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Get Over Yourself.. and Get Back to Work!

Dear Stephen,

Last year I made $350,000. I’m a sales rep at a dealer. I’ve consistently made good money (both a high base salary and "all in"), but last year was by far my best year. Previously, I had worked for #Knoll, before it was #MillerKnoll, and at #Knoll, I had very strong years as an individual producer. However, now after 6 years in the dealer world, I’m burnt out.

There’s more to my story. The dealership I work at was acquired by private equity. The writing is on the wall that I’m not going to make the same kind of money that I made when the business was privately owned.

Where do I go from here, where I make that kind of money again? I know that most manufacturers simply will not pay the same as they did at Knoll. I’m not really interested in going to another dealer because I can’t take my existing customer business with me.

I know there are rules that prevent the prospective new employer from asking about prior earnings but, in spite of that, I’m usually the one that brings it up because I am proud of my income. Then that leads to "wow, that’s a lot of money, you realize you won’t be able to make that much here". Then I explain to people that I’m not expecting to make the same kind of money, and I can see the income that I was making seems to be a turn-off because it is not realistic at most other companies. Companies think that I just want another job now, and that I will leave when the next big income job comes along… but that’s not the case. How do I convince someone that I’m open-minded and flexible with my salary, even though I’ve earned the big bucks in the past? What’s your advice?


Richie Rich and proud of it.

Dear Richie,

The problem is when you’re used to making a lot of money, just like you said, people like you can’t help but talk about it. Good salespeople are show-offs! I guess that is what makes them good at selling but bad at selling themselves and landing that next job!

Ironically, you’re talking out of both sides of your mouth. What I mean is that you can’t help but want to tell people that you’ve made a lot of money (and the specific amount no less), while at the same time explaining to a prospective employer that you’re "open-minded" and that it’s "not about the money". No one is buying it, and my advice is to shut your trap. Do not say it is not about the money because who are we kidding – it’s all about the money! Otherwise, you wouldn’t tell us that you made $350,000.

You had a couple of great, some may say lucky years. Let’s get real; to make that much money selling contract furniture is an aberration, it’s a blip in a chart that shows most professional furniture salespeople in the $150 - $200K range. Some years it may seem easy to make more money than the rest of the pack. But typically, when someone works on commission and has a couple of good years, they expect that gravy train is going to last, but it seldom does.

So, take a deep breath and do a reality check. I think, by now, it is obvious to you that nothing good is going to happen in your future if you keep talking about your financial success in the past. Let it go, take a break from talking about how much money you’ve made and keep that to yourself. Or maybe you could take a break from the furniture industry, reinvent yourself, and try something else?

There is not one answer I can give you that fits all sides of your question. It’s a matter of being pragmatic and knowing the audience you are interviewing with. Think on your feet and realize that high "all-in packages" like high base salaries are harder to come by today. Also, in my opinion, 2024 is switching over from a "candidate-controlled" hiring market to the employers taking back more control. Too many unknowns in our future. "Ask Stephen" is telling you the surge of the big paydays is coming to an end. So land that job soon and read between the lines. And one last thing - Happy New Year!