The downturn in the world economy during, and following the GFC has influenced the way people accept job offers. For many, that means just “settling”. Instead of expecting to enjoy a salary bump when progressing from job-to-job, people all over the world have simply accepted whatever role and salary was offered, because, in the long run, paying the bills and eating are more important than waiting around for the dream job, or the acceptable salary.
Many have accepted contract work on a low hourly rate, some are doing jobs for which they are enormously over-qualified.
And now, as the world economy is starting to show a light at the end of the tunnel for many, job seekers are stuck with how to describe the time when they had to “settle” and how to get back to the salaries they had before.
First, an understanding that things have changed is paramount. Ultimately, the market decides your worth, and pinning your salary expectations on a time when things were better, is an approach that will inevitably disappoint. So before you decide that you are seeking a return to a salary of the boom times, do your research. Find out what a person of your skills and experience can expect to be paid in today’s marketplace and adjust your expectations. You may find that the salary of the past has disappeared, at least for the foreseeable future.
It is inevitable that you will be interviewed and asked why you accepted positions that paid a much lower salary. This is a tough one. Some people take a noble stance by saying that it was an opportunity to broaden their skills and experience. In reality, it doesn’t ring all that true—especially when a small amount of probing will uncover that the skills learned would not be the type of skills a person would be happy to drop a third or more of their income to acquire.
All of us though, have lived through the GFC. We all know the insecurities and the fears of wondering when restructures and job losses would occur and everyone, from the mailroom to the board room knows and understands what it would mean to lose their job. Everyone will hear the ‘truth’ in a statement that indicates you took what was available to pay the bills.
Try something like this:
“Over the past couple of years with the economy the way it has been, I’ve had to take on contract work which means about $10 to $15K less than I was paid as a full-time employee. The good news for my employers is that they were able to get a bargain! (smile, look down and chuckle). As I’m an optimist though, I guess the good news for me is that I was able to keep paying the bills and eat! But these roles were not what I do best and it really is time to get my teeth into something I do well and have been recognised for doing well.. with a salary that is commensurate with my experience.”
The above statement shows that:
- You did what you have to do (truth)
- You are aware that you’re better than that and that your employers got a “bargain”
- You can ease any tension by being human and that you have no hard feelings (the rueful smile, the chuckle)
- You know that things are returning to normal and it is time to look to the future. (firm and professional; you are aware of the current market)
There is no need to dodge and weave when it comes to why you did what you had to do to survive during the GFC. People know it, understand it, and will respect you for the determination it took for you to make the hard decisions when you had to.