Here’s the scenario: The hire has accepted your offer even though it represents a cut in salary. Once the economy picks up, you figure he will start looking for a new job that will bring him back to his old salary. The hire says all the right things. Should you take the risk?
I have had to face this issue on a fairly regular basis. This is especially true when the client is a non-profit and they are willing to accept candidates from the corporate sector who have been laid off as a result of the present economy. When looking for an IT director for an organization dealing with spousal abuse issues, many qualified candidates were rejected, despite the fact that the client had specifically said that they wanted someone from the corporate world, because they were willing to take a significant (in most cases over $100,000, and in one case, over $200,000) cut in salary. They simply were not believed when they said that they wanted stability and to be out of the “rat race” and would not look for a higher paying job when the economy improved.
Ironically, when I was doing a search for a director of Legal Affairs for a college, candidates were believed when they indicated their willingness to take six-figure (most in the neighborhood of $250,000) cuts in salary. They all said that it was because they wanted “quality of life” and were fed up with working 100-hour weeks. (One candidate said he was working 120-hour weeks. I started to do the math in my head. He smiled and said, “You sleep and shower in the office and go home for clean clothes.”)
So what’s the difference between the IT director and the attorney? I believe it is because non-profit executives cannot relate to technology. They cannot understand the stress of the IT professional’s job. On the other hand, they fully appreciate what it means to be an attorney focused on billable hours.
I am confident that none of the IT professionals or attorneys whom I interviewed for these positions was lying. I believed them because they passionately explained to me what they were losing in exchange for their salaries. It is worth six-figures for them to be able to have dinner with their spouses and to attend their children’s school plays. You can see it in their eyes when they talk about what they are missing. One father was practically in tears when he told me that his daughter had complained that he did not read to her anymore.
The first answer to your question of whether or not to believe a candidate is, therefore, a genuine emotional response. The second answer is the exact opposite, the rational response. They show that they have thought the loss of salary out. They “do the math.” These are my expenses, this is what I need for the minimum lifestyle I want, my spouse works, I can do this.
If a candidate tells me that he or she is willing to take a significant cut in salary and will not be looking for a better paying job, and proves to me that they have thought it out rationally and emotionally, I’ll advocate on their behalf. In the case of a non-profit client, what I am not interested in is someone from the for-profit sector who talks to me about the non-profit sector in idyllic terms (no stress, less pressure, no-bottom line thinking, etc.) which only goes to show a naiveté about the sector and that they have not thought things through.