Salary & Skilz

So I was thinking about something. In my experience, and most especially my experience of late, it seems to me that the subject of salary (how much an employer is willing to pay you to work for them) is becoming more and more of a taboo subject. Yes, we all know that you shouldn’t discuss what you make – and especially not with your co-workers – but what about with prospective employers?

Well, here’s one person’s thoughts on the matter, should you be interested.

Let’s take me, for example. I have a very specific skill set that fits a very specific need in the corporate world. I am an Executive Assistant. Or, an Administrative Assistant. Or Receptionist. Secretary. You get the idea. I possess the skills one needs to support one individual, or several other individuals, so they can do their own job and so things can run more smoothly. In theory. (I’m over-simplifying this. Anyone who has ever had an admin job knows there’s a lot more to it than that and that administrative folks in general usually wear multiple hats.) I know what I can do; I know what I cannot do. I know when it comes time for me to seek alternate employment that I am worth whatever salary I am requesting. Or, alternately, that I am worth more than what an employer may offer me.

So why is it not okay to talk about this up front? During the interview process, why is it always such a touchy subject? Why do the job seeker and the interviewer always skirt around the very subject that is integral to the decision making process? Yes – skilz are cool. Skills are important. Hiring managers want to know what your skills are and how you can put your skills to work for them. But they don’t want to talk to you about what they’ll pay you to use your skills for their company?

Consider this conversation:

Friend 1: So, what’s the salary?

Friend 2: I don’t know yet. We didn’t exactly get around to that.

Friend 1: Why? Aren’t you afraid you’re wasting your time? What if they come back and offer you the job, but at much less than you could afford to accept?

Friend 2: Yes, that’s definitely a concern but I want them to want me for me – for what I can offer them in the skills department – not because they can afford me. If they want me, and want me badly enough, they’ll pay me what I think I’m worth.

Friend 1: Risky.

Friend 2: Yep – but all part of the process.

But what if it didn’t have to be part of the process. What if employers were up front with regard to what they were willing to pay for an employee? What if job seekers could look at a posted vacancy at Company X and know, immediately, if they should apply because the salary was right there for everyone to see?

Consider this conversation:

Friend 1: So, what’s the salary?

Friend 2: $12.00 an hour. Way less than I can afford to accept if I want to stay current on all my bills. I’ve already cut back to the bare minimum. The job itself looks great, but if they’re not going to budge on that salary, I don’t think I’ll even apply.

Friend 1: Well, at least you didn’t waste your time.

Not only did Friend 2 not waste her time, but the employer doesn’t waste his, either, by weeding through hundreds of candidates who applied for a position they might not have gone after if the salary was posted up front. This, therefore, leaves it wide open for the field of candidates who are not only qualified for said position, but are happy at the prospect of said salary.

In a perfect world, right? But it certainly is food for thought.

Now, I’m sure you’re sitting there, after having read all of my musings, thinking to yourself, “Yeah – that’s all great, but now I have more questions than I did when I started. Where do I go from here?”

Here are a few helpful tips:

Know what you’re worth. Know, in any given market, what a person with your skill-set would make and do your research in advance of any possible interviews.
Do your research. If you’re changing jobs, changing marketplaces, moving from state to state, or town to town, research the pay scales in your chosen area and be thorough with your research. Not all pay-grades, salary grades, pay scales (whatever you want to call them) are the same. For example: A Pay Grade 30 on the East Coast could be a Pay Grade 54 on the West Coast (I’m making that up, but you get the picture.)
Consider cost of living. If you are a Pay Grade 30 on the East Coast, is the same salary (remember the example above?) going to be enough to cover the cost of living on the West Cost?
Have a bottom number in mind. After you know what your salary level is for any given area or market, come up with a bottom number. This is the lowest number, the lowest amount of money you would be willing to accept if offered a position. This way, when you’re negotiating your salary you know when the time is right to accept a position, and when it is time to let something go.
Consider For Profit vs. Not For Profit salaries. They are not the same, even if you are doing the same work.
Get comfortable with negotiating. It’s your salary, and really, you shouldn’t be afraid to haggle over it regardless of the look that may cross your prospective employer’s face when the subject of salary comes up. And I believe it should come up whether you bring it up, or they do. You will find an employer respects you a lot more if you’re not only willing to discuss this subject up front, but able to do so in a thoughtful, accurate, fully-researched way. This is where knowing what your worth really comes in handy.

And…to get you started, check out:

Salary Dot Com

Relocation Essentials: The Simple Solution
Cost of Living Calculator

CNN Money
Cost of Living: How far will my salary go in another city?

5 thoughts on “Salary & Skilz”

  1. Great content. Thanks for posting.
    One thing; about discussing salaries. Many companies have policies that prohibit this, with repercussions for doing so that can include termination. This is patently illegal. The Federal Labor Standards Act of 1934 makes it a Federal crime to terminate, discipline, or otherwise punish an employee for discussing their salaries with anyone. Many companies get away with this because a) people don’t know about the law, and b) many people do not contact the Feds to press the case. The federal government does no active policing of this. It is up to the individual citizen. The upshot of this is that no matter what a company says or posts as company policy, anyone is free to discuss how much they make with anyone else. To date I have found no statutes that have repealed or modified this law. The problem has simply been with educating the populace.
    Still a good post.

  2. Hey Tess, thanks! I admittedly didn’t know about the legal stuff, althoug I *did* know that really, the only thing an employer could do would be to recommend not discussing salary with another employee simply due to the fact that it could create frictions. “Hey! She makes more than me and I’ve been here longer!” That kind of stuff. Thanks for the legal bits. Makes for a stronger article!

  3. Hi Kit! Yep – you and I had this convo shortly after I wrote the article! LOL! Of course, you were the inspiration. 🙂

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