The interview was all going well until he asked me: "How much of a pay cut are you willing to take?"

From an anonymous candidate

One of the amazing job-hunting experiences I had recently was with an investment firm. I went through the interview rounds, answering standard questions about specific sectors and proposing investment strategies on selected companies. Everything went well until my meeting with one of the fund’s partners. We had a chat about how the market was really low and how it had been impacting finance professionals.

He showed me a small stack of CVs he had received for the vacancy and congratulated me on being among the few selected for face-to-face interviews. I felt good for a moment, but in hindsight he was just preparing me for his following questions: What was your last salary? How much of a pay cut are you willing to take?

Given recent market conditions, it was obvious that the competition for any job would be fierce and that salary negotiations would be difficult. I was expecting the first question about my previous salary and I was prepared to defend my worth. However, I was definitely not prepared for the second question. I had no idea it would come to that. What answer could one possibly give?

A 10 per cent cut would appear too low. Twenty per cent could potentially be competitive enough to get me the position, although it was probably not the best offer this hiring manager had on his table. But how much further could I possibly go?

Thirty per cent would mean that I would need a 50 per cent bump to get back to where I was – that would take either a miracle, or one or two well-placed job hops within a short space of time, which would badly hurt my CV.

Cutting by 40 per cent would mean that I would pretty much need to double my salary in order to get back to pre-crisis levels. That would take years. I was at a loss.

Pain but no gain

What is so painful about salary cuts? Is it because it confronts us with our newly depreciated market value in the finance industry? Is it the fear of how we will be perceived by our family and friends? Is it because we are lose the ground we have won through years of blood sweat and tears?

My thoughts raced back through my career history to the time when I was still a struggling junior in the finance industry: the cancelled lunches and dinners, the weekends in the office, the inability to maintain a stable relationship, the physical exhaustion, the insomnia, and the addiction to burning cash for instant self-gratification. Have all those years of sacrifice really been swiped away?

But my pain did not stop with a simple reminiscence about the past. My life has moved on over the past few years – I am now thinking about a mortgage, buying big-ticket items like an engagement ring, and paying for my upcoming wedding. I’m also worried about what my future in-laws will think if my pay drops dramatically.

My thoughts finally halted at the image of Joshua Persky, the famous unemployed MIT graduate who went from mainstream New York banker to human billboard in 2008 because he needed to support his wife and five children. Apparently, he’s had one proper job since then, which lasted five months, and has been selling Iphone apps to make ends-meat.

Coming back to my interview with the buy-side firm: I left the meeting saying that the salary cut was an interesting question and that I will need to think about it.

One Reply to “The interview was all going well until he asked me: "How much of a pay cut are you willing to take?"”

  1. Anyone who answers the question asks is likely to be working in finance because they’re not smart enough to run their own business. What a simple trick of a question that completely unnerved the author and anonymous candidate. I think by even attempting to answer the question, the interviewer would know that the candidate is either completely pliable or completely naive. You should stick to your guns whether the question is as predicted or if it comes booby trapped.

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