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Settling for a Lower Salary Whilst Maintaining Your Sense of Professional Self Worth

If you’re one of the many talented professionals currently looking for work in the digital marketing, PR or advertising industries, you may have noticed that positions are being advertised with salaries that are dramatically lower (sometimes up to $20K less) than what they were in January 2020.

This is, of course, due to the perfect COVID storm of cash strapped employers, anxious clients, and the high number of unemployed professionals that will take whatever work they can to survive. The depressing equation of less money + fewer jobs + high unemployment rates means that for the next few months at least, it may not be possible to get the salary your skillset deserves. 

Settling for a lower salary vs. knowing your worth 

In the latter half of 2020, it’s more than likely that job seekers may need to accept a lower salary when applying for a job. If you’ve read my articles before, you’ll know that negotiating your worth’ is a key message that sits at the core of my practice as a Recruiter. I always encourage the Talent I work with to stand by their skills and experience, and not settle for anything less than what they’re worth. On the surface, it seems like the economic realities of 2020 make negotiating what you’re worth an impossibility. I’m here to tell you that it is possible to settle for a slightly lower salary, without devaluing yourself as a professional. 

Your professional worth is not a dollar sign 

Traditionally, we are told that our salaries reflect our skills and experience. We start with a low salary at the beginning of our careers and as we gain experience and refine our skills and then our salaries increase. When times are good and the sky’s the limit, using your salary to benchmark your professional worth isn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, in times like these when money is scarce, thinking in these terms will lead you to feel your professional worth is diminishing alongside your salary. This is not the case. Before you make any decisions about accepting a lower salary, it’s crucial to get this straight in your head: accepting less money right now doesn’t make you a pushover, or less skilled or less valuable; it makes you a survivor. 

 

Being flexible is a sign of strength 

Now we’ve separated money and professional worth, let’s discuss ways you can negotiate a package that you can be happy with. Your first move in these negotiations should be to establish with your potential employer that you are aware of what your skills and experience were worth in the pre-COVID job market, but that you are also interested in the job. This doesn’t mean putting on a show of arrogance, but talking frankly about what your salary expectations were at the start of 2020, and what they are now. 

Establishing this ensures that you and your employer are on the same page when it comes to knowing your worth and that your willingness to be flexible about salary in the current market is contextual. Once this understanding is established, it’s time to negotiate what can be done to make the role right for you. 

 

A note on negotiating

Whenever I talk about negotiation during the hiring process, I receive comments and questions from people wondering if negotiating will hurt their chances of getting a job? Here’s a fun fact: employers LOVE it when candidates negotiate. It’s a sign that the person they are hiring is assertive, a good communicator, and invested in the role they are applying for. It also reaffirms to the employer that you possess a valuable, in-demand skill set. Yes, negotiating can be intimidating and scary but the worst a potential employer can do is say no. 

 

Negotiating your worth beyond salary

There are lots of non-monetary ways (check out last week’s blog for a more in-depth discussion of these) you can negotiate to make a role align with your experience and skill set. Non-monetary salary benefits such as; work from home flexibility, earlier finish times, a car parking space, or a gym membership are common examples of perks that you can negotiate in lieu of your usual salary expectations. 

Future contract flexibility beyond COVID is another factor which you may wish to negotiate. As your willingness to settle for a lower wage is purely circumstantial, it’s important to establish with your future employer that if they want to retain your skillset beyond the current pandemic, then a salary increase will be necessary. Salary reviews are often implied, but putting a specific salary review date in writing (or even a salary review schedule) will help you feel more confident about your decision to start at a lower salary. Whilst there are no guarantees about when the economy will regain its strength, regular salary reviews are a chance for you to provide concrete proof of the value you bring to the company so that your employer can confidently increase their investment in you as budget becomes available.