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Honestly, I'm Willing to Work for Less Money

Dear Evil HR Lady,

I was laid off in August and my last salary as a legal secretary was $68k. I am willing to work for less ($45+) as the job market has changed. I think I am still looking because employers would prefer to hire someone who's current/last salary is/was below their range or closer. How do I convince an employer that I'm not a "flight risk" or exactly how should this situation be handled?
Salary history is such a pain. Think how much easier this whole job hunting thing would be if we never had to mention how much money we made at previous jobs. You could just go in to an interview and be evaluated on your actual knowledge, skills and abilities and then the company could make you an offer at a fair market value! Wow. What a radical concept in hiring.

Except, as you know, it doesn't work that way. Companies want to know how much you made at your last/current job and they'll badger you until they either get it or you give up and go elsewhere. And then, the end result is, if your previous salary was too low, then they think you're not qualified and if it was too high then you're either a. overqualified or b. just taking this job until you can find another one.

Newsflash to the hiring managers out there: We're all just taking this job until we can find a better one. It's nothing personal (okay, so sometimes it is personal), it's just that people who treat their job as the center of their universe are the ones who can't handle it when the company decides to terminate the relationship. Most of us treat all jobs as temporary these days. No one I know joins a company with the "I'll work here 25 years at least!" attitude.

So, how can you get a job when you were overpaid at your last position? (Or the market changed.) Here are 5 tips.

  1. Avoid mentioning previous salaries at all. When they ask what you made at your last job, just reply, "Right now I'm looking at jobs in the $45,000 to $50,000 range. My experience..." This is hard and has to be done correctly or the recruiter/hiring manager will think you have an attitude problem.
  2. Be the best candidate in the world. Easier said then done, but if you're a perfect match for the position, they'll be more willing to take the risk of hiring you at a lower salary, or they may even stretch their budget for you. The key is you need to research the company, including the culture and be able to predict what they'll need. If you can be the person they were thinking of when they wrote the job description, you're in. If you can convince them that you want this job they will be more likely to take you on.
  3. Network with the right people. Yes, I know that every person out there who is unemployed is screaming that you have networked and it's not working and would I please stop saying you need to network. No, no I won't. See if you can find someone in a hiring role who had been laid off previously. These people will understand that it's not your fault and that you're sincere about wanting a job, even if it's at a lower salary. Skip the recruiters. The main job of a recruiter isn't to recruit but to reject. If 500 resumes landed on your desk, you'd be eliminating people from competition for any reason you could possibly think of. Your resume gets stuck directly in the "too expensive" pile. Therefore, even if the hiring manager would have loved you, she never sees your resume. You need to get to the hiring manager, just don't be creepy and stalkerish about it. Get introduced through a friend of a friend.
  4. Take on temp or contract work. People will often hire you as a temp when they wouldn't hire you as a real employee. There is less scrutiny over your salary and experience because you aren't going to be there permanently anyway. As a highly qualified legal secretary, figure out what firms are working on a super time consuming case and offer to temp for them to help pull them through. This has two advantages: One it gets your foot in the door and two, it gives you a most recent lower salary.
  5. Remind them that the market has changed. It's not just you who will need to take a lower salary--the market isn't what it used to be. Help them to see that there won't be new jobs at your old high salary popping up any time soon. Help them see that they are getting you at a bargain, and it's a winning proposition for them.
It's too bad that not every qualified, hard working individual can continue to climb up the payscale. But, that's a reality we all have to deal with. Candidates know it. We just need to convince the recruiters and the hiring managers.
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Photo by HoskingIndustries, Flickr cc 2.0
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