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Saturday, September 11, 2010

Asking For A Salary I Deserve: MY 911 Story

One World Trade Center, Under ConstructionI've always believed that when negotiating a salary at a new job, one must price oneself right. Ask for too little, and you'll end up bitter and feeling unappreciated. Your job performance will probably be not so great too, because you'll feel like the company you're working for is ripping you off every day. Why do your best for a company that pays you significantly less than you deserve?

This is a story about using leverage to try and get a bigger paycheck. It's also my 911 story, which I'm compelled to share here on this 9th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Back in the year 2000, I was looking to make more money, and decided to go on some job interviews, even though I was working at a job I liked at a company that treated me quite fairly. All was quite well at this job: great coworkers, great benefits, Lincoln Towncar ride home every night, and more. But I wasn't happy with my salary, and that was enough to prompt me to look for even greener pastures.

At the time I figured I would use the leverage I had, i.e. being someone already employed at a prestigious NYC law firm, to achieve my goal.

I went on a few interviews, which were OK, but nothing special.

It was the fourth interview that I felt was the most promising. It was at a well known financial services company at the World Trade Center. The company needed a IT guy, fast, and they wanted someone who could hit the ground running.

I remember taking a long elevator ride to a very well decorated office. Actually, what I remember most vividly was the view from the lobby. It was breathtakingly stunning. Not only could I see the curve of the Earth, I was also taken aback by how small the Brooklyn Bridge appeared at that height. To give you an idea, imagine being in an office near the top of one of the towers, and placing yourself right next to a large window. Then imagine lining your index finger up with the Brooklyn Bridge below. The bridge, from that vantage point, was just a little bit longer than my finger.

The interview went very well. It was conducted by the department head and an employee who, if I ended up getting hired, would be my coworker. Most of the interview was consumed by an extensive, verbal quiz. I got most of the answers correct.

The next day, the man who would be my boss called me and gave me another test. He quizzed me on the 2 questions I got wrong the day before. I got them right this time. He was just making sure I was the right kind of person for the job, someone who would get stumped on something important and job-related, and would respond by getting knowledgeable as quickly as possible.

The next day I got a call from the same manager, and he asked me what my salary expectations were. With confidence, I gave him a figure. The angry response from the other end of the phone was:

"What?!!! There's no way in hell we're paying you that much!"

And, at that, he hung up the phone. I never heard back from him or from anyone else at that firm. The job was lost.

Do I regret giving him a figure that I thought was fair and commensurate with my experience. Heck no! However, if I had access to a time machine that day -- not an expensive H.G. Wells model but something simple like those sold at Wal-Mart -- I may have considered going back in time and changing my response to "negotiable" or something to that effect.

About a year later, the 9/11 attacks happened.

I'm no mystic. In fact, I'm an extremely firm secular humanist. But sometimes things happen in life that make me wonder if I have some sort of guardian angel watching over me.

A few months later, on Christmas Day, I found myself watching the Frank Capra classic "It's A Wonderful Life," and getting a bit chocked up, which is really not my thing. I then found myself praying for all those who perished on September 11, 2001. I have no idea if heaven exists, but I found myself wishing them godspeed to a peaceful afterlife.

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I've never liked the idea of someone else dictating how much I deserve to get paid. Why should someone I don't know have that kind of power over me? Bottom line: why should I be happy letting someone else determine how much I am worth? I didn't get the job, but I retained my sense of self-worth, which I feel is very important in life. I guess that's just my personality, and it's why I knew I would have to break free of the 9-to-5 thing eventually.

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