Bringing Home The Bacon

When I was interviewing for the job that I eventually turned down, I met with the VP of Engineering as my first interview. After he finished asking me a few technical questions and queried me on why I would want to leave my current job after only 2 years, eventually he brought up the topic of salary.  He asked me bluntly, “how much do you want to make.”  I paused for a moment to think about my answer, realizing that I hadn’t yet considered this.  I decided to just be honest.

“The salary really isn’t that important to me.”  I replied.  “I’m mostly just interested in seeing if this is a job I’ll enjoy and look forward to.  I’m sure the salary will be acceptable.”

The previously stoic and confident man looked puzzled.  I waited for a moment, and then realized I’d confused him.  I decided it would be best to explain myself a little more.  I assumed he doesn’t read Brave New Life.

“Let me elaborate.  When I started as an engineer, I made $50K/year while working 70-80 hours a week.  And I was very happy.  I loved learning on the job, debugging complex issues, and being challenged everyday.  I took pride in my work, and looked forward to coming in to the lab every morning.  11 years later, I chose to leave the company despite making over $150K/year.  I was generally working 40 hours/week or less, but wasn’t happy at all.  I left because I no longer enjoyed the work.  In hindsight, I realize now that I hated the job.”

“And so I concluded that the quality of the work outweighs the salary for me.  I realize this might be either incredibly stupid or incredibly clever to say to a hiring manager like you, but I think honesty is best.”

His response surprised me, although maybe it shouldn’t have.  He responded, “I understand what you’re saying, but you need to consider other things as well.  You may find the work rewarding and exciting, and to you that may be sufficient and I respect that. But you also have to consider your family.  You may come to work and that’s you’re reward, but you’re family doesn’t get that reward.”

So, basically, my wife’s job is to take care of the kids and mine is to bring home the bacon.  Welcome to the 1950’s, have you met my wife June Cleaver?

He didn’t say it explicitly, but he was clearly implying that my family’s reward for my work is the money I bring home.  It was interesting to hear a response that could be so insightful on one level, and so flawed on another. It was insightful in that he was thinking about more than just me.  He considered the fact that the choices I make affect my family, and that it would be selfish of me to only consider myself and my own happiness.  I couldn’t agree more.

The Flaw

But while his advice might be noble, he failed to consider what is important to me and my family specifically.  Or more importantly, that not everyone thinks the same.  He jumped to the conclusion that the most important aspect of the job, from my wife’s perspective, would be how much money I bring home.  Normally I’d simply accept the fact that he didn’t consider these things, except for the fact that he chose to dive into my family (a big no-no, by the way, in a corporate interview…).  His assumption is probably a safe assumption for the vast majority of situations, but not in my case.  Instead – If he wanted to consider the impacts and benefits of work for my family, he should have asked the following series of questions:

  • How do you feel about traveling to California a few times a year, and the possibility of spending 1-2 weeks in Taiwan each year?  I know that can be rough on your family to be gone for an extended length.
  • How do you feel about late night calls with Asia?  It might mean missing dinner with your family a few times a week, or not being able to help bathe your kids and put them to bed.
  • Is this a job that will get you out of bed in the morning?  I know how difficult it can be on family life when you’re unsatisfied with your work, and come home tired and disgruntled.
  • Are you interested in flexible hours, and the ability to work from home?  As long as you get the job done, I’m fine with that.  And I know it helps when your kids have school functions, or maybe your wife just needs a nap.
  • Oh – how about salary?  What were you hoping to make?


Fortunately, my family values me for more than just the money I can provide.  I think that’s true in most families, whether everyone realizes it or not.

23 Responses to Bringing Home The Bacon

  1. Michelle says:

    I agree with you! This is something that has taken me a couple of years to learn/realize, but now I know that you should be working with something that you enjoy. Money isn’t everything.

  2. krantcents says:

    I hate when that question comes up too early in the process. You need to sell the interviewer on you before you even hint at how much you want. I think he wanted to know if you were aware of the issues he stated and are you okay with it. I also think his underlying motivation is if your salary requirements going to be inline with their salary range. The bottom line is you still need a certain salary even when you are happy doing the work.

    • The bottom line is you still need a certain salary even when you are happy doing the work.

      I’m not denying that, but my response was clear that I was confident the salary would be fine. In my industry, there is a pretty clear-cut pay scale based on the position level – especially within the same city.

  3. I had a similar experiences to you. When I got my first programming job and started really enjoying the work, I told my wife that I would do the work for nothing because it’s fun. In fact, it had been my hobby before it became my career, so I couldn’t believe people would pay me to play in my hobby.

    Eventually, like you, I got tired of programming in general and I retired early about a year ago. Now, I’m playing with Ruby and Ruby on Rails and I’m having lots of fun again. Ironic.

  4. Another fine tale of Adventures in Financial Independence. But whoo, some of your story was pretty scary in parts. Business trips to Taiwan? Conference calls during dinner?

    During these young-children years that you and I are both in, I find the ideal post-retirement work is that which doesn’t come at you on a conveyor belt.

    It can be as challenging as you like, but it needs to wait for those times when the kids are in school, never make you miss an important social event, and be easy to pause on a moment’s notice for a vacation or anything else.

    Paradoxically, setting these strict conditions where work comes last after everything else in life, has made me enjoy working more than ever.

  5. SteveW says:

    Great post.

    The corporate interview process is rife with these kinds of tropes. I think interviewers expect the candidates to just give bullshit answers but when someone like you answers honestly it throws them off and they show their true colors.

    I am financially independent and early retired, but I spent a good amount of last year job seeking, just to see if there was something out there worth getting back in the workforce, something I would enjoy and get paid for for a few more years. It was not uncommon for companies to ask what comp I was looking to make very early in the process. Like you, I was honest, making it clear that the money was not as important as the work and that above all I was looking for a compelling experience. Not once did this answer result in anything other than confusion or skepticism.

    I think interviewers are so accustomed to rehearsed answers and canned responses that in some sense they are really just looking to hire the best bullshitter. And the idea that someone does not have to work for money is completely foreign to them because it is so rare.

  6. Shawn says:

    I think it is great that you went through the interview process for the new job. It certainly allowed you to measure and place your priorities and revel in the fact that you truly do have eff yew money(lifestyle).

    ….and wouldn’t you hate to have the dickheads job that interviewed you? It was a jackass statement that he made about rewards and the implied omnipotence about what your family does with your salary. You would probably look at hires through a different lens but I would imagine most people in that position have a similar persuasion.

    • I wouldn’t want his job, but he clearly reveled in it.

      Interestingly, the people that worked for him really loved him. In fact, several people had followed him from other companies and startups to this company. I got the impression that he was a good and loyal leader, just maybe with a different view on life than me. I was tempted to ask him if he’d ever read Your Money Or Your Life. :)

  7. Reepekg says:

    I am sitting on a decent sized ‘stache and can afford to look around for a new job solely through the lens of “do I find the technology I will be working on interesting?” Getting the same salary question in my most recent interview, I made my priorities clear and said something along the lines of “I’m sure I will find your salary proposal acceptable.”

    The incredulous interviewer actually laughed as though we were sharing a joke and teased me by asking if (half of market value for an engineer like me) would be enough. The real joke is that I was inclined to say yes, but it would have been careless to leave money on the table for no reason… so I just lied and made him feel more comfortable.

    • Back in 2001 after my company had undergone some massive layoffs, I remember a late night conversation with a senior engineer in the lab after a long day of work. We were discussing our long hours, our job security, and our love for the work we were doing. Then he asked me, “would you work for half the salary if it came down to it.” My response was easy at the time – yes!

      Somewhere along the line in the tech industry (and probably other industries too), doing work for any reason other than for money and power seems to have been lost.

  8. Hi, I’m June Cleaver. Ok…so not really, but we’ve been in the position where my husband’s income was crucial to family survival. That isn’t true anymore. He likes the work he’s doing and is very loyal to the company after 17 years, but I think the realization that he could move jobs and take a lower salary is very powerful. He’s making the decision to continue where he is instead of our need for his income making that decision for him.

    I know people who feel trapped in jobs that they actually like. They are locked into a certain income and that makes them less portable. Smart investing and a low-key lifestyle have kept that from happening to us. It’s a great thing to feel that freedom when you’re in your 50s and contemporaries are still finding themselves in the unemployment line.

  9. I’m having the debate currently in my job about whether to try and get a promotion for more money, but will probably be more stressful for me. Still trying to weight the tradeoffs between a nice salary boost or more stress in my life. Decisions, Decisions…

  10. AEBinNC says:

    I think what he was trying to communicate through his questions was a willingness to accommodate your lifestyle as much as he could but that there would still likely be some sacrifices. It’s a tough message to effectively communicate, especially in a short amount of time, while trying to hire someone for an important position. His ability to at least try to reach you in a way that would appeal to you, might be an example of how he treats his employees and the reason he was well liked. There wasn’t anything he could offer you that would have made it worth it to you. It sounds like he really wanted to hire you so he was reaching into your personal life to try to appeal to you.

  11. Bemp says:

    Wow you jumped to a totally wrong conclusion about what the interviewer was saying. Or you explained it poorly. I did not get at all he was saying anything leave it to beaverish. I took that he was saying you possibly spending tons at time at work was no reward for family, but simply for you. Then again, mebbe you away would pls wifey, idk. In any event, you come across as arrogant, selfish, narcissistic, and immature. Boring traits all. Now go cook me dinner.

  12. Petra says:

    I’m not FI yet, but my income greatly exceeds my expenses and my savings account could keep me afloat for at least four years (and growing quickly). My boss recently said something to me like “Yeah, our job has been stressfull lately, but of course we have to have this income, don’t we?”. And I thought “Well, you might. And I do now, but soon I won’t”. It was a very relaxing thought. I already have enough money to resign if things really get bad. In a few years, I will resign if things don’t get better :-)

  13. Loving what you do is a must. Money comes and goes- and it shouldn’t take all that much to be happy. But what you are doing with your life is of utmost importance.

  14. Gosh, I’m looking forward to being in this same position! Not that I dislike my job at the moment, on the contrary, I actually enjoy it quite a bit. But having the freedom to make that choice will be nice.

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  16. Rodger URA says:

    I can understand your position and the point he made. Ultimately I feel job satisfaction is most important, since we spend most of our lives, once we reach maturity, working. However, for a great deal of us, enjoying what we do while at work isn’t really an option, so we become accustomed to looking at the big picture. So I guess you could say that, that was where he was coming from.

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