Should I discount myself?
I recently got this question from a woman I was working with in my group coaching course. She was thinking about what she would name as her compensation requirements in an interview. She knew what her (quite impressive) skills and experience were worth on the job market, but as a woman restarting her career after a break to raise kids, she thought “Should I discount myself”?
Common question – let’s break it down:
Doing compensation research is critical to getting paid fairly. Here’s how to do that:
- Find 4-5 sources that provide compensation information for the role you are considering. I like salary.com, payscale.com, comparably, the Robert Half Salary Report, and also Glassdoor for company-specific data.
- Calibrate these for your geographic area and/or the region where this company is based if it’s a remote role. If it’s a big company operating in multiple geographic regions, then do a Google search to find out if they vary their compensation based on geographic region or if they are location-agnostic with their offers.
You’ll want 5 data points so you can make sure you aren’t relying on one outlier statistic. You might notice that one of these sources gives you a number that is much higher or lower than the others – that’s your outlier.
3. Put your 5 numbers in a table and then come up with a range that hits the high middle of the numbers.
- For example, you might consult 5 sources and collect the following numbers for the same job: $75,000, $65,000, $80,000, $50,000 and $75,000
- Let’s assume $50K is an outlier, since the others are all close to each other.
- Based on these data points, a reasonable range for this role might be: $70-$80K
4. Aim high! Adjust your range slightly higher and ask for $75-$85K. This is the compensation range you will name when asked “When are your compensation requirements or expectations?”
5. Next step: Don’t apply a discount to yourself! In fact, we just worked out a range for the role, and then adjusted it slightly higher!
6. Now practice this. You’ll need to get comfortable asking for that compensation range. Say out loud, multiple times:
“Based on my research of the job market, my expectation is for a salary in the range of $75-$85,000.”
Talking about money (especially asking for it) can feel hard, so the practicing out loud step is really important.
- Don’t lower your voice when you say it and take the “ums” out of your speech. Only practicing out loud will help you do that.
7. The Last Step – Don’t Skip This! Tell them what your expectations are and then stop talking. Don’t apologize for asking for what you are worth and what the job market is paying. Simply stop talking!
Someone I know recently answered the compensation question before consulting me (can you imagine that?!). When asked about her compensation expectations during a phone screen, she said: “I believe $75-$80K would be reasonable for this role…But I know you’re a start-up and might not have the budget for that, so I could also do a lower salary, like $60K.”
Yikes! She just bargained herself down about $15,000 because she couldn’t stop talking. Please don’t do that to yourself! This is why it’s so important to do your research, state your expectations and then stop talking.
You Can Ask About Salary
If the question doesn’t come up during your interview and you’re curious what the compensation range is for a role, you can ask a question like “Can you share the compensation range for this position, so we can make sure that we’re aligned on our expectations?”
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Let’s Get Back To Work
If you’re looking for that first job after being out of the workforce for a period of time, you are not a typical job-seeker. Therefore, you should not be conducting a typical job search process that relies mostly on applying to jobs. As an outside-the-box hire, you’ll need to focus primarily on connecting with people where you’ll have the chance to explain your unique value proposition. Your resume may not tell your whole story, so you’ll need to get out from behind your computer and make personal connections.
You’ve got an exciting transition in your future. It may seem like a daunting task, both the personal aspects of shifting from being a stay-at-home mom and the fact that your family will also have to adjust to the new order at home.
Let’s walk through the process of restarting your career together.
Find Your Focus
You’ll want to invest some time before you dive into a job search determining your focus. For some of you, with highly specialized skills and a shorter career break, this step might be easy. If your career break has been longer than a few years, you don’t want to return to your previous field, or you simply aren’t sure yet, it will be critical to take an inventory of your skillset, your interests, and your motivation for returning to work to help you determine your focus.
Start by listing your most job-relevant skills
Don’t limit yourself to skills you have been paid for using. If you’re the volunteer who has raised tons of money for organizations, then fund-raising is a skill you possess, even if you weren’t being paid to do that.
List soft skills such as leadership, people management, communication and collaboration. Don’t overlook the importance of soft skills in the hiring process, but do be sure you have an example that proves you possess each skill you are listing.
Include your hard skills such as any technical or job-specific skills you have. Don’t edit yourself during this stage, just get all of your skills into a list without worrying about your competency level just yet.
What Interests You?
Next, come up a list of your interests. What do you enjoy doing? What are the things you can completely lose track of time while you’re doing because you enjoy them so much? Consider previous jobs you’ve held – what were the parts of those jobs that really lit you up?
What Motivates You?
Think about why you’re going back to work and get that down on paper. Do you need to earn income to support yourself or your family? Are you excited by the idea of contributing to a company with a mission you believe in? Are you yearning to put your education and experience to work again and miss the feeling of accomplishment that comes from full-time work? We’ll want to capture your motivation because this might help you decide between jobs down the line. Every transition or new job involves making trade-offs and you’ll be in a better position to determine if the trade-offs you’re making are ones you can live with if you’re clear on your motivation. For example, if you’re returning to work for financial reasons, it might make sense for you to pursue higher-paying jobs even if that means you are working longer hours than you’d ideally like.
Add It All Up
Take a good look at your lists of interests, skills, and motivations. What does it tell you? The magic in finding your focus lies in determining where there’s an intersection of your skills and interests with a need in the job market. Start reading your local business press or industry publications/blogs for jobs you are considering to understand where the need in the market is greatest.
Focus Doesn’t Mean Just 1
While having direction for your job search is important, at this stage I will encourage you to have multiple paths in mind. Having more than one idea about where you can effectively plug back into the workforce can help you stay flexible. If you’ve determined that your skillset could be applied in a few different contexts in the workforce, then map out these parallel paths for yourself rather than discarding one. Keep in mind, 5 parallel paths may be too many, but 3 could be just the right number.
Prototype Your Job
This next step is fun! Once you’ve found a direction (or two or three), come up with some ways you can prototype this new career for yourself. You’ll want to learn all about it and even try it on if you can. Here are some ways you can do that:
- Find people doing that job or working in your field and talk to them about it
- Check YouTube for videos that give you the inside scoop on the job by searching “a day in the life of a (insert profession here)”
- Read job descriptions for your ideal job to understand the expectations and the requirements
- Search for the job titles you’re considering on LinkedIn and read through the career paths of people who are doing that job now to notice how they got there and what their key skills are; connect with them and ask them if they’d speak with you so you could learn more
- Find LinkedIn groups, MeetUps or professional associations for people in the job you’re considering and join them – sometimes these groups have mentoring opportunities
Prepare Your Family
Let’s take a time-out from your job search activities here to think through preparing your family for the changes that will occur when you return to work. It’s never too early to give your crew a heads-up that things are going to be changing around here! Start shifting responsibility for some of the tasks that you’ve taken on to others in your household. You can’t do it all, and trying to is a recipe for burnout. If you’ve got kids still at home, remember that they will benefit from the responsibility of being contributing members of the household. Chores are beneficial for kids. Preparing early for your transition back to work gives you time to conduct that Saturday morning session on how to use the washing machine or how to empty the dishwasher. Be sure to enlist the support of your spouse as well – marriage is a partnership and yours can withstand the redistribution of responsibilities that comes with a spouse returning to work.
Make a Target Company List
You probably thought the next step was going to be applying to jobs. But I’d rather orient your job search around specific companies where you’d like to work and the people who work there, rather than just let you loose to flood the internet with blind job applications that you’ll never get a response from.
Brainstorm a list of companies that you’re interested in. Then build on your list by searching LinkedIn for them and noticing which companies pop up in the right sidebar labeled “People Also Viewed”. These are companies that are similar to the company you searched on and you may not have heard of them – wonderful! You are broadening your horizons! For additional ideas, be sure to check those famous lists such as Fortune’s Best Places to Work list.
Find People To Talk To
Now that you’ve got a list of companies you’re interested in, the next step is to research them and find people who work there. Tap your own network and ask people if they know anyone at your target companies they can introduce you to. Getting a warm introduction to someone is much better than doing cold outreach, so lean heavily on your network in this stage. Remember, you are in information-gathering mode, so you’re hoping to speak with people who can share their experience with the company and provide insight into where they might be hiring.
If you’re coming up empty, go back to LinkedIn and search on the company using the People filter. Find people who work in the department you’re interested in joining or in Talent Acquisition and send them a connection request with a very brief personalized note noting your interest in the company and asking if they’d be willing to spend 15 minutes speaking with you about their experience. Then follow this guide to conducting informational interviews to get the most out of your meeting.
This step is tricky, because to be completely honest, you are not going to get a lot of people who are willing to chat with a total stranger. Don’t take silence or rejection personally, just keep plowing ahead. These conversations and connections can be so valuable for a job-seeker that it’s worth making the ask even if only a very small percentage of your requests receive favorable responses.
OK, Now Apply!
You’ve gotten clear on your direction(s) for your job search, put together a company list and talked to people in your field. You’ve probably learned a lot and made some good connections, and now it’s time to apply to jobs.
Set up job alerts in LinkedIn and Indeed and make sure your profile is built out completely on both of these sites. Let’s make it as easy as possible for recruiters to find you! Be sure you’ve set up alerts for multiple variations of the job title you’re interested in to increase your chances of getting sent the right jobs.
Write a cover letter that speaks to your interest in the job and is personal. Nobody likes getting a form letter, so use your research to make sure your cover letter is targeted for the job at hand. Customize your resume also – it should mirror the language of the job description you are applying to in order to increase your chances of being noticed.
Get That Referral
If you’ve got a contact at the company you are applying to, reach out to them before you apply to let them know you’re applying. If the company has a referral system, your contact might be able to give you a special link to use when applying to the job. If you’ve already applied, however, a referral link is unlikely to be valid. Lots of companies pay their employees a bonus for referring candidates who get hired, so if you’re asking for a referral you might be doing both of you a favor!
Now Find An Insider
If you applied through a referral link, you can skip this step. But let’s say you’ve applied to a job and you don’t know anyone at the company but you’d really like to get your application noticed. Head back over to LinkedIn, find someone who works there in the department you’re applying to and send them a connection request with a message that says “I am applying to the Project Manager role in your department and I’m really excited about it because (tell them why you’re going to be able to make a big impact there). I hope to have the opportunity to speak with your team about my interest in this role.” Note that you’re not asking for anything, just hoping that your expression of interest will help shine a light on your application. This is a step most job-seekers don’t take, which means it’s a real opportunity for you to stand out among the pool of candidates.
Now Do It Again
One of the most frustrating things about applying for jobs is that you simply won’t get any response to many of the applications you put out. Recruiting is a broken system in many organizations, which I think is completely avoidable given our ability to automate tasks. Still, the take-away is that you can’t just apply and then wait around, because you might be waiting forever.
After you apply and you send your follow-ups via LinkedIn, find more people, more companies and more jobs and repeat the process. I’m not a big fan of applying to a million jobs and thinking that it’s just a numbers game, but the truth is that you have to put yourself out there many times in order to be successful with a job search. This is hard, but it’s going to be worth it when you land that job. And everything worth doing is hard. I know you’re up to the task, though.
Nothing Is Wasted
In job search, nothing is wasted because everything that happens is an opportunity to learn. Not hearing anything back from your applications? Revisit your resume, your cover letters, the types of jobs you’re applying to and give them a critical look to see what you need to adjust. Having lots of interviews but no offers? Get some coaching on your interview skills and prepare your answers to commonly asked interview questions. Winging it during interviews is not a set up for success. Ask yourself what you can learn from every step in the job search process, and be flexible enough to pivot when the market is telling you that you need to make adjustments.
Own Your Break
As a non-traditional job-seeker, your difference is your strength. Don’t be afraid to own your career break and talk about what you learned during that time out of the paid workforce that will make you a better employee. Proactively position your career break as a positive thing and control the conversation around it – if you don’t respect your career break, potential employers won’t either.
You Can Do It
You aren’t alone as a woman restarting her career. Find a friend who is also returning to work and commit to meeting for coffee once a week to encourage and support each other. Support like that will really keep you going when things get tough and the job search starts to feel long. Just remember that you can totally do this – and I am here rooting for you every step of the way!
Look Behind You
Once you get that job, don’t forget to look behind you and notice the other women who are trying to make this same transition back to work. We need to help each other out and advocate for each other. Until taking a career break is regarded as a normal part of a long and successful career, we’re going to have to encourage our employers to consider candidates who have non-traditional resumes. Let’s do this together!
Register for the Back to Business Women’s Conference
Join our community of women restarting their careers! Back to Business is holding our annual conference on September 23, 2022 – the conference is virtual this year, so you can join from anywhere. This is a full day of talks, workshops, and panels just for you. The entire experience is designed to help you learn just what you need to know to get back to work as quickly as possible! Register here.
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Going back to work after taking a career break is different than a typical job search because you have a gap in your work history. I know, this shouldn’t be a disqualifier for getting a job. And it isn’t. Let me say that again, it’s important. Taking time off from work does not mean you can’t go back. But it does require you as a job seeker to have a thoughtful way to talk about what you’ve been doing while you were out of the paid workforce.
Did you know that Women Account for 46.9% of the Total Labor Force in the US? according to Catalyst. We need to welcome women back to the workforce after taking career breaks. For starters, what’s more important than raising a family or caring for family members who are ill? I can’t think of anything more important. Also, it makes sense for the economy. Catalyst reports that if women’s participation in the global economy were equal to men, the global annual GDP would be $28 Trillion, yes trillion, dollars higher in 2025.
Women ask me a lot if they should just take any job or wait for the right one. So I hear this a lot and it’s a question that I asked myself often as I looked for a job after being out of the full-time workforce for many years.
Here’s the easy answer: It depends.
Really though, the answer to this question depends entirely on what is motivating you to go back to work, so step 1 in deciding what job to take is to examine your motivation. Motivation is important here. If you need to start earning income for you or your families’ survival now, then you should take the best job you can find quickly. By “best” I mean highest paying. Life is expensive, kids are expensive and it takes money to survive. Pure and simple.
Divorce often forces women back into the workforce, or your spouse might have been laid off. Whatever the situation, if quickly earning income has become your primary motivation, then find a job and bloom where you’ve been planted. You don’t have to stay there forever but my personal rule of thumb is that you do have to do your best while you’re there. If you sense that you’re just passing through, work diligently so that when you leave you’ll have a great recommendation and can feel good about the work you did.
While the need for money motivates many women to return to work quickly, others find that their timing isn’t quite so urgent. To you folks, I say – lucky you! You have the luxury of waiting for a job that will check more of the boxes for you. You can do the 3 steps of Reflect, Research and Activate that I think are so important to a successful job search. The Reflection step is of critical importance in a job search because this is the step where you think deeply about your skills, your past experiences, and your current interests and add them all up to set a course for your future.
I want a career break to become a very normal part of a person’s career (both women and men) and for employers to view these not as breaks from real work, but as opportunities to develop more deeply as people, as parents, or as caregivers of aging parents. Your ability to reflect on what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown during your career break is a key part of finding direction for your job search.
If you are motivated to return to work by a desire to re-engage your professional self, to grow as a person in a professional capacity, to put your valuable skills to work and to earn a good income while doing so, then you have the luxury to look until you (a) find the right job or (b) find a job that offers a trade-off that you are comfortable taking. Every decision we make is a trade-off between things that are important to us.
Step 2 in deciding what job to take is being really clear about the trade-off involved. As much as I’d like to think there is a perfect job out there, well, let’s be real! I really think everything is a trade-off. So consider all the implications of the jobs you are considering.
Compensation, commute, opportunities for advancement, leadership, benefits, how’s the team… If you’re weighing multiple opportunities – lucky you! – then map these things out to see how they compare.
The third step in deciding what job you should take is to consider the possibilities of the job in front of you.
Especially if you’re returning to work after a career break, If your job search is starting to feel like it’s taking a long time, and you’re considering taking the next job that comes along, here are a few questions to ask yourself:
- Will this job keep me moving forward? (In other words, will I learn here? meet people that will grow my professional network? feel good about the work I’m doing?)
- Can I think of this job as a stepping stone to get me closer to where I’d like to be professionally?
If you can answer “yes” to any of those questions, then you may have found the right job for you. Honestly, sometimes after a long absence from the workforce, we just need a “starter job” or a job that gets us back into the working world and gets current experience on your resume. You can build from there. Just get yourself to that starting line.
Here’s a related but important question I get a lot from women returning to work: “Do I have to take a job making less money or with a lower title than I held before I took a career break?” My guidance is that I want you to aim high, but you must understand that the burden of proving your value to an employer rests with you and only you. How can you prove that you’re worthy of your previous salary and title?
- By demonstrating that you’ve spent your career break learning and keeping your skills fresh
- By taking courses to refresh your job skills
- By becoming active in a professional association relevant to your field
- By maintaining a network of influential people in your field
And let me add, that I think you totally deserve to not take a salary cut just because you’ve made the decision to focus on other things in life besides your career for a period of time. But you have to believe that you’re worth it too. You’ll have to brush up on your negotiation skills if you’re going to go for it with respect to salary. If you don’t ask for more at the time of your offer, you’ve given up a great opportunity. You can’t go back and ask after you accept the job. You have the leverage when they make the offer. That’s the time to show your future employer that you’re well worth a bump in compensation because you know how to negotiate. Sometimes people worry that the job offer will be rescinded if they try to negotiate it. That almost never happens. Now, there’s a right way and a wrong way to approach a negotiation, so enter into this conversation looking for a win-win outcome and you will not lose your offer.
One final thought: When I was job searching, I realized early on that my next job was going to come from someone who knew me personally and not from a resume that I blindly sent out over the Internet. And this belief changed my job search activities from sitting behind my computer sending out resumes to instead viewing every opportunity to talk someone as a chance to get one step closer to finding the right job. And, guess what? It worked. Every job I’ve ever had has come as a result of tapping my network or reaching out personally to people. Every. Single.one.
Time for me to throw another statistic about working women at you. The average time spent per day in unpaid work in the US: women 4 hrs 3 minutes; men 2 hours, 30 minutes. That’s a difference of 1 hour and 33 minutes. Any of you ladies out there want an extra hour and a half in your day? I don’t want to sound like I’m complaining – if unpaid work includes hanging with my kids to make sure they feel loved and valued and grow up to be happy and productive humans, I love that stuff. But if you’re talking about folding the laundry or emptying the dishwasher, you can have that stuff. I. Can’t. Even. I hate that stuff.
If you took time off from your career and now you’re looking for a job to return to your career, you may be wondering how to decide what job to take or if you should just take any old job that comes your way versus waiting for the right one.
Let’s review how you can answer that question:
First, examine your motivation for returning to work. If you need money to support your family, take the highest paying job you can get. If your motivation is more about finding fulfilling work, keep looking until you find work that will feed your soul.
Step 2 in deciding what job to take is being really clear about the trade-off involved. Know what’s really important to you and what you consider non-negotiable and hold out for it if it’s reasonable. Check-in with people you respect in your network to make sure that your non-negotiables are realistic.
And the third step in deciding what job you should take is to consider the possibilities of the job in front of you. This means that you may be considering a job that isn’t really all that, but it may be a job that will lead you to something more fulfilling. So when I say consider the possibilities, I want you to think 2 or 3 steps ahead of the job your considering and think about whether or not this job will take you down a path that you want to go.
Finally, don’t settle – negotiate! You’re totally worth it! You know you are. I know you are. Don’t let anything stop you. If you don’t ask, you don’t get it.
There are lots of things to consider if you’re returning to work after a career break and deciding if you should take any old job or if you should wait for the right one. This is a really personal decision, but now you have 3 steps to walk through as you decide.