Career Advice Tuesday – “Feeling Short-Changed”

January 12, 2010

Dear Mike and Lee:

I would like to let you both know about a situation that I just experienced, in the hope that you can propose some advice so that others do not suffer the same fate.

I am an experienced information security leader and am a direct report to the CSO of my current company, a large Financial Services firm.  Recently, I was approached by an internal recruiter of another company searching for a CISO.  I believed that it was a good opportunity, and my next logical career step so I decided to pursue.  Early in my conversations with the internal recruiter, the subject of compensation came up.  I shared with the recruiter my current compensation (all components – base salary, bonus, and equity) and they told me that my compensation was in line with their expectations.

I then proceeded to go through a series of seven different interviews and I met with many senior executives of the potential new company.    Due to scheduling, this process consumed about 10 weeks, and I utilized 4 vacation days to make the interviews happen.  After the final interview, I received a call to inform me that I had been selected and an offer would be formulated. I was very excited.

I received a call from the HR/internal recruiter the next day with the verbal offer.  To my dismay, the total compensation package was well below my current levels.  I asked if the offer was correct, and they said it was.  I informed the HR person that this was unacceptable and I was surprised considering the assurances that I was provided.   The HR person went back to “sweeten the pot”, but even then the second offer was substandard.

In the end, I declined the position and felt that my time had been wasted, and I left upset because I felt that I could have done something different.  Can you suggest some ways that I (and others) could avoid this situation in the future?

Sincerely,

“Feeling Short Changed”

Dear “Short Changed”:

Compensation is always a sticky subject especially during the initial courting stage.  As in your case, discussing compensation early on, prior to undertaking a job search, is an important step in determining baselines and starting points.  I believe that you did the right thing by informing your suitor the value of your compensation.  I strongly believe ( and  as you later found out) there is not any reason to invest the time in an interview process if there is not a possibility of a mutually beneficial outcome.

As far as what you could have done differently, I think there are a couple of things.  First is that you could have attempted to get some advice earlier on in the process, from someone who was a bit removed from the process and had some real experience negotiating an employment contract.  This could have been helpful because it may have provided you some perspective and with an idea of how the “new company” would value your compensation.  Sometimes, the way that an individual values their bonus and their equity is different then an outsider would value it. (Salary is pretty black and white)

The other thing that you may have done differently is to discuss compensation at different points, as you got deeper involved in the interview process and interest began to grow.  Since you did not have an advocate working for you, you had to rely on the internal corporate recruiter to represent your interests – which is a contradiction becasue they work for the company (not you).  Realizing that compensation is a delicate item, and that you do not want to appear purely motivated by money, you need to be tactful in your approach.

One way to go about doing this is initially by sending a friendly e-mail to the human resources/internal recruiter in writing that begins to outline your expectations.   The initial e-mails can be general, and sometimes they can just serve as documentation of your original discussion.  The reason that you put things in e-mail is because they can be referenced and forwarded.  It makes everyone accountable.

As you go on in the process, and interest is increased you can become more specific, becoming a bit more assertive and specific in your approach.   Your e-mail can state that you are hopeful that the process will conclude positively for both parties and that you want to make sure that both parties are on the same page as you continue to move forward.  Again, this provides an additional data point, and begins to discuss not only your baselines, but what it would take for you to accept the position.  You may also decide to include the hiring manager on the e-mail if you feel comfortable.

Finally, as you near the end of the interview process and get to the last interviews, you should begin to have a better sense of comfort with the people you will be working with.  At that time, you can ask them questions about components of the compensation and the history of achieving these milestones (bonus, equity, other).  You can also close those discussions by stating that on a “number of occasions” you have shared with the internal recruiter/HR professional your compensation expectations.

At the end, what you have done is build a case for yourself during your interview process.  More importantly your case will have gotten stronger as the interview process has progressed.  If you communicate this clearly (and in writing) the internal recruiter will have some explaining to do for wasting the hiring manager and other executives time, if your candidacy can not be brought to closure.

In general, we often are afraid of discussing compensation, and we should not.  If compensation is a main criteria, you have to be assertive and tactful in discussing it.

Hopefully it will work out better next time.

Mike and Lee

P.S. Sorry about the lost vacation – however there are always some opportunity costs in pursuing your career goals.

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Career Advice Tuesday 

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