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Should I Salary Sacrifice?

2020, as a year, has been synonymous with sacrifice. Australians, and Melbournians in particular, have given up family visits, weddings and birthday dinners. Vacations are indefinitely on hold, and so many parents have spent the larger chunk of their year indoors with children, trying to keep up with their jobs and their sanity. While no one was thrilled, we made do: we buckled in and bought new furniture for the home office (and maybe a few other online purchases, but who’s to say). 

It makes sense, in 2020, that this attitude of sacrifice carries over and colours how we interact with every part of our lives. In what may well be the most uncertain time any of us alive ever face, we’ve learned to pare back our expectations. This is particularly true when it comes to the job market.

It’s been a year of scary news and scarier graphs charting the economy. COVID’s effect is everywhere you look: freshly closed shops. Higher rates of unemployment. Ongoing dips in the stock market as the future of the pandemic and political events merge into volatility. Businesses have had to tighten their belts, with budgets uncertain for the next financial year.

It is, suffice to say, a scary time. As I’ve talked about before, the talent in my pool has become gun-shy to new opportunities. The grass seems greener these days in familiar jobs that might have lost their allure before the pandemic. People are scared, and the feeling’s contagious. Talking to others, it’s easy to think that job hunting right now is pointless. I’ve spoken with talent who are giving up on their dream career paths without even looking because they assume it’s a dead-end right now.

The reality isn’t so scary

It is true that many of the talents that I work with have lost jobs this past year. Many companies can’t sustain a pre-COVID business model and are looking for chances to save money. Unfortunately, this means salary offers have dropped, sometimes dramatically (up to 20K). Going into a job interview, it’s important to keep this mind — potential employers may not have the capacity to offer what they would have, a year ago.

Before you accept a large decrease in pay, however, be aware of the actual numbers. COVID has not affected every industry equally. While events have gone to the wayside, and hospitality has largely shut down this year, some industries thrived through lockdown. And, while some sectors suffered, we’re seeing an overall bounce back occur.

The Australian digital advertising market recorded a growth of 11.3% in its third quarter. And across the country, there are signs of growth. According to data from Bullhorn, there’s been a steady increase in the number of open positions. With fewer COVID cases in Australia, and vaccines on their way, it’s looking promising that those graphs are going to keep looking less scary.

Some roles are worth more now

Not only is the economy looking less uncertain, but some positions are actually worth more than ever. With the entire world living on Zoom, companies have had to turn their focus to digitalisation. According to the AFR, “web designers, digital marketers and IT security specialists have emerged as some of the big winners out of the coronavirus pandemic and were able to command hefty pay rises.” In a digital landscape, these positions are more vital than ever, and companies will have to invest more heavily in them even after the pandemic is over.

This isn’t to say that everyone should expect a pay raise or negotiate a larger contract. 2021 still looks uncertain and many businesses are recovering. However, you should assess what your skills are and what companies need heading into this new future. While you may not be able to ask for more, you should think critically before you accept less and know your worth.

I want to stress this: don’t let anyone take advantage. There are companies who are preying on vulnerable job seekers right now. They know people are scared, and they’re offering dramatically less: not because they all need to, but because they know they can. I’ve also spoken with talent who have reduced their rates without anyone even asking — they think that they have to. Don’t.

As I’ve said before, negotiating your worth is a key message that sits at the core of my practice as a Recruiter. This year, this has meant we needed to be more creative and translate our worth into other benefits. 

What this does not mean, though, is unrealistic expectations, and that goes both ways. While we may not be able to ask for more, always be critical when you ask for or accept less. 

We’re heading into a new year, and that means reassessing the landscape. Keep an eye on the markets, on job data, and the trends in your industry. Pay attention to what roles COVID has made essential, and how these overlap with your experience and skills. The coming year won’t just be about sacrifice: it’s going to be about staying savvy, paying attention, and keeping creative.

I’d like to stress this one last time: while we all need to manage expectations, that doesn’t mean letting anyone take advantage. If your gut says a company isn’t valuing your worth, take that worth elsewhere. This might be scary advice at the moment, but remember: don’t ever let fear make your decisions. There are jobs out there and there is light at the end of the COVID tunnel.