9 Aug 2016

That Salary Question....

It's an (anecdotal) fact that 90% of us think we're underpaid. Clearly, I've not got any proper stats to back this up but nine times out of ten, that's the first thing that candidates say when I ask them what their salary expectation is.

Conversations often sound something like this:

Candidate 1: 'Well I'm due a pay rise next month, I've not had one for over 2 years so I'm looking for £30k'.
Me: 'What is your actual salary now'?
Candidate 1: Fudges a bit talking about their non existent bonus and 'benefits'
Me:  'What is your actual salary now'?
Candidate 1: '£20k'
Me:  'That's quite a rise....'
Candidate 1: 'Well, I should be on £25k now and therefore if I was, I'd be looking for another £5k to make it worth my while to move'.

Candidate 2:  'I'm fed up, I've been an Account Executive for 18 months. I earn £19k and my friend at AGENCY Z  has exactly the same experience as me and he is on £24k'
Me: 'So we're going to be looking for Senior Account Executive roles circa £24k then'
Candidate 2: Well no, his job title is Account Manager so I want to be that too.
Me: 'So with 18 months experience, we're looking for Account Manager jobs at £24k'.  That's a big ask....and so on.

I'm absolutely committed to securing my candidates the right salary for them.  I often ask candidates to trust me on this. Ultimately, I'm paid according to their salary so it's in my interest to do so. However, I've also got a responsibility to them to advise them on what is realistic and what is attainable. I've also got a responsibility to clients to meet their requirements and to provide them with CVs for people who can do the job within the salary boundaries that they are offering.

There isn't really a science when it comes to salaries. They are so subjective.  The old adage is true that you are worth whatever an employer will pay for you.  Yes there are salary brackets that for the most part provide the basis for the majority of roles in this sector but there are occasionally situations where salaries come out of these brackets.  In smaller agencies, progression can often be quicker, largely because an MD, may pay slightly above the average and give inflated job titles to retain staff. In fairness, employees of smaller agencies tend to work multiple roles and wear many different hats too whereas in a larger agency, employees often get to be very skilled in a very small range of campaigns.  In the larger agencies, budgets tend to be fixed with very little fluidity whereas in the smaller agencies, there are not such rigid salary boundaries (assuming business is good!).

Peer pressure is a big contributor to this too.  Often candidates are aware that their friends who are lawyers, doctors, consultants etc are earning more than them (marketing & advertising is certainly not in the top 10 of high salary potential roles).  But that's not a justifiable reason to expect your next employer to pay you more.

Interestingly whilst candidates are able to have this sort of conversation with me, it's a different matter when it comes to interviews.  I recently had a candidate who was currently earning £32k and wanted to secure £40k in their next move.  I could only offer my honest opinion.  That I thought it was unlikely that the client would offer her that much. That was the top end of their budget but they'd need to see the skills and ability to justify that salary.    I had advised the candidate that if asked in the interview what her salary was, to respond with 'I'm looking for £40k'.  I'd said that if the client heard the £32k, they'd mentally be unable to justify why someone was worth another £8k.  So.  post  interview, I asked the candidate if they'd asked the salary question.  When it came to it, she'd been unable to lie, dodge or fudge the answer and had said she was on £32k.  Her worry was that if she got the job, they'd know from her P45 that she had lied and that could cause problems.  In over 10 years of recruitment, I've never known this to happen but it does make candidates worry and it proves that ultimately we're a pretty honest bunch.

In the end, the client did offer. They offered £36k and a review at 6 and then 12 months to get the candidate up to that £40k with achievement of certain KPIs.  On reflection, the candidate appreciated that they were unlikely to secure the £40k elsewhere and that this was a fair offer with an achievable goal.

If the candidate had answered £36k to the salary question, do I think they'd have offered £40k? Possibly.  When it comes down to it, it depends how much you can look someone in the eye and respond to that question. Don't witter or waffle, just state the number.

Something that does concern me is that where a candidate asks for a significant jump like this, they are setting themselves up for a fall. Whilst some clients will say, OK, I'll give you what you want, they are also saying, but you're going to have to earn it.  Often, candidates are unprepared for this and then it comes as a bit of a shock when the going gets tough.  This is most common where a candidate is trying to make the transition from Account Manager to Senior Account Manager or Senior Account Manager to Account Director and the actual roles in themselves do require more experience and skill - and therefore they command a higher salary.  So it's worth bearing that in mind too when coming up with the number that you think you are worth.

On a final note.  Salary is always going to be linked to experience and skills.  It's subjective again because it depends on the company, the sector, the clients etc.  Clients will usually pay most for candidates who have stayed for a decent time in their previous roles, who are able to articulate well at interview their experiences and to justify why that potential employer should be interested in them.  The indefinable qualities of 'chemistry' and 'fit' as yet cannot be measured but that's the key determinant in my opinion when it comes to salary - a client will always feel justified in offering a bit more for someone with the right 'fit'.  Often you've got to meet a few potential employers for this to work both ways - a bit like kissing a few frogs until you find your Prince.  So it's worth persevering!