Career Advice Tuesday- Negotiating Tips For The Unemployed (and Underpaid)

March 6, 2012

This question was taken from last week’s Career Advice Tuesday live session at Security BSides SF.

Dear Infosecleaders:

I was recently let go from my position as a penetration tester and I am actively interviewing.   During my interviews, I am constantly asked two questions – 1) Why was I let go?  2) What was I earning?

The actual answer to the first question is an easy one to answer, as there were some issues with the management of my company and the flow of information security work.   For lack of better terms, we could not sell enough work to keep me busy. 

The second question is difficult for me to address.  First of all, I believe that I was underpaid for my skills.  Secondly, I feel that if I provide any of my suitors with this information they will base their offer on this data – and leave me in the same financial situation.

Do you have any advice for how to address this?


D, Trump


Dear Mr. Trump:

Rest assured, you are not alone.

In my fifteen plus years of working in this industry, I have yet to meet an information security professional who believed that they were overpaid.  The fact that you think you were underpaid at your previous employer, places you in the majority.

That being said, without knowing the details, I cannot really comment if you are paid fairly for your skills and contributions, but I can help you with some guidelines on how to answer the question about compensation.

First of all, when you are asked this question, the most important thing that you can remember is to be accurate in your response.   Although you may not agree with the number, the facts are the facts.  In today’s world, many employers validate past compensation during a background check, so if you are grossly inaccurate in sharing these numbers, you run the risk of being denied employment.

Secondly, I would follow up the answer to the questions with a statement – letting your perspective employer know that you are actively searching for employment and are interviewing for similar positions.   When you provide this information, you can provide a range of compensation that have been associated with the job postings,

When you do this, I think that it is important to provide a range – giving a low number and a high number.  By providing a range, you give the perspective employer two things – 1) knowledge  and 2) flexibility.  The compensation range will enable your suitor to evaluate your talents and your interview based upon the numbers that you provided, and will enable them to make a judgment on your value to their organization.    In addition by giving the employer the range, you provide yourself the foundation for your final negotiation (if you are offered the role).

Let’s say that the employer offer’s you an amount towards the bottom of the range, you can let them know that although you like the position and opportunity, that you were hoping for a more competitive number that was near the middle of the range you provided.  You can even let them know that although they are not the highest offer, that their opportunity is more appealing, and if they could adjust their offer upward to be in line with the others, that you will accept their offer.

On the other hand, if in the end you only have the one offer in your possession, you may just decide to accept the offer as is, and ask the employer when your compensation would be evaluated, and on what criteria will you be judged.

Hope this helps,

Lee Kushner

Posted by lee | Filed Under Advice, Behavior, Career Advice Tuesday, Compensation, Interviewing, Position Selection, Recruiting 


One Response to “Career Advice Tuesday- Negotiating Tips For The Unemployed (and Underpaid)”

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