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should I offer to work for less so that someone will hire me? — Ask a Manager

July 29, 2022

A reader writes:

I’ve been job-seeking unsuccessfully since December 2020, most likely due to my lack of real work experience. I went to graduate school straight after my undergrad and had several internships but no full-time work experience. While I’ve made it to final round interviews several times, I’ve never been able to close the deal.

I’ve been unemployed for over a year and a half now and I’m getting really desperate to start my career, considering that the longer I’m unemployed, the more difficult it is to secure a job. So my question for you is this: Should I make it a point to tell hiring managers that I’m willing to work significantly under their budgeted salary in order to make myself more competitive? My financial situation is okay right now so I’m willing to work for less.

No, don’t do it. Employers generally want to hire the best candidate within the range they’ve already budgeted to pay, so it’s not likely to make you more appealing, and will make you come across as desperate. (Because you are desperate, which is understandable! But that doesn’t help you as a candidate.)

If you do find an employer who’s willing to take you up on your offer to work for less, that’s an employer who’s signaled that they’re willing to exploit you. You’re likely to see that play out in other ways too, like the hours they want you to work or their (un)willingness to pay you fairly down the road.

You might be thinking you’re okay with that in the short-term, because right now you just need work experience to put on your resume. And I get that. But you’re going to turn off most employers by offering it.

As for what to do instead … I’m assuming you’ve been leaning like hell on your network (including everyone you met at those internships, as well as classmates, professors, campus career centers from both undergrad and grad school, alumni networks from both, and even any interviewers you especially connected with from those jobs where you made it to the final rounds) — but if you haven’t, do that. Can you volunteer (for legitimate nonprofits that have real volunteer programs, not for-profit businesses)? Smaller organizations will let volunteers do more interesting stuff than large ones, in most cases. What about temping? Anything you can do to get recent experience on your resume is going to help — but offering to work for less is not the way, I’m sorry to say.

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