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Unemployed Workers Don't Have to Settle for Less

Career counselors say it's a myth that people who have been fired must accept lower pay in their next jobs. But they should be prepared for salary negotiations.

September 02, 2001|SHERWOOD ROSS | REUTERS

STURGIS, S.D. — Just because you've lost your job, don't assume you have to settle for less money at your next position.

"People who lost jobs think, I've got to take the first thing that comes along," said Cathleen Faerber, principal of Wellesley Group, a Lake Zurich, Ill.-based search firm.

Kate Wendleton, founder of the Five O'Clock Club, a New York City-based firm that helps executive job hunters, said, "An estimated 40% of all job seekers may start new jobs for less money than they should be getting because they do not know how to handle salary negotiations."

In her book "Interviewing and Salary Negotiation" (Career Press), Wendleton said many job hunters think "a willingness to take a pay cut will make them more marketable, but this may not be true." There may be even more job hunters competing in the lower salary range. Also, employers suspect the applicant who will settle for less will quit when a better offer comes along, she said.

Some impatient job hunters conclude, "I really want this job," even before they've heard it described to them, Wendleton said. Instead, they should go into the first interview ready to negotiate on job description as well as the salary, and not to expect everything to be settled at the initial meeting.

If the salary offered is "insulting," said New York-based career expert Tina Santi-Flaherty, author of "Talk Your Way to the Top" (PenguinPutnam), "don't take it personally. It's just a budget number in their mind."

Interviewers are used to applicants inflating past earnings, so "bring the stub from your paycheck and offer to show it to them," Santi-Flaherty said.

Richard Bayer, chief operating officer at Five O'Clock, believes unemployed job hunters may undersell themselves in salary negotiations. "Remember that the person who names a number first loses, [so] postpone that discussion of salary until you actually have an offer," he said.

Bayer said it is a myth that terminated workers must take pay cuts. "That is absolutely untrue," he said, adding that 73% of those counseled by Five O'Clock have gotten jobs paying as much or more than their last position.

Be aware, though, that Five O'Clock is a labor advocacy organization that provides career counselors to executive job seekers. Executives benefit from group and individual sessions on a weekly basis until they are actually hired. Few job seekers enjoy this level of professional support.

Wellesley Group's Faerber advised laid off workers to "look for jobs that are at equal or higher levels than what you had, ones involving equal or greater responsibilities than the one you left." Presumably, this will lead to fatter paychecks.

Laid off workers can find "all sorts of salary surveys on the Internet that will tell them what they're worth," said Gerald Parker, professor of management at St. Louis University in St. Louis.

Five O'Clock's Bayer urges job seekers to have "six to 10 job possibilities in the works" and to remember that "even an unemployed job hunter can be the subject of a bidding war between companies."

And if you accept an offer you still think is low, ask for a signing bonus to make up the difference, advised Robert Gardella, assistant director of Alumni Career Services at Harvard Business School.

In his book "The Harvard Business School Guide to Finding Your Next Job" (Harvard Business School Press), Gardella also suggested, "Propose to have your first formal performance/salary review at three or six months, versus a year."

Do so only if you think you can prove your worth to the organization quickly and the hiring manager can get approval for an early review and pay increase, he said.

That way, even if you can't get what you want initially, at least once hired you're on a fast track toward your goal.

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