Background: I've worked a couple years as freelancer, serving 1st world customers while living in a 2nd world country, thus earning a respectable wage.

During an interview I had the following conversation:

I:What would be your expected pay? 
M: x (relatively modest figure)
I:You're currently working as freelancer, why are you interested in this position?

To which I answered truthfully:

M: I've had little opportunity to work in bigger projects and sometimes find my code lacking as far as maintainability goes. I'd like to see how working in a real corporation works and perhaps learn from more experienced programmers. Realistically I'm taking a significant pay cut doing this.

Judging from the facial expressions of the three managers, the last sentence was not what they wanted to hear. What I actually wanted to get across is:

  • I'm not particularly desperate to get this job
  • As far as my suggested salary goes: this is a bargain and I expect training/mentorship in exchange

What would be a better way to phrase this? How was what I said wrong?


2 Answers 2


Well, were I the hiring manager I would interpret your statements as "instead of me paying for training to improve my own skills, tell you what, you guys pay me to take up the time of your employees who will mentor me, and in exchange I'll abandon you for my better-paying freelance work after I've learned what I can from you". Maybe that's not what you intended to communicate, but that's what I'd hear.

I've had interview candidates who told me straight up that they intended to use the position as a stepping stone to work outside my division or my company; I "no hired" those people. They might be great technical candidates, but if I'm just going to have to find their replacement in six months or a year, it's better to pass on them.

What would be a better way to put it? All I can think of is leaving the salary remark out altogether.

Salary negotiation is tricky. All prices send a signal. "I am taking a significant pay cut" can signal a lot of things, and "you are getting a bargain by hiring me" is not necessarily one of them. Leaving aside the "leave in six months" aspect, this potentially sends signals like:

  • My work isn't very good, but you're getting it cheap. Maybe it will get better in the future, and then you're really getting a bargain.

Well, if I wanted that, I'd hire someone straight out of college. I want my industry hires to justify their higher cost by being immediately productive.

  • I don't need this job. You guys are lucky to get me.

Signaling that you're willing to walk away from a deal is a powerful negotiating position, but you've got to be willing to do it, and you've got to convince them that they really are lucky to get you.

You know what good hiring managers want to hear? Only two things. Hiring me will make you hugely more revenue than my fee, and hiring me will lower your costs more than my fee.

Now, I'm not saying to in any way be misleading about your motives. But if you're asked again "why do you want to give up your lucrative freelance job to work for us?" then emphasize something that looks more like a win-win. "I want to concentrate on writing great code to solve (business problem X) without having to waste my valuable time that I could be coding drumming up clients, dealing with billing and all the other hassles of freelancing" is way better than "my code isn't maintainable, so I want to learn from your guys on the job".

  • 4
    I would add, you also told them that you didn't think your skills were very good.
    – HLGEM
    Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 21:02
  • @Robus: I've added some additional notes regarding what you might emphasize. Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 21:21
  • 2
    @Robus: For a longer essay on the subject of "more revenue, lower costs", see kalzumeus.com/2011/10/28/dont-call-yourself-a-programmer Commented Mar 11, 2015 at 21:25

I Think I would have phrased it a little differently:

Whilst I've enjoyed the freedom and variety of working as a freelancer, I would value the opportunity to work on the kinds of larger, more complex projects such as those you've been describing. I'd like to spend a few years in a larger, more corporate environment, partly because of the additional security that comes with being an employee and partly because I believe that the opportunities available to me in this kind of an environment are a better match for my medium-to-long term aspirations than continuing with the freelance work I've been doing.

This gets a number of points across:

  1. You've thought about the differences between freelance and employment
  2. You're ready to stick with them for a number of years
  3. You're keen to enjoy corporate employee life and have had enough of freelancing for the time being.

It also doesn't expose any of the weaknesses your own answer highlighted, doesn't make you come across as mercenary or needy and doesn't try to convey that you don't really give two hoots about whether you get this job.

However true that last one is, it's the thing most likely to make me reject a candidate at interview. I'll always pick the candidate that shows me they want the job over the one that doesn't, all other points being equal, and in fact I'll knock points off a candidate that goes out of their way to explain how much they don't care about getting the job.