Lion Heart - Part I
I knew precisely what kind of situation I would be getting myself into when the CEO asked me my age, and then proceeded to state that he wasn’t “p.c.” I was almost tempted to tell him, “Well, let me do you a favor and answer another question you shouldn’t ask. No; I don’t plan on having a baby, and abandoning you. I’m 100% focused on my professional success for the foreseeable decade,” but I refrained. Amidst my sit-down with him, he noted that I had been well coached; did he not think that I had been taught to ask for what I’m worth as well?
In August, I received an offer for what I thought was my dream job. A finance company (we’re talking proper investment banking/mergers and acquisitions) wanted me to join their team. This was a junior role; I knew that going in, but as always, I did my research. All information available indicated that I should receive an offer at the low-end of ‘Mid-Level’ at best, or the high-end of ‘Junior Level’ at worst. I could live with and on that. Imagine my surprise when the opening pitch was $34,000 USD—below market rate in both industry and regional average. Don’t get me wrong; this is business. I, of course, expected to be lowballed, but I didn’t think it would be below market rate!
After much back and forth, it was obvious that the company had no interest in raising the base salary—excuse after excuse was made. The company was poised to get an all-in-one Researcher, Analyst, Strategist, Content Producer, Editor, Designer, etc. for nothing short of a bargain basement price.
Even if I only stayed for six to twelve (6-12) months, they would have received a comprehensive strategy for the CEO’s pet project; routines would have been established and automated; and they would have had information regarding how to approach new audiences. With everything up and running, I would have gone from valuable to expendable—and I knew it.
My plight made me think back to the afternoon a client (whom we’ll call ‘Mr. Dominick’) came storming into his office, screeching into his mobile phone.
“F*ck me?! Yes, that’s exactly what you’re trying to do to me on this deal, you lousy s.o.b.! No, no, no. F*ck you! F*ck you, and the nag you rode in on! And by nag, I mean your wife! Don’t even think of calling me back until you’re ready to make a real offer!”
“Cheap bastard…” he muttered, whilst disconnecting the call. He sighed, and then noticed that I was in the room.
“Merde!” I thought to myself; why couldn’t I have remained invisible until I had the chance to slink out?
Mr. Dominick smiled, and proceeded to set his things down and situate himself behind his desk.
“Well hello. How is my little shadow doing today?” he asked.
“Uh, I’m okay, thank you. Is this a bad time Mr. Dominick? I can come back if it is.” I said, a bit flustered.
“No, we have an appointment, and why would this be a bad time?” he replied.
“Well…uh…you seem like you have some important business to tend to,” I said, trying desperately not to make it seem like I had eavesdropped on a conversation I couldn’t help but overhear.
“What? You mean that call? Sweetie that was just business as usual, it’s no big deal,” he said, nonchalantly.
Mr. Dominick must have been amused by my painfully puzzled expression, because he went on to explain himself…and Mr. Dominick never explains himself. He left his desk and came to sit by me. He poured himself a glass of water from the crystal pitcher on the table, and offered me one as well. I accepted; after what I heard, I could use a drink.
“Look, Sweetheart, he knows I didn’t mean what I said. I was just being a professional jackass. It’s a thing we do sometimes.”
“Professional jackass?” I repeated, bemused.
“Yeah, it’s kind of like a Hail Mary for business. The sports Hail Mary, not the kind you say at church. Jackson is trying to screw me on this deal, and we both know it. Up until now, I’ve been a gentleman, but for some reason, he thinks it’s cute to try to put my nuts in a vice,” he said, pausing to take a sip of water.
“What he doesn’t know is that I’m willing to walk away from this deal. I’ve done my due diligence; I know what he’s up to. So, now that I’ve spoken to him point blank, the ball is in his court. Best case scenario he takes this deal seriously; worst case scenario he gets his panties in a wad, and the deal is off. Get it?” he asked me.
“Actually Mr. Dominick, I think I do,” I answered. “You called him out, and now he knows you’re not to be trifled with. What you said wasn’t nice, but it was true—the part about the deal I mean, not his wife.”
Mr. Dominick chuckled a bit.
“Since you’re willing to walk away from the deal, you kind of don’t have anything left to lose. Either way, it’s Mr. Jackson who misses out, he just doesn’t realize it yet. Is that correct?”
“Yes!” he said, with a big smile. “Not too shabby Sweetie; you’re quick. I like that.”
As a young woman who values composure, intentionally acting like a jackass—especially in my professional life—, goes against everything I stand for, but negotiations were at a standstill. Desperate times call for desperate measures, and I wasn’t going to be pushed around.
The base salary the company was offering might have qualified me for a below market rate apartment, or another form of low-income housing. All I could think about was how inappropriate it was that after repeatedly praising my experience, talent, and references, a financial firm would be okay with a valuable employee qualifying for low-income housing. Meanwhile, they would drive home in their luxury vehicles and feast; I would ride the bus to my flat and dine on ramen—if I could even afford that.
I heard the Pet Shop Boys 1987 single “Rent” play through my mind:
“I never want anything, it’s easy; you buy whatever I need. But look at my hopes, look at my dreams; the currency we’ve spent. I love you, you pay my rent.”
The fact that this is one of my favorite songs probably says a lot about me, and my career aspirations—I’m fine with that. I felt a fury build up inside of me which I had never experienced before—the genuine resentment that comes from knowing for a fact that someone is trying to take advantage of you. If they wanted to play this game, I would play. By the time I closed out their file, I would understand their approach to business inside and out. “Time to collect some data,” I said to myself. It was decided; I was going to invoke Mr. Dominick’s Hail Mary.
Bottom line: what good is working in finance if you can’t even pay your rent?
-Hesper Rose, The Skulking Glamazon