Advice for New Recruits: Should You Ever Say Yes to a Lower Salary?

Do you always need to get top dollar?

We are conditioned to the notion that it is imperative to always earn top dollar at our job.  However, while salary is undeniably important, there are several instances where money salary-pendulum-calculator-with_salary_in-number-screenisn’t necessarily the most important factor.  If you know your worth, understand the value of the benefit package, have negotiated to the best of your ability, and are prepared to walk away, then you have reached a level of latitude, and can afford to think about your decision.

Better Job Title

Administrative Assistant, Executive Assistant, and Assistant Manager are all great positions, yet some people would give anything to step out of the “assistant” realm.

Perhaps it doesn’t come with a large pay increase, but with that new title, you’re viewed with greater regard, you have more leverage when it comes to the next salary negotiation, and, if you work elsewhere, it looks great on your résumé.

Cost of Living

Where you choose to ply your trade can have a significant impact on how much you must spend in order to exist.  For example, living in Manhattan is one of the most expensive choices in the country.  You will probably need an approximate salary of $100,000 a year just to be able to afford to rent an apartment with enough income leftover for expenditures.  Food prices are higher; medical costs are higher; utilities are more costly—simply stated, it’s just an expensive place to live.

The Telecommuting Option

On the other hand, if you live in a rural area of Connecticut or Southern Alabama for example, and your job allows you to telecommute, you could technically make do with $20,000 per year; especially if your home is already paid for.  Try to think of your income in terms of value, rather than actual dollars.  When all of your fixed bills are paid, can you still afford a full shopping cart of groceries in the same capacity as someone else in your profession, but working in a different town?  You very well may be, especially when factoring in lack of commuting costs.

Weigh in Your Benefits

Are you are currently taking care of your own medical expenses, drugs, and dental work?  Maybe you don’t have a 401k, but your plan offers company shares or stock, or two salary-pendulum-man-carrying-coins-on-a-financial-graphmonths of annual paid vacation.

Whatever your benefit package is, it has value.  Even if your employer is not offering a great arrangement in the way of remuneration, those company shares or stock options have the potential to be very valuable.

Taxes Matter

If you file as “head of household” on your tax return, suppose you are also currently earning $45,000 per year.  Perhaps you get a sizable promotion, but a moderate raise, very firmly set at $50,400 and not one penny more.

Instead of being disappointed with the size of the pay increase, do some investigating, and you’ll find that the “head of household” can earn up to $50,400 and still remain in the 15 percent tax bracket (you get to keep $42,840).  At just $50,401 you would be in the 25 percent tax bracket (and you would only get to keep $37,800).  They would have to pay you an additional $5,500 just so you could keep as much as you were with your previous salary; in which case that raise of $5000 vanishes into the government’s pocket.  It works this way all the way up and down the scale of non-exempt salaries, so it’s important to do your math before you deem your raise an utter disappointment.

Older Workers and Salaries

While many are freshly out of college and are seeking employment on the well-earned merits of their degrees, some of us have already acquired invaluable experience and will continue to develop skills from years in the workforce.  Furthermore, some undeniably competent and super-qualified people spent a long time during the recession trying to find employment.

At that time, the older you were, the less likely you were to be hired.  Young workers averaged 26 weeks of looking whereas older workers averaged 35 weeks of looking for employment.  Fortunately, the recession is over and now the second legion of Baby Boomers is set to retire.  Unfortunately, the next group of replacements is not fully up to speed yet.

Far from being “too pricey”, employers are now realizing that they are about to lose some of their best talent and most valuable workers, and are now, although enigmatically, scrambling for available funds to offer older workers to remain onboard just slightly longer while the younger counterparts are fully trained and up to speed.  According to Forbes, a recent AARP survey indicated that out of 1,000 human resources directors, 69 percent expressed that their companies have forged plans to retain their older employees as consultants and part-time workers; and 46 percent revealed that their companies are looking to persuade the older members of their work staff to remain onboard on a full-time basis.

Simply stated, if you are not ready to retire, there is a strong possibility that your employer is not in a rush to let go of you either, even if it is in the capacity of a part-time worker or consultant.  In many cases, that salary might still outweigh prematurely living off of your retirement benefits, especially if you are not in the pension troupe.

When You Should (and Shouldn’t) Say No

Naturally, having a job is a great thing.  If you’re already employed and looking for something better, more power to you.  You can say no as often as you like until you find the job that suits you perfectly.

If you don’t have a job, your funds are dwindling, the bank may soon foreclose on your house, and your daughter or son needs braces, perhaps you have fewer options.  Sometimes any job is better than no job at all.

Nevertheless, while you are job-seeking, be sure to remain cognizant of the less-likely positions that may, in some way, advance your career or your value as an individual employee.  Perhaps you’ll learn a new computer skill; maybe you will learn to manage people; just don’t continue along a dead-end path by ruling out a moderately-compensating job which offers opportunity for growth and advancement, especially if that ideal salary and compensation package hasn’t shown up yet.

How Do You Negotiate?

While being open to opportunity beyond figures is important, this does not suggest you salary-advice-two-business-men-shaking-hands-in-agreementshould completely sell yourself short when negotiating a new salary.  Here are a few quick and applicable points you should keep in mind:

Know your worth

Before you accept a job, do some research and find out what other people are being paid for the same position.  Have facts and figures on hand.  If you work with a recruiter, get their opinion as well.  They’re quite conversant with how employees in your profession are being valued.

Start high

Let’s suppose your job typically pays $60,000-$80,000.  When asked, tell them that you want $80,000.  Of course you don’t want to appear greedy or overbearing, but picking the middle of the range means that’s the starting point from which they are going to negotiate downward.

If you’re applying for the job, you should believe that you are worth the top pay rate.  That should be a personal axiom; if you apply for it you’re worth it.


You have done great work in the past.  Yet, your boss or hiring manager will have no way of knowing your talents unless you tell them.  Recommendations and examples of previous commendable work will only increase your value in the eyes of an employer, while supporting everything you’ve stated thus far.

The Takeaway

There are lots of factors to contemplate when considering what salary you deserve and what you can live with.  How great is your need for immediate employment?  Can you afford to take your time and locate your ideal job?  Are the benefits sufficient enough in one aspect to offset the fact that they pay less in another area?  Is this job going to advance your career?

You can do this; just arrange and organize in advance, always stay calm, and don’t be afraid to stop and think before you speak.  Remember that preparation is key!

By Fred Coon, CEO


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