19 Oct 2012

Salary Expectations...

One of the primary reasons for looking for a new job is to gain a higher salary.  We're all human, the cost of living is rising rapidly, we live in an increasingly aspirational world where the latest advertising makes us well aware of all the gadgets/cars/clothes etc that we 'need' in order to make our lives happier/simpler/fulfilled.  Most of us want to earn more money full stop.

As a recruiter, I always say to my candidate (tongue in cheek) that I will do my utmost to secure them the highest salary - with the caveat, that it is realistic.  In the past couple of weeks, however, I've come across several candidates whose salary expectations are out of kilter with the market averages.

Often this can happen when a candidate is so important to a company that the employer cannot afford to lose them - recently an Account Manager in a Manchester agency was given a £10k pay rise in order to stay with the company.  This happened on the morning that the candidate handed their notice in and the client couldn't bear the pain (and cost!) involved in introducing a new account handler to the team and to their longest standing client who loved the Account Manager.  They'd been losing a lot of staff and morale was low - they didn't want it to plunge to new depths with the loss of a much valued member of the team.  To them, it was a better solution to offer the earth to encourage the candidate to stay.  And they did.  However, that candidate will struggle to match that salary elsewhere in the coming months but ultimately they made a decision to make hay whilst the sun shines, pay off a bit of their mortgage and to see how long they can put up with all the issues that had meant the candidate was looking for a new job in the first place.

Increasingly, candidates do lie about their current salary.  One of the most common questions I'm asked is 'what should I be paid?' and I am frequently asked for copies of the PMP Salary Survey - interestingly by clients as much as candidates.  In the last fortnight I've had an 'Account Manager' with 2 years agency experience post graduation seeking £35k and a Social Media 'Manager' with just 12 months experience seeking £33k.  As I've said before, it's not my place to stand in the way of higher salaries but equally my role is to manage expectations of both clients and candidates.  Trying to pitch a candidate with 1 years' industry experience (in any of the marketing disciplines) at £33k is simply untenable.  I try two different tacks in these situations.  One, to try and establish if the candidate is telling the truth (and this is generally pretty easy since I know most of the agencies across our region and which are the agencies who pay well versus not so well).  If I suspect that the candidate is not being fully honest and perhaps they're just trying to inflate their position/keep up with their pals etc then I will gently try to lower those expectations to a level where clients will consider bringing them in for an interview.   In the marketing sector, we are not in one of the highest earning sectors of this country.  When I read about graduate starting salaries in the press, it's always the Accountants, Lawyers, Medics and Management Consultants who can command a £30k starting salary but in our sector, on average, £30k represents a minimum of 5 years experience post graduation and a starting salary is typically £16-18k.

Ultimately though, a candidate is worth whatever a client thinks they are worth - to them as a business.  In the current economic climate clients are more often than not trying to keep salaries low and to manage their overheads prudently so by having over-inflated salary expectations, you can price yourself out of the market. Particularly when there are so many candidates looking for work - it's largely a buyer's market and clients do have choice.

To the candidates who won't listen to the voice of reason, I always gently remind them that one of the first things an employer will do is to check their past salary on the P45 so it's wise to remember that when you're busy factoring up your salary requirement and negotiating a new package.  Equally, when references are taken, a future employer is perfectly entitled to ask about your salary.  No-one likes to feel that they've been taken for a ride and as all roles these days have a probation period, you'll soon find out if you're out of your depth.  Don't forget, a higher salary expectation from a candidate is matched by an equal expectation of results and return on investment by the employer!