It may be that quite early on a recruiter or potential employer will ask you for information on your current salary package or your requirements so it’s essential you have given this thought and aren’t surprised by the request. It might seem a bit “forward” and of course is private but in our experience transparency and openness is overwhelmingly the best approach. Managed well this can be very much to your benefit, ensuring you can position yourself for a great offer at the end of the process.
Here is Prism’s guide through the salary maze:
1. Think big picture
Think long term. No one will tolerate an unpleasant job or consulting career no matter how well paid! The starting point must be for you to decide what your goals are in your life and career. What’s important to you and what job are you aiming for in 10/15/20 years’ time? For example, there may be considerations around work-life balance that will influence how much travel you will accept, the length of the commute you will accept, the hours you work, how much stress and pressure etc.
There are many other pieces in the jigsaw. Be as honest as you can with yourself here as these all have an impact on salary considerations. Some people, especially in their early careers, THINK they want the high flying career and very well paid top management consulting jobs. However deep down they really don’t want the shattering, life-changing, compromises that can be required.
2. What does this mean for the consulting job I should be aiming for now?
This is particularly relevant to the salary question as you may find you need to compromise or change tack to achieve your goals. You are likely to maximise your salary as a square peg in a square hole i.e. the role is a very close match for your skills and experience but that may not be the best direction for your career.
Also if you are very clear you want a step up in the level and challenge of the role then that may be reflected in the salary and/or package, at least in part, albeit that there may be other considerations to bear in mind.
3. What am I worth? What should my salary be?
How long is a piece of string? It’s easy to get fixated on how much salary surveys say you should be earning, or the “to £xxxx” figures in tantalising job advertisements, or people bragging at work about leaving for an offer “too good to refuse” (well, no one’s going to brag about moving for “a bit more” or a lower salary are they?). Sometimes Prism is told “well I’m getting interviews for jobs paying £x” as if that somehow means they are worth £x.
The reality is that, like other markets (the value of your house for example) you are worth what someone is prepared to offer you. No more and no less. In practice in our experience employers are often willing to increase a salary by as much as 10-15% but rarely much more. Apart from the obvious cost consideration, they want a candidate to say “yes” for reasons other than being dangled a huge salary raise.
This is not 100% set in stone: it is entirely possible to argue a case for being underpaid and therefore a large increase. In recent years many employees saw salary rises and promotions put on hold. Another example is that graduate trainees’ loyalty is alas rarely rewarded by their employers and they can find themselves several years after joining the victim of miserly salary rises. Or you have been transferred by your employer from a lower salary country.
However, if you feel you are underpaid this needs to be backed by evidence.
In general some people are fortunate and do secure large rises but this is most definitely not the norm.
4. Should I accept a lower salary? Or package?
The answer is not always a resounding “no way”! In Prism’s experience, it is not at all unusual for individuals to consider a lower salary or package. There are numerous reasons why someone might do this and (if you can afford it) can be a good way of maximising the range of management consulting job opportunities available and ensure you get the best role and employer for your circumstances and career goals. However, care is needed: is an employer offering you a lower salary because the role actually is a step back? Fine if it’s a role you really want or fits with your career plan. Otherwise it could leave you frustrated once the novelty has worn off. Or are they an employer that doesn’t pay market rates for some reason? If you take, for example, a 15% pay cut think how long it might take to regain that 15% in annual salary raises or promotions. Also of course a lower base can on occasion be more than compensated by a bigger bonus or equity depending upon the role, the employer and the risk appetite of the employee. Or the reverse: an increase in base salary, yes, but a lower package.
5. Why should I tell them my current/last salary if I’m worried that’s going to hold me back?
This is a contentious issue. In parts of the USA, it is illegal for an applicant to be asked their salary as it is thought to reinforce inequalities and lack of diversity.
In the UK it is not an illegal question so if you decide not to tell someone your current remuneration you risk looking like a member of the Awkward Squad or that you’re trying to hide something. The best tactic is honesty. If you are concerned that revealing your salary will adversely affect your future offer or mark you down as “not at the right level” for a role you should volunteer information and evidence to counter that possibility at the earliest opportunity. Some applicants can be concerned that their low salary may be taken as a sign of their competency: again the answer is to provide evidence to counter that risk rather than try to evade the question.
“I realise I am asking for a significant increase: I have been operating at Senior Manager level for at least a year now but promotions are on hold, which is why I want to move and see a salary rise commensurate with the role I should be working at”.
“I realise my current salary is quite a bit lower than the advertised role. I am seeking a significant increase because pay rises and promotions have been frozen in the last two years”.
Another possibility, of course, is that you are paid more than the role offers. People baulk at either matching your package or are wary of someone considering a lower salary. If you will take a cut you need to be crystal clear with the recruiter/employer on the salary and package you WILL accept (and if that rules you out then you’ve saved a lot of time). Consider volunteering why you are willing to do so to allay any concerns they may have.
6. So if I show them mine will they show me theirs?
Alas, probably not. It’s unfair but it’s also why preparation is key.
7. I haven’t even had an interview yet: why are we discussing salary?
It is a widely held misconception that salary bands are very flexible and that an employer will always be able to accommodate the salary requirements of an ideal applicant if only that candidate has the opportunity to demonstrate their worth in the recruitment process. Or alternatively that it’s all down to some decent negotiating skills at the end of the process. This is very rarely the case and huge amounts of time can be wasted by all parties if there isn’t transparent communication upfront from both sides. Of course, there are considerations about the nature of the package e.g. the benefits, the travel policies, the bonus etc. All of which adds a level of complexity to the discussion.
8. It’s the final interview
It’s quite likely that there will have been discussion on salary and package at this point. If not, it is legitimate to raise it, especially if there are aspects which are best covered in a face to face conversation e.g. the complexities of the benefits package or the bonus element and what influences how much is paid out. This is not a time to add £10,000 to your base salary requirements. Think of it as the house buying equivalent of gazumping. No one likes it and it can cause the whole deal to fall apart.
If however there is a genuine change in your situation which might include a salary raise or promotion at your current employer or another offer which you feel is a legitimate benchmark then you should say so. If the process has been drawn out and you would be imminently passing up a bonus if you joined them it’s a good time to mention it.
It’s vital to ensure that the employer has a forensic breakdown of all aspects of your current package. It is easy to overlook all the benefits, whose value can add up, and which might not be on offer in another employer.
9. You’ve got the offer
If it’s what you wanted then great but if it’s not, don’t panic. The first thing is to ensure you have ALL the information. i.e. full benefits package details, full details of bonus, the basis of travel expenses policy, date of next review etc. etc. Sometimes hidden in the detail is an aspect that makes a big difference. If not and the offer is either lower than you would like or unacceptable and you are keen on the job, you will have to ask for the employer to reconsider. Do not worry that they will be put out or even withdraw the offer. Many job seekers find this unpleasant and distasteful:
- Why should I have to haggle?
- Surely they should see my worth?
- Why should I join a company that’s trying to get me on the cheap?
- If I ask for more does that put me at the top of the salary band? Or put me under more pressure to perform?
- Are they struggling to afford me?
All are legitimate concerns but they assume a perfect knowledge from each side of the other’s position. This is rarely the case no matter how transparent and open all sides have been. As previously suggested you need to be able to present a logical and structured reason for them to improve the offer.
10. Further negotiation
Options for improving the package could include the base salary obviously. Others to consider are:
- a sign-on bonus or bonus guarantee
- to bring the salary review or bonus date forward
- improve the basis of the bonus calculation (for example lowering your targets) etc.
One aspect of any negotiation that shouldn’t be overlooked is the “if we do x will you do y?” and this can be used by the candidate too.
“thank you so much for the offer. I’m really excited by Bloggs Consulting but it’s a little lower than I was hoping for/the figures we discussed/my other offer(s). I know I mentioned £x and you’ve offered £y. But if you could meet me half way I’d be delighted to accept”.
The employer needs the certainty that you will accept to consider such a ploy.
The role of the executive recruitment consultant in salary discussions
This is an area where a trustworthy, competent and professional intermediary e.g. a recruitment agent or head-hunter can be invaluable: albeit the use of those adjectives reduces the population somewhat! They can do the negotiating for you, pay hardball or softball as required, ensure that neither side feels a loss of face etc. More importantly, they will have the experience of the management consultancy market and consulting salaries. They can manage the process effectively to ensure the best outcome. Plus they can give advice and guidance based on that experience.
Even if you suspect that the recruiter’s primary motivation is the fee then it is very much in their interest to get the best possible offer out of their client for you. Not because it’s a bigger fee but because it may make the difference between getting paid or getting nothing.
If however, you have concerns regarding the professionalism or integrity of the recruiter then you should engage with the employer directly: don’t go behind their backs but politely and firmly explain that this is such an important point in the process and such a complex area that you would like to do so. If the recruiter doesn’t like it: tough. Don’t worry about what the employer might think. It’s not likely they will have a problem speaking directly with a future employee who they have already met several times.
Of course, a good recruiter will not be just looking at their fee. They will have both the client’s and candidate’s interests at heart because they will be thinking long term. They are keen to ensure both a successful hire and an appreciative candidate. That’s good for business and good for you.