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When Changing Careers May Mean a Cut in Salary

As you proceed in pursuing your career change, you might experience a reduction in pay. With this possibility in mind, you need to know just how low you're willing (and able) to go, so that you are in a position to respond appropriately. Otherwise, the danger exists that you will accept a salary offer that makes your minimally acceptable lifestyle difficult to attain, resulting in dissatisfaction with your new position.

If a salary cut is necessary to get started in a new career, you'll be much more willing to face that reality if you know in your heart that the increased satisfaction of the new position (and perhaps increased family time as well), compared with your former position, will make it worthwhile.

If you discover that your desired career change means a reduction in pay and would leave you below your minimally acceptable income level, then some additional thinking on your part is necessary. First, ask yourself: As a result of my research on myself and careers, is this career goal still my first choice? If you answer yes, then the next step is to figure out how to raise your income level to what you identified as minimally acceptable. Consider the following questions:

1. How big is the gap between your minimally acceptable salary level and the salary of the new position?

2. How long can you expect that gap to exist? Based on your research, if all goes well in the new position, when might you expect a raise, and about how much of one? What can you negotiate with new employers as far as the following:

  • Use of a company car
  • Six-month salary review
  • Opportunities for advancement


3. Will your new job help you to develop the skills needed, or do you already have enough, to possibly have your own part-time consulting practice on the side? This can be done in a large variety of fields: accounting, public relations, training, marketing, graphic arts, personnel, and others. This will make it a bit easier to accept the lower-than-desired salary in the full-time job.

Look at the Brighter Side

A lower salary is tough to accept, both psychologically and monetarily. However, consider that you've done your homework and you're sure this is the career goal you want to attain. We operate from the philosophical point of view that if we're doing what we like the most, it's usually what we're best at. This leads to success, which in turn leads, in most cases, to some form of financial prosperity as well.

Moreover, your research on your career goal, as well as conversations with your potential employer, might indicate that this financial crisis will not last long. Perhaps you're confident that over time, within reason, your salary will become more acceptable and, sooner than you realized, even surpass your former salary. Keep in mind as well that many adults who change to more satisfying careers claim they never regretted making the change, despite lower salaries.

Also, a most important factor is that you need to have respect for this new position, that is, you need to feel that it is in itself a respectable job. By respect, we mean there's a good match with your higher-ranked life and work values. Therefore, what you consider to be most important is involved either directly or indirectly with this new position, thus making it respectable to you and for you. This, too, will help in accepting a lower-than-desired starting salary. Finally, assuming you do find greater satisfaction in your new position, you'll probably also experience greater physical and mental health, which in many ways is more valuable than anything.

Courtesy of David P. Helfand. Excerpted from his work "Career Change" (VGM Career Horizons 2nd ed. 1999).

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