How to Get Paid Based on Your Worth, Not Your Past
"What's your current salary?" Everyone who’s ever been a part of the interview process has heard this question, or something similar, from a hiring manager or interviewer. Unfortunately, it does little for either side of the exchange, and can even have negative effects – it should be axed from the interview process entirely.
Hiring managers and interviewers tend to gauge what to offer to prospective hires by finding out what the candidate currently receives, or most recently received, and adding a little more on top as incentive. This method of valuing candidates is dated and doesn’t accurately reflect a candidate’s worth, the value of the job to the candidate, or the value of the candidate to the employer. After all, in today's current climate of widespread skill shortages, employers no longer hold all of the cards, and candidates can afford to pick and choose for whom they want to work - employers need to be willing to negotiate if they want to entice the very best talent into joining their teams.
No good for anyone
For a number of reasons, questions like 'what are you earning at your current position?'' fail to benefit anyone:
What's the solution?
- Basing a new salary/package on what an employee earned previously can lead to stunted wage growth for that person, especially if they were underpaid in their previous role.
Understandably, this may make your prospective hire feel a little resentful: there are a number of reasons a person may choose to take an underpaid role early in their career, such as the opportunity to gain experience or network, but this doesn't mean they're happy to be paid below market-rate forever!
- If the position requires a lot more work or responsibility than their previous position, the interviewee is going to be wondering why their previous salary is relevant – why does it matter what they earned before, when the new job is an entirely different position?
- Asking about a previous salary – and therefore perhaps gaining a new hire at a lower rate than expected - may give a short-term win for the employer, but will, long-term, result in a less engaged and less loyal employee, which is a loss for everyone.
It would be great, of course, if interviewers and hiring managers stopped asking this question, and indeed many of those with whom I work have begun altering their interview practices to focus on what a candidate is worth, rather than what they have previously been paid. However, until everyone catches up, it’s a good idea for job seekers to be prepared to deal with this seemingly inevitable question.
There are a number of responses which allow a candidate to manage this question without revealing past earnings and without creating awkwardness:
10 Tips for Getting What You're Worth From a Job Offer
- “After reviewing the job specifications and speaking to you today about the breadth of the role, I would be looking for between X and Y, based on the duties and location of the role.” This response conveys your unwillingness to discuss past salary almost as an undertone, and instead focuses on the present and the role in question. It shows preparedness and proactivity, in that you have a figure already worked out, as well as a strong sense of your own worth.
- “Based on the skills and experience I have demonstrated, and the requirements of the role, where would you value me?” This is a slightly riskier option, as it puts the ball back in the court of the interviewer, but it does provide an insight into what they’d be willing to pay you for the role, and can be particularly useful if you’re unsure of the market value of the role.
- “At this stage, finding the right role for my skill set and experience, and which will provide me with the most opportunities for growth, is my primary focus. I’m confident that if we move forward, however, we can come to an agreement which reflects my experience and the current market.” Answering in this way provides a little breathing room on the question, and conveys that your primary interest is in the role and the opportunities it affords, rather than solely the financial component.
Negotiating salary when you're trying to get a new job can be nerve-wracking. Here are my top ten tips for getting what you're worth from your next job offer:
Do your research before the interview:
- Improve your knowledge of the market: check the salaries of similar roles in similar locations/your local area. Try websites like salary.com, salaryexpert.com, payscale.com or salarygraph.co.uk (or just Google ‘salary comparison’!) to get an idea of what you’re worth to the open market;
- Find out how ‘rare’ you are at this moment in time. If your hiring manager is really struggling to fill this role, perhaps because it requires a very unusual skill set or qualification, you may be able to negotiate for a much higher salary than if your skills grew on trees;
- If you can, find out how much the company has budgeted for this hire. Work out where within this range you fit. Learn how the company has historically performed in terms of salary levels, and how their progression works, both in terms of responsibility and wage increases. Social media is a huge boon for candidates as it provides access and an insight into companies like never before: you can check out a company’s official accounts to see what they have to say about themselves, and you can also do a little LinkedIn stalking to find some of their current staff, and see if they’d mind spending five minutes talking to you about the company. A great company’s employees will be brand ambassadors for them, and more than happy to wax lyrical about their amazing employer for a few minutes. An employee who is too irritable or busy to talk to someone who may be a future colleague, however, suggests a less-than-ideal company culture – is this really somewhere you want to work?
- Know how many of the boxes you tick for this role. If you’re a perfect fit, you can probably aim towards the top end of the budgeted salary for the position, but if you’re missing a few key skills or a bit of experience, you should probably aim for the mid-to-lower ranges of the budget to avoid pricing yourself out of the running. Make sure you can give examples of the positives you could bring which entitle you to the salary you’re expecting.
Avoid giving a number first. If possible, try to elicit a range from your interviewer before you utter any numbers yourself. The company has already decided what they’re willing to pay for this position, and by offering an idea of what you’d be willing to accept first, you may end up being offered less than had originally been budgeted for your role!
Give your target salary, not your past salary. When the inevitable ‘what were you earning at your last position?’ question pops up, a great way to respond is by saying ‘at the moment, I’m focusing on roles in the £30k-£35k range’, or similar. This shows that you’re aware of what you’re worth with regards to the role at hand, and that you know that your previous earnings have nothing to do with your earning potential, or with what you should be paid for the job in question. It politely says ‘my previous earnings are none of your business – shall we get back to talking about this role?’, without being quite so blunt.
Quote ranges, not a figure, and make sure that the lower end of the range is something you can live with.
Remember that salary isn’t everything. Some companies may offer slightly less money in your annual wage but will more than make up the difference in benefits and perks. However, not all perks work for all people, so it’s very worthwhile going through the full offer in detail before deciding whether to accept.
Stand firm, but don’t take advantage. It’s important to know what you want and to fight for it, but it’s also important to play fair. Making a counter-offer proposal if the offer isn’t quite what you’d hoped is perfectly acceptable, but trying to change absolutely every aspect of the offer will come across as churlish and unprofessional. Pick the important parts, whether that be salary, holiday time or a signing bonus, and gently explain that the existing offer is a little lacking, but if [insert chosen factor here] could possibly be increased, that would make all the difference for you.
- Stay relaxed, be clear and concise.. Communicate your expectations but also a willingness to discuss and receive feedback.
- Believe in yourself. If you don’t have faith that you’re worth the salary or rate you’re asking, why would your hiring manager?
Be brave. If you won’t step up and shout about your worth, who else is going to do it? You might be surprised what a little boldness can win you.
I can personally attest to the value of knowing what you’re worth – while working with an engineer who was looking for a new opportunity last year, I noticed that in his last role he had been woefully underpaid for his skills and experience. After helping him realise his true worth, we went on to find him a new position which resulted in an £11,000 pay rise!
Knowing what you’re worth in today’s complex employment market can be a difficult task, but CBSbutler are here to help! We can offer advice and guidance on salary, current market rates and negotiation techniques, as well as pretty much anything else regarding the job hunt.
Do you need help finding a new role, or negotiating for a salary that reflects your skills and worth?
Give me a call on +44 (0)1737 821032 or send your CV to email@example.com for a confidential chat about your future.
If you'd like to join the CBSbutler family, where you'll get market-competitive rates and a clear progression path, send your CV to firstname.lastname@example.org