Wobbly on top

Big money brings big risks. Seniority and high pay can prove dangerous when a business decides to prune. By Roger Trapp
Click to follow
It has always been said that the higher you go the harder you fall. And so it seems it is in the world of finance. According to new research, a higher salary appears to go hand in hand with a greater risk of unemployment. Elisabeth Marx, of the recruitment consultancy NB Selection, says her survey showed that higher-paid senior finance professionals were more than twice as likely to be unemployed at the time of applying for a new position than their less-well-off counterparts.

The aim of the research was to determine how executives with high salaries differ from those applying for the same positions who are currently paid less. The pool of 336 applicants for posts advertised in leading newspapers and offering salaries of between pounds 60,000 and pounds 65,000 was split into groups comprising those whose existing pay was either at the high end of the range - an average of pounds 71,000 a year - or at the low end - an average of pounds 45,000. People in the groups were of about the same age, but had different career backgrounds.

In particular, those in the higher group were nearly three times as likely to have had international experience through an overseas assignment (45 per cent, compared with 16 per cent); were more likely to work in the financial sector (35 per cent, against 24 per cent); more likely to have a directorship (85 per cent, against 72 per cent); less likely to have an MA, MSc or MBA (12 per cent, against 22 per cent); and, of course, more likely to have lost their job. Thirty-eight per cent of those in the upper group were unemployed at the time of applying for a new position, compared with 16 per cent in the less well-paid group.

Incidentally, the number of positions held by a candidate, the number of companies he or she has worked for and the amount of time spent at each company appear to have no impact on salary levels.

Dr Marx, who carried out the research earlier this year, said that certain of the findings, such as that relating to international experience, were "clearly predictable". Even the finding that advanced degrees do not always lead to higher pay, while disappointing to many, was not that surprising. "People hope that it will help, but the monetary basis is not necessarily so," she said.

However, the real "twist" comes in the link between high pay and unemployment. "This raises the question of what is a realistic salary expectation and whether one can price oneself out of a job by asking for too much," Dr Marx added. While she did not speculate on that aspect, it might also be the case that the person who secures a high salary can create raised expectations - and can find themselves dropped if they fail to perform.

What does appear to be certain, and is touched upon by Dr Marx, is that at a time when organisations become increasingly cost-conscious, seniority provides little protection against loss of job. Indeed, a competent person on moderate pay might look more attractive and perhaps less threatening to an organisation than a very highly paid star.

For her part, Dr Marx believes that finance directors are no more able than anybody else to expect constant salary rises. Obviously, somebody who has been earning pounds 70,000 a year might find it hard to accept a position paying pounds 45,000, but she warns that people need to move away from just looking at the figures and start examining long-term development issues.

"Everybody has to think about sideways moves. They can't expect higher salary with every job move," she said. Instead, while clearly they will want to take account of their standard of living, people must weigh up the various factors besides pay that a job offers.

Such issues are not, of course, peculiar to those in the finance field. However, Dr Marx is not sure that she will be able to quantify the pointers for success in the same way for, say, marketing people because professionals in such fields have a much wider range of training and backgrounds and are therefore difficult to compare.

So, acting on her belief that everybody wants pointers for their careers, she says: "If you want to make money as a finance professional, the advice is get international experience, work in the finance sector, don't go for an advanced degree and get a directorship."

But none of that protects you from the dole queue or, at least, the recruitment consultant's waiting roomn

Looking for credit card or current account deals? Search here