I have been working for over a year for a company that I'm very happy with (apart from my salary):

  • The tasks I'm given are challenging but not overchallenging and I learn a lot at each task.
  • In the past the company offered to pay me for some training courses I wanted to go to.
  • My boss is righteous and very open to every suggestion I give.
  • I have a great relationship with my colleagues that continues also outside the workpace.

When I was starting this job I didn't know how it works in the corporate sector as I was an entrepreneur before. As a result I said a very low figure thinking it would improve over time. But it has been over a year and on average I have 35 % less than my friends outside the job who work in the same corporate field.

Due to a sudden change on the market, the company I work for has been having financial problems for about half a year. All the salaries are frozen and all benefits are cut down as the company is trying to find a new direction. Some colleagues that had a much larger salary than myself even agreed to cut their salary down a little so the company can carry on.

Having to pay a mortgage and preparing for a first child, I can't stay much longer working for my current salary, so I'm looking for another job. If the company's situation get better meanwhile, I would be very happy to stay if they agree to raise my salary to the field standards.

At every interview they always ask me what is the reason I'm leaving the company and I don't know how to respond. The public image of the company I currently work for is very good and no one knows about the financial problems the company faces. I don't want to talk bad about the company as I have been very happy with them.

What should I say as a reason at the interview I'm looking for another job? Can I say, between the lines, that I want more money and the company I currently work for has financial problems so they can't give me that?

Similar questions but not answering my problem:

  • 9
    If you're posting this under your real name, it's probably now quite easy to people to find out that your company has financial problems... May 16 '16 at 10:01
  • 9
    It's not a name nor a known nickname anyone can track back. May 16 '16 at 10:03
  • 1
    @TheWanderingDevManager second the duplicate vote. The topmost answer on that other question can answer this one.
    – Mindwin
    May 16 '16 at 13:21
  • Is salary cutting a thing known by general public? I once worked for joint-stock company and escaped pretty fast. When I got asked am I not a job-hopper, I was able to point out announcement they made to shareholders month after I left (here these are by law publicly accessible). I felt it was OK - because it wasn't really any secret. Is this your case? Or in your case it is still a secret?
    – Mołot
    May 16 '16 at 21:44

It seems to me that your issue isn't actually that your company has financial problems, but that you're not being paid what you think you deserve / need / could get elsewhere. The company's financial problems may be the root cause of your low compensation, but by focusing on the personal issue rather than the company one, you can avoid mentioning that:

Them: Why are you looking to leave your current company?

You: The compensation I'm currently receiving is significantly below the market average, and as I'm going to be starting a family soon, I'm looking for a bit more financial security at this point in my life.

  • 62
    You should never say anything about your employer which isn't already in the public domain. May 16 '16 at 10:27
  • 13
    If the employer's financial problems are generally known, the phrasing in this answer will be interpreted as getting out for that reason. If not, saying anything about the financial problems will be interpreted as "Cannot be trusted with confidential information." May 16 '16 at 11:07
  • 14
    You should never say that you are paid "significantly below the market average". Many HR departments and hiring managers work with the mindset of offering people incremental raises over past salary, very few are willing to base salaries off of what an employee is worth (many recent studies have shown this is a primary cause of the gap in wages across genders). That comment immediately tells them they can negotiate with you for "take it or leave it" below-market salary offerings - and most will. May 16 '16 at 15:46
  • 8
    @JonathanVanasco My experience has been entirely opposite. I came into my current position and was very clear with my new company that my motivation for leaving was that my previous salary wasn't competitive. Not only were they satisfied with that answer but I know that information factored into the amount of their offer. No one should be ashamed of admitting that their primary driver for employment is compensation. If an HR dept is basing offers solely on previous salaries then they are doing it wrong and you really don't want to work at a place like that.
    – DanK
    May 16 '16 at 16:05
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    @DanK I agree it is fine to admit the primary driver is compensation, but how you present this fact is very important. Saying "my salary isn't competitive" is entirely different than saying "I'm being paid significantly under market average". Your statement can be interpreted as "I'm making just-below market rate" or "I'm a high performer who should be paid at the upper end of market rate"; a hiring manager initially feels they must beat market rate to retain you. The OP's statement will essentially interpreted as "Ok. so we just offer the low-end of market rate and they're better off." 1/2 May 16 '16 at 17:34

Your situation is trickier than most. If you were not being paid, cheques were bouncing or there were other problems with payroll, then it would be fine to say "My company has been having trouble meeting the payroll" and leave it at that. In your case, your company isn't quite in that much financial trouble but it's close. A salary freeze on its own isn't that outlandish and has been common in many sectors post-2008. However, salary cuts are a huge red flag and an acceptable reason to job search. It signals that your company is at risk of going under and your wages are in jeopardy.

You say that no one knows about the financial problems, but you can be damn sure that your company's competitors know. For one, many of your colleagues will have been interviewing with them as they can see the writing on the wall. In most countries payroll reports are publicly available and quarterly reports will also show a poor situation. If low-level employees have their wages slashed, you can be sure that the company's troubles have become public knowledge.

From an ethical standpoint, unless you're a C-level executive or otherwise have a significant high-level management responsibility, you are not required to keep your company's financial struggles secret.1 Obviously you don't post about them on Facebook, but there's no reason to lie about your reason for leaving.

In your case, I'd suggest a variation on this:

My current company has been struggling financially and salaries have been frozen or cut. While I love the work [I/we] do, given the lack of financial stability or potential for advancement I felt it was time to move on.

When it comes to "badmouthing" an employer, hiring managers are looking for people who can't stop venting their frustrations or are otherwise showing poor judgement by being overly negative. People with an axe to grind are not typically good employees. A simple statement of fact that shows foresight (as you're getting out before the situation deteriorates further) is not a negative.

1 - To be clear, I'm not referring to misrepresenting data or accounting fraud which is unethical and likely illegal, even in non-public companies. What I mean is that high-level management has a higher duty of care to the company than regular employees which, among other things, means not sharing strategic insider information with the public and especially not with competitors. As an example, it probably wouldn't be ethical for a CFO to abandon a sinking ship and explain to a competitor during his interview that they're at risk of losing their largest client. Now, while that example is an entirely different topic and probably ripe for debate, I only raised the point to argue that a low-level employee or someone in middle-management is generally not expected to be that secretive about information that is publicly visible.

  • unless you're a C-level executive ... you are not required to keep your company's financial struggles secret I doubt that there's some regulation that "requires" a CEO to mislead the public about the company's financial situation. If I were a shareholder and found out that the CEO hid financial struggles, I'd file a lawsuit. May 16 '16 at 16:37
  • @user2023861 I may have worded that poorly. I've added a footnote to the post to explain why I drew the comparison.
    – Lilienthal
    May 16 '16 at 18:17
  • 1
    If you're almost any level of executive Director or up, you're almost always subject to a confidentiality and non-disclosure clause that puts you in breach of contract and liable for the damages of any unauthorized disclosure -- even if it is illegal activity. "Whistleblower" laws used to protect employees in this area, but have been increasingly diminished in scope and protection. Now whistleblowers seek anonymity for their own protection. May 16 '16 at 19:22

What should I say as a reason at the interview I'm looking for another job? Can I say between the lines that I want more money and the company I currently work for has a financial problems so they can't give me that?

While the other two answer are good, I think they both have aspects that could be brought together during your interview.

You like the company, but your main issue is that you feel you are underpaid. And due to the company's current financial issues, you feel that you would continue to be underpaid, thus you must leave.

You might say something like this:

While I love the work I do, I feel like I''m being paid significantly below the market average. Unfortunately, my company is in a difficult position financially and is freezing some salaries and cutting others. Reluctantly I feel that it's time for me to move on.

  • I think @Lilienthal's answer says basically the same thing, but with more detail. May 16 '16 at 15:19

Have you actually heard a personal and specific "no" from your current employer? Have you spoken with your current manager, privately and verbally, about needing a raise? A lot of things are more negotiable in practice than they are in theory.

How did your first yearly review go, if you have a formal review process?

If you're not in charge of the budget, don't presume to make the call about what they can afford. Businesses have a lot of money going in a lot of directions, and they make a lot of decisions about what to spend it on. If you're valuable to the company, they may choose to spend a little more of it on you. A sum that makes a big difference to you is not necessarily a big item in a department budget. What will it cost them to replace you with somebody who might be as good a fit, if they're lucky, and who'll take time to fully come up to speed in any case?

It's a delicate thing. You can't be going to this guy and saying "pay up or I'm gone"; you have to be saying "I love this job, can help me find a way to keep my bills paid?"

You do like this job, and it sounds like they like you. The key fact is that these people aren't schmucks. That's a much bigger deal than you may realize, if this is your first experience working for somebody else. If the minimum raise you need to get by is within the bounds of sanity, it might be worth a shot.

The risk is that if they do have to say "no", they'll know you'll be looking. But this is business. You're not a charity any more than the company is. They know what they're paying you. If it's less than you're worth and it's not enough to live on, you'd be crazy not to start looking. Anybody would do the same. If you and Bob are adding the same value and Bob's getting 30% more pay, you're not being treated very fairly and they know it.

If you've been interviewing, they may already have noticed the sudden onset of long lunches off-site anyway.

Your colleagues with the much higher salaries aren't in your position. They can afford grand gestures; you can't. They're already being paid what they're worth; you aren't.

Source: I once very quietly asked for, and got, a 13% raise when raises at that company were capped at 3% and a lot of people were getting less. I'd taken a relatively junior job because I was hard up and times were tough. After the first year they figured they couldn't live without somebody just like me in that role, and they didn't want to damage their relationship with me by paying me less than I was worth. As in your case, I had a very good personal relationship with my manager and everybody else concerned and I was nailing everything they threw at me technically. I stressed that I was very happy about everything else, which was true. I wasn't in any particular financial distress. I just happen to like money.

The decision had to go a few steps up the ladder and it took some time, and of course it had to be kept quiet. More than once over the years I've known cases where an entry level hire exceeded expectations, and after their first or second yearly review their spending habits would suddenly change dramatically.

This isn't precisely an answer to your exact question, but from what you say, I think your ideal outcome would be to stay where you are for better pay.

  • 1
    +1 for “these people aren't schmucks. That's a much bigger deal than you may realize…”. May 16 '16 at 19:23

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