Career Advice, Salaries

How Much Salary Do I Give Up By Changing Careers?

If I could change one thing in the typical job seeker’s mind, I’d get a crowbar and pry out (and incinerate) the goofy idea that a job seeker has to grovel and beg to get a job. There’s no question that the economy is struggling. There aren’t as many jobs around. But if we focus on the idea “Too few jobs! Too many people!” we lose sight of the other side of the equation. When employers are in trouble, they need brilliant people who can solve their problems. It used to be possible and even easy to get a job just by fogging a mirror. That isn’t true today, but people who show up to an interview ready to talk about business pain and its remedies are more in demand than ever.

One of the flavors of dangerous job search Kool-Aid making the rounds has to do with career change. This Kool-Aid gets people to believe that they have to give up massive amounts of salary by changing careers. Now, in some cases this can be true. If I’ve been working as the head of Obstetrics and Gynecology at a major research hospital and I decide to buy a pushcart and sell gourmet popcorn, I’m going to take a salary hit. There’s no question about it. For most people, though, changing careers is not an automatic ticket to the end of the salary ski-lift line. Here’s the thing to keep in mind: you’re going to send a resume, and the employer is either going to interview you or not.

If you get the interview, that means they think you’re qualified for the job. If that happens, and if you’re a career-changer, it means you’ve done a good job of showing how your accomplishments in another industry or function equip you for the role you’re pursuing now. You’ve already passed the biggest test of all, the one called “Can this person make it in a new career path?”

Once that happens, you don’t need to worry about a catastrophic career-shift salary reduction. You have to know what your new field pays. You can’t say “Well, I was earning a gazillion dollars a year in my old job, so you guys should pay me that sum, again.” Your new career arena has its own pay scale. You’re going to have to work with that reality. But if an employer was planning to pay its new hire — an Event Planner, let’s say — about sixty thousand dollars, and if you’re the person they’ve identified for the job, then sixty thousand is what you should be paid. The fact that you haven’t done event planning before is completely irrelevant.

If they don’t want you for the job, they shouldn’t hire you! Here’s how your post-offer conversation might go.

THEM: So, Ariana, we’re excited to get you on the team.

YOU: I’m excited, too. I have a lot of ideas I’m dying to share with you. We’re a ways apart on salary. Shall we brainstorm about that?

THEM: Well, I told you that the job could pay up to sixty thousand, but you’re coming in with no event planning experience…

YOU: I totally understand. And here’s my concern about that. You have a big event schedule in front of you. You need someone you’re confident can do a great job for you. Are you sure I’m the person you want to hire?

THEM: Of course you are! We love your energy and your experience in other areas, like trade show planning.

YOU: That’s great. In that case, if I’m the person you believe can best tackle what’s ahead of us, I’d be concerned to take the job without the vote of confidence that the designated salary level — sixty thousand — carries with it. In other words, I don’t want to come in as a provisional Events Planner. If I’m your guy — your gal that is — then that tells me I’m the person you chose above all the other candidates. Some of those folks undoubtedly had tons of Event Planning experience. But your team wants me in the job, and the designated salary for the right candidate is sixty thousand a year. So, that’s the level where I’d be comfortable. Does that make sense?

THEM: I see your point. Let me push some numbers around and get back to you this afternoon.

If you get the nod for the job, you get the salary that was established for the role. If your career-path-switch makes you too risky a candidate, that’s fine. Then, they shouldn’t hire you. They should hire someone else. If you get the offer, you get the money.

It’s a simple idea — or it would be simple, if the dangerous job search Kool-Aid weren’t rocketing through our veins!