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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