Salary levels and self-worth on your return to work

Following on from our recent guest post: “5 steps to successfully negotiate your return-to-work role”, Kate, our Lead Coach, shares her experience to help you to work out what salary to ask for and how to value yourself when you’re negotiating your first role back at work.

  • How
    confident do you feel about knowing what you are worth?
  • How
    confidently could you articulate and communicate your value in monetary terms
    to a potential employer?
  • How
    confident are you at negotiating what you would like to be paid?
another phrase that along with mentions
of “networking” and elevator pitch”
can conjure up groans of despair and sheer dread! I often see clients visibly
shudder when contemplating this subject.
The reaction above arguably
applies to the majority of people who find this a particularly tricky area to
negotiate. In the UK, it’s partly a cultural thing – we are too polite to talk about
money! But if we don’t have these frank discussions with an employer it can
lead to problems later on. Research suggests that whilst money alone is
unlikely to be an intrinsic source of motivation for most people, if the money
side is wrong and you feel underpaid and thus undervalued, then that is likely
to become a source of de-motivation.
How does this work when you
throw a career break into the mix too?
It can be particularly
challenging for those returning to the workplace following a career break as
you may be feeling out of touch with current salaries as well as convincing
yourself that the break inevitably means that you must be penalised financially.
As our guest blogger, Natalie Reynolds recently commented, “Many returners are more likely to gratefully accept any terms rather
than to consider negotiating…”
However selling yourself short is unlikely
to be helpful in the long term and indeed could cause you problems later when
it comes to moving into new roles. So what can you do to become more confident
at negotiating your salary successfully first time back?
Get clear and confident on what
salary you should be asking for
Collect up-to-date salary information upfront
  • Research the
    marketplace for the type of role you are seeking to gain a benchmark of the
    salary range that you can expect to be targeting.
  • Be realistic – there is
    likely to a range dependent on variables such as the size of the business, the
    location, and how structured their internal salary grading structures might be.
  • Consider how specialist your skill-sets are and how easy
    or not it is for employers to source these.

This should also happen well before
you get to the point of job offer – be informed throughout the whole process,
ideally before you begin any form of job search.

Best ways to gain this information
  • Websites such as, and provide a plethora of advice and
    information on the market value for current roles as well as tips and
    information on approaching negotiation.
  • Professional membership bodies
    such as the ICAEW and CIPD may also have useful salary information relating to
    your specific professional field.
  • Ask recruitment consultants and
    contacts in the relevant industries. There are several recruitment firms listed on the Career Returners website who actively support the hiring of Returners; they
    will have a broad view of companies and what people in similar positions are
Be clear on your value and believe it!
Salaries that are out of kilter
with the role you are actually doing can lead to misunderstanding by future
employers or recruitment consultants. Equally being clear on your financial
worth is also a test that the employer understands the match of the role on
offer with your skills and experience. Returners often believe that they need
to take a role many levels below their skill-set and worth just to get back in the workforce, but our experience suggests that this will quickly be problematic as the role is
unlikely to be a good fit (unless you have a clear rationale such as moving to a very different sector or getting a foot in the door in your ideal company). By the time you are at the point
of negotiation have a good convincing story to prove your skills are up-to-date and to demonstrate the value you offer.
Be confident in the negotiation
  • Don’t apologise
    for your career break when you enter into negotiations. Be confident that your skills remain your
    skills and they hold value to the employer.
  • Don’t answer immediately if you’re offered a salary – deflect
    and say you would like to think about it. This gives you time to prepare your
    counter offer and state clearly and confidently what is behind the figure you
    have come up with.
  • Think about the broad picture –
    what is the total remuneration on offer not just base salary?
  • Explore the opportunities for trade-offs. If the company has a budget below where you would like to be, what can
    they offer in return? Flexible working perhaps, extended annual leave, or the opportunity to review
    salary within a 3-month probationary period rather than wait for an annual
  • Don’t be afraid to have a walk-away point. If you feel very unhappy with the salary, and don’t have a clear rationale for taking the role or an agreed progression plan, ask yourself whether this role is a match with your skills and the
    type of organisation you want to work for.
  • Remember that pushing yourself out of your comfort zone
    to successfully negotiate what you want will be a surefire confidence boost for your return to
Posted by Kate Mansfield, Lead Career Coach, Women Returners

The 5 steps to successfully negotiate your return-to-work role

We know that many women returners are more likely to gratefully accept any terms rather than to consider negotiating when offered a job after a career break. However, it’s important to make the role work for you for it to be sustainable. That’s why we’re happy to welcome this week’s guest blogger, Natalie Reynolds, a negotiation expert, to help you to sharpen up your negotiation skills.
We negotiate every day, in many different ways and with many different people. It is a fundamental requirement in reaching agreement, resolving dispute and succeeding in business. We might find ourselves negotiating our salary, a contract or a deadline … or in the case of those returning to work, negotiating a job which fits our new circumstances, maybe with a whole new way of working.
Negotiation can be intimidating at the best of times,
never mind when it’s going to impact on our family and lifestyle. With this in
mind, the following DEALS approach is designed to highlight the key steps to take when you’re planning for and negotiating your job offer with your potential new employer.
Discover: Before you get anywhere near the negotiation table you need to discover as much as you can about the
role and the organisation. Do your research, know the facts, understand the
market and look at what has been agreed with current employees in terms of pay and ways of working. If you want flexible working, check who is working in this way currently and on what basis (part-time/job-share/remote working) – this will give you a sense of what’s feasible. It is essential that we are
creative with this process as we often just think about the obvious issues … but
perhaps the key to unlocking this deal sits in an area you just hadn’t
considered:  could you ask for extra leave in the summer holidays, or annualised hours for example? Find out who will be involved in the negotiation process – are you talking to the decision maker? As you’re likely to be out of touch with salaries, are
there ex-colagues you can talk to for current data or industry baselines you can look at (see website such as for salary data)? Crucially, make sure you’re clear on what you are bringing to the business and any unique
skills that you can offer.
Establish: Next up is to establish some boundaries and priorities. Establish
what your key priorities are … as well as what theirs might be. To create a
win/win outcome you need to understand what success looks like for them also.
Reciprocity means if they feel they have won, they are more likely to help you
win too. You also need to establish the areas where you can’t compromise and your breakpoint or walkaway point. This is
the worst case outcome for you. Once you’ve established it – stick to it! In
the heat of a negotiation we often agree to things we wouldn’t if we were more
calm or confident.
Ask: This is about making sure you make your proposals in the most
effective way. Package all the issues in your proposal (eg. base pay, bonus, benefits, working hours, holidays) rather than going issue by issue. When you make a proposal always make sure you open ‘ambitiously
but credibly’. Ask for slightly more than you need to give yourself wriggle
room to explore what they might be willing to give you, but don’t go for a completely unrealistic opening offer. If you can, try and
make the first move in the negotiation. Anchoring is a phenomenon from the
world of psychology that means we are often overly influenced by the first
number put on the table and you are then likely to finish closer to that
figure. Don’t worry if you don’t manage to go first though; just remember to
not reinforce their proposal by going on and on about it. Instead recognise the
best way to beat their opening proposal is to make one of your own. Simply, the
more you talk about what you want and why, the more likely you are to get it.
It’s also essential that you plan several moves in advance … and again, be
creative! Think of lots of different angles to try and reach an agreement and
don’t be afraid to make lots of suggestions. If you’re asking for flexible hours/location make sure you present the business case of how it can work for the team rather than just for you.
Lead: This refers to taking the lead in the negotiation. Be confident.
Take a deep breath and speak calmly and professionally. Don’t allow your
emotions to control you. A simple tip to help with this is to remember that
even the most confident of people will often feel awkward and nervous when
negotiating; they are probably just doing a better job of hiding it!
Seal: And last but not least is to seal the deal in the right way. Get it
in writing as soon as you can. One of the most dangerous phases in a
negotiation is the ‘post-deal, pre-paperwork’ phase. This is the period after
the deal has been agreed with a handshake or verbal agreement, but the ink is
not yet on the contract or formal agreement. This is the phase where if your
counterparty has any doubts about the deal they have just done, they will come
back and try to alter terms they are unhappy with, or walk away from the
agreement in that form altogether.  To
try and limit the risk of this, be gracious rather than over the top if you get
a great outcome and make your counterparty feel satisfied with their result.
Agreements are stronger if each side feels like they are winning.
Natalie Reynolds is an negotiation expert at Advantage Spring. She has also written the popular  book ‘We Have a Deal: How to negotiate with intelligence, flexibility and power’ which is published by Icon Books. To find out more about advantageSPRING’s
negotiation programmes visit

See also:

Mastering the Difficult Conversation

How good are you at having difficult conversations? Learning to communicate more effectively can help to prepare you for your return to work.
Would you rather run for the hills than have a really tricky conversation that makes you feel uncomfortable? How good are you at communicating your own needs and reaching compromises and solutions?
If like me, you are naturally a people pleaser who dislikes conflict, you might find yourself using classic avoidance tactics rather than have a difficult conversation. We tell ourselves many things: “It’s not my place”; “Someone else will do it”; “What good will it do?” or “It’s easier to do it myself than have the conversation”.
But what is the price that we pay for avoiding these conversations?
Back in my corporate career days, I got much better at having difficult conversations – it took practice and time but I got there. However since becoming a mother and taking two career breaks I feel that these skills have got a little rusty! And sometimes, frankly, it can be harder to have the difficult conversations with those closest to you than it is with colleagues in the office.
I have found similar experiences amongst women who I have coached to return to work and who find it very difficult to communicate with other key family members about their plans to return to work.

This is often driven by a range of fears – “My partner won’t like the changes at home; “My children won’t like me not being around”; “My elderly parents need me and won’t understand”; No-one will offer me a job anyway so there is no point in talking about it…” and of course, the big one which is rooted in our own fear of what the new might look like for everybody, ourselves very much included.

The irony, however is that this is exactly the time when you need the support behind you to make the transition and journey back to work as easy as possible!

So how can you practice getter better at difficult conversations to ease your return to work and to help manage your career once back in the workplace?
  1. Change your mindset – ask yourself what is the risk to me and/or this relationship if I don’t have this difficult conversation? Try to identify what is difficult about it – what are you afraid will be the outcome? What is the worst that can happen?
  2. Remove emotion. Easy to say particularly if this is a conversation in our personal lives but try to control your emotion – use questions and ask the other person how they feel about the subject in question? Ask them what they would suggest and like to see happen.
  3. Be clear on what you are asking for. If it’s for more support around the house, for instance, be clear on what this might look like – ask your partner for input and suggestions and draw up a rota of chores. Make sure there’s time blocked out for each of you and time together.
  4. Don’t make it about winning an argument – see it as finding a resolution that works for everyone, particularly family life!
  5. Practice an easy one first. If you are not ready to approach the bigger subjects immediately, practice having a difficult conversation with a family member or friend – perhaps one you’ve avoided for some time but would like to address. Take confidence from that first!
Feeling more confident at approaching things you might usually avoid will help build your confidence in approaching people who can help with your return to work and asking for advice, input or introductions. Inevitably when you return to work there will be difficult conversations to be had at times with bosses and colleagues. Remembering the tips above will make this much less daunting when the time comes!
Posted by Kate Mansfield, Coach & Facilitator, Women Returners