I’ve got a question I’m really anxious about.
Last spring, my former employer (a mid-sized clothing supplier) terminated me alongside about half the office because lockdown had drastically decreased demand. Luckily, I had savings (keyword there being “had”) and unemployment insurance to live off of while I looked for another job, which has taken quite a while. I guess with offices shutting down across the country, nobody was really looking to add another accountant. Anyway, after a lengthy hiatus, I finally snagged a job offer in my position. A couple of them, actually! But they’re all offering less than my last job, and I’m not sure how to push for more when I couldn’t find anything for so long. I know I’m worth more than this. What do you think?
First of all, congratulations! I cannot imagine how scary it must have been to be out of work during the pandemic, even with savings and UI. Financial insecurity is already stressful, and with the pandemic on top of it, not knowing when the economy will have a place for you again, that’s a perfect storm for anxiety. Which makes your reluctance to push for more totally understandable.
So let’s start with a reminder: if they offered you a job, they want you. Full stop. You don’t go looking for the cheapest accountant you can find, at least, no sound business does. A job offer means that you’re what they’re looking for. Money is certainly tight these days, with the economy still struggling and so much uncertainty surrounding the future, but that’s no excuse to underpay a qualified applicant such as yourself.
Since you have multiple offers, you can approach this conversation from a position of strength. First, figure out which offer you're most interested in – pay aside. While it might be tempting, playing games by pitting offers against each other may backfire on you. The best thing to do is to be straightforward and firm. Communicate that this is lower than your previous salary in a similar role and be clear about what you would like your salary to be. You can and should let them know that you have multiple offers. But keep in mind, managers want to hire people who are passionate about the job; so communicate that fact, let them know that you want to work for them and are excited about the job, but hold firm that salary is a determining factor. If they really want you and value your talent, they'll be willing to pay you accordingly. And if they don’t? You dodged a bullet. It’s a poor hiring manager who tolerates nothing but humble submission to the will of the company when they’re already trying to hire you in the first place. This is where they – and you – put your best foot forward and try to make a good impression.
Managers want to hire people who are passionate about the job; so communicate that fact, let them know that you want to work for them and are excited about the job, but hold firm that salary is a determining factor.
As someone who has done hiring, let me say this: salary negotiation is expected. When it doesn’t happen, it genuinely feels a little weird. I, in this hypothetical scenario where I’m considering you for a job, want to know not only that you’re qualified, but also that you know your value and expect your employer to as well. I want confidence as much as competence because it's a good indicator of your personal integrity (especially for an accountant). Being unwilling to denigrate yourself, to me, communicates that you stick to your values, even at a cost to yourself – that's the kind of integrity I would want in someone managing my company's money. And any company that wants someone who is compliant over principled is one you likely will be glad you avoided.
I do understand how hard of a position you're in though, especially as a woman. Women's labor has been and still is grossly undervalued, and we're often expected to be grateful just for getting a seat at the table. So it's no surprise that we're far less likely to negotiate salary, and as a result, are way more likely to be paid less than we’re worth. But knowing this, you can make sure you don't forgo negotiating for a fair salary. You owe it to yourself to try. Accepting a smaller salary can negatively affect future earnings in future positions at entirely different companies, and by extension, that can and does ripple out by telling hiring managers that they can get away with offering lower salaries to women in general.
Women's labor has been and still is grossly undervalued, and we're often expected to be grateful just for getting a seat at the table.
I don't want to pretend that the pandemic, the economy, and the fact that you do need a job (and you need it yesterday) aren’t all at play here. That has to be weighed in the balance. But that doesn't mean you have to accept whatever offer you get. I’m not pushing you to reject these job offers if they can’t match your previous earnings or to try and bluster and bloviate your way there. We’re all in this mess at the same time, and this prospective employer certainly understands that. Push as far as you think you reasonably can, but be honest with them at the same time. Be frank; this is well below your previous earnings and isn’t a sustainable salary. Perhaps something can be worked out; maybe they can meet you somewhere in the middle or agree to contractually obligated raises at regular intervals to get you up to a specified amount. What you decide is going to be based on your own prudential judgment, but please, don’t let fear drive you to accept a first offer that borders on insulting. Stand up for yourself, your worth, and your future. You’ll thank yourself later.