. Make sure you apply ASAP.

I think the exit interview HR person is not even the person who could really answer your question, so best not to ask. I agree with everyone. I am also curious what other research people suggest you do, beyond looking at the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:21 PM on June 27, 2013

I would like to ask the HR manager’s advice on what salary I should request at my next job. Help me work out how to phrase my question, please. You're not trying to find out if your pay scale affected your hiring, or if you should have asked for less, or more, at your current position, right? You want to ask someone in HR about salaries for people with your title and responsibilities at other companies. Just ask, politely. Since I'm going to be job-hunting, could you help me out and tell me what your research suggests are salary ranges for Job Title? They might feel that there's some risk, and may choose not to answer, but there's no downside to asking - they're not going to do anything weird or flag you for bad references. I've been laid off, and made it quite easy on my manager, being straightforward and not resentful, and just asking to clarify exit details. Be kind to the HR rep, who has the unpleasant task of interviewing a bunch of unhappy people, and the HR rep may reward you with useful information. The worst case would be a polite I don't have that information at hand. or some other bland form of No.
posted by theora55 at 2:25 PM on June 27, 2013

I've never been through an exit interview, but I guess I don't exactly understand what the point of one is if you aren't supposed to ask questions at it.

Of course, the interviewer might not answer the question. But I don't really understand why it matters whether or not the question "makes [that person] uncomfortable." It's not exactly like the company is doing you a huge favor and making you feel comfortable by laying you off...

Obviously it would not be good for your reputation to go on an anti-$company tirade at the exit interview, but I really don't see what harm asking this question could do.
posted by Juffo-Wup at 4:03 PM on June 27, 2013

If those of you who are suggesting that I "do my own research" have additional suggestions, please elaborate.

My former employer was sent one of the Robert Half salary guides. I picked it up and said, "This is worthless. They don't even adjust for cost of living. No one is going to pay that in Iowa." My boss replied, "It has adjustment tables." I was making about 70% of what the guide suggested for my position in Iowa. I started looking and left a company I'd been with for 13 years.

You didn't mention industry, but if there is an equivalent to Robert Half in yours then I would look there as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:28 PM on June 27, 2013

Related to cjorgensen's comment, if you happen to be in a creative field, The Creative Group puts out a salary guide for jobs in marketing, graphics, interactive, etc.

I've found it to be accurate and helpful for my line of work and locale.

I agree with others that the exit interview should be treated with polite professionalism and without deviating from the usual protocol (sign some papers, get some info about COBRA, and move along). I was a gibbering mess at the last one I had, decades ago...wish I'd known enough then to take the advice I'm giving here.
posted by nacho fries at 10:00 PM on June 27, 2013

I've never been through an exit interview, but I guess I don't exactly understand what the point of one is if you aren't supposed to ask questions at it.

It's HR, they sit there with a checklist and make sure you have returned everything you're supposed to return. They used to ask a bunch of questions about 15 years ago, now they don't usually bother.

The questions YOU ask are supposed to pertain to your severance, COBRA, eligibility for unemployment and stuff they can actually ANSWER. They're not going to give you salary guidelines for a potential new job.

That's it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:28 AM on June 28, 2013

« Older It looks nice, but....   |   Is there a good replacement for BBC Mundo Radio? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.