A drop in salary – an obstacle to overcome

man leaping obstacle

Why is the willingness to take a pay cut an obstacle to overcome at interview?

We live at a time where, just as in 2009 (6 months or so after the financial crisis started) there are too many people looking for jobs … or too few jobs for the number of people looking, depending on how you look at it.

In any situation where supply is much greater than demand, prices fall. However in the job market that is not so immediately evident. What does seem to be a conversation I’m having once or twice a week is senior managers in between jobs who are willing to take a reduction in salary in order to secure a role. That is a good thing right? Surely everyone is a winner in that deal?

So why is this an obstacle to overcome in an interview?

The following is a hypothetical scenario, however not too distant from what actually happened.

A seasoned Retail Director with a successful track record found herself out of a job due to her company going into administration. No redundancy, no pay off – after nearly 10 years quite a bitter pill to swallow. She’s mid-career, has kids at school, a mortgage to pay, not many savings and is the main bread winner. The business has had a tough time for a few years, so she hasn’t received any bonuses to speak of for some time. At this point, we’re still in lockdown 1.0, so finding the next opportunity will take a while.

Fast forward 5 months to November, savings are running out despite having had mortgage support from the bank. She has had a few potential opportunities come her way, but either these were put on hold or disappeared completely as Covid took its toll. That said, at the end of October she heard of a role with an exciting young retail business that could be really interesting. Two rounds with the head hunter later, she is being put forward to meet the client. One snag. Whereas the role is of a similar seniority, the business is much smaller, albeit growing fast. The maximum salary the company can pay is £95k, a whopping £25k less than she previously earned.

And here are her considerations:

  • She has been out of a job for 5 months and hasn’t seen many (if any) suitable opportunities. If she turns this down, how long before she’ll find a good opportunity that pays at her previous salary level?
  • As a family they have proven they are able to lead a more frugal life style, so she can afford to take the drop.
  • However, how long will it take to get back up to her previous salary of £120k? It may take two career moves to get there, which is at least 4 or 5 years …
  • If the business does well, then she might earn bonuses, whereas in her last job she hadn’t seen a bonus for some time. Maybe this will make up for the shortfall.

Why would she worry about this, surely if the salary pays for their lifestyle and the job is enjoyable and it is an exciting company to work for, that should be okay?

And this is why it is an obstacle at interview:

  • The company is relatively new. It is vibrant, entrepreneurial and still on a growth trajectory and they could do with her experience. However although the position is of a similar seniority as her previous role, this is a much smaller business. Will she be prepared to roll up her sleeves and muck in with the detail or is that now somewhat beneath her?
  • Will she be accepting this role just to get a job and when something better paid comes along in 6 months’ time, she’ll be off again?
  • Will her peers be intimidated by her, as she has clearly taken a step back?

In this scenario it is easy to see either party’s point of view and concerns. The problem is that there is no golden bullet here. Although it will be easy to demonstrate that she has always been the first to get into the detail, how does she convince this potential employer that her head will not be turned by a better offer in the (near) future?

Frankly, even if she thinks that she will be loyal to this company (after all they have helped her out of a sticky situation), she cannot 100% guarantee that she will be there in 12 months’ time.

In this particular case, she did not get the job even though she was the most experienced candidate on the short list. The company played it safe. In this economic climate, they did not want to take the risk…

My advice always is for the candidate to think about what obstacles the client might see with your application, then make sure to address each of these potential concerns before the interviewer can ask a question about it.

1. Do you think they might be concerned about you dealing with strategy and execution?

When talking about your achievements mention how you enjoy hands-on involvement with your team in delivering a project.

2. Do you think they might be concerned about a lack of knowledge in a certain area?

Make sure you demonstrate this to be not the case by talking about your expertise unprompted.

3. Do you think they might be concerned about the reasons for leaving a previous company?

Mention that you are still good friends with your previous boss and invite the interviewer to phone him/her, as in: “I left that business after 18 months, simply because I was offered a once in a life time opportunity. I am still on good terms with my boss there, who supported that move. You ought to give her a ring, as she is in a much better position to talk about the ongoing effect my work had on the business in the long term”.

I think you might be getting the gist. I’m here to help, give me a ring if you think I can!