Is lower-than-expected pay enough reason to kick a job offer to the curb?
While many of those surveyed in FINS' informal Sign or Decline question forum said it would be, experts say it doesn't pay off to look at a job offer through green-tinted glasses.
About half of 658 respondents said they'd turn down a dream job if their compensation would be 25% below the industry average.
Jeff Neil, a career coach and counselor in New York City, said there are four factors most people weigh when they're considering an ideal job: They want to do something they're good at; something they're proud of; something they enjoy; and something that pays well. And "many will happily settle for three of the four," he said.
For many, money isn't everything.
"People need to understand that a job offer is more than the paper that says 'here's your position and pay,'" said Brent Longnecker, CEO and Chairman of Longnecker and Associates, a Houston-based compensation consultancy. "What can the company do for you, and what can you do for it? Will this position you better in the future?"
If it's your dream job, both Neil and Longnecker advise you take it -- even if it pays less than what you think you should be earning. "Do it to get the skills, connections, and experience that you can ultimately leverage into another position internally or externally," Neil said. "It's much easier to get your ideal job in the future if you've already had something similar in the past."
Unfortunately, "dream" jobs often turn out not to be as perfect as they initially seem. A low-ball offer might be indicative of other problems at the company.
"I'd be mindful of if the company is offering less money because they're in a tough position, such as a startup, or a company in a turnaround phase, where they can really only afford to pay 75% of the market rate, or if it's a company that doesn't value its staff and is trying to take advantage of it," said Neil.
Longnecker suggests that before accepting, investigate the turnover rate within the company, since it's a good indicator of the company's culture. A low-paying company with average employee tenures of two or three years should raise a red flag, he said.
"If they say they have a great culture, but they have a low average tenure, there's a contradiction," said Longnecker.
A company like Southwest Airlines, for instance, that's known for its employee-centric work environment, was the lowest-paying airline, according to Longnecker, who consulted on its compensation practices. Despite low pay, Southwest still boasted a 1.4% turnover rate.
"They had a great work culture, and took care of their employees," he said. He suggests researching a company's history of offering raises, promotions and bonuses, and if decisions are performance-based.
One big worry about accepting a low salary is how it might influence your pay at your next job. Will you forever be pinned at below-market rates?
Till von Wachter, a Columbia University economics professor, said last year during testimony before Congress that recent job-market entrants who accepted low-paying offers may suffer from reduced earnings for another 10 to 15 years.
While Neil and Longnecker say these are all reasonable concerns, both caution that it's not necessarily the reality. What it comes down to is correctly positioning your value as a candidate to your next employer.
"It can be as simple as communicating to a prospective employer, 'I accepted a position with XYZ corporation because it was an opportunity to develop professional skills, but I'm now at a point in my career where I'd like to use those skills and be paid an appropriate market rate,'" said Neil. "If you're really focused on communicating the value you'll deliver to the company, you'll get closer to what you deserve than if you focus on your fears of earning less."
Weighing sanity over salary is a point Longnecker believes is imperative to remember, especially when he considers his own employment history. "Early in my career, I thought everything was about work. I worked 100 hours a week and completely lost sight of everything," he said. "I make less money now, but I have a lot more fun and I'm a whole lot happier."
What Would You Do?
Answer the question and see how you match up with the rest of the FINS community.
You've just been offered your dream job, but... your compensation is 25% below the industry average.
Sign ...or... Decline
Write to Kelly Eggers
Sign or Decline is a series of questions on FINS.com that ask what you would do for your dream job. Since its launch late last year, over 100,000 answers have been received and compiled in our database. Participate in Sign or Decline here.