Make More Out of Less: Accepting a Pay Cut

When it comes to the IT job market these days, the old marketing phrase applies: “I have good news and bad news.”

The good news is, despite the recession and grim reports of unemployment in so many industries, hiring is still strong in IT. In fact, CareerBuilder.com’s research shows IT is one of the few industries expected to add employees this year.

The bad news is job seekers may be forced to work for less money than they are used to, while the employed should not expect significant salary increases anytime soon.

According to a recent survey from the Society for Human Resource Management, 5 percent of businesses reduced salaries in the past year. In addition, some businesses are reducing work hours, benefits and early retirement options to cut costs.

The 2009 IT Salary Survey by Janco Associates found that the mean IT salary fell from $79,005 to $77,367 from January 2008 to January 2009 — a decline of about 2 percent.

Lily Mok, vice president of Gartner’s CIO research organization, discussed the results of Gartner’s annual compensation study.

“From our observations from the survey in 2008, where actually in the market, the recession worries were looming, we still see hiring pretty strong for most of the hot jobs and skills we’ve been tracking for years — for example, enterprise architect, project management,” she said. “I think the demand for people with the right skill set will continue, even in this kind of market.”

Mok said the salary issue is regional in part. “I believe in different geographic markets — in New York City, northeast regions, where financial markets are very hardly hit — you may see a big influx of available IT professionals who are looking for jobs,” she said. “Certainly in those kinds of difficult times, job openings will be few, and people will, in terms of trying to find a job, be willing to take some pay cuts.”

Sometimes working for less is the only sensible option, but that doesn’t mean professionals can’t make the most of it. According to one Wall Street Journal article, exhibiting too much eagerness to work for less signals desperation — so don’t sell yourself short. The trick is to neither accept nor reject a lowball offer right away, but to first investigate the potential impact of taking a particular job.

“In terms of the negotiation with salary, I would say in this market, even the bargaining power will be lower,” Mok said. “If you are willing to take the compromise on lower pay, what are the other nonfinancial-related awards or benefits the organization actually can offer you to compensate the pay reduction? For example, do they offer flexible work schedules, teleworking opportunities? For some, that could be a very good addition you may not have with a previous employer.”

Once a professional has decided to accept a pay cut, it’s still important to project a high degree of personal initiative, said Jay Shankavaram, managing director of the CIO Executive Board within the Corporate Executive Board.

“This is a time when managers and leaders are looking for people who can do multiple things, a person who doesn’t just focus on the letter of the job description, but the spirit of the job description,” he said. “Show creativity and resourcefulness. Demonstrate to the person or the organization that is hiring you that you’re willing to actually learn more and be able to take on more challenges.”

Possessing a niche skill set helps, too.

“Some of the skill sets you’ve used in previous jobs, [you certainly] must be good at, but there are certain new skill sets,” Mok said. “For example: virtualizations, consumer technology-related Web 2.0. If you have that kind of a niche skill that some organization may be looking for in the next year to enhance that kind of capability, that might be a good sell.”

Shankavaram specified some additional areas he believes are looking good right now, including project management, sourcing and vendor management.

“[I’m seeing a] focus on SAP,” Shankavaram said. “I’m definitely seeing a lot of interest in business intelligence.”

Ultimately, it will take an assessment of one’s priority career values to overcome the dichotomy of more work for less.

“Make sure your skill set is a good match with what you’re looking for in terms of a career perspective,” Mok said. “Take a good look at the company — their fundamentals, what their directions are — and see what kind of technology they have implemented in past years. Also [see] what they are planning to do, and see whether there is a future opportunity for you to do something that you may not have had the opportunity to do with previous employers.”

– Elizabeth Lisican, editor (at) certmag (dot) com

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