07/01/2010 12:04 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

How Deep a Salary Markdown for Changing Industries?

Dear Liz,

I am an inch away from a job offer with a good company but in an industry I haven't worked in before. My feeling is that they're going to offer me the job at a pretty big drop in salary from what they were talking about paying the person they selected, with the excuse that it's a new industry for me. I want to be in a position to counter that argument if I get the offer as I expect to.

How do I explain away my zero experience in the industry to negotiate a better salary?


Dear Geri,

Hurrah! I am so happy for you.

Here's the thing: they're going to hire the best person they can find for the job, right? Why would they hire someone they didn't believe was qualified? You can open up the salary conversation with some discussion about just who's getting the job offer:

BOSS: So, Geri, we're very excited to offer you the Procurement job.
YOU: That's outstanding. I'm very eager to get started. Thanks so much, Ron. Can you please fill me in on the details?
RON: Sure, the title is Senior Procurement Manager and the salary is $64,000 to start, with three weeks vacation and our other benefits.
YOU: Thanks very much, Ron. I'm so pleased that you see me as the right person for the role.
RON: Yes, indeed. So you're accepting?
YOU: I'm thrilled to be having this conversation, that's for sure. The job sounds like a great fit and a really fun challenge. We're a ways apart on salary. Is this a good time to talk about that?
RON: Well -- you know, you've got so many skills and we are all very impressed with you, but you don't have any experience at all in our industry. I couldn't justify the $70K base we talked about when I told the committee you've been in banking for almost all of your career.
YOU: Thanks for letting me know, Ron. I can see the difficulty. The thing is, I would really wary of taking a job where there seemed to be other candidates who were more qualified.
RON: I didn't say that. We all thought you should get the job.
YOU: Oh gosh, thanks for letting me know that, Ron! In that case, I'm a bit confused. Did you say everyone in the selection group thought I was the best candidate?
RON: Yes, we did for sure, except you don't have any experience in our industry.
YOU: So I'm thinking that you had other candidates who did have industry experience - you must have had, right?
RON: We did, but we all wanted you in the job.
YOU: Thanks! You know Ron, I'm so grateful for this conversation, but I am very nervous about taking a job where the hiring managers didn't feel that I could do the job as well as someone who had all the industry experience in the world. That is, if I can do the job and I'm the person you selected, I'm trying to understand why the offer wouldn't be at the same level as your, well, dream candidate. I mean it would be hard for me to take the job with the sense that I had a provisional green light - you see what I'm saying?
RON: Er -- yeah. I'll talk to Boris, our CFO, tomorrow and get back to you.

I'm not saying it will play out exactly this way, Geri! But you see the idea. If you're the guy ("guy" being a unisex term) for the job, then you're the guy. You get the salary the guy woulda gotten if they woulda hired the guy. Or da guy. With all the industry experience in the world. You see what I'm sayin? Bada bing, bada boom.