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The dreaded compensation conversation: When is it time to suck it up regarding salary?

I was excited to be interviewed for a recent article about the compensation conversation. I always get questions about compensation from my clients who are in career transition and wanting to know for their career planning purposes – “Am I going to have to take a cut in salary to move into my dream job?”

First, a couple of notes about discussing compensation during the interview process. I spoke with a career coaching client, Ben in California, about it recently:

When should you bring it up? Certainly not in the first conversation, and not in the first interview unless they bring it up. You need to see how the process unfolds. If they talk benefits in the first conversation, and don’t mention salary specifically, you can mention it at that time. If you’re talking to a first round screening person over the phone for example, it’s not appropriate to mention it then. General rule of thumb is wait until they are closer to offering you the position. Do your homework and look on, and to get a sense of the range it should be for the position you’re looking at. The better prepared you are, the better case you can make for the higher salary you feel you are worth.

What if the offer or range is lower than you expected? Also do your homework by conducting informational interviews with people in the industry so you have an accurate sense of what’s expected and aren’t caught completely off guard.

If the salary is lower than you expected, say thank you and go back and think about whether it’s worth it to you to take that salary. For example, is this career change worth it, and could this job be a stepping stone to something else? If it is, then it may be worth considering a lower salary as long as it will still take care of you financially. Some people will take a lower paying job in order to transition into another industry, and it’s worth it for them to get their foot in the door. Sometimes taking a job with a slightly lower salary is a strategic career move depending on your situation and long term goals. It’s all an important part of career planning – “What is my next move, and will this move get me to where I want to go?”

Remember, you’re not always completely stuck with what they offer. They may offer you a lower salary but you could negotiate for a performance review in 6 months with a potential raise for example. If you want the job, talk to them.

Hallie Crawford
Atlanta Career Coach

P.S. How do you know if your resume is good? Take this Resume Quiz to find out how to keep your resume out of the trash can.