36

Let us say you've applied to a job, and the employer calls back with a phone interview. When employers ask you about why you're moving on from your current company, is it considered bad to reply "I'm looking for higher compensation than my current company" as one of your reasons?. I'm concerned this might come off as "being greedy" or "being fixated on money".

To add to that, let's assume the current company is providing compensation way below current market rate (like 10-20K). Would that assumption justify citing pay as one of your reasons to move on?

  • You are right to be concerned. I would find your reason by itself sort of inapporiate. It is also not exactly information you want your new employer to know. – Donald Jun 11 '12 at 18:30
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    @Ramhound: I don't think it's an unreasonable reason, assuming that the current employer has no interest in brining OP's pay up to near-current market rates. Unless the job has some truly awesome perks or other unique benefits, how can any employer justify paying $x when everyone else in the industry makes around $x + ~15k? – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 11 '12 at 18:41
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    I think that your concerns are "right on the money" and I would not mention it at all. – Jacob G Jun 11 '12 at 19:21
  • @FrustratedWithFormsDesigner - I personally would have a problem if somebody told me the only reason they were leaving is they are not being paid enough. I personally would throw the applicant's resume in the trash. If you want to put some sugar on that reason, then I might be willing to keep the resume, I just personally have a problem with it. I can accept if you tell me you are just looking to change certain things about your lifestyle – Donald Jun 12 '12 at 12:22
42

You are right to be concerned with how this will look. Don't say that they don't pay you enough, and especially don't say that your pay doesn't cover your expenses, which sounds like your problem (inability to live within your means).

Here are two approaches you can use (not together):

  • You're concerned about the financial well-being of your employer. They've had to (choose all that apply:) lay people off, freeze salaries, cut benefits.

  • Your current employer does not offer opportunities for you to advance. (Higher-grade positions generally have higher salaries.) If you use this, be prepared to talk about career goals, not just financial goals, that are not being met.

I've heard both of these from candidates and used the latter, and I haven't seen problems.

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    Your answer was very simple, clear, and thorough. Thanks! – Evik James Jun 11 '12 at 19:51
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    This works if: The current employer really is laying people off, freezing salaries, cutting benefits, failing to offer opportunities for advancements. If these aren't the case, the OP would have to come up with another reason, and it might not be a true reason since they've already said they're main reason is very inadequate pay. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 11 '12 at 19:57
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    @MonicaCellio: Again, it really depends on the organisation as I have seen enough situations where a new role or position did not come with any sort of raise (even though it should have). And the reasons for that never seem to satisfy ("we had bad Q1 results", "It's still technically in your job description", "we're changing your job description",...) – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 11 '12 at 20:03
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    Saying that you feel your current employer is not making opportunities for you to advanced within their company is a good compromise to "I am not being paid enough". – Donald Jun 12 '12 at 12:25
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    Don't be so sure about the OP's "inability to live within your means" - when I applied for my first job, I looked at some sites to find what "entry-level developer" pay was in my area... and the offer I got was literally only 2/3 of that. I was floored. Had I not been living at home (my only expense being gas money), I would not have been able to afford the job at the time. I looked for a chance to move on once I learned enough to be attractive to other employers. – Adam V Jun 18 '12 at 19:21
37

The word for "more money" is growth. "I'm looking a position with more opportunity for growth."

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    This phrasing is clever, so I up-voted it. The answer doesn't cover all situations though. What if the person is actually learning a lot and even getting promoted, yet is still paid below market rate? Not uncommon. – Atif Jun 11 '12 at 22:53
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    @Atif - It does not really matter. This new employeer has no business knowing how much you current make. It says you want to advanced your career ( positive )without saying "I want more money" which is negative. – Donald Jun 12 '12 at 12:26
  • @Atif: You haven't said what kind of growth – Anon Jun 15 '12 at 3:12
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    @Casebash: I thought that "Growth" typically refers to knowledge development and being promoted. I was originally contending this: if a person is at a company known for growth-potential but still gets paid less (this is possible at a consulting company or a startup for example), it might come off as strange if you mention growth to the interviewer. It's like, "You work at X, why do you have trouble with growth?". In any case, I agree now with Ramhound and the answer I accepted. – Atif Jun 15 '12 at 15:54
  • Hi Kevin, I was wondering if you'd be willing to add in a reference of why growth is better, or share some personal experiences where this helped you or a colleague. This would make your answer adhere more closely with our back it up rule from the faq and help demonstrate credibility with people who don't know you. Hope this helps! :) – jmort253 Feb 6 '13 at 5:19
6

If you are no longer able to properly meet your living expenses, I think it should be OK to say something along the lines of "my current employer is no longer able to offer compesation that comfortably covers my expenses (such as increased rent, other expenses, cost of living, etc)".

I don't think it would be good to tell them you're paid so significantly under current market rates (it probably would be OK to admit to being slightly under current rates if you can avoid mentioning specific numbers), because if they know you're currently taking $currentMarket - 10k, they'll try to offer you $currentMarket - 5k because it will cost them less and you will still be better off than where you are now.

Finally, if they ask what you're expected salary is and you and them both agree that what you want is the current market rate, I don't see that as looking too greedy.


In my experience, this seems to happen often with new graduates and small start-ups. The fresh grads get hired by a small start-up and for a year or two or three things are good. They don't get paid much but they have a fun and exciting career.

Eventually, they want to do things like:

  • having their own apartment
  • taking their girl/boyfriend on nicer dates
  • eating better than macaroni and cheese or Ramen noodles
  • save up for a house/condo with their partner
  • repair their car before it completely breaks down
  • send rent cheques that don't have a possibility of bouncing
  • be able to pay off bills (phone, credit card, electricity, etc...) in full (or close enough)
  • ...

So they have to leave and look for a new job elsewhere and the main motiviation is money because the little start-up just can't pay close enough to the market rate. I've seen this a few times.

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    I agree with not telling them you're being underpaid. I disagree with your first paragraph, which risks making the applicant sound like he can't live within his means. Good judgment is one of the things employers tend to be looking for no matter the position. – Monica Cellio Jun 11 '12 at 19:32
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    @MonicaCellio: I don't know the OP's personal situation but I know of legitimate cases where a person's expenses suddenly go up and a higher salary is needed. Such as: A new baby in the family; elderly parents needing a nursing home (and other expenses)... I know people who have had to leave their fun and exciting (and low-paying) jobs at start-ups because with a new baby on the horizon, the pay just wouldn't cover all the new expenses, and the old employer wasn't in a position to give out more. – FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jun 11 '12 at 19:54
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    Good point, sometimes new, large, expenses emerge. But if he says why he risks treading where interviews shouldn't go, and if he doesn't say why then we're back to either announcing that he's underpaid or seeming to have unrealistic expectations. It's a tough situation. – Monica Cellio Jun 11 '12 at 20:03
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    +1 for the point about possibly getting a lower salary offer. Also because of the Perl-style variables ;) – Atif Jun 11 '12 at 23:18
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    I don't think a candidate's current living expenses are an appropriate item for discussion in a hiring negotiation. You babies and cocaine habit are not relevant. You want to get paid what you are worth, not what you 'need'. I think saying 'I'd like more opportunity for growth' is all you need say. – Jim In Texas Jun 12 '12 at 0:59
4

It's a double-edged sword. It may work to your advantage and it may not depending on the potential employer. If an employer is also likely to low ball the salarly offer, you have probably lost the chance at that job. On the other hand it weeds out those people for you without wasting more of your time on something that won't pay more than you currently make.

Given the situation in the last few years where even small annual payraises went by the wayside in many companies, moving has become the only way to get a substantial pay raise. Most hiring officials know that (they too would like pay raises) and will be understanding if you are fairly neutral about how you present it. So don't sound angry or rail about how badly your current employer treats you and the answer itself is probaly fine.

It also helps if that isn't your only reason for leaving. When it is one of several factors that certainly sounds less greedy.

But I think it only sounds really greedy if what you are asking for is way out of line with what the current market will bear. So if you want a payraise from 60K to 100K and the market really is for 80K, then yes you sound greedy. If you want 75-85K, then no you don't. Be aware that saying this might bring up the question of what you will accept before you want to in negotiationg the salary. You don't generally want to talk salary until they have made an offer, and bringing this up will almost always get the followup question of how much do you want to make. They too don't want to waste more time if you are going to be unrealistic at this stage before they have definitely decided you are the one the they want. So you might end up with less than you could have gotten if they were already determined to have you.

3

Wow. I disagree with the general thought that saying you are leaving for more money is a bad idea. I've actually talked to my boss with an offer letter in hand and gotten more money in my current position. I stayed and did a good job for quite a while after.

Let's face it - we work for the money, that's what a job is. I can't speak for every country, but the US is a capitalistic economy and workers have the right to negotiate for a competitive wage and to know what the market rate is.

I do think there's a way to say it, though. "You cheap skates don't pay me enough" is probably not the diplomatic angle you're looking for. But getting time from your boss (even before the job hunt) and saying "I don't understand - I have collegues of similar skill/experience/role in other companies and the going rate in this area appears to be significantly higher than my current pay - can you help me understand why?" is a totally valid conversation to have. There may well be a reason, but it's still up to you to decide whether it holds weight with you in light of the other demands in your life.

Similarly, if you have a better offer in hand it is OK to say it, and to cite salary as a reason for leaving. This is important information and good to know. In fact, if your management is good, they would likely be collecting this data for their next pitch to uper management about why salaries are too low and how it's causing the company to loose good people.

Do be self-aware, however, and realize in your thinking whether money is the only reason you want to leave. Lots of people will stay with a less competitive wage if they see good opportunities in the near term, they have a good work/life balanace, or they have deep love of their team and management. Chances are, if you are looking, these things may also be lacking in your current environment.

It's important to know that, since it should both factor into whether you take a new job, and also what you do when you give notice. If it is purely money, you may be up for negotiation of salary. But if you don't like the whole situation, then it really isn't just about the money, and you should be prepared to be clear that extra money will not fix the situation.

Some of the nastier stuff I've seen is when a manager sticks their neck out for an employee because they think the negotiation is about money, the employee eventually leaves anyway, because the negotation wasn't all about money, and the manager feels cheated, because going to bat for someone to increase a salary is always tricky, so the outlay of effort does force a returning expectation.

Lastly - I disagree that "looking for opportunity" equals "needing a salary bump" - I think it's easy to get fixated on the idea that doing more/higher status work necessarily is a 1:1 relationship with a pay increase, or that doing more is the only way you're going to make more. It's true -- for the most part -- and saying that you need a salary increase may prompt a performance related discussion - but there are times when a shift in the market can mean that staying in a job is a bad decision purely for monetary reasons. Also - there are numerous jobs that offer learning and growth opportunities at the expense of salary - for example, internships. But also in many non-profit situations, less-skilled employees get jobs where they can build resumes, but at a very low (comparably speaking) salary to their bretheren in for-profit firms. In these situations there's plenty of "opportunity" but very little room for "salary".

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    He's not asking how to deal with his current employer, where talking about money is normal and expected. He's asking how to talk to a prospective employer about the fact that he's leaving his current job because of the money. – Monica Cellio Jun 12 '12 at 14:44
  • @bethlakshim is correct. I would just add that if the OP wants to bring money in explictly, his or her approach should be 'I provided much more value to my present employer than they pay me, I'd like to be paid what I'm worth. Take the approach that 'I'll earn every penny you pay me and more', not 'I need more money because of X'. – Jim In Texas Jun 13 '12 at 15:16
3

It is rare that a workplace is perfect except that their pay is below market.

Typically, paying below market is will have several secondary effects, which you can discuss more directly, such as:

  • Inability to attract and retain other talented people.
  • Low morale, lack of spirit.
  • Lack of commitment to being the best, using the best technology, pushing the limits, etc. Settling for mediocrity.

So, a diplomatic way of putting it might be, "I want to work with and learn from the best people, and I'm concerned that my company isn't making the necessary commitments to attract and retain them."

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    It's sort of like those "Dear Abby" letters that say, "I'm in a great relationship with a wonderful guy, except every weekend he gets drunk and sometimes he hits me." – JohnMcG Jun 12 '12 at 20:27
  • That's a good phrase to use; how would you respond if they said, "Like what kind of commitments exactly?" – Atif Jun 12 '12 at 22:38
  • If I had a story about someone else who left for more money or turned down a lowball offer from your company, I'd tell that story. They probably don't want to try to make you come out and say, "I want more money" either. – JohnMcG Jun 13 '12 at 1:56
1

You can say you want to progress in your career or that you feel the company you are applying for has more opportunities.

In reference to some of the other answers on here, leaving a job because you want more money isn't because your not "living within your means" that's a completely arrogant answer from somebody who obviously has never be paid a low wage. Most people can't afford a mortgage or their groceries every month on their current wage and it's not because they are spending it on other things they simply just don't have it to spend. Do you think you can afford everything on the minimum wage and that we should just be happy with what me make? Everyone deserves to better themselves financially so that they CAN afford some luxuries in life.

0

Simple. One year ago you were in a situation where you had to accept any job, even one that wasn’t paying you for what you are worth. It’s obvious that this is a situation that has to change, so you are taking action.

You are good at what you are doing, so you are not staying with a place that cannot or will not pay the market rate.

I would definitely not make up things like worries about the finances of your company. It seems they are doing just fine by paying badly.

-2

I don't feel it's greedy. We're capitalists. If a company thinks you're greedy for wanting more pay then perhaps you shouldn't work for them. All businesses are fixated on money. That's kind of the point.The end goal for most people is to make more money and have satisfying careers. Your job should satisfy what you want and are looking for, so if it's money, then I don't think there's a problem in saying so. It's also an honest answer. Living expenses are on the rise and school tuition is sky-rocketing. We have bills and loans to pay, and we did not get degrees just to make nothing. If a company low balls you, don't take the job unless you're doing it for experience. I feel it's an important point to make. You don't have to say only "looking for higher compensation," you can also add other things like people are saying: "growth," "advancement," etc. You are essentially selling yourself, so don't low-ball yourself.

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    this reads more like a rant, see How to Answer – gnat Jun 18 '15 at 17:25
  • Welcome to the Workplace -- thanks for your contribution. You might also want to check out some newer questions -- this one already has 7 answers, and was asked about 3 years ago. – mcknz Jun 18 '15 at 18:35

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