how honest can I be with recruiters that money is the only reason I want to leave my current job?

A reader writes:

Recently I’ve been approached by quite a few recruiters. Generally I brush them off as I truly enjoy my job and my coworkers, and even my manager isn’t half bad.

Last year the company offered its traditional low raise despite high inflation, constant emails about new C-suite executives and positions created, and how financially “it’s our best year yet!” (and has been for probably the last 15 years). I told my boss at the time that if I was offered that amount, I would be actively looking for a new job. He said, “Sorry, the only way for you to get a bigger raise is to get an offer elsewhere and we’ll try to match it.”

And suddenly those recruiters aren’t sounding so bad.

Honestly, I would leave my company in a heartbeat for better pay. I’ve done other personal analyses on things like PTO accrual, 401K match, remote vs hybrid vs neither, and it’s basic enough that it’s pretty easy for companies to match the things I’m being offered currently. I’m really just wanting to leave over pay! How honest can I be when talking with recruiters that compensation is literally the only reason I’m interested in leaving my current job?

Pretty honest. I mean, I wouldn’t shout “show me the money” or anything like that, but it’s perfectly fine to say, “I’m happy with my work here but our salaries haven’t kept up with the market and I’m looking to make a move for that reason.”

Or, “I’m happy with my work here but our salaries haven’t kept pace with inflation, so I’m interested in exploring my options.”

Alternately, if you’ve been there for a few years, it’s fine to just say, “I’ve been here for a while and I enjoy my work but I’m open to a change for the right position.”

But you don’t need to pretend you don’t work for money.

One caveat: If you cite money, you’re likely to get questions right after that about what salary you’re looking for (or, with retro recruiters, what you’re making currently). Here’s advice about how to handle that.

{ 134 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. CharlieBrown*

    THANK YOU!

    I haven’t had a raise or bonus in two years and besides the fact that I don’t enjoy what I do any more, inflation has been ridiculous. My rent went up 33% alone. I want more money!

    Reply
      1. yala*

        Heck, the “market increase” they’re going to give us in July is still a percent shy (at best) of matching the increase in the cost of our (employer-provided) insurance.

        Reply
    1. Sammmmmmmm*

      Imagine if all of these companies record high profits had still record high profits but actually gave their employees a raise

      Reply
    2. Kuddel Daddeldu*

      I just got contacted by a recruiter on LinkedIn who commendably shared that the position they had in mind would pay half of what I make now. Thanks but no thanks! While I’d definitely consider a lower salary for the right position (e.g., nonprofit or semi-retirement with the possibility to teach), a high-stress junior technical sales job is not it.

      Reply
    3. yala*

      For Reasons, I haven’t had a raise in about 5 years. Hopefully I’ll get one in July when the fiscal year rolls over.

      I really don’t make enough to live on. Not by myself. I’m terrified that my brother might decide to move out of state before I can afford rent on my own

      Reply
  2. MicroManagered*

    I think this letter is actually saying “I’m trying to get a counter-offer to leverage a raise at my current employer” – which I would NOT share with a recruiter, even if it’s true. (I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it, just that you shouldn’t share it.)

    Reply
    1. Hlao-roo*

      If that’s what the OP is asking, I’ll encourage them to read The Original K.’s and stemselms’s comments below. Definitely agree with MicroManagered to not share with recruiters that you’re looking for a counter-offer more than an offer, but while you are going through the motions of a job search, definitely think about whether you want to stay at a company that will only pay you what you’re worth when you have one foot out the door.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Sours*

        Also, don’t look for a counter offer. If you need to get an outside offer to get paid what you are worth, just take that offer.

        Reply
        1. Daisy*

          This! What does the company expect, you find a new job every year so you can get a decent raise? There are companies (with great coworkers and good management) that will appreciate your work and compensate to market rate.

          Reply
          1. GreenCrayon*

            The company expects you to think that it’s too much a pain to do this every year that you will give up or skip doing it a few years. They aren’t encouraging this behavior for the employee’s benefit. It’s just like what apartments do each year with rent. They are banking on some people feeling that they can’t move on or don’t have the time/energy to find something better.

            Reply
        2. I am Emily's failing memory*

          Yes, and I think that’s exactly what OP is thinking as well, from the letter – basically, I loved this job for a long time, so for a long time I wasn’t interested in leaving, but now that I’ve realized their intention is to continue letting real wages erode while the company is raking in record profits, and they point-blank admitted they wouldn’t even consider paying more without a counter-offer, I am now ready to leave – but because the entire reason for my discontent is “my company doesn’t pay well enough,” is there some other reason I should give that’s less money-focused?

          Reply
    2. ShowmetheMONEY*

      OP here – I would definitely NOT leverage that into a new offer. My company also has a habit of turning your counter offer into yet another reason to not give you a raise, and also likes to hold any small raise they give you over your head for the next few years…they’ve already shown what I could expect next.

      Reply
      1. MicroManagered*

        Ahhhh then I misread “I truly enjoy my job and my coworkers, and even my manager isn’t half bad.” I thought you meant you were not really interested in a new job but just wanted to be paid better for your current work and were told a counter-offer was needed.

        I stand corrected. :)

        Reply
        1. Kyrielle*

          I read this as “If they’d pay me decently, I’d stay, and I’m not willing to climb into a hive of bees to get out, but….”

          Reply
  3. The Original K.*

    “The only way we’ll give you a raise is if you get an offer and we’ll try to match it” is so dumb. If it’s easier for me to get a new job than a raise, guess which one I’m going to do?

    Reply
    1. Czhorat*

      I was in a place like that about 8 years ago. Got the offer, took a counteroffer to stay there. Ended up leaving anyway a year later.

      Last year I was in need of a job, and the *same recruiter* put me back with the *same firm* I rejected all those years ago; and now I’m here.

      Weird how the world works.

      Reply
      1. Daisy*

        Definitely! “Give me enough I don’t want to leave” is more than match, it is more pay plus the ability to move up/earn more in the future. If current company isn’t into raises, that isn’t going to last very long.

        Reply
    2. ferrina*

      They might as well say:
      “I don’t actually value the work you do. I only value how much I don’t pay. You won’t know how much I’m saving until you see how much other people will pay for the work you do. And even then, I’m relying on inertia to keep you in place, because I won’t pay more than they will, I’ll pay just enough to keep you from moving.”

      Reply
    3. BRR*

      Yup. I had wondered if my employer had this policy (thankfully they didn’t). Because if I’m only valued if I tell you that I’m leaving, then that’s a whole lot of time I’m not being valued.

      Reply
    4. MurpMaureep*

      Years ago when I put in my notice at a deeply toxic Corporate CubeLand for better work at a large public university (which, contrary to everything I’d heard, paid more than CubeLand!) a VP sat me down and said “if this is just a matter of 10 or 20 thousand dollars, tell me and I’ll get it for you”*. I declined that offer, in no small part because I clearly wasn’t worth appropriate compensation until I decided to leave.

      *I was already getting a $10k raise to leave my current job

      Reply
    5. iglwif*

      I used to work somewhere like that. It sucked — especially for managers, since we knew and the staff knew but the executive team didn’t like us to talk about it ::eyeroll::

      At least LW’s boss was honest about it!

      Reply
  4. stelmselms*

    “Sorry, the only way for you to get a bigger raise is to get an offer elsewhere and we’ll try to match it.”

    Why why why do employers continue to do this?? I’m only worth something if I might leave? Got it. See ya!

    Reply
    1. CatCat*

      Yeah, I don’t get it. Turns out when I got this line, I found a better job with an offer so good they could not match it. If they’d brought me up to what I’d been asking (which obviously they were willing to pay if someone else would pay me it), I’d never have looked and they wouldn’t have had a vacancy to fill.

      Reply
      1. irene adler*

        For whatever reason, employers don’t ever think of this scenario. They figure their pay isn’t so low that the other offer would be too large to match it.

        Issuing raises only when presented with an outside offer makes things easy for the employer (short term). They just have to up the salary figure (should the employee stay). But if the employee leaves, THEN they have to do the work to replace them. Or, burden the remaining employees with more tasks and play the game all over again.

        Reply
    2. Kelly*

      I think this is why employers are so desperate to hold on to non-compete agreements that basically just keep people from leaving their jobs. They know they have no leverage if people can leave and it keeps you tied like a leash to your current job.

      Reply
  5. I should really pick a name*

    You have a secure job, be as blunt as you like. No need to waste your time with companies that won’t be up front about what they can offer you.

    Sorry, the only way for you to get a bigger raise is to get an offer elsewhere and we’ll try to match it

    I’d love to ask someone how that’s working for them when they say something like that. How many people take the counter offer, and how many people just leave for the better money?

    Reply
    1. EP*

      And what happens if they counteroffer and then you want (and deserve!) another raise down the line? Do they expect you to go job-searching every time? Even if you get another offer and your current place counters with more, think about future opportunities for raises, not just the number they’re willing to get to now (under threat of you leaving).

      Reply
      1. Not a SuPURRvisor*

        I don’t know if this is the case for the Letter Writer, but my old company SURE DID expect you to go job hunting every time you wanted a raise. Only one person stuck with it for more than one cycle, though. Everyone else saw it happen once and then left.

        Reply
    2. Rainbow*

      I think it’s basically “ohhhh so you really think you’re good enough to get more money elsewhere? Go on then, prove it!”
      And then they do. Repeatedly.

      Reply
    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      This is a sign of companies that declare they have “competitive pay” without doing any market research on their pay scales. They make employees do that research and then when an employee shows them that they aren’t competitive, they adjust to the “market rate”… see they’re willing to be Competitive! but it’s lazy as hell HR strategy.

      Reply
      1. Tad Cooper*

        —and I bet for most companies like this, the adjustment only applies to the people that they lure back with a counteroffer or to the people they hire in the future. They’re probably not increasing the salary of the guy who’s been there eight years to reflect the competitive rate.

        Reply
  6. DivergentStitches*

    I just finished a successful job search. I was in the same boat – I loved everything about my job, boss, team, work – except the salary, which was under market and everyone knew it. The company’s “town halls” were full of senior management talking about “the rate the company is willing to pay for the position” when asked about raises. Very tone deaf.

    I started looking around and told myself I wouldn’t move for less than 15k over my current salary. I had an idea that I was worth much more than I was making but didn’t know how it would go.

    Last Friday I accepted an offer for 30k over my current salary! I am super excited to start paying down all of the credit card debt we’ve accumulated while trying to stay above water on my subpar salary, and starting to save for retirement and maybe even go on a vacation.

    In all of my interviews, I was upfront that I loved everything about my job except the salary.

    Reply
    1. Clisby*

      Congratulations! I don’t see why any good employer would feel negatively about someone leaving a job only for pay. It tells them you’re willing to work at a place long-term if you’re happy there, you’re not leaving for some petty reason – and they now have only 2 jobs: Keep you happy; and keep paying you decently.

      Reply
    2. irene adler*

      Nobody held it against you?
      I am impressed!
      I was shamed when I expressed interest in the top end of the hiring salary range.

      Reply
      1. ferrina*

        There are companies out there that won’t do that! When I was interviewing at my current company, I told them how much I wanted (I had done my research, I was aiming for the 60th percentile). They nodded, then came back with an offer for $20k more than what I had cited (80th percentile).
        They are serious about getting and keeping the best people.

        Reply
    3. Third or Nothing!*

      Hey I’m in the same boat! I was fine with my old job, but I was extremely underpaid. Last Fall I accepted a job at a 40% salary increase. It is taking us a bit to catch up but holy crap the night and day difference between then and now is staggering.

      Reply
  7. L'étrangère*

    Well, I think your manager is telling you what to do… So think about whether you actually want to leave, yes. But do actually look for another job (regular practice of this is not a bad thing..). When you get a financially satisfactory offer try to evaluate work conditions, and if you still like your current job in comparison do as your manager says and try for a counteroffer. Keep in mind you may not get a counteroffer for whatever reason (things here might have changed meanwhile). And the new job may in fact seem better on more levels than just the salary, so you might really leave.
    But you know, that’s the chance they’re taking, and it sounds like you really have very little choice here. A sad way to run a business, but ultimately not our say, right?

    Reply
    1. I should really pick a name*

      Just remember, if you take the counter offer, you’ll need to go through all this again next time you want a better raise.

      Reply
    2. Smithy*

      I would add to this that there are two basic ways to approach this.

      The first is to just focus on a getting a solid offer that sound appealing, where if your company can’t/won’t match the salary – you’ll be fine taking the position. But where the primary focus is getting the offer for the money you want your current company to match and it’s a job offer that feels serious and geniune. Not just Chief Officer of Fun at your brother in law’s company or a night shift manager at McDonald’s even if it does pay more but that’s not your industry.

      The second is to make this a real job search where in addition to focusing on money, you also share with recruiters the pieces of your current job that you actively like and are looking to retain. They may be more intangible qualities that won’t be as easy to verify (i.e. being respected as an expert, not being micromanaged, positive team culture, etc.), but if you start seriously considering the money AND moving – know what you’d like to keep.

      Reply
      1. Kevin Sours*

        There is really only the one way. The second. When somebody tells you who they are, believe them. OP’s company has declared who they are and that they don’t care about their employees.

        Reply
        1. Smithy*

          Sure, yes. But I’d counter that there are lots of employers that don’t care about their employees in different ways. And depending on what job the OP does, in what region, at what level of seniority……that hunt may take a while.

          This isn’t to say not to try for second method as a priority, but I’ve known a lot of people who focus on just getting more money as the primary focus and then end up somewhere that makes them unhappy in a lot of other ways.

          Reply
  8. Delta Delta*

    I’m acquainted with someone who has chosen to run a business where there are a handful of top people, and then a constant churn of young employees. They figured out it costs them less to have new folks in and out at a low salary all the time than to cultivate talent and have people stay for good wages. It’s a garbage strategy, but at least he’s honest about it.

    Reply
    1. Chriama*

      I think that could be a genuinely good strategy in some places. Pay to retain the roles that matter most to the organization and then let the market take care of the rest. It doesn’t work in every industry, but let’s say it was a warehouse where you needed institutional knowledge in IT and inventory management, but much less training for inventory clerks or physical labour. It would be ok to say “we know not many people stay in the warehouse for more than a couple years and we’re ok with it.”

      Reply
      1. Clobberin' Time*

        That only works if you ignore the costs of turnover, and if you mistakenly assume that experience and institutional knowledge are entirely the province of elite office workers (they aren’t). “The market” won’t take care of those problems.

        Reply
    2. Tin Cormorant*

      You’ve just described the entire video game testing industry. A talented, qualified person who understands automation can do the work of a whole low-skilled team, but sure, keep laying everyone off every 6 months in favor of hiring the next batch of kids right out of college.
      I did that for 10 years (8 at the same company) and never got above $20/hr despite being responsible for a whole team. I was very vocal when I left in telling people they just lost one of their most experienced employees because needing to work that much overtime to afford to pay my bills is unsustainable in the long term.

      Reply
      1. Daisy*

        It does, but usually comes out of a different bucket. So management needs to have a big enough view to comprehend penny wise is pound foolish. Many folks make it to management without that ability, or they bet their employees don’t have enough self esteem to go looking for another job.
        Job hunting is one of the most disliked activities for many people who are willing to do almost anything else, including barely scraping by financially.

        Reply
      2. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

        Maybe not really. If the positions that churn are low-skill and entry-level it probably doesn’t cost a lot to hire and train someone new, they just keep the same job listing active forever and keep a pile of applicants on hand to start ASAP. “Here is your desk; here is the employee handbook; log in with your badge number and set a new password; watch this video; training complete.” These aren’t the kind of positions that require a recruiter or multi levels of interviewing.

        Reply
        1. Clobberin' Time*

          Turnover always costs money, directly and indirectly. It costs more for ‘skilled’ jobs and jobs above entry level, but it’s never negligible.

          Reply
    3. Ranon*

      Kind of handy for the young employees to get experts at training young employees, annoying for folks who would like to stay in one spot as a mid level employee

      Reply
    4. Alan*

      I’ve been told (I have no firsthand experience) that my employer does exactly that for some positions. They hire people cheap, train them, the people leave for better-paying jobs, and the cycle repeats. They don’t do that *at all* for the higher-paid staff. But for support kinds of people apparently they do, which explains why they’re so often understaffed in those areas.

      Reply
      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I always think this is so short-sighted. Good support people are worth their weight in gold. (Without pillars, the structure can fall.)

        Reply
        1. Dinwar*

          Oh, you have pillars in such situations. A few unicorn employees take up the burden of everyone else. Until they burn out, have a mental breakdown, or have some other issue that prevents them from working there–at which point all hell breaks loose and you go from having minimal quality issues (because that unicorn employee was working themselves into the ground to prevent it) to having an absurd number (because you no longer have that stopgap). Ask me how I know….

          Sometimes the job doesn’t care about quality issues as much. I mean, “Train minimally, pay minimally, rotate constantly” is the model fast food works on, and you don’t hear about mass outbreaks of food-born illness from McDonalds or anything. In other jobs it can literally be the difference between life and death. Most jobs fall somewhere between the two.

          Reply
      2. Silver Robin*

        Same here, which is absolutely a problem. College grads come in as paralegals, see if they like the work, and then leave either for law school, or leave for somewhere better paying. Except, paralegal is an actual career and we *could* have long-term, senior paralegals who train the newbies, but instead the supervising attorneys are training new lawyers *and* new paralegals, both underpaid, and so the churn goes

        Reply
      3. Merrie*

        Exactly the issue at my ex-employer with the support staff. And as a professional employee, I didn’t get a raise for four years, then the fifth year they were offering raises but I got one-tenth of a point under the required score on my annual review after getting marked down over a bunch of nebulous crap, so I didn’t get one. A few months after that they did a market adjustment, but since I wasn’t below the bottom of the range, I didn’t get the adjustment then either. I have a different job now. Which pays better than my old one even though it’s in a subfield that traditionally pays worse (though to be fair, this is because of shift differential, but still, I’ll take it).

        Reply
    5. Queen Ruby*

      My previous company was run like this. People would work in a terrible environment for really low pay and tons of abuse. Eventually, they’d realize they could do much better elsewhere. It was very rare for anyone to stay longer than a year.

      Reply
    6. Elspeth McGillicuddy*

      I honestly don’t have a problem with this as long as it’s a living wage and they otherwise treat their employees decent. I bet a lot of young folks have gotten their first profession job experience working for your acquaintance.

      My last job had pretty high turnover, which meant it was easy to get hired there. That had it’s own value.

      Reply
  9. DMLOKC*

    Question: Should applicants tell recruiters how much they’re currently making, give a range, or find out what the positions offer? Short form – do you handle salary questions from recruiters the same way you handle them with potential employers?

    Reply
    1. Antilles*

      I’ll usually be willing to be honest about it, but I’ll also note that in my industry (engineering), the company’s fee for the recruiter is a percentage basis of the first year salary of the employee. So it’s in the recruiter’s best interest to correct me on a reasonable salary range and make sure I’m getting something firmly in line with market rate and what my skillset would demand.

      Reply
      1. Czhorat*

        Yep. The recruiter is working for the employer, but they have an interest in you being paid.

        I even had one recruiter offer to cap his compensation at less than my top number so I would get what I needed. Bad recruiters give the field a bad reputation, but the best ones want a good result for all involved.

        Reply
    2. Kes*

      Definitely don’t tell how much you’re currently making. TBH I’d even be a bit wary of openly saying that your salaries haven’t kept pace with the market, although you can certainly say that you’re mostly pretty happy in your job but are interested in learning about better opportunities.
      I’d try and get them to tell you what the salary is for the position. However, I would also do your research beforehand and have a (somewhat ambitious) range in mind if they press you to answer.

      Reply
      1. irene adler*

        Agree- don’t ever reveal current salary. Get them to cite their hiring salary range or, worst case, cite the salary range you are seeking.

        There is a school of thought, that dictates a salary offer should be based on what the candidate is currently earning. IOW, add a per cent to their current salary. Like 10% or 1% % over what they currently earn.

        In fact, some employers will get huffy should the learn they are paying the new hire 30% or 40% or 50% more than their prior salary. Never mind that it is the going rate. They think they’ve been ‘taken’.

        And you would be correct this is very old school. But not dead- yet.

        Reply
    3. Anonymous Educator*

      I wouldn’t give your current salary. You can give salary requirements (a range you’re looking for), but there’s no reason for them to know what you currently make.

      Reply
    4. ferrina*

      Give a range on what you are looking for. Do your homework so you know what market rate is. Your range can be pretty large- mine had about a 20k spread. I like to say my range is $X-$Y, depending on the benefits and responsibilities (never commit to a number until you know what you’ll actually be responsible for, which you’ll find out in the interviews).

      Do not give your current salary. A lot of people will base your future salary on your past salary (a common way that women/minorities end up underpaid). Your previous salary has no relevance to how much value they think you can bring. If they try to push, I like to say, “I’m paid below market rate, which is one of the big reasons why I’m looking to leave. I’m looking for a company that fairly compensates me for the work I do.” And then don’t give them the number.

      (The company I’m currently at actually offered me above the number I originally cited for them. That sent a really strong message about how much they value their people.)

      Reply
    5. Lily Rowan*

      The last time a recruiter asked me how much I made, I said, “I wouldn’t leave here for less than X.” Which was more than I was currently making, but I did not make that clear, and I did end up with a job paying X!

      Reply
      1. ShowmetheMONEY*

        That’s been my strategy so far! I haven’t had any pushback either, they quickly accept that I won’t be telling my current salary

        Reply
  10. Antilles*

    If the company gave “traditional low raises” for the entire time OP was there, odds are that OP was underpaid even BEFORE inflation went crazy in the last year – and now OP’s salary is more accurately described as wildly below-market.

    OP, if you read the comments, I hope you give us an update once your search lands a new role. I’ll bet the non-existent AAM Points here and guess that your new role is going to be something like a 20% pay increase, maybe more.

    Reply
    1. ShowmetheMONEY*

      OP here! I just started this job 2 years ago and had previously worked with the group in a past position. They really wanted me and offered a very decent salary for that point. But I also got additional education (to their benefit), inflation happened, and I’m obviously far more valuable to them now – but they won’t put in anything extra when I have gone above and beyond. Lots of empty talk and I’ve heard enough!

      Reply
  11. RJ*

    I like to call this Smug Management and I hate companies doing it and companies who do it. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with stating plainly that you are looking for higher compensation. Evaluate your circumstances and make the choice that works best for you. Good luck with the job search if that’s the route you choose.

    Reply
  12. Czhorat*

    The good thing about a recruiter is that it’s a layer of insulation between you and the hiring firm; you don’t have to stroke their ego by saying “I want to work for Acme Company because Wile E Coyote tipped me off to your broad, broad array of product offerings”.

    The recruiter has a job to do, and doesn’t get paid if they don’t get people placed. If dollars are what will get you there they need to know that, and will present you to the company in the best light they can.

    Reply
    1. Is it Wednesday yet?*

      You are assuming you deal with recruitment agency – and this is not always the case. For internal recruiters it is much more important to find a good fit, very different approach.
      Having worked as both an agency and an internal recruiter – for an agency you try to fit a candidate into what the company wants, and yes, present them in the best possible light. As an internal recruiter – if I have a slightest doubt about a candidate – I am not moving them forward.
      I ask candidates what are their criteria for deciding on an offer, and if compensation is an only motivation, I do not recommend them – it will be hard to close such a candidate – they will go with the highest bidder (good for them!), and my company cannot compete with those highest bidders in the area.

      Reply
      1. Grammar Penguin*

        Genuinely curious here. Not trying to argue. But I would like to know what other motivation besides compensation do you consider acceptable? I’m assuming you work in the for-profit sector.

        Where the organization’s own primary and possibly sole purpose is to maximize return to shareholders, that is to say the company considers making money to be its own primary motive to exist, why would the expectations on employees who make up the company be any different?

        Reply
  13. Momma Bear*

    Let’s be honest – most of us would take the money/are looking for money. When I went from a job where I didn’t get a raise in 3 years to this one, I didn’t negotiate because they exceeded my requested range and have provided COLAs since. If you want to keep people, pay them what they are worth or have other perks (real perks like flexibility not a fooseball table). I would be not at all surprised if an interviewee said they were stagnant and looking for a better opportunity. I’d just want them to show/tell me that they’re worth the hire.

    Reply
    1. Czhorat*

      When I was working a commission-based retail gig a hundred years ago our boss was very honest that they knew it was about money. “This isn’t the priesthood. Nobody has a calling to sell shoes. We’re all here to get paid”.

      There are damn few jobs you do just for the love of doing them. Nearly everyone is working to live, not vice-versa.

      Reply
      1. KHB*

        And even if you are working in a field that’s your “calling,” the personal fulfillment is a bonus on top of the money, not the other way around. Whether you love what you do or not, it’s 100% OK to be open about the fact that you do work for money, and anyone who thinks otherwise isn’t worth working for.

        Reply
        1. Czhorat*

          Yeah. Every month my bank wants me to pay the mortgage. I can’t exactly send them a note saying “I’m very fulfilled doing important and meaningful work”.

          They don’t take those at the grocery store either.

          Reply
          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Whenever people ask why I left academia (adjunct faculty), I say that I loved being an instructor, but I also enjoy paying rent and eating food.

            Reply
        2. Lily Rowan*

          I once worked at a very mission-driven nonprofit with a lot of people who did not need this job to pay the bills, and one of them said to the wrong room, “I mean, no one is here for the money, right?” LOL. We were basically all there for the money! And also the mission, sure, but very few of us came from money or had a wealthy or high-earning spouse like she did.

          Reply
      2. Excel-sior*

        I was once asked in an interview what my dream job was. In my youthful naïvety i answered “astronaut” and when pressed for further details I said something along the lines of “i like doing this, but anybody who says they dream of doing this… I wouldn’t believe them”.

        Somehow I got the job amd made some very good friends in that team.

        Reply
    2. CSRoadWarrior*

      That is reality. We all work because we need money. And who doesn’t want more money? If you are making $60,000 and want $75,000, then that is reasonable. Heck, if you are making $120,000 and now want $150,000, that is also perfectly normal. Even a millionaire would dream of becoming a billionaire.

      Reply
  14. Alan*

    This reminds me of my first boss out of college, who just told me one day that he refused to be extorted, and if I ever came to him with a better offer, he would insist that I take it :-). I thought I was very fairly compensated so I never tested him, but a coworker did and got nowhere (and chose not to leave).

    Reply
  15. CSRoadWarrior*

    It’s just sad that some companies do not take inflation into account, especially after the past couple of years. I know of one lady who didn’t get a raise in 15 years. And you read that correctly: that’s 15 YEARS. I honestly don’t even know why she stayed. For me, 3 years without a raise and I would have moved on already.

    In a most extreme example, imagine if you have been working since 1950 and are still making that same wage since 1950. The average wage in 1950 was around $3300, which is a little over $40,000 today. Now imagine you are still making $3300 in 2023. You would be in extreme poverty today. Of course, this scenario isn’t realistic. I am just trying to get my point across.

    Reply
    1. irene adler*

      I went a decade without a raise. In fact, they cut salaries 10%.
      But job search yielded zero job offers.
      So whatcha gonna do?

      Reply
    2. The Original K.*

      Someone I know left her job after 8 years, with only sporadic COL increases and even those were no more than 3%. She regrets staying so long.

      Reply
  16. learnedthehardway*

    It’s fine to tell recruiters approaching you that compensation is a factor – even a major factor – in whether you would be willing to consider an opportunity. After all, you’re not applying to them. They’re coming to you with a potential opportunity. You’re what is referred to as a “passive candidate” – someone open to hearing about roles, but who has to be provided a solid reason to look at the opportunities.

    If you are applying to a role or if you get to a point where you are having an hour-long interview with someone, then you should have done some research about the company and have taken a good look at the job description – enough to get a feel for whether or not the mandate and the company are of interest to you. It’s fine at this stage to be at an exploratory level – bring questions that you want answered about the company, its culture. Interviewing is a two-way street, and you want to make sure that the company, role, culture, values, etc. etc. are all a match to what you want. If you find that things beyond compensation align with your interests, then you can bring those up as reasons that you find the company/role interesting. Perhaps they pay better AND are at the forefront of their industry, or have great environmental ethics, or have amazing processes, or something else that the company is proud of.

    Beyond that, the further you go in the interview processes, the more you should be looking into the company, the industry, getting a sense for the people, etc. etc. so that you can explain your interests. In fact, you may find that the further you go, the MORE you are interested in the organization and the role, or your reasons for being interested may change.

    Reply
  17. Kevin Sours*

    Some things to think about. Recruiters don’t often talk to people who are 100% happy in their current jobs. They’d probably prefer not to. Most of the reasons to not discuss in detail why you are unhappy in your current role have to do with how that my reflect on you to someone who doesn’t know you. If you don’t get along with your boss is that because your boss sucks or because you don’t play well with others? But if a company gets upset because you want to be paid fairly it tells you something about what it’s going to be like to work for them…

    Reply
  18. ZugTheMegasaurus*

    I’ve been pondering the exact same question, so glad to see it answered here! I’ve been a top performer at my job for the better part of a decade and have 8 straight years of perfect performance reviews. Maybe a year and a half ago, after my state implemented a pay equity rule requiring employers to list salary ranges, I discovered I was being dramatically underpaid – and that was before spiking inflation. After 3 promotions, I’m making less than current intern salary.

    I like my company, the work is interesting, and the people are almost invariably lovely, but I literally cannot pay my bills. I’m looking at a pay bump of at *least* $50k for jobs with my experience. It’s incredibly frustrating because I don’t really want to leave (and I absolutely hate and suck at interviewing) but they’re not giving me much of a choice.

    Reply
    1. The New Wanderer*

      Wow, that’s horrifying but I’m glad you found out. Is there any way to raise that to your boss/HR and ask about appropriate compensation? It sounds like you’d have a pretty straightforward argument for a compensation adjustment, as it would certainly cost them a lot to replace you.

      FWIW the first company I worked for did a one-time salary adjustment to address non-competitive salaries – I had just started about 8 months before this and had no idea I was underpaid until my salary jumped 16%. I learned to negotiate after that!

      Reply
  19. Daisy-dog*

    You may not even need to say it. I got so many calls when I was job searching last year and the first question they’d ask is what salary I was looking for. Now salary was not really my primary reason for leaving my previous job, but I was still going to ask for what I thought the role deserved. I did my best to answer based on my research, but I would always include a line that I may want more once I know more about the role.

    Basically, they know that money is the motivator right now.

    Reply
  20. Zach*

    So maybe I’m way off base here, but admitting that you’re not paid at market rate at your current job seems like it would make it more likely that the new company could lowball you. It’s definitely not a sure thing, but say they pay better-than-the-average market rate- if they know you’re currently paid under market rates, they might think “oh we can hire this person for cheap by just going with the average market rate instead of what we normally pay”. Sure, you’d get a pay increase from changing jobs, but that could have left a bunch of money on the table that you wouldn’t have even had to ask for if they didn’t know you were underpaid now. If you’re in a state that is required to post salary ranges in the job postings, then this might not be as much of an issue.

    I’d just personally go with the “There aren’t any opportunities for advancement” or something like that, which is probably also true if you’ve been in the same role with meager merit increases for as long as it seems.

    Reply
    1. ferrina*

      I’ve openly said I was searching because I was underpaid, and it actually works really well!

      When asked about my previous salary (which was $20k under market), I would say “I’m actually paid under market rate. That’s one of the big reasons I’m leaving- I want to work for a company that fairly compensates people for their good work.” And I would refuse to give a number because, in my opinion, it wasn’t an accurate reflection of my value. And almost everyone I said this to respected it! They were more willing to be open with salary because they knew I wasn’t going to lowball myself and I was willing to walk away over low compensation. The company I ended up with actually offered more than the range I had cited. It’s a great fit in a lot of ways, and one reason is that they know the value of money and they understand the value of good people.

      Reply
      1. Grammar Penguin*

        This actually sounds like a good filter. If an interviewer balks or otherwise reacts badly to being told outright that you expect market rate pay, or doesn’t respect your refusal to disclose your current below-market pay, then you can withdraw your application with confidence that doing so is the right choice. They’ve just shown you their intention to lowball you, if not now then later at raise time.

        Reply
  21. Mr Wind-Up Bird*

    Would this apply to non-salary stuff as well? My company recently went to a mandatory “on call” rotation, which has made me start looking around even though I was otherwise very happy here. I’m never sure whether I should raise this right up front or not.

    Reply
    1. Kevin Sours*

      I honestly wouldn’t raise *any* reason for leaving up front. Focus on where you are going to not where you are coming from.

      Reply
  22. TruetalesfromHR*

    Don’t mention this as your only motivation to the people with whom you are interviewing. As a recruiter, I am turned off if that is the only reason a person wants to move because it makes me concerned that they will leave as soon as they get a higher offer elsewhere.

    I get that money is important, but one gets used to an increase very quickly. There has to be more that makes an new opportunity interesting.

    Reply
    1. Clobberin' Time*

      But isn’t that true of any reason the person says they want to move? If they say they’re looking for more challenging work, or a better culture, or opportunities for advancement, why aren’t you equally concerned that they will leave as soon as they get an offer elsewhere that is better in those areas as well?

      Reply
      1. TruetalesfromHR*

        Because, eventually you hit a limit on what the market pays/your job commands. I’m not saying that you don’t leave eventually, but there are people who move constantly and eventually nobody wants to hire them.

        Reply
        1. nnn*

          What you’re describing is not the same thing as someone who is looking because their wages haven’t kept up with the market. As a recruiter I’d hope you’d bring some nuance to your understanding of that.

          Reply
    2. Excel-sior*

      But surely you’re just inviting people to lie to you? If I think the recruiter wants to hear about something other than money, I’ll find something to say, but the actual reason will always still be there.

      Reply
      1. TruetalesfromHR*

        The question was if the LW should tell recruiters that that is the only reason she/they/he is interested in the opening. I’m just giving my honest opinion and conveying my experience that I caution hiring managers against candidates who are only motivated by money. Eventually people hit the top of the salary range for what they do if they’re not motivated by anything else how do they stay satisfied?

        When you’re responsible for recruiting in a company you want to make sure that not only does the candidate match what you need you want to make sure that the candidate is going to be happy at your company. As I’ve said, before, people quickly acclimate to an increase in salary- what is left for them then? Sure you could be completely transparent and say that “I only care about the money, no other aspect of this job/ company” but the other candidates probably aren’t doing this and then you’re just shooting yourself in the foot

        Reply
        1. allathian*

          There’s a big difference between saying “the only reason I’m looking to leave my current employer is that I want a larger salary” and “the only reason I’m interested in this position is the salary you’re offering.” I fully agree with you that the second example doesn’t sound good. The first one isn’t badmouthing the current employer, because the candidate would be happy to stay there for a higher salary. All the usual stuff about focusing on why you’re interested in the new position and why you think you’d be a good fit for the job still apply.

          Reply
    3. Curmudgeon in California (they/them)*

      LOL!

      There are two reasons that I ever start looking for a job while I’m employed: 1) the company/management is going to hell, or 2) the raises haven’t even kept up with inflation.

      If I’m not working, or am not growing where I work, the calculus changes, albeit in different ways.

      I work to live, not live to work. In my field a lot of companies have a lot of hoops that you have to jump through, even with 20 years experience, to prove that you are enough of a special unicorn that they want to hire you, even though all they want is routine maintenance of a brownfield product. So changing jobs for me is often not worth the trouble unless my current situation is rapidly becoming untenable for reasons of bad management and/or low pay.

      So if you want to lure me away from where I am, you need to put a lot of money on the table to convince me to do a technological dance recital for you just to get considered.

      Yes, I’m mercenary. I’m finally at a point in my life where I’m okay with that, because everyone else in the field is the same or more so, especially if they are younger and male.

      Reply
  23. Sssssssssssssssssssss*

    In my 20s, I left all my jobs due to (a) I’d stopped growing in the role and (b) always for more $$.

    Go for what you’re worth.

    Reply
  24. Somehow_I_Manage*

    Find out what you’re worth, and ask for what you want. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, but it’s our job to advocate for ourselves. Especially if you’ve got the goods! It is totally appropriate to say, “I am really good at my job, and I want the opportunity to collaborate with great people who appreciate what I bring to the table,” followed up with, “based on my experience and the responsibilities of this role, I am seeking a salary of $XXX,XXX.”

    Reply
  25. TeenieBopper*

    I’m glad you posted this. I like my job and my work and my coworkers. But I’m incredibly underpaid relative to my skill set and industry standard (think about 60% of standard) and we got an email from the CEO that we have a hiring and raise freeze. I was going to be very upset with an expected 3-4% pay increase at review time. So now I’m basically in a position of “come close to matching my non salary benefits and you can get me for pretty close to the median salary.” So it’s good that I can almost say that.

    Reply
  26. Not Just the Mrs*

    My husband was in the exact same boat just last year. He liked his job and the people but his last raise was under the rate of inflation and bonus exactly the same as the year before, despite incredible gains. His boss also told him there was no time to discuss it because he had to catch a plane. He resisted the recruiters for a while before that, but this was the last straw. He told each recruiter, “I like my job and I like the people. I won’t even consider anything below $X.” He thought the amount was crazy but less than 2 months later he had a new job. It’s closer to home, and even better people. On top of all of that, it’s a company that actually values its employees and got a $30k raise in salary plus bonuses. Just tell the recruiters what you want.

    Reply
    1. Grammar Penguin*

      It’s not that surprising that the company that pays so much better has better people (more qualified, more skilled, and happy to be there) to work with as a bonus.

      Reply
  27. Michael G*

    Early in my career I stayed in 3 jobs for 5 years each. I really liked all of them and would have gladly stayed. But I left each because after that time I was about 25% below market in each job.

    Reply
  28. ijustworkhere*

    Hey, I don’t know many people who are working just for the sheer fun of working. However, I’m not sure I would say you are leaving your job solely because of pay. A lot of people have given great suggestions on how to answer that question of “why are you looking to leave your current employer?”

    I just also have to weigh in on companies that do that “we’ll match your offer”
    when they are about to lose somebody. I think that’s horrible, and I would not want to work for a company that is unwilling to pay me what I’m worth until somebody else expresses an interest in me….

    Reply
    1. Grammar Penguin*

      I know several artists and musicians. All of them chose their professions for the “sheer fun” of it. All of them expect to be paid for their work and regularly turn down work that doesn’t pay enough.

      Reply
  29. ABCYaBYE*

    I don’t think there’s anything at all wrong with saying what Alison has said. We go to work for a lot of reasons, to be sure, but would you be going to work if you weren’t being compensated? Surely not. I wouldn’t necessarily put it bluntly and just say you’re looking so you can make more money, but I think framing it the way Alison did shows that the compensation is important to you. It should be. And when your employer tells you that they only will give you a raise if you have another offer they can match, why not go somewhere that will pay you what you’re worth from the start?

    Reply
  30. Same boat*

    I found myself in the same boat. I started a job two years ago but had to start looking elsewhere solely for the reason of money. My current job refused to pay me more. I did tell the recruiter that. I interviewed and was offered the job on the same day with a 20% increase.

    Reply
  31. Marketplace Disaster*

    Oof I went through this recently and ended up leaving a company after almost a decade for a 40% raise + annual 10% bonus. My prior company gave crappy raises for any promotions- basically threw an extra couple dollars an hour at you, even for positions that were a huge step up, like moving from a mid-level retail position to a job working on one of the biggest internal systems. I told them how much I needed to stay, they wouldn’t do it, so I had a new job paying what I asked and then some within 6 months of taking their promotion. Their loss.

    Reply

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