You got the call.
The job’s all yours. You feel the butterflies of excitement and nervous energy about the opportunity and the challenges ahead. The surge of success is sweet. After weeks and a mind-numbing series of seven or eight interviews with a cast of company characters from a recruiter to a hiring manager, a senior manager, potential co-workers and on down the line, you were selected for the position.
But there’s one thing. And it’s a doozy: the salary. It’s a shadow of what you earned in your previous job.
“Can I negotiate?” It’s a question I get asked a lot by older job seekers. I was reminded of this recently when I was speaking to attendees of LA County Library’s Work Ready program. You can listen to my talk here.
One of the audience members, Janice, asked what I recommend for “those with decades of experience getting offered salaries well below what we’re worth.” She was curious if I thought there is much room for negotiation in today’s environment.
I sighed. This is not new, but it is pervasive and for those workers aged 50 and over who have lost jobs during the pandemic, or took an early retirement buyout, but aren’t done working, it’s a stark reality.
I grapple with this pay issue constantly with my clients, so I feel the frustration and resentment, too. It’s personal. You don’t feel your work and expertise is valued, and that’s a sinking feeling.
In particular, older workers who are switching career fields wrestle with this conundrum. And one of the big trends I have found for older workers in the new world of work created by COVID-19 is a rise in career shifting, so this topic of pay is especially relevant today.
For a column I recently wrote for Next Avenue, I had the opportunity to review data from a disturbing research report, “Meeting the World’s Midcareer Moment,” published by Generation, a global employment nonprofit.
The researchers sampled the population of people aged 45 and over who switched careers in the last three years and continued to be employed at the time of the survey. What they found is that 66% of them had compromised in some way before taking that job offer.
Some compromised in terms of their role and seniority. They would have liked a higher role. They also accepted something lower in terms of the compensation level.
It’s a Catch-22. No easy answers here. On one hand, at this stage in your career, you command a certain salary, and you don’t want to take a step back. I get that. And why should you?
It’s awkward and embarrassing to accept a salary below your expectations. It’s an ego thing, sure, but it’s also a big pocketbook issue if you need the income to support your lifestyle and meet your financial obligations.
But even if you aren’t switching fields, low ball salary offers are not uncommon for older workers. Yet, turning one down can be hard if you’ve been searching for a long time. Of those surveyed by Generation who were unemployed, 63% of 45+ job seekers have been out of work for more than a year vs. only 36% of job seekers 18 to 34.
There are, however, some moves you can make to negotiate, I told Janice. For starters, you have some bargaining power here. The decision to hire you for the position has been made. That’s a huge hurdle. They already want you on the team and have spent time and money to get to this phase of the process.
Here are a few suggestions to help you navigate this conversation without closing the door on the job opportunity, especially if it’s one that genuinely appeals to you.
4 tips for negotiating a salary
What’s your number? The easiest way to draw the line in the sand is to do the soul-searching about the minimum number you’re OK with accepting without feeling underappreciated or underpaid.
Does the job’s appeal balance accepting a pay cut? A job is frequently far more than the income you derive from it. I have happily made this adjustment many times, and I’m comfortable with that. Many factors come into play. For me, the prestige of working for the company, the specific editor, or the learning experience was well worth it.
Sleuth out the typical pay range for the position. Do your research on what the position usually pays at other firms, or the average where you live, to make sure your hopes are on the mark. You might even search job boards to see what similar positions have posted as salary ranges.
Websites such as Glassdoor.com, Salary.com and Payscale.com provide salary information for jobs in numerous industries, and specific companies in some cases. The U.S. Office of Personnel Management has pay level rundowns for government jobs.
Think big picture. Consider benefits around the edges. If you can’t get the salary you desire, negotiate for overall compensation. That can include benefits such as remote work (something that’s not really an issue today but might be once we emerge from this pandemic), flexible hours, more paid vacation days and access to education reimbursement and ongoing workplace training programs.
Make a deal. One of my favorite moves is to enthusiastically express appreciation for the job offer, but request revisiting your salary in three to six months. Yes, it’s a gamble, but if you really want the job, it’s probably worth it. That time frame gives you chance to demonstrate your worth to the company and test out the job to see if it really is a good match for you.
Be sure to get this in writing, though, so you can hold your boss to the deal. Schedule periodic informal reviews during that time frame, if possible. And be diligent about recording a list of your accomplishments to refer to at that future salary review tête-à-tête, too.
Readers: Do you have any tips for salary negotiation? Let us know what worked for you in the comments below.
Kerry Hannon is an expert and strategist on work and jobs, entrepreneurship, personal finance and retirement. Kerry is the author of more than a dozen books, including Great Pajama Jobs: Your Complete Guide to Working From Home, Never Too Old To Get Rich: The Entrepreneurs Guide To Starting a Business Mid-Life, Great Jobs for Everyone 50+, and Money Confidence. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.