Dear Going Concern,
A question from the great white north. I'm a second year auditor with a Big Four firm, unfortunately located in the lowest paying region in the country. I'm thinking of transferring to Alberta, where the wages are up to 40% higher (seriously) due to dire need of seniors. My coach has said my office will support the transfer, so I'm confident I would leave on good terms. My question is this, when it comes time for salary negotiation, how would you approach the discussion? Should I pretend I'm not yet sold on the move, and that it entirely depends on compensation? Or should I be more positive and indicate intent regardless? I'm pretty sold on the move, regardless of whether I clean up immediately or have to wait, it's a better place to spend my career. I don't want to come off as opportunistic, but I also don't want to get stepped on. Any tips would be appreciated.
Underpaid Tim Hortons drinker
The fact that you've managed to pull yourself away from the NHL playoffs long enough to type this email is a testament to the seriousness of your question. Quite a feat.
And you're in luck because your situation is pretty similar to the one I had at KPMG. I requested a transfer from Denver to New York with the same sort of ambitions. The New York office needed people, the Denver leadership was supportive, and so I went. I expected to make more money in New York, but mostly due to the cost of living and not because they were psyched to throw more money at a two-bit auditor. As I recall, because I had some alternative investment experience, the New York office was willing to bring me in at the high salary range of seniors at my level. This was not a life-changing detail. The salary range among seniors is pretty narrow.
That said, if you're bringing some relevant experience to the table, you might be able to squeeze a few extra thousand bucks out of Alberta, but you'll find that come performance review time, you'll probably be on the shorter end of the merit increase. But know this – playing like you're not sold on the move unless you get the salary you want will get you on the fast track to motherfuckingnowhere. If there's one thing these firms hate, it's indecision. Think about it – you go through all the trouble to get a transfer set up and then get all namby-pamby over money? If I'm sitting across the table from you, I've just made up my mind that you will not be coming to Alberta…WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE.
Despite their need for people around your level, Alberta won't go for your attempt to hold out over a few thousand dollars a year. Even if I'm wrong (I'm not), you'll be on the short end later. If you're sold on the move because it's what you think is best for your career, then say so. Don't play games that make you look uncertain about your goals and could torpedo your chances.