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.
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.