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Career Advisor by Edgar Saadi

Managing those ever-tricky money matters

Be wary of money alone motivating your job move. What else does your current job offer that you won't find elsewhere? Here are three different work dilemmas hinging on money -- and the solutions

February  1997
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While big companies offer comfort and stability, small companies can offer the promise of greater rewards. That's the issue one reader faces. Another reader is considering swapping his consulting freedom to join a client's firm full time, and a third is weighing whether an unkept promise is enough to cause a jump to a different division. In all three cases the individuals also have to deal with troubling money-related conflicts. We offer some solutions. (1,300 words)

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Dear Edgar,

I'm considering a move from a large telecom to a small, local start-up company. I've done the start-up thing before and am a regular reader of your column so I have some idea of what to expect. However, there is a possible hangup: the startup-in-question's insurance plan doesn't cover new employees for the first two months of employment. I have three young children so two months without coverage is not an option. Fine, I can extend my current coverage via the COBRA mechanism. The problem? That's going to cost me close to $1,000. My question: is it reasonable to ask the start-up company for a signing bonus to cover the COBRA expense?

Sign me,
"Signing Bonus"

Dear Signing,

If you have not yet negotiated your salary, then you should make it clear that you need this COBRA program for the next two months and calculate it into the total package you are seeking. Signing bonuses are becoming fairly normal; however, start-up companies are generally not flush with cash, and I would guess they are aiming to pay you primarily in stock options and bonus possibilities.

Realize that by moving from a large, institutionalized telecom company to a start-up company, you are in for a change. These types of companies are, in many respects, opposite. The big telecom is a stable environment that is sure to cover all your benefits from day one and probably subsidizes lunches or transportation.

The start-up company doesn't have time to worry about such things right now. It's environment is fast-paced, exciting, and full of risk. It doesn't think you should be worried about your two months of lost coverage, because when the time comes to give out those bonuses and to cash in on those stock options, you'll be a rich man.

It is not unreasonable to ask for this signing bonus. Sometimes it is totally off base to ask for something that has already been denied; but in general it does not hurt anyone simply to ask. Just be sure not to expect or demand this money. Look at the entire package. If it is what you want, then ask, keeping in mind that you'll only burn bridges if you come across as demanding or petty.


Dear Edgar,

I've recently obtained a contract-to-hire position through a consulting company. The company I'm with really wants to keep me, and I would like stay, but I would like more money. When the negotiation for the permanent position occurs, how should I handle asking for more money without endangering my relationship with the company?

Going Full Time

Dear Full Time,

Consulting can be very unsteady and ambiguous. You don't always have work, you're not eligible for promotions or stock options, you have to pay your own benefits, and you sometimes have to commute far distances. On the other hand, you are paid excellent money for each and every hour you work.

If this company decides to take you on full time, it will hope to bring aboard a team player and in the meantime, save money. In exchange for a permanent desk, steady paychecks, benefits, and a work environment that you can be a part of and grow in, this company will expect you to receive an annual salary that will most probably fall far short of what you were making by the hour.

If there has not yet been an offer, and you are not comfortable negotiating salary, then you may want to ask your contracting firm to help represent you. They know what you were making, what people of your skill set should generally earn, and may even be receiving a fee to place you there full time.

If you go directly to the company, then simply let it be known the kind of compensation that you want. You never want to demand anything, but when negotiating, remind them that they are saving money by bringing you on full time.

I'm not saying that you will have to take a dramatic pay cut. In fact, when you consider the larger picture of steady work and benefits, it may be a more valuable option for you. If you don't have a family to support, like to move around, can afford to be out of work for weeks at a time, and like the high hourly wage, then stick with what you've got. So much comes down to money, but this decision is also one of lifestyle.

Dear Edgar,

I am a Webmaster and work in the department that houses/feeds/maintains the company Internet Web site. I felt I had an agreement (verbal) with my director that once the site met its initial goals, my salary would match my new responsibilities. The site is a success, but the increase did not happen.

Recently I applied for a higher-paying position in the division that's developing our intranet. Right or wrong, my prime motivation was for more money, and I felt that my current management had not lived up to its part of our agreement. I have been told by my manager that the other department has decided to offer me a position, but my director intervened to make a counter offer. They are apparently in negotiations.

I hate to walk away from my current department. I have a lot of privileges and perks here (great tools and office). To put it bluntly, I have it nice where I am, but I am distressed that I had to "put a gun to the head" of my management to get them to pay me what I believe I am worth in this market.

What advice would you offer? And, if this thing goes really bad, where should I begin in looking for positions outside the company? Is a "headhunter" a good solution?


Dear Cheated,

If your boss really did promise you more money to meet certain goals that you met, then reneged on his offer, then perhaps you should actively pursue another job and move on. I assume that you then sat down with him and asked him politely for a higher salary to match your new responsibilities. If only by "putting a gun to his head" did he make a move to pay you what you previously asked for and agreed to, then you don't want to work there. Besides, such tactics can lead to bad feelings on both sides.

Another point I want to raise from your question is that of money. It seems reasonable that your company would allow you to move to another division if you expressed interest in its direction, technologies, and impact on the future direction of the company. But if management senses that you are vying for this new position solely because it is better paying, it will become naturally distrustful. You will succeed in a corporation only if you are seen as a team player.

Be careful not to become consumed with the whole money issue. The intranet job may indeed be the right career move for you. Take a look at the position's duties, the management style, the technologies, and the resources. There are many factors that go into a happy worklife. If you go for this position solely with dollar amounts in your head, you may find yourself in a wealthier lifestyle which yearns for the old job -- its freedom, perks, lower income, and all.

If you have not yet sat down with your boss, my advice would be to talk it out with him. You say you like working in the division. You like the work, and you like the perks. Explain the agreement you thought you had and how much you think you are worth.

If all of this is too late or if you are convinced that your manager is two-faced, then move to the door. Of course, headhunters or recruiting firms can be a viable option. Some of the better ones are aware of what your general worth is in the marketplace and can really help you not only find a new job but map out a career path.

Good luck!

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