LOOK OUT. THIS IS GOING TO BE INCREDIBLY SELF-INVOLVED AND WANKY AND I DO KNOW THAT I AM VERY LUCKY. I’M A SALTY BITCH TODAY.
I recently applied for a job.
This is always an uncomfortable process, especially for those of us who have had self-criticism instilled into us from an early age.
CVs, university forms, speculative bids – anything where you have to “sell yourself” feels, to many of us, like fraud. But I need to show I’m worth my salt. That I’m worth my salary.
I spent 5 years of working among people who had a level of self-confidence that varied from healthy to borderline negligent (of course I’m right, why bother checking with an expert?) (crucially, especially as regards my ability to get anywhere near that half-decade milestone, this did not apply to my closest colleagues).
Being surrounded by this terrifying and – let’s face it – predominantly masculine attitude began as intimidating. How could I possibly work here with all these obviously superior beings?
Over time, and with experience of the personalities in question, not to mention their work, I grew to realise the extent of the braggadocio. Noticing errors, realising the proportion of bluffing, I began to realise that lots of these people had adopted a “fake it ’til you make it” attitude, maybe even as early as school, and for some of them, “making it” had served a evidence that there was no need to retroactively gain the expertise that their way with words had convinced others that they had.
Perhaps I am over-sensitive. Or rather: I definitely am over-sensitive (a (male) psychiatrist, when I was discussing the level of casual sexism I encountered at work, told me on our first meeting “I’m sure it isn’t ALL your male colleagues who are condescending.” Condescendingly) and the realisation that not every workplace rewarded these accomplished actors quite so much was pretty high on my list of reasons to leave.
For balance: it is BUSINESS after all. And in BUSINESS you get the deal done. These guys were good at BUSINESS. Where were you, Lauren? Hunched over your desk, trying to perfect your drafting, frequently in tears over your inability to deliver and feeling sick with anxiety. That’s where.
(That’s it, I promise. I’m not bringing sex or gender into it any more. That’s a rant for another day.)
So, after the requisite (and luxurious) career break, both to sort my brain out and to work out what exactly it is I can and should and want to do, I am back at the applications. And I’m having to sell myself.
I am only just able now to “brag with basis” – to remember that I do have certain talents. Once I’d dusted off and polished my CV (with immense help from an incredibly generous friend), I was reassured that over 5 years in that job I had indeed gained some skills. There’s nothing like explaining what your job was to someone who has no idea about it to make you realise just how much expertise you have (which you didn’t realise wasn’t common knowledge).
So far, so uncomfortable.
Unfortunately, the application then went on to ask my “salary expectations.”
This for a role in a sector I am unfamiliar with, with no advertised salary, and where similar roles I have seen advertised vary by, let’s say, £40,000.
This was a whole new realm of self-doubt for me.
Was I to pluck a figure from the air? Is “as long as I enjoy the job, anything over living wage is fine” an acceptable response or does it devalue my experience? Would doing so be taken as a subtle hint that I do not have dependents so I can slave away more than other women can because I am a career gal and pick me pick me pick me? I became extremely conscious of the university lecturers I could hear outside the window, striking for fair pay.
I sought advice on this topic – responses generally suggested that I ask for what I wanted, what I needed, or what I deserved.
What do I want? I want this job. I don’t want to act like I’m trying to undercut others, I don’t want to give the impression that I would be bad at my job, I don’t want to seem like an overblown corporate twat who thinks they deserve three figures.
I want a fair wage. I want my education and training to be taken into account, but I also want there to be equivalent recognition that I won’t be in danger or exerting myself physically. If I have to check emails outside working hours, I want that to be reflected in the salary or in overtime.
I want there to be an advertised salary. I want them to tell me for god’s sake.
Is there a formula here?
I could add up my living costs, outgoings, plus and adjustment for general standard of living I guess.
But then… my costs are currently low. I currently have no dependents. So my figure would be lower and undercut someone with equivalent experience who has to pay for childcare (and by care I include… food).
I live alone. My costs are higher than someone who is happily cohabiting and splitting costs that way. That doesn’t seem like something that should factor into my salary. Although I suppose I don’t have to factor in monthly contributions to a fund for future legal costs of divorce (this is something married people do, right?).
Some other people said age x 1,000, or (age+10) x 1,000. This cannot be right. What if I had been off work ill for five years (as it is I haven’t worked for nearly one)? What if I had a career break for kids? What if I had worked for 20 years in one thing then changed to another? All these rules seem to be are attempts to make sense of an arbitrary question, rules where so many caveats and variables have to be added that the rule barely makes sense any more (like how “i before e except after c” only works if you add “but only if it rhymes with bee”).
It’s a question that I am becoming increasingly convinced should not be asked.
This one struck me as particularly alien.
What am I…worth? How could I possibly be expected to know this? Do I go by my internal monologue, in which case I’ll do the fucking work for free? Or do I go by my previous salary, in the knowledge that that was danger money, payment for our souls, our sleep and our mental health? And that even then, it was a nonsensical industry where people who had a hugely inflated self-worth flourished and the salaries were commensurate?
The only job I have had which could give me a yardstick for my “worth” had been valuing the entirety of my attention and brainspace. The 9-5 (or whatever it is these days) that I am prepared to offer is an entirely different asset.
There’s no conclusion to this ramble. I submitted the application. I found some vaguely equivalent-looking roles at other equivalent-looking places, I took about £5k off the average of them, and I added some self-effacing caveats. And now I’m hoping for the best. The figure worked out as just under what my former employer pays its (zero experience, entry level, need to be built up from nothing) trainees. No wonder we were all such pricks.
I’m used to the worry while waiting to be judged. But knowing that the feedback can now contain an assessment of my assessment of my self-worth? Those are wheels within wheels which are really going to grind on the windmills of my mind.