Selling Your Salary in a Penny-Pinching Economy

It’s a buyer’s market out there. How can top-priced talent make its pitch? Is being cheaper really being smarter?


Whether we are downsized or right-sized, unemployment in 2009 is not associated only with mid-level and lower-level jobs. It’s an egalitarian phenomenon.

We all know someone who has been laid off, from the corner office to the cubicle. Maybe as you read this, you’re thinking about yourself or a loved one. Even my friends who hold American Express’ coveted Centurion Black Card should listen up: Membership may have its privileges, but apparently helping you keep your corner office isn’t among them.

Executive-level jobs are twice as hard to find, often due to the age of the six-figure employee (those years of experience that justify a higher salary). Ironically, these are the very salaries that have either gotten them fired, landed them on thin ice or are preventing them from landing that new job.

Think of it this way: Are you willing to buy a Rolex watch, a brand-new BMW or any expensive item right now, even if you can afford it? Not likely. You know the Rolex is better quality, just like you probably are as a high-priced executive. But guess what? The company you’re interviewing with or working for isn’t buying you for the same reason you’re not buying that BMW: We’re all price conscious right now.

Come on, be honest:. Did you just cut back your cleaning person’s schedule to only once per week? Well, the boardroom’s no different; everyone’s cutting back.

Back to the Centurion Black Card: Remember in the beginning, there was the American Express green card. Remember that? Then it became a status symbol to have the gold. Once that wore off, platinum was the most elite. Then, one day, I heard rumors of a new card American Express was developing: the Centurion card, a k a the “black card.”

Suddenly, having a black card was the new status symbol. Like having a … Hmmm … iPhone today. (No, better! Like having a job today.)

Then last fall, the recession hit. Suddenly, many black-card holders may not want to spend as much. In fact, American Express just announced that even they were laying off workers. (Were they the black-card department, I wondered?)

How to sell your product when it’s expensive and no one is buying

When that dreaded “R word” is used, I believe it is a blank check for bosses to fire anyone. You heard it here first: Bosses use a recession as an excuse to get rid of the highly paid black-carders who would ordinarily be hard to fire. In other words, a recession climate is used as an excuse to clean house.

In my book “Bulletproof Your Job,” (HarperCollins) I share 50 trade secrets on how anybody can seduce their boss into helping them save their job. Yes, I said seduce. Like the idea of how the black card “seduced” you in to wanting one, even though it was expensive.

Keeping a job today is hard enough – finding a new one is even more difficult.

So here are some of my most cutthroat – but honest – tips on getting back to work fast. More are in the book.

1. “Lowball” yourself to get back to work.

Take the lower salary – don’t scare away a company with your past “Rolex” wages. Get your foot in the door, and when this economy turns around next year you will be in the driver’s seat to renegotiate or find a new job entirely.

2. Loose lips sink ships.

Everyone is looking for a job today, so their ears are everywhere. Every networking group you go to, everyone you talk to – even the priest in your confessional – may be applying for the same jobs. You’d be shocked at who else has their eyes on your perfect job. Have you ever seen that show in which the actors steal auditions from one another? It’s no different in the executive suite, my friend. Keep it quiet.

3. Never act desperate.

Always look like you deserve a six-figure job. If you’ve been making six figures, you’d better have a resume template that screams, “Hire me!” Then, don’t mess it up by dressing like you’re headed for an open casting call for the next “Real Housewives” (or ”Husbands”) series. You’re dressing for an interview, not for your 15 minutes of fame.

So now think back to the American Express color codes. Do you think the status or color of our credit card much matters now? I don’t. You represent the upper echelon of the job seekers; you’re the black card, but it can be tough to sell your expertise when someone else will do the job for less. Consider these three tips and write me with your thoughts.