terse answer Thursday — 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday — seven short answers to seven short questions. Here we go…

1. My peers earn more than twice what I do

Last December, I moved to New York and was told that the recession had caused salaries to be cut in half. I networked and people told me how hard it was to find work and that there was no way I would get what I was being paid previously. I was told that I should be careful not to price myself out of the market. After a six-week search, I was offered a job and asked what I was looking to earn: I had done some research and asked for between $60k and $70k. I was offered and accepted a package of $65,000 and a title of manager.

As it turns out, I do terrible research. After ten months, I’ve learned that people in my company with my experience are earning around $100-$150k and are three levels higher than me. I am at the level of people with 2-3 years of experience, whereas I have almost 20. Because of the low salary I am on, I am assigned horrible projects-gone-wrong to fix up, projects which require expertise but are heavy on the hours and the nerves. The company is getting excellent value for money having someone of my expertise on board at such a low rate, but I am demoralized and my career trajectory is in jeopardy. I have spoken to managers about this and they promise me that I will be assigned more suitable work soon, but it doesn’t happen. Should I ask HR to review my title and salary based on my skills and experience (which are clear to all) and asked to be assigned to roles with more responsibility? I am sure they would not want to lose me and understand that I could easily find a better suited role elsewhere. Or is there no going back? My official review is scheduled for next March.

Yes, talk to them. Normally my advice is not to compare your salary to your coworkers’ because there are tons of reasons why they might be different from yours, but the disparity here is so large that it’s reasonable to raise this. They might not be willing to do anything, but it’s worth asking. If they say no, follow through on your confidence that you could find a better role elsewhere.

2. Responding to a job candidate’s thank-you email

I’m surprised never to have been in this position before, but now that I am, I have an etiquette question. We’re currently hiring for a position on my team. I conducted a phone interview the other day, which I think went very well. We will be moving forward with bringing this candidate in for in-person interviews. However, I’m not the one who will communicate that back to the candidate; there’s someone on our talent recruitment team who handles that communication. The thing is, this person sent me a thank-you email this afternoon, and I’m not sure if/how to respond. I can’t comment on next steps in the email, but I also don’t want it to sound like I’m avoiding that topic. What is the etiquette for replying to thank you emails after an interview?

It’s fine to just say something like, “Thanks for the note. I enjoyed talking with you as well!”

More here.

3. My new job title suddenly includes “senior”

I wrote to you before about an interview with a company that put up a lot of red flags. Well, much to my surprise, they made me an offer about two weeks after I’d given up on hearing from them … a very nice one, maxed out their pay range off the bat, and the offer letter lists the job title as Senior, which I didn’t know was an option. I did accept after a lot of consideration, but now how do I ask if that little word (which is very difficult to come by in my field and normally requires internal promotion and a dose of Who You Know, so I’m aware that I may be walking into a lot of ill feeling among my new coworkers) comes with extra responsibilities/expectations? I’m perfectly happy if it does, and it would actually make the job more attractive to me, but how on earth do I ask? My fear is that if the answer is no, I’ll look presumptuous.

Just say: “Can you tell me how the Senior X position differs from the X position?” If you’re already done with your negotiation and you’ve accepted the offer, I’d just wait and ask this of your manager the first week on the job. Despite whatever the norm is in your field, though, it’s possible you’ll find that the title doesn’t signify any different responsibilities, and is simply a way of recognizing the expertise you bring (which isn’t uncommon to do).

4. Explaining a career detour

My career has seemingly gotten off-track as a result of taking care of my mother for the past several years. My last full-time job required a lot of travel, so it was a problem as her health became an issue and she grew increasingly needy. I have been working on a contract basis (no benefits!) for the past 6 years to better accommodate her needs, but I feel it looks like a gaping hole on my resume, even though I’ve had some incredible experiences. How do I address the reason for this detour in cover letters and online applications?

If you’ve been working the whole time, even at contract jobs, I don’t think you do need to address it unless you’re asking about it. If there’s an actual gap, though, it’s fine to say that you were taking care of a family member and now are ready to return to full-time work.

5. Leaving a job after the death of a boss

My boss, who was both a good friend and the reason I got into this field, suddenly passed away of a heart attack at a young age (mid 30s) last month. In the few short weeks since, things are showing all the signs of going downhill very rapidly without her guidance. I had already been unsatisfied with my work situation before her passing, and was actively seeking other employment. However, the changes that will soon be taking place may prove to be the bag of cement that breaks the camel’s back. As I have a modest amount of savings and a side gig as a ghostwriter that I can manage to live off of, I feel it is only a matter of time before I simply turn in my notice without having a “real” job lined up. What with everything that has gone on, I honestly do not know how much longer I can stay where I am, both on a personal and professional level.

If and when I eventually try to re-enter the traditional workforce, how would you suggest I respond when asked as to why I left my previous (current) position? In my case, it is equal parts personal and professional. I made the decision to leave months ago, and while I don’t want to try and milk her death for pity from an interviewer, her death has certainly had an effect on me, one that will not be leaving any time soon. And because the field that I work in is a fairly small one, and any future employer who does even cursory Googling on my current employer will read about her death. I would appreciate any thoughts or advice you have on this matter.

I’m sorry about your boss. How awful.

You were already looking to change jobs before she died, so if you’re continuing on that path, I don’t think you need to get into your boss’s death as a factor at all. (You certainly could, of course; I’m just not sure that it makes sense to frame your leaving around that, since you were already planning on going.) It sounds, though, like you’re considering relying on your side job as a ghostwriter for a while. If that’s the case, but at some point you decide to look for a job again, you can simply explain the writing work you were doing during that time.

6. When your certificate is still just anticipated

I’m taking the PHR exam on December 1 and of course expect to pass. I’m currently looking for other work – can I put “PHR – anticipated December 2012” on my resume?

Sure.

7. LinkedIn invitation from a prospective employer

I just received a LinkedIn invite from someone whom I have never met. Normally I decline these, but this person is an Administrative Director for a company that just interviewed with, so he is not entirely random. What do I do?

You’re certainly not obligated to connect with people you don’t know, but I’d recommending accepting invitations from people at companies that you might want to work for.

{ 35 comments… read them below }

  1. Anonymous

    #3. I have come into an office with a Senior title as well. I’m in my 20s and my coworkers are in their 50s. Basically, I am in a Senior role because I can work a computer and know what a 529 plan is. I don’t really do anything more than tell them how to cut and paste. When in doubt, I google. The office just needed someone to run interference between the old school workers and issues that did not need to go to the boss.

  2. Eric

    Re #1: Is there a way to make it clear that if you don’t get the raise then you will be actively be looking for new work? It seems like it would be inappropriate to say so directly.

  3. Jen

    #2 I always send a thank you after an interview, and I don’t think I have ever received a response to a thank you. This includes in situations where I have been invited for second interviews later, or have not been asked back. I think it’s pretty normal to not get a reply and it should not be expected. It should not be a deterrent to sending those thank you’s and you should not read anything in to it.

    1. AB

      Jen, I think the OP for question #2 knows that people don’t really expect a reply to a “thank you for the interview” message.

      However, since the interview went so well, the OP probably thinks the candidate may end up being hired, which would make it a nice beginning of a relationship to send a note back. I think AAM’s answer was perfect to allow that communication to happen without causing any embarrassment regarding not being able to mention the next steps.

      1. Jen

        Still does not override the common wisdom that a reply to a thank you is not necessary. Make the effort to “forge the relationship” after the position is accepted. This is in the category of “overthinking” that AAM so frequently mentions. I say that respectfully, and from the point of view of the candidate who has learned to follow the rules and not read too much into every little thing.

  4. Jamie

    #1 – It seems the issue isn’t that the OP’s peers earn more than her – it’s that she feels she’s in the wrong peer group.

    Because there would be a large discrepancy in pay between the OP and people three levels higher in the company.

    This sounds like a company with structured pay grades – so I would take Alison’s advice and have a conversation about your position in the company.

  5. The IT Manager

    #1, I am confused by this: I’ve learned that people in my company with my experience are earning around $100-$150k and are three levels higher than me. I am at the level of people with 2-3 years of experience, whereas I have almost 20.

    Are you saying you were hired to be a junior manager (i.e. level 1) whereas other people in your company with your experience are senior managers (i.e. level 4)? Because that’s how I understood your letter. Not that you’re underpaid in comparison to your peers, but you’re over-experienced in comparison to your peers i.e. you took a low-level position (which came with low pay (relatively)). It doesn’t seem to be pay problem but a level of responsibility problem. If that’s the case, the way to get more money is to move up to the higher level. Unfortunately as an internal hire you’re not likely to jump up three or four levels (but you might), so you should speak to HR but I think you should frame it that way. But you should act quickly because you may also have trouble being externally hired into a position three levels higher than your current job after you’ve been in it for a while.

    1. Steve G

      OK I understand it is not fun making less than your coworkers, but who even in NYC (and I live and work in NYC) makes $65K in a recession with 2-3 yrs experience? Even in financial services almost all grads are making something in the $40s and working their way up through the $50s in their 20s these days. I had 6 years hardcore corporate experience before I crossed $65K in NYC. It took a mix of many lousy and many stellar raises to get their from an entry level salary. Please advise as to which companies are paying $65K to 24 year olds so we can apply and make $90K!

      1. Jamie

        If I had to take a wild guess my money would be on IT.

        I hope the OP weighs back in, because I always like to see if I’m right about sniffing out one of my own. :)

        1. Meg

          I just successfully doubled my currently salary (and then some) in the IT (sort of? Would you consider front-end web developers IT?) field. I’m just amazed to be making that much (we got my offer to $72K) after seeing other jobs (and industries) making $40K or less.

          1. Answeringbeforecoffee

            Aerospace is another juicy field. Degrees are slightly less important than you’d think if you can make it clear that you can actually do the job, and the monkey-can-do-this starting pay is usually, um, well over $40k. The drawback is that shiftwork is standard.

          1. MaryTerry

            Me too! I’m already experienced for up to 50% of the help desk problems — Repeat after me:
            1) Did you shut down and reboot?
            2) Is it plugged it?

            (JK – I know the other 50% is much more complicated.)

      2. AnotherAlison

        I did exit interviews for mechanical engineering seniors (0 yrs experience) last spring. One said her salary for the offer she accepted was $62,000. In the midwest. Of course these jobs compete with the oil & gas industry, and it’s a boom cycle right now.

        1. WrongLevel

          Hi Alison, thanks for your advice. Jamie – You’re right, I’m in IT and work for a young but large-ish agency. Steve G – I was hired by a not-too-experienced HR person who was only here for a short while. I did not apply for an advertised vacancy but approached the company directly; they are growing fast so they brought on a whole bunch of people in a generalist capacity, rather than to fill specific positions. They have seven levels and I am at level three.

          1. The IT Manager

            Now that sucks, because there’s no real way to research the exact meaning of each company’s seniority level; although, you did miss by alot. Again, though, I think you need to approach HR and discuss a promotion to the right level (and the pay that should accompany it). In a fast growing company hopefully they can make it happen.

    2. Zed

      Yeah, I guess I don’t really understand this issue. If an Executive VP takes a middle management job at another company, they probably shouldn’t expect to make what that company’s Executive VP makes…

  6. NewMgr

    #3 – It sounds to me like the “senior” may have been added in part because they maxed out their pay range for the role. If they had hired you at the non-senior title and at the max pay, it would have been very hard for you to get a raise without a promotion. Also, in my industry, the day-to-day duties of “senior” vs. not don’t differ – it’s just an indicator of how much experience you bring to the role.

    1. Jamie

      That’s how it sounds to me – another pay grade issue. Max of the other position is probably the min of the Senior position and most companies want to bring you in with at least some room for raises without jumping pay grades.

      Just pure speculation.

    2. AdAgencyChick

      Yup. At the last place I worked before my current company, they decided to make me a “senior grand pooh-bah” so as to be able to pay me the salary I was asking for (and they knew darn well I wouldn’t move without it). Didn’t make a whit of difference in my duties — in fact, in some ways the work was actually at a lower level than at my previous job, even though I was getting paid more. Go figure.

  7. Answeringbeforecoffee

    OP for #3 here… I’ve already accepted and have a start date. I was so startled when I saw that on the offer letter that I spent a fair bit of time just celebrating. It’s the sort of thing that can mean an extra $15k of salary when I change jobs; I would guess that it’s also an indication that I may actually be able to move up, which is something I hadn’t expected with this company. (The position type is one that has a tendency to dead-end unless you’re exceptional.) I’ll ask in my first week and see; your suggestion that it might just be a recognition of expertise is very possible, and my immediate thought was that they either want to have me running the department in a year (I wish!) or it was a way to make up for not being able to meet the base salary I asked. They did try, definitely, and the benefits make up for a fair amount. (Four weeks of vacation to start, hallelujah!)

    1. Answeringbeforecoffee

      Also, many thanks for the answer, Alison! I greatly appreciate it, and actually went into this interview armed with assorted information from here. I don’t believe I’ve ever rocked an interview quite so hard. (Hey, maybe that’s why I have that “Senior” — if so, even more thanks!)

  8. perrik

    #6 – Not to be a pessimist but the pass rates for the last four PHR exams:

    Dec 2010/Jan 2011: 57%
    May/June 2011: 59%
    Dec 2011/Jan 2012: 58%
    May/June 2012: 58.15%

    (source is HRCI’s website)

    I’d be cautious and leave it off the resume. You could mention in cover letters or during interviews that you’re sitting the exam in December 2012, but…

    De Bris: Hello Arthur, tell us about yourself.
    Arthur Packard: I was the lead tenor of the Albuquerque Opera Company for two seasons. I just finished a road tour of “Student Prince”. And last season I was up for the lead in the Broadway production of “Circus Man”!
    De Bris: What happened?
    Arthur: I didn’t get it.

    (a free deluxe chocolate teapot with the marzipan tea tray for anyone who can name that movie)

    1. Blah...

      As one of the 58% who passed in the Dec 2011 testing window…. Study now and study hard! Expecting to pass and actually passing are two very different things. I’ve known 4 others who have tested in the same or following windows and none of them passed.

  9. Lauren

    #1 – they were taking advantage of you. this happened to me too. For 4 years I made 30k less than my male counterparts with similar experience. I should have been raised to their level of pay at 2 years. I finally left the company and told my boss why. He made excuses, but admitted I was underpaid. He attempted to get me to stay with a raise. I didn’t and went to a company that made me miserable. 6 months later, that boss wanted me back. He gave me a better salary than when I first left. Hopefully, he will continue to treat me at a Sr. level, but unfortunately, I see another person in the company who is going through what I had. Being pigeon-holed based on salary sucks. I eventually had to weigh what was more important, matching the salary of my peers or being happy. I am still lower paid than my level in my particular company, but I am making industry level pay now. I am happy again to be back, and I think you should have the discussion again with HR about bringing you up to your level. If they say no, then you know where you stand. They won’t fire you, because you are cheap labor and they know it.

      1. Lauren

        that is why, one should say “I don’t have a particular salary in mind, but would hope that if we do reach the offer stage that the salary would be in line with industry compensation for the level of work to be done while also accounting for my years of experience working in the field”. Something like that… My prob was always telling people my salary history, which killed any movement for me up the ladder since everyone thought I would take anything higher than the salary I had. I can finally say to future employers that I make my level tho, which is a huge relief.

  10. khilde

    #2 – follow up to the thank you email

    I like what Alison suggested as a response. If you’re someone like me that feels like you should end it with something else to convey that you aren’t involved in the rest of the process, you could do:

    ““Thanks for the note. I enjoyed talking with you as well! Sam in the talent recruitment team is the point of contact for the rest of the interview process, should you need to get in touch with us again.”
    -OR-
    “Sam in the talent recruitment team is the point of contact for the rest of the interview process, so can expect to hear from him regarding next steps.” {if, that’s actually how your process works, I suppose}

    1. -X-

      And then the person receiving it will send a question to AMA asking something like:

      “I got an email saying that ‘Y in the talent recruitment team is the point of contact for the rest of the interview process, so can expect to hear from him regarding next steps.’

      What does that mean? Does it mean I blew the interview?”

  11. Nancypie

    For #5: I think you need to consider how leaving your job will impact your employer, especially since presumably they are in a bind, having lost your boss. If it leaves them in a very bad spot, and it gets around your small industry that you left at that time without even having another job lined up, it could impact you in the future.

    In the end, you have to do what’s right for you, but be aware how it could be perceived.

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