Career Guide

Should You Accept a Significantly Lower Salary?

I’m writing this piece by popular demand after hearing from scores of newly unemployed people concerned about the large quantity of Americans looking for a job  “Should I be prepared to accept a lesser job at a significantly lower salary?” they’ve asked.

In a word: “No.”

You may feel you just want to find something — that you’ll take what you can get.

But with that kind of attitude, it’s unlikely you’ll find a position that is going to satisfy either you or your new employer. You’ll believe you’re compromising. Your new employer will sense your feeling that you’re settling for less.

No one wins.

Let me suggest that you think about this situation differently. Rather than focusing on what you may have to give up, ask yourself, “What about my next job would make me feel really good about going there every day?”

Here are three examples to consider:

Stability: A friend earning an enormous salary as head writer for an NBC-TV sitcom found himself quaking every 13 weeks as he waited to learn whether his contract would be renewed. After a year of anxiety, he decided to accept a university teaching position that paid a fraction of his previous salary but allowed him to pursue his creativity in an environment of greater stability. Fifteen years later, he continues to be delighted with his decision.
Integrity: A public relations colleague had a supervisor who regularly exaggerated results to clients. This pattern of duplicity created a culture that just felt wrong and she decided to change jobs. Her new supervisor had far greater integrity and this change made all the difference in how she felt about what she did every day.

Professional development: As an account manager at Golin/Harris International, I was intrigued by the success of public relations programs developed after we conducted research to truly understand our target audiences. I approached agency management about supporting me as I pursued an advanced degree in psychology. Upon receipt of my degree, I was named director of Qualitative Research at the agency and given the absolutely fascinating responsibility of gaining customer insights.

What about your next job would make you feel really good about going there every day? Focus on these values and I guarantee you’ll find a job that compensates you in the ways that matter most.

By Jenny Schade, president, JRS Consulting. JRS Consulting helps organizations dramatically increase attraction among customers and employees. Jenny Schade has interviewed more than 1,000 employees while guiding organizations through turbulent change. Get more tips from the free JRS newsletter.
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  • While I can understand the need to advance in your professional career, the above examples fail to match with the original question. With scores of unemployed cropping up each day, should you be prepared to accept a lesser position, financially or professionally. The examples address career changes made by choice, not by necessity and may not even be contextual in terms of this current economy.

    Should you be prepared to accept something less? Certainly. If your individual circumstances dictate the need to provide for yourself or your family, sometimes you need to make sacrifices. Looking at a lesser position in the negative is a way to make it worse for you from the start. Maybe it should be approached as an opportunity to spread yoru talents amongst others and raise the entire work community. Use the experience to pass on your benefit of knowledge and/or experience. And even in lesser positions you still have the opportunity to learn if you keep your eyes open. But to ignore a position that is beneath you, is to ignore a potential opportunity.

    Lastly, sometimes it is more important to get your foot in the door, and move up the ladder or to a more appropriate position. Speaking from experience, I turned down one offer I thought would be a step-backwards. Nine months later, I am still unemployed. What could I have done and how far ahead could I be now, nine months later, if I had taken that position…

  • I’m sorry to hear of your frustration. With 2 million Americans having lost their jobs in 2008, it’s a very tough job market. I’m suggesting reframing how one approaches taking a job that, at first glance, seems “lesser.” In my experience as Director of Recruiting for one of the largest PR firms in the world as well as owning a career counseling private practice, attitude is critical. If you concentrate on the job as “lesser,” you’ll feel “lesser” too. I’m suggesting that you look outside of financial compensation and be creative when you evaluate positions, thinking about how they could benefit you. I understand we all have bills to pay, but it’s important to also consider what benefits you will gain from the position you’re considering. For example, as you point out in the beginning of your final paragraph in your post, it might be a way of “getting your foot in the door.”

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